GAIA 5.0: A science–art project using ECMWF data

Renate C.‐Z.‐Quehenberger (philosopher and independent art researcher)
Louise Arnal, Kristian Mogensen (both ECMWF)


Over the last year, artist and philosopher Renate C.‐Z.‐Quehenberger collaborated with scientists at ECMWF (Louise Arnal and Kristian Mogensen) and at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (Rita Van Dingenen, Thomas Petroliagkis and Frank Raes) on her science–art (SciArt) project GAIA 5.0: A Holographic Image ‐ Ambience. This was created for the JRC’s Resonances III festival and exhibition from 15 October to 8 November 2019 in Ispra, Italy. The work was also shown at the BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels from 5 December 2019 to 19 January 2020.

The centrepiece of the project is a 3D animated video art work based on ECMWF data for two tropical cyclones, Luban and Titli, which developed in early October 2018 over the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, respectively. It was presented as a hologram installation and as an interactive Virtual Reality (VR) experience.

Still from the 3D animated visualisation and VR experience GAIA 5.0. The image shows a 3D representation of the tropical cyclones Luban and Titli above the Indian Ocean, reconstructed using ECMWF data on ocean temperature, humidity and clouds. The red and purple shading shows humidity, while the pale blue and yellow areas show sea-surface temperature and the cross section of the ocean shows temperature. (Image: Leyla Kern/HLRS)

During a visit to ECMWF in May 2019, Louise Arnal and Kristian Mogensen provided Renate Quehenberger with ECMWF data for the two tropical cyclones. The data were ERA5 reanalysis data together with ocean data from a simulation produced using the community ocean model NEMO with ERA5 forcing data. The variables provided included geopotential height, surface pressure, ocean depth, wind components, cloud coverage, humidity and temperature. Visualisations of the data were created at the High Performance Computing Center (HLRS) in Stuttgart, Germany, using the visualisation software COVISE and VISTLE together with the OpenCover renderer. The software enables interactive exploration of immersive environments and supports the processing of large datasets. It was adapted to the needs of the project, for example by enabling it to read netCDF files. The data were processed at HLRS by Leyla Kern and the head of visualisation, Uwe Wössner. The result was a visual reconstruction of the meteorological event as a combination of oceanic and atmospheric dynamics.

The visualisation of coupled atmosphere–ocean dynamics, including the way in which tropical cyclones are fuelled by heat from the ocean, can help viewers to gain a better understanding of the complexity of the Earth system and extreme event generation. By being aesthetically pleasing, the animation attracts an audience with no prior knowledge of the subject matter and communicates the science in a more approachable way than other modes of presentation.

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