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Climate Illustrations

Need a helpful illustration to explain climate change? Wondering how to explain concepts like climate refugia and range shifts? We have just what you need! These illustrations explore tricky climate concepts and explain how climate change impacts ecosystem services, invasive species, and native pollinators.

These are public domain images that are free to download and use without attribution.

Ecosystem Services

Healthy ecosystems benefit us in countless ways! They provide us with food, energy, building materials, medicine, clean water, and clean air. They support biodiversity, regulate soil erosion, control flooding, and store carbon. Ecosystems also provide us with opportunities for recreation and can have cultural and spiritual value to many people. The benefits that people obtain from ecosystems are known as “ecosystem services”. Explore examples of the services provided by different ecosystems below.


A cartoon style infographic on the services provided by River Ecosystems.
River Ecosystems
River ecosystems contain riparian vegetation that trap sediment and filter debris for higher water quality. They also have riparian zones that reduce floods by slowing water flow.
A cartoon style infographic on the services provided by urban ecosystems.
Urban Ecosystems
Urban green spaces with trees provide shade and reduce residual heat from asphalt. Spaces with gardens offer food for communities and space for pollinators. 
A cartoon style infographic on the ecosystem services provided by Mangroves.
Mangrove Ecosystems
Mangroves absorb and store CO2, provide habitats for animals and fish, and their vast root systems prevent erosion and shield coasts from strong winds and waves.
A carton style infographic on the ecosystem services provided by forests.
Forest Ecosystems
Forest ecosystems capture and store carbon, support game animals and edible plants, and provide sources of food and recreation.
A cartoon style infographic on the services coastal ecosystems provide.
Coastal  Ecosystems
Coastal ecosystems shield local communities from strong coastal winds and waves and supply fish for industry, sport, and even dinner.
A cartoon style infographic on the services wetlands provide.
Coastal Wetland Ecosystems
Coastal wetlands store carbon, reduce flood damage, and serve as important habitats for fish, birds and shellfish.
An illustration of a grassland showing grazing bison, feeding butterflies, perching grassland birds, and bright flowers.
While these vast open spaces might seem uniform, they're actually home to diverse plant and animal species, and they provide a whole host of ecosystem services! 
An infographic describing the ecosystem services that the Arctic provides to communities and animals
Arctic Ecosystems are at the forefront of climate change and many of the ecosystem services they provide are rapidly threatened or changing.


Climate Change & Invasive Species

Climate change is impacting invasive species in many ways. Changes in climate are creating new pathways for invasive species to be introduced, such as new shipping routes that open up as sea ice retreats. Warmer temperatures can allow existing invasive species to expand their range into habitat that was once too cool for them. Similarly, impacts to native species and people may change if changing climate conditions affect invasive species abundance. Climate change may also make existing invasive species control tools less effective. Explore some of these impacts below.


A cartoon of an emerald ash borer attempting to hitch-hike to the Pacific Northwest.
Range Shifts
Invasives like the emerald ash borer shift their ranges into new ecosystems with warming. 
A cartoon graphic of two fish wearing boxing gloves to indicate invasive fish species competing with native species.
Invasives like the brown trout become more competitive under new climate conditions.
A cycle image with three arrows of the process of how wildfires lead to an increase in invasive species.
Climate Change & Wildfires
Wildfires help promote the spread of some invasive plants.
Two fish being bothered by invasive sea lampreys.
Invasive Treatments
Treatments are less effective under new climate change conditions, allowing sea lamprey to thrive. 


Creepy Climate Impacts

BOO! Sometimes climate change has spooky impacts on fish, wildlife, and ecosystems. The illustrations below are a Halloween-themed take on the natural and not-so-natural ways climate change is altering our world.


Illustration of gray zombie salmon swimming. The salmon are missing their eyes, with an eyeball seen floating off to the side
Zombie Salmon
After using all of their energy to migrate and spawn, Pacific salmon start to decay. Bacteria and fungal infections begin to rot the living fish. Warming waters accelerate these infections, impacting their lifespans and ability to reproduce.
Illustration of engorged ticks on the carcass of a ghostly-looking grey moose.
Ghost Moose
Warming temperatures and late snowfalls allow winter tick numbers to grow and overwhelm already stressed moose populations. The moose scratch at these ticks, exposing white hair and giving them a mangy and "ghostly" look.
Illustration of a ghost forest of grey trees in standing water under a full moon.
Ghost Forests
Rising sea levels inundate coastal forests across the Northeast and Southeast coasts, drowning tree roots in salty water. The seawater kills sensitive trees, leaving behind a "ghost forest" of dead and dying timber.

A panel of illustrations shows a plane putting out a wildfire, the burnt forest during the winter, and a zombie hand on fire.
Zombie Fires
A phenomenon in Arctic boreal forests, zombie fires ignite in warm months, lay dormant in the soil over winter, then resurrect when the weather warms!
An illustration of a scientist watching spirits leave fossils and form an image of an ancient landscape.
Message from the Grave
Paleoecologists, use fossils to learn how the Earth's climate has changed over time. This information can help us understand modern-day trends in climate.
A dark and misty illustration of an ape-like creature walking upright through an old-growth forest.
Old growth forests have two important functions—they absorb and store more carbon than they release, reducing carbon in the atmosphere, and they provide Bigfoot habitat. 
An illustration of a living shoreline showing forests, sand dunes, grassy marshes, an oyster reef, and a sea monster.
Sea Monster
If you're a mythical snake-like sea monster, having a living shoreline to relax on is crucial! Living shorelines protect coastlines from storms and flooding and provide important habitat for creatures known and unknown. 
A large, black, humanoid creature with wings and glowing red eyes glides through a residential backyard full of native plants
Terrible omen, or friendly pollinator? Either way, planting native flowers and plants will help you stay on Mothman's good side! Native plants can attract all manner of winged pollinators to your yard.
A red, devil-like creature hides behind a tree as a fire technician sets a prescribed burn line.
Jersey Devil
Fires are actually an important part of many ecosystems' regeneration cycles, including the Pine Barrens. Properly managed prescribed fires can help these cycles by burning underbrush and letting new native plants sprout. 
A content-looking ape-like creature bathing in a shadowy swamp.
Skunk Ape
After a hard day's work creepin' the swamps and backroads of the Everglades, you just want to sit back and relax into a properly working wetland that's filtering water, storing carbon, reducing flooding, and providing important habitat.


Climate Concepts

Explaining climate change can be difficult, especially when it comes to how climate change affects ecosystems and wildlife. These illustrations help break down the terms and concepts we use to describe climate change impacts, so everyone can understand how our ecosystems are changing.


 Outline of United States, AK, & HI, with cartoons illustrating nature-based solutions spread across the country.
Nature-Based Solutions
Nature-based solutions are a way to solve problems by using nature as tool. They can bring the outdoors to you to make your communities safer, healthier, and greener. It’s a win-win! USGS researches the effectiveness of nature-based solutions.
A three-panel comic of a hare moving up a mountain as snow melts over time.
Climate Change Refugia
Climate Change Refugia: (noun) Areas buffered from climate change that enable the continued persistence of fish and wildlife. As climate change reduces or alters species' habitats, climate change refugia help plants and animals hold on.
An illustration of a globe with alternating scenes depicting different ecosystems.
Science to Understand a Changing World 
The Climate Research and Development Program studies the changes that occur in ecosystems, determining how, why, where, and what causes or caused ecosystems to change. They then use this knowledge to predict future changes.


Climate & Pollinators

Native pollinators support our communities, farms, and national food supply, and are an important member of your local ecosystem. Climate change may impact pollinators in many ways, especially threatened species like the monarch butterfly. Explore the illustrations below to learn how their life cycle might change, and what you can do to help these species in your own backyard!


Drawing showing climate change impacts to each life cycle stage of monarchs
How Climate Change Affects the Life Cycle of Monarch Butterflies
Climate change can impact each stage of a monarch's life cycle by creating wetter conditions, increasing temperatures, and shifting the timing and length of seasons.
Image showing how we can help butterflies by planting native plants, limiting insecticides, and keeping leaves on the ground.
How to Help Native Pollinators
Planting butterfly-friendly plants in your yard, reducing harmful chemical use in your lawns and gardens, and “leaving the leaves” in the fall can help butterfly populations in your area!


Climate Horoscopes

Climate science can sometimes feel mysterious, uncertain, and confusing, but we're here to pull back the veil and help you understand what these concepts mean for you.

A tarot card for Aries represented by a ram's skull sitting in an arid desert.
Hotheaded and honestly a bit dry, DROUGHT is totally an Aries. And with that competitive spirit, of course there's more than one type of drought - 5 in fact!
A tarot card for Taurus represented by a bull walking by trees that are changing between four seasons.
Stubborn and down-to-earth, PHENOLOGY takes its time, even as seasons change. But when pressures like climate change force PHENOLOGY to switch it up, they can become a little unpredictable.
A tarot card for Gemini represented by a two-faced woman under a sunny sky and a thunderstorm.
Speaking of unpredictable, climate VARIABILITY is constantly shifting yet versatile. Their mood changes as drastically as climate-impacted weather patterns.
A tarot card for Leo represented by a lion made of wildfire bearing down on a forest.
This is a no-brainer. Fiery, passionate, and dramatic, WILDFIRE couldn't be more of a Leo. While a little fire can be good, climate totally worsens their destructive habits.
A tarot card for Virgo represented by a woman with leaves, bugs, and snakes in her hair.
Always on the move. Independent to a fault. INVASIVE SPECIES are workaholics who are constantly spreading out into other's personal space. Climate change just fuels their fire.
A tarot card for Libra represented by a woman placing different types of weather on a scale.
Sure, UNCERTAINTY may seem indecisive, but by looking at the full range of possible climate conditions their style is always on point.
A tarot card for Pisces represented by two fish swimming next to a submerged beach sign.
Going too far is SEA LEVEL RISE’s favorite activity. Despite their knack for pushing boundaries, they’re also intuitive; they know just where to put a little extra water to make it hurt the most.
A tarot card for Cancer represented by a few crabs on a beach below an eroding cliff face.
BEACH EROSION holds nothing back, and they’ll erode your patience like they do the shore. But don't let their big waves of feelings overshadow their nurturing side!
A tarot card for Sagittarius represented by a centaur shooting a flaming arrow in an arid desert.
True to their sign, EXTREME HEAT is overly generous with the temperature, and climate change helps to feed their fiery spirit. They should never be left alone near the thermostat.



Paleoclimatology is the study of Earth's climate during the entire history of the Earth. Paleoclimate research uses geologic and biologic evidence (climate proxies) preserved in sediments, rocks, tree rings, corals, ice sheets and other climate archives to reconstruct past climate in terrestrial and aquatic environments around the world. Paleoclimate reconstructions provide evidence for the baseline level of climate and environmental variability before humans began using instruments to measure different aspects of climate and weather.

You can learn more about paleoclimate research here: Paleoclimate Research | U.S. Geological Survey (


A drawing of a crosscut sediment core depicting historic events from 1950 to 18,000 B.C
Sediment cores provide glimpses into Earth’s climate and environment through time. They are collected from lake bottoms, wetlands, estuaries, and oceans, where changes in the environment around the waterbody are recorded by the particles that settle on the bottom. 


A comic style infographic of USGS researchers studying ice cores.
Analyzing ice cores is a lot like stepping into a time machine. Each year, snow falls on polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers. As the layers accumulate and solidify into ice, tiny air bubbles and debris get trapped. The ice gets thicker and thicker, in some places as much as several kilometers thick! Scientists drill ice cores to study changes in temperature, precipitation, and volcanic and fire activity going back up to 800,000 years in the past.


A drawing of a crosscut section of a tree to display its rings and the potential events associated with their differences.
By studying rings in individual trees and through comparisons between trees, paleoclimate researchers can learn about past changes in temperature, precipitation, fires, insect outbreaks, and hazards like avalanches and earthquakes. For example, fire scars can tell us the year, season, size, frequency, severity and climate relationships of fires that happened long ago.