Rimensberger’s visualizations were based on wind, cloud and rain data made freely available to the scientific community as part of the international IEEE Scientific Visualization Contest. The underlying simulation recreates the weather conditions on the evening of April 26, 2013 and was developed as part of a large-scale meteorology research project called HD(CP)², in which more than 100 researchers from 19 institutions participated.
The computer science student combined existing algorithms to visualize cloud formation and air currents, applying recent methods used in the research field of scientific visualization.
[The colored surfaces represents all points of a cloud with the same water content (white) or ice content (violet) . Blue surfaces the places where a certain amount of rain is falling. From ETH Zurich]
Exploring new possibilities
Rimensberger emphasizes that he was less interested in developing viable predictive tools for meteorology than in exploring the possibilities of “representing weather data in a relatively simple, comprehensible way”. The value for science is that the 3D graphics reveal something that is not visible with 2D graphics, and thus provide a better overall picture.
For example, Rimensberger’s visualizations show how clouds form over Germany and change over time, how they are carried upwards by updrafts and then transported by winds in the troposphere more than 6 miles above the ground. Cloud zones with an identical water and ice content are shown in different colors.
The computer science student also analyzed air currents. The lines represent the paths of air parcels, and their colors indicate how much an air parcel rotates around its own axis. The length of the lines provides information on the distance traveled, and thus visualizes the flow velocity. Ascending clouds create turbulences that cause stronger vorticity or changes in trajectory. Both can be read from the path lines.
[3D visualization of updrafts and clouds in a hilly terrain of Germany. From ETH Zurich]