The Secret Life of a Weather Datum

Our research project aims to pilot a new approach for better understanding and communicating how socio-cultural values and practices are articulated in the transformation of weather data on its journey from production through to various contexts of ‘big data’ collation, distribution and re-use; and, how these socio-cultural values and practices themselves transform as they interact with the data at various moments over the course of its journey.

Through focusing on the small in ‘big’ weather data by tracing the (metaphorical) journey of a single weather datum from its production and collation into a ‘big’ dataset, to its distribution and re-use in three different socio-cultural contexts – climate science, financial markets and citizen science projects – the project aims to develop an innovative conceptualisation of ‘big data’ production and use that encourages engagement with the complex socio-cultural processes shaping contemporary data-driven developments.

The project asks the following questions:

  • What is the ‘journey’ that weather data produced by the UK’s Met Office takes from its production through to its collation and re-use as ‘big’ weather data in different contexts?
  • What socio-cultural values and practices are articulated in the transformation of this data on its journey from production through to various contexts of collation, distribution and re-use, and how do these socio-cultural values and practices themselves transform as they interact with the data over the course of its journey?
  • What institutional policies and practices, and government policies and legislation, shape the distribution and licensing of weather data for re-use in different contexts?
  • How can the complexity of the socio-cultural dynamics shaping the production, collation, distribution and re-use of ‘big’ weather data be communicated to a wider audience?
  • To answer these research questions, the project develops four distinct, but interconnected case studies, which enable exploration of socio-cultural values and practices shaping weather data production, collation, distribution and re-use across institutions of the state and market, and in the collective actions of citizen groups. The case studies focus on: the production of the weather datum by the UK’s Met Office; the public and institutional policy context shaping its distribution; the re-use of the weather datum within key centres of UK Climate Science including the Met Office Hadley Centre, the weather risk and derivatives markets in the UK’s financial sector, and citizen science projects including the Old Weather Project.

The project will produce a working paper for each case study, and three academic journal articles.

The tangible asset to come out of this project will be an interactive website with integrated research data archive aimed at public engagement with the topic of ‘big’ weather data production and re-use. This asset will be developed further in the future, and will be Creative Commons licensed to encourage re-use of the case materials by others. The project will host an online launch of this website, and an innovative end of project event aimed at dissemination and impact within and beyond academia.

The research team are:

  • Dr Jo Bates, Information School, University of Sheffield (Principal Investigator)
  • Dr Yuwei Lin, University for the Creative Arts (Co-Investigator)
  • Paula Goodale, Information School, University of Sheffield (Research Associate)

The project is funded by the AHRC under the Digital Transformations Big Data call, and runs from 1 January 2014 to 31 March 2015.