Weather data hits the Web

The use of real-time data transmission from Antarctica has led to an interesting Web spin-off. The same data used by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) for weather prediction and climate change research is also published in real time on the Web.

The result: People working outside of Antarctica, such as meteorologists and scientists, "can be more in touch with conditions" at the Antarctica stations, says Scott Anderson, a systems programmer at BOM who initiated much of the Web aspect of the project.

Researchers around the globe study weather patterns on Antarctica to help track changes in weather patterns.

The data on the World Wide Web doesn't encompass all of BOM's information. But it does provide a fascinating real-time insight into the weather conditions at the Australian bases.

The heart of the weather data collection system is the automated weather station (AWS), according to Hugh Hutchinson, regional director of BOM for Tasmania and Antarctica. The AWS is essentially a PC linked to several sensors. While the durability of the sensors is tested in Antarctica's blizzards and subzero temperatures, the PC sits in the bases in air-conditioned comfort, linked to the sensors by cable.

The data is transmitted to Australia by a dedicated voice and data satellite circuit leased by the Australian Antarctic Division from Inmarsat. The sensor data then automatically goes a meteorological data-sharing network called the Global Telecommunications System (GTS). The GTS is a multinational near-real-time data network used mainly for weather forecasting. It is administered by the World Meteorological Organization. The AWS data is also added to other databases that are used for various purposes, including climate change research.

Most of weather prediction takes place at the bases in the summer, but staff is reduced in winter, so much of the forecasting then is done in Australia using the data transmitted from the AWS systems. The BOM has been transmitting real-time weather data via satellite since the early 1990s, according to Hutchinson, and previously sent the data by high-frequency radio. He says the biggest advantage in using the satellite link is increased transmission reliability.

The information on the Web is updated every 10 minutes and is displayed both as text and as a graphical "weather station." The Web site started in 1995 with one base and has been gradually added to so that now all the Australian Antarctic bases have their own weather pages. Every month the data is processed into a series of graphs, which are then also placed on the Web. All variables are plotted on the same graph, which means researchers can clearly see the direct effects of a particular weather condition — such as a blizzard — on other variables such as temperature.

Anderson says he receives E-mail from around the world from people comparing the weather at the bases with the conditions in their own regions. In addition, the weather updates tie in well with the Web cams set up at the bases. The weather stations capture the a range of data, but only information about wind speed, wind direction, air temperature, relative humidity and air pressure are displayed on the Web.

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