BGR Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe



Coming soon: GIRAF 2011 Workshop

5. - 9. December 2011
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Organised by the IUGS-CGI and UNESCO
Hosting Organisation: SEAMIC


GIRAF: Geoscience InfoRmation AFrica. Logo



Meteorology is a branch of the atmospheric sciences which includes atmospheric chemistry and atmospheric physics, with a major focus on weather forecasting. The study of meteorology dates back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw modest progress in the field after weather observation networks were formed across broad regions. Prior attempts at prediction of weather depended on historical data. It was not until after the elucidation of the laws of physics and more particularly, the development of the computer, allowing for the automated solution of a great many equations that model the weather, in the latter half of the 20th century that significant breakthroughs in weather forecasting were achieved. An important domain of weather forecasting is marine weather forecasting as it relates to maritime and coastal safety, in which weather effects also include atmospheric interactions with large bodies of water.

The ability to predict rains and floods based on annual cycles was evidently used by humans at least from the time of agricultural settlement if not earlier. Early approaches to predicting weather were based on astrology and were practiced by priests. Cuneiform inscriptions on Babylonian tablets included associations between thunder and rain. The Chaldeans differentiated the 22 and 46 halos.

Ptolemy wrote on the atmospheric refraction of light in the context of astronomical observations. In 1021, Alhazen showed that atmospheric refraction is also responsible for twilight; he estimated that twilight begins when the sun is 19 degrees below the horizon, and also used a geometric determination based on this to estimate the maximum possible height of the Earth's atmosphere as 52,000 passim (about 49 miles, or 79 km).

In 1648, Blaise Pascal rediscovered that atmospheric pressure decreases with height, and deduced that there is a vacuum above the atmosphere. In 1738, Daniel Bernoulli published Hydrodynamics, initiating the Kinetic theory of gases and established the basic laws for the theory of gases. In 1761, Joseph Black discovered that ice absorbs heat without changing its temperature when melting. In 1772, Black's student Daniel Rutherford discovered nitrogen, which he called phlogisticated air, and together they developed the phlogiston theory. In 1777, Antoine Lavoisier discovered oxygen and developed an explanation for combustion. In 1783, in Lavoisier's essay "Reflexions sur le phlogistique", he deprecates the phlogiston theory and proposes a caloric theory. In 1804, Sir John Leslie observed that a matte black surface radiates heat more effectively than a polished surface, suggesting the importance of black-body radiation. In 1808, John Dalton defended caloric theory in A New System of Chemistry and described how it combines with matter, especially gases; he proposed that the heat capacity of gases varies inversely with atomic weight. In 1824, Sadi Carnot analyzed the efficiency of steam engines using caloric theory; he developed the notion of a reversible process and, in postulating that no such thing exists in nature, laid the foundation for the second law of thermodynamics.

In the late 16th century and first half of the 17th century a range of meteorological instruments was invented the thermometer, barometer, hydrometer, as well as wind and rain gauges. In the 1650s natural philosophers started using these instruments to systematically record weather observations. Scientific academies established weather diaries and organised observational networks. In 1654, Ferdinando II de Medici established the first weather observing network, that consisted of meteorological stations in Florence, Cutigliano, Vallombrosa, Bologna, Parma, Milan, Innsbruck, Osnabrck, Paris and Warsaw. The collected data were sent to Florence at regular time intervals. In the 1660s Robert Hooke of the Royal Society of London sponsored networks of weather observers. Hippocrates' treatise Airs, Waters, and Places had linked weather to disease. Thus early meteorologists attempted to correlate weather patterns with epidemic outbreaks, and the climate with public health.

Over the next 50 years many countries established national meteorological services. The India Meteorological Department (1875) was established to follow tropical cyclone and monsoon. The Finnish Meteorological Central Office (1881) was formed from part of Magnetic Observatory of Helsinki University. Japan's Tokyo Meteorological Observatory, the forerunner of the Japan Meteorological Agency, began constructing surface weather maps in 1883. The United States Weather Bureau (1890) was established under the United States Department of Agriculture. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (1906) was established by a Meteorology Act to unify existing state meteorological services.

It was not until later in the 20th century that advances in the understanding of atmospheric physics led to the foundation of modern numerical weather prediction. In 1922, Lewis Fry Richardson published "Weather Prediction By Numerical Process", after finding notes and derivations he worked on as an ambulance driver in World War I. He described how small terms in the prognostic fluid dynamics equations that govern atmospheric flow could be neglected, and a numerical calculation scheme that could be devised to allow predictions. Richardson envisioned a large auditorium of thousands of people performing the calculations. However, the sheer number of calculations required was too large to complete without electronic computers, and the size of the grid and time steps used in the calculations led to unrealistic results. Though numerical analysis later found that this was due to numerical instability.

Meteorologists are scientists who study meteorology. The American Meteorological Society published and continually updates an authoritative electronic Meteorology Glossary. Meteorologists work in government agencies, private consulting and research services, industrial enterprises, utilities, radio and television stations, and in education. In the United States, meteorologists held about 9,400 jobs in 2009.

Each science has its own unique sets of laboratory equipment. In the atmosphere, there are many things or qualities of the atmosphere that can be measured. Rain, which can be observed, or seen anywhere and anytime was one of the first atmospheric qualities measured historically. Also, two other accurately measured qualities are wind and humidity. Neither of these can be seen but can be felt. The devices to measure these three sprang up in the mid-15th century and were respectively the rain gauge, the anemometer, and the hygrometer. Many attempts had been made prior to the 15th century to construct adequate equipment to measure the many atmospheric variables. Many were faulty in some way or were simply not reliable. Even Aristotle noted this in some of his work as the difficulty to measure the air.

Remote sensing, as used in meteorology, is the concept of collecting data from remote weather events and subsequently producing weather information. The common types of remote sensing are Radar, Lidar, and satellites (or photogrammetry). Each collects data about the atmosphere from a remote location and, usually, stores the data where the instrument is located. Radar and Lidar are not passive because both use EM radiation to illuminate a specific portion of the atmosphere. Weather satellites along with more general-purpose Earth-observing satellites circling the earth at various altitudes have become an indispensable tool for studying a wide range of phenomena from forest fires to El Nio.


Dr. Kristine Asch
Phone: +49-(0)511-643-3324
Fax: +49-(0)511-643-3782