STORY FOR THE SKY

Authors: 
Jane D. Marsching
Article type: 
Discourse

“The eye sees what it has been given to see by concrete circumstances, and the imagination reproduces what, by some related gift, it is able to make live.” – Flannery O’Connor

Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, MA, first built in 1885, is home to the oldest continuous weather record in the United States. A hill 635.05 feet above sea level, Blue Hill Observatory is also the site of some of the earliest and most significant kite meteorology experiments in the United States. In the 1890s balloons and kites began to be used by the US Weather Bureau to gather climate data from the upper atmosphere. Alexander McAdie started kite experiments at Blue Hill in 1885 for the purpose of studying static electricity in the sky. In 1893 Australian inventor Lawrence Hargrave successfully flew his first cellular or box kite. Hargrave, who had in his early life been an explorer, cartographer, astronomical observer, and inventor of shoes that walk on water, [1] became in his thirties an investigator of all things aeronautical. He believed passionately (unlike the Wright Brothers who were patent crazy) in the importance of research being open for the benefit of all and was passionately anti-patent: “The life of a patentee, he wrote, was spent ‘in a ceaseless war with infringers’. Any ‘loot’ was merely ‘squandered’ – ‘broadcast among shoals of sharks’. More importantly, patents served to ‘ block progress’ by  taxing future development.” [2] His many papers included detailed sketches and information to help other early aeronautical inventors to solve the perplexing problems of human powered flight. On the 12th of November, 1894, he flew four linked box kites that lifted him sixteen feet into the air. His sturdy box kite was adopted by Blue Hill Observatory and the US Weather Bureau as the standard design for their weather kites and continued to be used for many years. The history of kites for research continued at Blue Hill Observatory through the 1920s. With the advent of soundings taken from airplanes, the last kite station was closed in 1933. [3] A new history of kites for low altitude wind appreciation, educational purposes, kite aerial photography for vegetation research, aesthetic pleasure, and more has begun in the 21st century with the Blue Hill Observatory Science Center.

My ongoing project, Arctic Listening Post, has explored our past, present, and imagined future human impact on climate change. I’ve created images based on data from digital elevation models of glaciers, videos from webcam images from the NOAA’s nor th pol e webc am, and animations of data from weather buoys in the northern seas. The work seeks to make visible the story of data. The scientific community is awash with studies of the effects of cl imate change from paleoclimatology, to glaciology, to oceanography, and so much more. All these studies get filtered through policy reports, scientific journals, and the mass media, but they end up on our plates as dry reports, difficult to consume and near impossible to see with any clarity. By taking this data, its histories, current crises, and future probabilities, I hope to reinstate its narrative, give a fuller picture of the impact of data on our lives, and create a sense of wonder and urgency.

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