A history of the world in 1,399,120,833 observations

Locations of the weather (surface pressure) observations being used to reconstruct global weather and climate: Observations coverage (1851-2008) in version 3.2.9 of the International Surface Pressure Databank (that used in the Twentieth Century Reanalysis version 2c).

There’s a lot of history hiding in even purely scientific datasets. This movie shows just the locations of the 1.4 billion observations in the International Surface Pressure Databank (1851-2008), and in it I think I can see:

  1. The constraints on sailing-ship trade routes imposed by the global wind fields.
  2. The transition from sail to steam in shipping (late nineteenth century).
  3. The opening of the Suez canal in 1869 (01:30).
  4. The Famous Arctic voyage of Nansen’s Fram (03:20).
  5. The heroic age of Antarctic exploration (starting at about 04:00).
  6. The opening of the Panama canal in 1914 (05:10).
  7. The first world war (05:10).
  8. The second world war (07:00).
  9. Major administrative changes in India (08:00).
  10. The introduction of drifting buoys (1978: 10:20)
  11. And, sadly, a reduction in observations coverage in the last couple of decades as participation in the Voluntary Observing Fleet declines.

Of course these observations are not all that were made. Many more historical observations exist (on paper, or in restricted access collections), but these are the ones that are currently available to science. The process of rescuing the observations has also left its mark on the coverage – including right at the beginning of the video, where the coverage of ship observations reduces sharply in 1863 – the end of Matthew Fontaine Maury‘s pioneering data collection work. Various subsequent rises and falls in coverage result from the work of many other scientists and teams; including, of course, a large group of Royal Navy ship observations in the period around the First World War (starting about 05:00) clearly distinguishable just from their locations, as Naval ships move in a quite different pattern from commercial shipping. (Our US Arctic ships are not in this database yet – they will be in the next version).

5 responses to “A history of the world in 1,399,120,833 observations”

  1. Sonam says :

    @philip,
    Is this video also the product of supercomputer you guys bought at Met Office? I want to have similar visualizations but if its a supercomputer work, then I have to look some other way. 🙂

    • Philip says :

      You don’t need a supercomputer to make videos like this – a fast modern PC is adequate for the job.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: