Interactive Exhibit: “His Majesty’s Weather”

Earlier in the semester I imagined  a picture frame that would showcase historic weather patterns.  This idea grew out of my research on climate change and the interesting weather resources available in the archives at Western.  One of these resources is a box of papers and books left by a Vidal family from Lambton county, near Sarnia.  The records indicate that members of the Vidal family served in the British Royal Navy as officers, and in 1834 Captain Richard Emeric Vidal settled in Ontario.  (Fun fact: His son would eventually become a Canadian senator.)

At the bottom of the box rested a rather large and musty book entitled, “The Log of the Proceedings of His Majesty’s Ship Glatton During a Voyage Round the World in the Years 1802-1803.”

TheGlatton was a British ship that carried convicts to Australia, and during its year long voyage “around the world,” weather observations were recorded into a log book daily.  In fact, these records were maintained hourly.  Below is a sample page from the log book.  Notice the inclusion of the ships direction and the intense detail of the weather descriptions (although difficult to read).

These records provide some of the oldest available weather data for scientists and historians interested in climate change.  According to Rob Allan, leader of the International Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth initiative (ACRE), the weather information from ships’ logs “will give us a much longer record of past extremes such as heat waves, tornadoes, hurricanes and droughts.”  The overall objective, Allan argues, is not to “disprove global warming” but to assess historic weather patterns in order to better understand them in the future.

Interactive Weather Exhibit?

Over the last few weeks Matt and I discussed how we could effectively communicate historic weather patterns through an exhibit that is both creative and interactive.  Since the Vidal ships’ log provided us with a great story, as well as a wealth of weather data, we decided it would provide a sound foundation for our project.  We agreed to begin construction on “His Majesty’s Weather Ship.”  (Note:  This name was just made up.  Matt takes no responsibility for the lack of imagination at this point.)  Moving on.

“His Majesty’s Weather Ship”

Our exhibit will consist of a model ship, no larger than a bread box.  We hope to use something from a hobby shop, but if anyone reading this blog owns such a vessel (and it is disposable) we are more than open to donations.  Our plan is to “hack” the ships’ steering wheel by hooking it up to our Arduino and potentiometer and display screen in order to present an interactive timeline behind the ship, using a simile widget.  This way, turning the wheel allows the audience to interact with the exhibit in order to visualize the ships location over time.  Stopping the wheel locks in on a particular time and place, and additionally, a specific weather pattern encountered on the Glatton’s journey from England to Australia.

Google Sketch Mock Up

Quick Note on the Research

Considering the size of the ships’ log, we are not planning on creating 3000+ data points for the wheel.  Since the voyage lasted one year, we will take a sample of the data, using information from the first day of every month of the voyage, giving us 12 usable points.

Since the focus of this exhibit will be the weather associated with the particular date selected by the visitor, Matt and I are developing ideas for “creating” weather in the exhibit, or at least making the visitors aware of how the weather played a role in the operations of a ship.  We might mechanize the main sail and connect it to a touch screen, so that visitors could slide their finger across the screen to raise or lower the sails given the conditions for a particular day.  Using Google Sketch up I created a mock up of a ship on a sea that is calm and on one that is rough.  

Theangle of the ship indicates the connection between the weather, the nature of the ocean, and the difficulty of sailing.   Given these connections, a second idea we are toying around with is the use of lights and sounds to reflect the weather patterns of a particular day.  For instance, temperature could be indicated by cool or warm coloured LED’s, and winds could be indicated by fast or slower paced music.  

Music appeals to me in this particular exhibit because ocean waves resemble sound waves when created in Sketch Up. In the last sketch, I erased the walls of the water in order to indicate the rise and fall of the sea.  I wonder if we could find music with a similar rhythm?

In the coming weeks Matt and I are setting to work on building this exhibit.  Stay tuned as we chart our progress and stumble over the code we will be using to hack the wheel and creatively display the weather.


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