Of the thousands and thousands of apps now available for various mobile devices, a manageable number stand out as excellent examples addressing climate change issues.
It’s no secret that Americans are rapidly adopting mobile devices, transforming the way that they obtain and interact with information about the world. As The Yale Forum reported in mid-November, half of U.S. adults now own a smartphone or a tablet, and most of them use their devices to access news. The data also indicate that youth increasingly will be turning to mobile devices for access to their news of interest.
Taking advantage of this trend, climate communicators are designing smartphone and tablet apps to tell climate stories in new ways. In effect, these innovators are rejecting the approach that “if you build it, they will come” and instead taking their message to where their audiences increasingly are gathering…on mobile devices.
Many of these apps exploit the personal and interactive storytelling potential of the devices: With a swipe of the index finger, a glacier melts. Another app uses the iPad’s built-in compass and tilt sensor to calculate how much solar radiation is hitting a user’s rooftop. And other apps seamlessly integrate text, photographs, graphics, and video to help audiences understand how the world is changing. Read on to learn about (and download) a few of the top climate apps.
Open up this iPad app, and you’ll see a menu of historical photographs from places around the world: Okpilak Glacier, Mt. Hood, Cape Hatteras, the Larsen Ice Shelf, and more. You select a photograph from the past and then, like rubbing off a scratch ticket, you swipe your finger back and forth, revealing a more recent photograph of that place. In a few seconds, your finger erases snow from the Alaska tundra, sand from the North Carolina shoreline, and water from Lake Powell — a dramatic demonstration of the environmental transformations under way across the globe. The app also contains information explaining the role that climate change is playing in the changes. Red Hill Studios produced the app in collaboration with well-known climate photographer Gary Braasch, with consultation from climate scientists Katharine Hayhoe and Todd Sanford.
Earth Now (Free)
This iPhone and Android app from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory offers a spinning, 3D Earth that fits in the palm of your hand. With the touch of your finger, explore the agency’s satellite data on air temperature, carbon dioxide, water vapor, sea level, and more. You can also read about how each of these variables relates to climate change and view near-current satellite images of the visible Earth.
Chasing Ice (Free)
Photographer James Balog and his team at the Extreme Ice Survey have deployed more than 30 time-lapse cameras across the globe to document glaciers as they retreat, deflate, and crumble into the ocean. This app for iPhone and iPad offers a glimpse of Balog’s disturbingly beautiful photographs and time-lapses of decaying glaciers. You can also watch a trailer for “Chasing Ice,” a new documentary about Balog and his work.
Watch well-produced video stories related to poverty and the environment in this magazine-style iPad app from the Episcopal Church. The first issue takes you to Kivalina, Alaska, an Inupiat village threatened by shoreline erosion and flooding. A $12-million seawall built in 2009 will protect the village for only another 10 to 15 years, so residents plan to relocate. Documentary-style videos include gorgeous footage of the region and interviews with villagers telling, in their own words, how climate change is affecting their lives.
Obtain country-level data on climate, economic activity, greenhouse emissions, carbon markets, and more in this app based on the World Bank’s database of development indicators. A handy reference for students, journalists, and researchers, the app also allows users to share data by e-mail or social media.
iHurricane HD (Free)
Keep track of hurricanes in the Atlantic and Pacific with this app for iPad and iPhone. Access satellite images, radar maps, forecasts, warnings, and data on wind speeds and precipitation. Users can also view storm tracks for inactive hurricanes from the current season.
Carbon Emissions Calculator (Free)
Just how guilty should you feel about your upcoming plane flight? With this simple app, enter your departure and arrival airports to find out how much carbon dioxide your flight will be emitting.
Light Bulb Finder (Free)
With this app for Android or iPhone, users choose and purchase energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs for their lighting fixtures. The app helps determine which bulbs can be used in tricky fixtures, such as three-way or dimmable lamps. Once users know the bulb they will need, they can purchase it through the app. It also estimates how much money can be saved and the pounds of carbon dioxide avoided as a result of installing the bulb.
Is your roof a good place to install a solar-energy system? To find out, those inclined need only download this iPhone app, slip it into their phone into their pocket, … and climb up on the roof. The app uses a database to determine the approximate solar radiation at the phone’s location. Based on the phone’s built-in compass and tilt sensor, the app determines the orientation and pitch of the roof. With this data in hand — and presumably safely returned to terra firma — all users need to do is enter the size of the roof, and the app will estimate the energy yield and carbon savings a solar system could provide. The app can also recommend solar installation companies in your area.
Carbon Chaos (Free)
If learning about climate change has made you depressed, try playing this surprisingly distracting game. You will race the clock to load passengers on bikes, cars, and buses and to send them to their destinations across a city loosely based on Vancouver. You’ll need to sweep away clouds of carbon dioxide by earning “green roof” credits.
There are, of course, hundreds of thousands of apps out there now, and more than a few dealing in one way or another with climate change. Know of other great climate apps? Tell us in the comments section. And if you’re hungry for more climate apps, see this list from Climate Central.