Radiation is there, and so is the data
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.