Weather observations and early international coordination

Instruments for scientific observation of the weather became available in the early 1700s, with the barometer and thermometer. At the Stockholm Observatory, there is an unbroken temperature record since 1756. There was also an increasing theoretical understanding about the connections between temperature and the atmospheric movements.

International collaboration came early to meteorology. As early as 1657, King Ferdinand II of Tuscany established an international meteorological network where human observers at eleven locations throughout Europe observed and reported twice daily the temperature, pressure, humidity, state of the sky, and force and direction of the wind.15 In 1780, the meteorological society of Mannheim had a network of 39 stations making observations by calibrated instruments and recording them in yearbooks.16 However, the lack of simultaneous observations at several places made it difficult to make any predictions about the weather. The breakthrough for the practical application of meteorology for weather prediction came with the development of the telegraph. It could be used to share data and also to distribute forecasts. Realizing this new potential, several European countries established central meteorological offices.17 Again, one could use the notion of centers of calculation for describing how the networks connect. In Sweden, one of Arrhenius' colleagues at the Swedish Physical Society used the development in Europe as an argument to reform the Swedish meteorological central office. It had, according to him, not followed the times and development meteorology into a practical issue for fisheries and shipping.18

Establishing some kind of international coordination of measurements was a prerequisite for the new weather-forecasting activity. Thus, in 1853 a US navy lieutenant convened the first international meteorological conference in Brussels. One of the results was a standard instruction for meteorological observations at sea and a system for the collection of sea logs. This is the type of data that later became important in analyzing global temperature trends and thus in establishing whether Earth's climate is chang

14 Michael T. Bravo and Sverker Sorlin, "Narrative and Practice - an Introduction," in Narrating the Arctic. A Cultural History of Nordic Scientific Practices, eds. Michael T. Bravo and Sverker Sorlin, 332 (Canton, MA: Science History Publications, 2002), 12-13.

15 Robert Serafin, "How Did Our Weather Measurement Systems Evolve?," Science Now 3, no. 2 (1996).

16 WMO, "The Historical Roots of WMO," (Accessed 18 Oct. 2005).

17 Nationalencyklopedin, Band 13, Stockholm: Bra Bocker 1994.

18 Gustav Holmberg, "Nils Ekholm, stormvarningarna och allmanheten," in Den mediala vetenskapen, ed. Anders Ekstrom, 91-105 (Nora: Nya Doxa, 2004).

ing.19 The Brussels conference became a starting point for further international collaboration, and at the First International Meteorological Congress in Geneva 1873, the International Meteorological Organization (IMO) was created. This brief look at the history of meteorology shows how the practical needs of weather forecasting were an important driver in making formal connections among actors in different countries, with the actors being the meteorological offices. The initially fragile actor networks became increasingly formal structures. The IMO was a non-governmental organization and active until the end of World War II, when its role was taken over by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) as a special agency of the United Nations. The IMO can thus be seen as a model for the norms of international coordination and sharing of data, which later became central for structuring global climate science under the auspices of the WMO.

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