26 Oct 2021

26 Oct 2021

Review status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal GC.

GC Insights: Rainbow colour maps remain widely used in the geosciences

Richard M. Westaway Richard M. Westaway
  • Bristol Glaciology Centre, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1SS, UK

Abstract. Rainbow colour maps are known to be problematic yet remain widely used in scientific communication. This study extends work by Stoelzle and Stein (2021) to investigate the extent of their use in geoscience publications. It is found that over half (55 %) of all papers surveyed from six geoscience journals from the years 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2020 (n = 2,638) contained at least one visualisation that uses rainbow or red-green colour schemes and are therefore potentially misleading and colour inaccessible. Recent changes to the submission guidelines for all EGU journals would seem to place greater responsibility in the future with editors and reviewers to identify and correct colour issues as part of the review process.

Richard M. Westaway

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • CC1: 'Comment on gc-2021-39', Rolf Hut, 26 Oct 2021
    • AC1: 'Reply on CC1', Richard Westaway, 26 Oct 2021
  • CC2: 'rainbow logo', Klemens Hocke, 03 Nov 2021
  • RC1: 'Comment on gc-2021-39', Fabio Crameri, 17 Nov 2021
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC1', Richard Westaway, 10 Dec 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on gc-2021-39', Anonymous Referee #2, 08 Dec 2021
    • AC3: 'Reply on RC2', Richard Westaway, 10 Dec 2021
  • AC4: 'Comment on gc-2021-39', Richard Westaway, 11 Jan 2022

Richard M. Westaway

Data sets

Rainbow colour maps remain widely used in the geosciences Westaway, Richard M.

Richard M. Westaway


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Latest update: 27 Jan 2022
Special issue
Short summary
Rainbow and red-green colour schemes are widely used in scientific publications despite being known to be problematic, particularly to people with colour blindness. This study builds on previous work to investigate how often they are used in geoscience publications. Based on a survey of over 2,500 papers from six journals, it is found that over half of published papers have maps or graphs with colour issues, and which are therefore potentially misleading to readers.