Atmospheric Feedback Loops

Sonic Acts Academy February 25-26 2016


This two-day workshop begins with a site visit to the Cabauw Experimental Site for Atmospheric Research, in the western part of the Netherlands. Here we will meet the scientists and instruments that monitor, measure, and model atmospheric changes as they interact with land surface processes. The observatory and its various sensing technologies have been collecting data since August 24 1970 and continue to evolve new tools for measurement and test new modes of remote observation. On our second day we take our field experiences back into the academy setting for an intensive workshop around the key issues that emerged for us. Reading materials will help to situate these discussions.

Climate change and weather systems have become spatial objects that can be measured and modelled, and even controlled and “forced”. During the 1950s the Soviet Union actually experimented with accelerating glacial melt (climate forcing) by deliberating blackening snow surfaces with coal dust to boost their capacity to absorb solar radiation and thus aid in irrigation and supplement water supplies to areas affected by drought. The meteorological variables that characterise climate systems such as temperature, humidity, wind, and precipitation are similarly shared by weather. While climate refers to the ways in which these variables interact over extended periods, weather charts changing atmospheric phenomena over days and even hours, thus the predictive move towards “nowcasting”. From the long-term tracking of atmospheric conditions to the day-to-day monitoring of weather systems that can be used to forecast incoming storms, the governance of these temporally complex spatial objects has increasingly been organised around the control of atmospheric uncertainty.

Together in our workshop we will investigate how certain mathematical models of weather prediction and the computation of long-term climate change became effective through the transformation of the observatory into a large networked system of ground stations, mainframe computers, satellites, instruments and sensors. In short, the ways they generate feedback loops between atmospheric phenomena, terrestrial processes, and technical infrastructures. Its primary objective is not only to open up the techno-scientific black-box of climate science and weather prediction to humanities scholars and artists, but also to envision what a cultural approach to uncertainty expressed by and through the calculation of climate change might be.

Cabauw Experimental Site for Atmospheric Research