2.3 Meteorology and Photography: A Symbiotic and Historical Relationship

Tuesday, 12 January 2016: 2:00 PM
Room 231/232 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Terry Nathan, Univ. of California, Davis, CA

Born of science and nurtured by art, photography has exposed the invisible. From X-ray diffraction photographs of DNA to the faint light at the far reaches of the universe, photography has enabled science to record and document for later analysis a wide range of natural phenomena. The seeds of this photography–science relationship were sown centuries ago, beginning with developments in light and optics during antiquity and continuing with experiments using light-sensitive compounds during the Enlightenment. But it would be the early nineteenth century before experiments were conducted that were successful in permanently fixing an image with light-sensitive materials. These experiments culminated in the invention of photography, which was publicly announced on January 7, 1839 at a meeting of the Académie des Sciences in Paris. From this beginning, photography and science have formed an immutable bond, where photography has relied on science for its technological developments, and science has utilized photography as an essential tool for probing and documenting the natural world.

In earth science, photography has a long history of advancing understanding of natural and human-caused changes to the environment. In meteorology, photographic imagery has evolved from simple ground-based documentation of local weather phenomena in the nineteenth century to the global depiction of circulations and radiation using space-based platforms today. In this presentation, the symbiotic and historical relationship that has existed between meteorology and photography for more than 175 years will be discussed within the context of such phenomena as lightning, severe weather, and climate change. The discussion will be spurred by several questions, including: Has meteorological science propelled new technologies in photography and, if so, have those technologies been used to serve the broader scientific community? Has photography exposed meteorological phenomena that would have otherwise remained unknown? Can photographs of meteorological phenomena be used as data and, if so, is the data reliable and can others independently replicate it? And are historical weather photos relevant to meteorological research today?

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