Improving the visual communication of environmental model projections

Hayley J. Bannister, Paul G. Blackwell, Kieran Hyder, Thomas J. Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Environmental and ecosystem models can help to guide management of changing natural systems by projecting alternative future states under a common set of scenarios. Combining contrasting models into multi-model ensembles (MMEs) can improve the skill and reliability of projections, but associated uncertainty complicates communication of outputs, affecting both the effectiveness of management decisions and, sometimes, public trust in scientific evidence itself. Effective data visualisation can play a key role in accurately communicating such complex outcomes, but we lack an evidence base to enable us to design them to be visually appealing whilst also effectively communicating accurate information. To address this, we conducted a survey to identify the most effective methods for visually communicating the outputs of an ensemble of global climate models. We measured the accuracy, confidence, and ease with which the survey participants were able to interpret 10 visualisations depicting the same set of model outputs in different ways, as well as their preferences. Dot and box plots outperformed all other visualisations, heat maps and radar plots were comparatively ineffective, while our infographic scored highly for visual appeal but lacked information necessary for accurate interpretation. We provide a set of guidelines for visually communicating the outputs of MMEs across a wide range of research areas, aimed at maximising the impact of the visualisations, whilst minimizing the potential for misinterpretations, increasing the societal impact of the models and ensuring they are well-placed to support management in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19157
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sep 2021

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