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Music of the atmosphere

Tom Gill / Published on 4 November 2013

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Kevin Hicks

Senior Research Fellow

SEI York

 SEI collaborates with NASA to “sonify” satellite ozone data
SEI collaborates with NASA to “sonify” satellite ozone data

Ozone levels, specifically ozone closer to the earth’s surface, have significant negative impacts on human health, climate and crop yields.

SEI staff, along with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, have worked together to make a sound picture of ozone conentrations around the world.

The impacts of ozone depend to a great extent on location. The band RPE Duo based their work on data gathered by NASA’s infrared TES spectrometer, aboard the Aura satellite, drawn from six locations around the globe with contrasting levels of ozone – London, New York, Beijing, the Sahara, the Amazon, and New Zealand. Average monthly ozone concentration was used for each location over a period of 12 months. RPE Duo recently toured the East Coast of the U.S. with their work.

View a short film about the project and RPE Duo's New York gig
 View a short film about the project and RPE Duo’s New York gig

Band member and SEI’s IT officer in York, Radek Rudnicki, said: “We used sonifiication of data in order to raise awareness of the issue – about how ozone is harmful for human health. We used different kinds of sonification, like parameter marking, marking pitch, controlling improvisation, and we used ten notes from the trumpet’s range to correspond to the values of the ozone. So the concentration was dictating the pitch, and also the decay of the drums – the higher the concentration, the higher the decay.

“The piece is divided by the six locations, and going from one to another I was more active and playing more rhythmic material where the concentration was higher, for example in Beijing, whereas the pieces for the Amazon or New Zealand were more atmospheric.”

Kevin Hicks, Senior Research Fellow at SEI’s York Centre and expert on air pollution impacts, helped provide the scientific basis for the project.

“I’m excited about this piece because I think it operates on three levels: first of all it’s a piece of music that can be enjoyed in its own right. Secondly, people who listen will be exposed to the ozone issue, and thirdly, it can be used as a data analysis tool, so by using music you might be able to see differences in the data that might not be so obvious to the human eye,” said Hicks.

SEI recently coordinated a groundbreaking international study in partnership with UNEP, the “Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone.”

“The study proposes measures to reduce concentrations of tropospheric ozone and get the attendant benefits for human health, ecosystems and the climate. As a result of this study and others that followed, action is now being taken to reduce levels of tropospheric ozone around the globe,” Hicks said.

The report was one of the key documents that lead to the establishment of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) in 2012

Learn more and download the UNEP black carbon report»

Read more about RPE Duo»

Rudnicki will this week begin a UK tour with another music project, Space F!ght, which will work with visualizing ozone data at the same time as sonifying it, using saxophone, guitar and electronica.

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SEI York

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