May 14, 2012

This Map may Blow Your Mind. ~ Richard Kujawski

You can hear the wind. And watch other things get moved by it.

But now you can literally see the wind in action from far, far above.

Two Google computer scientists have created the Wind Map, which takes hourly wind information from the National Weather Service’s forecast database and displays the results in strangely beautiful grey and white strands across an outline of the U.S.

Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg, who currently lead Google’s “Big Picture” visualisation research group, are experts at finding ways to visualize data. (Some suggest their Google connection is why the map looks best using Google’s Chrome.)

Their Wind Map traces the wind patterns across the country so that we can literally see the wind from a satellite’s perspective. (The map is black, gray, and white, with lighter areas indicating stronger winds.)

Praise for the “Wind Map” is nearly universal, with bloggers making statements like “a living Vincent van Gogh masterpiece” and “a thing of beauty” and “brings to life the unusually invisible beauty of the wind” and “mesmerizing bird’s eye view of the country’s air stream.”

One observer noted that “It can be quite hypnotizing to watch the gusty trails blast across the American continent, skitter over the Sierras, get roughed up by the Rockies, and whoosh over the great plains on its way to Canada.”

Based in Cambridge, MA, Viégas and Wattenberg hope that their intricately detailed map will show how much clean, renewable energy could potentially be harnessed, and identify the best locations. The pair to soon expand the map to cover not just the U.S. but the whole planet.

As the Wind Map creators say on their website:

“An invisible, ancient source of energy surrounds us—energy that powered the first explorations of the world, and that may be a key to the future.”

They warn viewers that the map is just a personal art project. “We’ve done our best to make this as accurate as possible, but can’t make any guarantees about the correctness of the data or our software. Please do not use the map or its data to fly a plane, sail a boat, or fight wildfires.”

But it’s an art project by visionary artists. They say, “As technologists we ask, ‘Can visualization help people think collectively?’ As artists we seek the joy of revelation. Can visualization tell never-before-told stories?”

To see snapshots of blustery days, check out The Wind Map’s moving-image gallery.

Richard Kujawski is Managing Editor for LivingGreenMag, an online publication that informs and educates readers on a range of environmental and lifestyle issues, and highlights various non-profit causes. Visit www.LivingGreenMag.com.

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~ Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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