Category Archives: Weather Channel

Our Globalized Maps of Ocean Temperatures

Classical terrestrial world maps–either the detailed terrestrial world projections that associated with the atlas-makers Mercator and Abraham Ortelius or those terrestrial planispheres noting cities and ancient monuments of Ptolemaic design–were based on a need to find a solution to how to transfer the curved surface of the world to a flat surface.  When we are talking about global events–from warming to El Niño–we need to synthesize global variations in a spectrum of a set of surface temperatures that only a satellite can assemble, and to read them as inscribed on a global surface.  The virtual image of weather changes depend on information  removed from actual landscape, or inhabited land–but rests on the persuasive power of a compelling image of the earth’s curved surface in the synthesis of a coherent image of ocean temperatures over a continuous expanse of the earth’s surface:  although undoubtedly provoked by the world’s inhabitants, and a revealing record of the anthopocene, the mapping of oceanic temperature is something of a record of climatological impact and of the increasing need to come to comprehend shifting temperatures of the word’s oceans in truly globalized terms.

Is this map more powerful because it recalls a familiar globe, and because it promises to mediate record of the ocean’s equator that would be otherwise totally unable to be visualized in a coherent visual form?  The global visualization creates a compelling record to understand the odd embodiment of a shifting pattern of climate prediction, even if the synthesis lacks reference to a cartographical model or a set of scribal practices.  The map provides a way of detecting (and indeed predicting) unusually warm ocean temperatures that create El Niño, in ways that trace the preconditions to create a cascade of climactic changes provoked ocean surface topography through a visual syntax akin to a weather map:  the virtual globe deploys digital media to map movement across and motion through oceans, tracing shifts in subsurface ocean temperatures over space that would be otherwise concealed from sight:  the silhouettes of  the continental masses not only displace attention from the land, but subordinate land weather patterns to the irregularities changes in atmospheric pressure and sea temperatures that they foreground in a strikingly technicolor map whose hues mirror heat-sensitive readings, rather than areas of settlement.  (Continents are only present as ghostly images in these maps that direct our attention and interest to the phenomena sensed in ocean waters.)




The satellite thermal map of the swelling of seawater around the equator, generated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, tracks the temperatures beneath the swelling of oceanic waters to forecast El Niño oscillations this summer and fall.  By tracking significant sea surface temperature anomalies, they trace changes to gauge the possibilities of potential future major weather disruption of the globe, and to try to comprehend the shifts in temperature that might change weather systems in so drastic a way to impact food chains, agricultural economies, and climactic experiences in similarly out of the ordinary ways, exposing the otherwise hidden shifts in ocean temperatures by catchy chromatic spectrum of colors around the equator.


Jet Streams


Rather than only trace migrations, the map marks pronounced sea surface temperature rise across the Pacific is suggested by the surface’s deep crimson reds, extending from the islands off Singapore.  The Google Earth satellite view contrast to the arboreal distribution of the topography more evident, as if to embody the threat that it poses to the landmasses that are the usual focus of world atlases.


latest_sst.jpg   SST Anomalies


The spread of warm waters across the Pacific indicated in such maps echo the famous charting of sea-temperature anomalies of 1997-98 El Niño, which La Niña followed, when the end of trade winds led warm waters to slosh Eastward, pushing cooler water down from the surface, and interrupting the feeding habitats of fish and aquatic environments and interrupting the local marine food web.  The map traces shifts in surface temperatures by tracking of anomalies in the below video to suggest an advancing augmenting of surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific.

The anomaly of equatorial sea-temperatures across the Pacific is most easily pictured by mapping the greatest warmth in red:  the visualization of global variations across the ocean surface suggests sustained pattens of temperature rise, mapping not only temperatures but their divergence the form the median, and tracing patterns in their variability over time–far more meaningful in the global ecosystem than the relations between surface temperatures tout court.

The result is a new globalist map, tracking not countries and border lines or borderlands, but that “other ecumene”–that other inhabited world–of oceans and ocean life:



At least the hope is to start to direct attention to it, and to an area of the world’s temperatures that are not often mapped.  The above visualization rests on an ability to synthesize a coherent constellation of multiple factors–prepared in a cogently digested form–but proves a guide to local imbalances and deviations, in the hope that we can grasp the global impact of these increases in the collective image that results, offering considering subtlety to register local shifts across space that help reveal the whirls, eddies, flows and sloshes across the ocean seas, even if it might require far more learning to interpret in its consequences than the more familiar sorts of weather maps that we are used to access on line.  While not a globe or a sphere that earlier globe-makers might recognize, the elegantly articulated silhouetted continents suggest contre-jour qualities of the map, as if demanding that we start to try to pay attention to the deeper temperature changes in the seas that will reveal how shifts in atmospheric pressure create temperature shifts that will lead to a redistribution of nutrients in the ocean created by the consequent shift in upwelling and alter rainfall patterns worldwide or create droughts or typhoons as the result of an unusual warming of waters just below the ocean’s surface.

The dazzling image of the surrounding medium that conditions and prepares the climactic variations of the unmapped land to which they are so deeply linked, create an image of a global weather system we are only slightly prepared to come to understand.  The map’s comprehensive coverage of ocean temperatures is a shocker of a visualization, employing a rainbow of gradations of color to striking effect that combines both the exactitude of pinpoint images and the tools of digital visualization.  It is a sort of learning experience or primer on the immensity of global climate change, creating several deeply intractable pockets of climate change all closely located offshore, scarily noting the surprising relative proximity of the warmest areas to those regions, shown in white, which designate the remaining regions of polar ice, at the same time as the change in temperature seems embodied at an odd remove from the viewer or the surrounding shores.  Similarly generated maps created from remote sensing constitute some of the greatest emblems of the environmental disasters of our time.  Other options used by NOAA to chart the swell in temperatures in the upper 300 meters of the Pacific ocean in 2014 track a growing swell of something like an oceanic monster that grows in swells beneath its surface, evoking something of a large-scale sea monster that gradually began to reach across the Pacific toward the shores of South America, against the easterly winds that usually send surface water west across the Pacific.

The progress of waters beneath the ocean’s surface seem to track an animated entity in this set of subsurface charts, which capture the progress of the slosh of water magnifying the subsurface temperatures across the Pacific out of actual proportions to increase the visibility of temperature changes that seem to flow as if they were submerged underwater almost biomorphic forms resembling monstrous worms or undersea tornadoes that channel currents of churning heat that span the pacific, deep below the ocean’s surface:


Feb 19 slosh,jpgmid-February, 2014


Feb 19 slosh,jpg March 16 sloshmid-March, 2014   March 16 sloshmid-April, 2014


In  a Kelvin wave, pushing from the warm waters of Indonesia to South America, the slosh of ocean waters can prompt the cascade of atmospheric events.  The bounded parameters of the visualization are limited to the ocean, but are meant to provoke a similar imagining of the potential events that such a swell might trigger, and provided one of the first indications of a probability of possible climactic shifts over the months to come. Despite the specificity of readings that it can coherently synthesize, the chromatic blending of these measurements in a real ‘heat map’ of ocean temperatures create a false demarcation of categories, by removing the temperature changes from their effects in magnifying their deviation from the norm.  Mapping the ocean as a surface of travel or site of navigation has long challenged the categories of visualization employed in land maps, if only because of the fact that the notion of oceanic space challenged the categories that were developed to visualize surface topographies.

The synthesis of mapping temperatures at different depths track migrations of water in the medium of the ocean is perforce removed from the specificities of place transcribed and tried to be pinpointed in earlier engraved maps,  that tried to render legible the currents, routes, currents and eddies of the sea, or to record the variations in the underlying ocean floor.  The globalist maps of the ocean’s temperatures that result offer something more like an animated graphic, instead of an objective form, because they lack clear contour lines or fixity that were the basis by which so many earlier ocean maps tried to calibrate currents, negotiate sea-routes, track winds, or map the topography of the ocean’s floor.

The embodiment of the expanding biomorphic swell in subsurface temperatures, mapped as extending across the Pacific, renders the shift in temperature as gliding contra corrente. They offer a major change in the claims and abilities of totalistic mapping of the oceans, and in the attribution of embodied characteristics to the ocean–which emerges now, if in ways that seem metaphorically misleading, as somewhat organic, as if it were something of a separate living entity from the land, which almost gained its own context, rather than appearing as either a surface for viewing nautical travel–


North America with the Opposite CoastsRumsey Associates


–or the result of an array of bathymetric bearings of submarine topographies by collating depth-soundings taken by sailors on weighted lines.


SF Bay


Of course, the topic of the maps–global climate change–is itself removed from the precision to mapping nautical location to calibrate calculated routes, path, or place as marked by means of a line, and understand risks of nautical travel, and a concept of travel rooted to the ocean’s superficies.  The maps of oceanic temperatures not only reflect the transferral of maps from paper to the far more heavily pixellated medium of the screen, but a search for visual formats of embodying shifting temperatures that were often elusive as subjects of global mapping in earlier charting traditions.

As such, they suggest, in the rhetoric of uncovering hidden changes detected by satellite, both the need to try to process global shifts in temperature in tactile terms, an eery remove at which the changes in oceanic temperature lie from the viewer, hinting ominously and only by extension about the likely possibility of future risks of global climate change to which the world’s inhabitants are now, as if suddenly, finding themselves to be subject.

The new premium on taking stock of mapping temperature change is about learning to visualize the migration of ocean temperatures as if by analogy to a weather chart–and indeed the resemblance to the images of cold fronts on the Weather Channel seems striking–but in ways that take into consideration how these movements in temperature migrate in currents and swells through and across the ocean’s own watery medium, and cannot only be considered in the localized perspectives of the individual points of a depth-charge.  For the mapping of oceanic temperatures are not only a way of mapping the communication of heat, or the rising temperatures of the world and its atmosphere, but the newly inter-related concept of what it means to be warm.

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Filed under global weather mapping, mapping abnormal sea temperatures, mapping global climate change, mapping ocean swells, NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, Weather Channel, weather maps

Maps in the Air

The novelist Edward St.-Aubyn offers a moving description of the existential torture in-flight maps inflict on his hero.  St.-Aubyn captures indeterminate relation we all feel as passengers suspended before the sheer toponymic abundance displayed on monitors during air travel, which offer handy metaphors for one’s own suspended relation to space.  The in-flight maps are often as disorienting as orienting, and might trigger a moment of panic, even as they seek to pacify by providing a clearer pathway to one’s destination than one could imagine in air.  Especially for Robert:  “Robert switched channels to the map. It showed the airplane hovering near Cork. Then it expanded to show London and Paris and the Bay of Biscay.  The next scale included Casablanca and Djibouti and Warsaw. How long was this informational feast going to go on? Where were they in relation to the moon?  The only thing anyone wanted to know finally came up: 52 minutes to arrival. They were flying through seven fat hours, pumped full of darkening time zones. . . . They told you everything, except the local time on the plane.”

While these in-flight pixellated screens are over-abundant when it comes to information, the relative dryness of it makes scrutinizing them for meaning as much a masochistic form of torture as the lighting of the inflight cabin itself.

In-Plane Map

There was far less information on this flight monitor, which by a fluke wasn’t working. It didn’t communicate the anticipation of arrival, or give the sense of the snail’s pace of the plan crawling across the video screen.


But it provoked a musing. Because of the presence of maps in so many areas of our daily lives, this may be yet another context in wich we’ve come to devalue the map, and lowered expectations for its use at all.  Up in the air, the sort of orienting map we’re given is often of little use anyways:  this seems to be an assurance that the trip will take a long time, more than even to offer a sense of how long remains in flight.  If it used to offer a sort of minor visual diversion (of whose accuracy we were never so sure) or a sort of punishment inflicted for not buying access to the in-flight film, the in-flight monitor has been marginalized as a flight-tracker map by the deluge of mediated maps of flight paths, like the maps at websites like “Flight Aware.”  The huge amount of metadata–and vastly superior user-interface–these websites deliver to travelers must have diminished expectations for in-flight monitors, if not bring a certain healthy skepticism about the level of accuracy or trust such maps could promise their readers.


Flight-Tracker map


Who doesn’t feel empowered by their newfound ability to track weather formations nation-wide, courtesy CNN or the Weather Channel.  In the maps of FlightAware, the mere addition of the generic swirls of cloud-cover that move across the flat screen add a realist touch from the weather map to an otherwise stagnant and static symbolic form:


Flight Tracker with Clouds


Thanks to the resources of FlightAware, otherwise bored passengers, who forgot to bring novels onboard or have finished their newspapers, can browse flight conditions in different areas, and track the density of airplane travel in screens in ways that have all the symbolic characteristics of an antiquated video game:


Live Flight Tracking--FlyAware


The sort of assent that the in-flight tracking screen once commanded has, it almost seems, been eroded by the proliferation of maps in media like FlightAware, so that they have become an antiquated relic still built into most passenger planes, but rarely consulted for information in the sort of user-friendly ways of the  recent past.  The erosion of their authority might be mirrored in the very sort of in-fight hard-copy maps we find in facing seat-pockets, which  foreground the cities/airports that the airplanes serve–more to communicate that they’ve got the map covered and to advertise future flight possibilities, than to orient the viewer to space:   the service map is surrogate for the nation, which takes second-seat to the aerial triangulation of air-hubs in Boston, JFK, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, San Juan, and Long Beach, sites of airports that constitute a sort of ring around its physical expanse–of course, the map is clickable on their site, but it looks like an uninteractive screen in its paper form.


Where We Jet-JET BLUE

I use that to imagine potential future routes by electing plugin destinations once I get home:

website flight route

But it didn’t serve as much more than an advertisement for future travel plans in its paper form.  The lack of content or topographic variation in the flyer, as well as a lack of interface without wifi, making the image above the stowed tray-table disconcerting.  The Google map format offers a map randomly framed and without a marker to trace the itinerary of the flight path, although with stretches of interesting stagnant greenery whose narrow ornamental in character makes one ponder what it signifies–remaining underlying greenery? old forest growth? cloud cover?  remaining wild areas?  There seems much more of it in Canada.



This seems mapping in the age of NAFTA, or at least driven by specific economic needs and a monopoly on the quality of cartographical information that can be delivered to passengers after the seat-belt buckle is fully inserted and snapped, and one faces monitor of reduced size.  Then again, the monopoly on the quality and range of automated delivery of readily constructed cartographical information that continues to be provided even after we deplane, where the airline provides numbers of maps in monitors that seem to seek to prove that they are up-to-date with models of commanding assent to their content–usually by referencing weather maps.  (Are such low-res video maps programmed for sequenced delivery to passengers, one often wonders, or do they indeed reflect real time travels of the airplane in which one sits?)


Maps in Airports--Jet Blue NYC

Despite the clear elitism that is on view at this library, and the stability of a relation to place that this globe in the city of Fermo suggests, the difference in the viewer’s relation to the terrestrial surface is a huge difference in time, and in how one moves through space.

Fermo Library


There was a nice irony by which these cartographical eras met and overlapped in the Burlington airport, where several of the multiple maps that Samuel Champlain designed of the area and nearby lake that bears his name are displayed on banners for anyone who would like to see.  Or the map inlaid in the pavement of Oakland airport’s baggage claim:  it declares to all arrivals with blunt finality that they have at last arrived, adopting the iconography of the Robertson projection once used by Pan-American airlines to trumpet the position of Oakland in the world, marking it by an outsized start that violates the principles of scale and precision, but that returns the tired traveller’s back to the place where s/he has arrived, no longer coasting over the meridians of the globe, but now having arrived at the imagined center of the intersection of two hemispheres–an intersection coincident, here, with the United States.


Arriving at Port of Oakland--Airport Inlay Map


Filed under Flight Tracking, FlightAware, Port of Oakland, Weather Channel