Marian Steinbach: Blog

Radiation is there, and so is the data


Video on vimeo

The german Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz (BfS) is, among other duties, in charge of measuring gamma radiation in the atmosphere throughout Germany. A network of about 1750 Geiger counters collects data which is displayed publicly on a very basic user interface. Since the Tsunami in Japan and the subsequent, ongoing nuclear desaster in Fukushima, interest in radiation has risen everywhere. According to a BfS press relations officer, the BfS has been confronted with numerous requests to open up their raw data to the public. Fortunately, the BfS has reacted and given access to raw data downloads on a per-users basis.

I have started archiving that data in order to be able to create time-series visualizations. The above video shows a first non-interactive attempt with the data I have so far. (Unfortunately, the BfS only publishes 2-hour-interval readings for a 24 hour timespan and 24-hour-interval data for 7 days. So far, there is no access to historic data reaching further into the past.)

So now we can see, for a limited time frame, how radiation behaved dynamically. Not everybody knows that radiation is a fact of daily life. Even fewer might know that it differs quite a bit between locations and also changes over time. To me it’s particularly interesting to see how values rise and fall similar to waves moving over the country. The probable explanation for this is the influence of rain, which causes readings to rise. The BfS has more information about this in german language.

Of course, radiation is a difficult thing to substantiate. Even if numeric values are displayed as colours or as marks on a scale, the meaning remains abstract. And I have no plans to change this.

However, I can imagine a whole lot of other things to try out. For example, why not try to add a layer of rain information, so one can maybe see if a local radiation rise actually correlates with rain. Or, of course, try different measures for values, like circle radius or go into the third dimension. And, naturally, there should be an interactive way to “scrub” over the time scale, so users can choose the time frame and speed for themselves. (With a good video player, this works, but the vimeo player doesn’t really allow for that.) And last but not least, there could be numerous ways to interact with single dots (sensors) or a group of them, to get details, curves etc. or compare radiation on two spots.

What do you think? What would you like to know and see?

Update: The Python source code is available here.


Tobias on 2011/07/11 at 11:10h GMT:

Thanks, that’s a great visualisation. I believe the dots work quite well for this case. Nevertheless I believe the perfect vis. would be a heatplot/heatmap in 2d, maybe in 3d — like the one we saw on the #see6-conference for cellphone-data in rome:
(the first image)

How sure are you about the corellation with rain? Maybe it can be visually proven by taking just one image of your video and the corresponding weather image to show side by side…

Jan Helebrant on 2011/07/20 at 14:06h GMT:

we have blocked online videos so I did not see it. However, BfS has really visible increase in dose rate measurements?

We have also many measurements in Czech Republic and except of aerosol samplers which noticed some increases of Iodine-131 and other radionuclides, standard dose-rate detectors of the warning network did not report any serious increase. Here are some graphs:

dose rates map
and table

in fact, we have a small dose rate increase during every rain, which washes out the radionuclides from the atmosphere.

We plan to create some interpolated maps for the data and publish it (no idea when it will be finished :-) )


Marian Steinbach on 2011/07/20 at 16:05h GMT:

Jan, interesting to see in your links that there is actual information on what isotopes are emitting the radiation. The Cs137 increase in April is quite noteable. (First I had a hard time deciphering the date axis labels…)

Unfortunately, the BfS currently doesn’t provide historic values and I only started collecting the short-term data in June. So we cannot correlate that with the data I have from Germany. But, I guess, If you asked the BfS directly, they would probably hand out datasets.

Di on 2011/07/26 at 19:13h GMT:


It would be useful to also have a day time clock, or bar, showing 0-24 hours, in addition to the text labels indicating time of day.


Marian Steinbach on 2011/07/26 at 19:18h GMT:

Di, you’re right! That would facilitate keeping track of the time progress while actually not focussing on the time labels but on the map. Thanks for the suggestion, I might try something.

Kris Lee on 2011/09/20 at 01:00h GMT:

The weather pattern is very clear for me. Now what would be really interesting is to do the same animation with the data prior Fukushima.

Would it possible that you ask BfS to provide this data for you?

Marian Steinbach on 2011/09/20 at 08:09h GMT:

@Kris I don’t expect any difference between pre- and post-Fukushima behaviour, at least none that would be visisble in this visualization. If there was an increase in the readings, which would be quite possible (see Jan’s comment above about readings in Czech Republic), I guess it would have to be determined by creating the means of all stations. If you look at single sensors, as my visualization does, local day-to-day effects probably account for much greater changes than radiation from Fukushima would.

Ola on 2011/11/16 at 01:58h GMT:

Im from Poland and i have just seen the visualization. It is really good and I am a bit astonished that the seaside has lower dose values than other parts of the land. I am from Gdansk (Danzig) and we’ve been told here that after WWII we have radioactive bomb in our bay, coz of the contamination coming from wrecks of ships. I would like to see such a video concerning my country.

Vincent on 2011/11/16 at 07:22h GMT:


Your article is very interesting for me. I am doing something very similar with data from Taiwan. Could it be possible to use your data representation program on my data ? Note: I don’t know Python, I only know Java.

Marian Steinbach on 2011/11/16 at 20:27h GMT:

@Ola: The reason why gamma values are lower in the north of Germany than they are in the souch, I’ve been told, is that the land mass is higher in the south. The radiation is mostly emitted from the ground. The more ground (especially rocks like granite) is underneath, the more radiation is emitted.

If you find a source for radiation data on Poland, please let me know.

@Vincent: Please feel free to use the Python script linked at the end of the article. However, it might take some fiddling to get the setup right. Also note that the script makes use of a MySQL database. If you have specific questions, ask them here and I’ll try to help.

Where do you take the data from? If it’s public, I’d like to add it to

Pif on 2011/11/16 at 20:58h GMT:

Hi Marian
Your animation is great. Did do the same for November ? It could be interresting to see this mysterious iodine going through Germany !

Marian Steinbach on 2011/11/17 at 15:20h GMT:

Thanks, @Pif! I just updated the video with data for November so far. It’s actually quite calm, probably due to the constant high pressure weather in Germany. Few clouds, very little rain. Which mysterious iodine are you referring to? Do you have a source I can look at?

Pif on 2011/11/17 at 21:47h GMT:

Hallo Marian

Here are the sources :

and from Reuters :

“BERLIN Nov 11 (Reuters) – Germany’s environment ministry said on Friday that slightly higher radioactive iodine levels had been registered in northern Germany but at such low levels that it was barely detected, and ruled out that it could have come from any nuclear power plant.

“It is ruled out that the radioactivity came from a nuclear power plant,” a ministry spokeswoman said. She did not give a time-frame for the radioactivity measurements.”

pb on 2011/11/18 at 00:45h GMT:

very nice !good job!

can u show us a Visualization from the last day`s ( or on more range EU ? )

please send my if u can the link or the file with date
i will show it some friends around
thx for all
have the honor

Pif on 2011/11/18 at 01:17h GMT:

Update here :
Iodine from Hongrie ?

Randall on 2011/11/18 at 19:06h GMT:

Absolutely Wonderful ! You should win a visualization prize for this impressive reduction of data. It is a unique (to me at least) window into hitherto unseen physical phenomena, Thank you. Notes: the individual dots that flash momentarily may be cosmic ray events. Another possible causative agent for the wave effects might be solar wind. It should be noted that the scale of the events depicted is not greatly above background and MAY not even be due to particulate or gaseous (breathable) matter. It would be nice to pause and slow the video down at any point but I suppose that has more to do with Adobe than with yourself. And lastly, there doesn’t seem to be a way to save the file once it has loaded (a lengthy download in HD mode).

Marian Steinbach on 2011/11/19 at 14:53h GMT:

@Randall As for the flashing dots, also keep in mind that the visualization is using unverified data. According to the BfS, sensors can report bad values. The BfS creates daily averages from verified/corrected data, but the two-hours-data is not corrected.

The video source can be downloaded from Vimeo if you are logged in (see right column. But I just sent you an email with an alternaitve link.

Pif on 2011/11/19 at 15:13h GMT:

@ Randalll: 95% of the observed movements are due to the prevailing atmospheric circulation, with winds from west to east. However, the cloud of radioactive iodine in Europe remains invisible because of the extremely low rate, undetectable with a Geiger counter.

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