At first glance this crocheted blanket just looks like a pretty pattern. But it is actually so much more! The blanket maps out climate change over the course of the past 130 years. Each hexagon represents a single year and the colors represent the change from the midcentury average.

Photos by Lara Cooper

This ingenious data visualization blanket is the brainchild of Lara Cooper. By day, Cooper is a wildlife conservation biologist. But when she isn’t in the lab she runs Level Up Nerd Apparel, an online store where she makes and sells nerdy apparel. This project was the perfect way for her to put both of those skills together!

Cooper was inspired by the traditional temperature blanket project. The traditional idea is that you knit or crochet a row each day of the year in a color corresponding to the temperature in a specific location. Then you have a beautiful record and a comfy keepsake for that year. The project is frequently done as a gift for a baby shower or wedding. “I love the concept, but I wanted to give it a twist. As a scientist, I thought it’d be interesting to do it on a much larger scale and to see if climate change could be visualized this way,” she said.

So her first step was to get the data! Cooper says that finding the right data to use was one of the hardest parts of the project. After a few attempts with raw data sets that came out pretty lackluster, Cooper stumbled on an infographic from National Geographic. She knew this would be the perfect way to display the data for the blanket! Cooper then downloaded the global temperature data from NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies for the past 130 years. She was able to find the average temperature between 1951 and 1980, determine the difference from the average for each year, assign colors to six different temperature ranges, and start crocheting!

Cooper, who has been crocheting for about 8 years, intentionally chose a relatively simple crochet pattern to let the colors speak for themselves. Compared to some of the other very complex blankets she has made, she says this project was a breeze. She estimates that the project took her 70 hours to complete (not including the time it took for data processing).

She was first struck by how beautiful the data was and how striking the gradient was. “I wanted to maintain scientific integrity while making this blanket, I didn’t want to force the data to show a trend that might not be there. So I was shocked to see such a distinct gradient appear across the blanket over a few decades,” Cooper says.

Cooper was also shocked by how well the project was received. She posted a picture of the blanket to the March for Science Facebook group where it got over a thousand likes.

This was Cooper’s first time doing a project that merged science and crafting, but it will definitely not be her last. She says, “I think this blanket unintentionally became an excellent example of how science and art complement each other and can be intertwined; it is beautiful and cozy but factual and thought provoking. Science can evoke passion and emotions while being accurate, and art can be used to demonstrate objective facts in a visually appealing way. Maybe it is time we stop seeing these two fields as separate and mutually exclusive, and use them to do some good in this world.

Unfortunately, this particular blanket is no longer available. The blanket ended up being sold to a teacher who wants to use it as part of her curriculum on climate change. But you can make your own! Cooper has posted a pattern with detailed instructions. You can also check out the other things she is working on, as well as her nerdy crochet accessories, on her website.