Finalising OERs

As mentioned in an earlier post (“Students at work”), we have created Open Educational Resources (OERs) based on the digitised historical sea level data, our aim being to publicise the recovered data. We each created an OER based on a specific area of interest; these were

  • Sea level data and its uses (focusing on the principles, perception and mathematical uses of the data)
  • Extreme events (focusing on principles of storm surges and how to use historical data to identify them)
  • Tidal formation (focusing on the physical principles and using the data to identify tide trends)

Graph showing sea level readings

These OERs have been made accessible to everyone so that anyone interested in sea level, history, etc, can learn the basic principles, which they can then build upon if they choose to. Creating OERs has been interesting and we have learnt a lot through doing this. It has been enjoyable to have free reign over the subjects chosen within this area. Each OER is very different from the next even though they tie together.

Being students ourselves we have first-hand experience and current knowledge of how students like to study. We know there are a variety of ways to learn and have tried to incorporate these into the OERs. We are grateful for being involved in this project with the British Oceanographic Data Centre and hope that what we have created will be helpful to the public in enhancing their interests.


The Sea Level Necklace

Inspired by the waveform jewellery mentioned in this post and also by other pieces I’d seen on the internet, I decided to have a go at making my own, based on some of our historical tide gauge data. I decided to make a necklace and use high and low water values, as I thought the measurements would make a visible contrast and also still show some variation in a small piece.

 Scan of sea level readings from Georges Pier 1891

I took the high and low water values from George’s Pier for 23-31 July 1891 and converted them from feet to inches, and then to metres. To do this, I multiplied the number in the ‘Ft.’ column by 12, then added to it the number in the ‘Ins.’ column. I then converted the values to metres by multiplying by 0.0254.

This would’ve made a rather large piece if I’d left it in metres, so I decided to scale it down by treating the metres as centimetres. I then used a drawing programme to draw circles with diameters in centimetres that matched the height in metres.

Sea level necklace in progress

I printed out the circles on to paper. I then took some shrink plastic (available from craft stores and internet retailers – see and traced the circles using a blue alcohol ink pen (I frosted the plastic on one side first using fine grade sandpaper to give it a key).

Sea level necklace in progress

When I drew the circles I’d made a mark in the centre of each, so I knew where to make a hole, and I just copied this mark on to the shrink plastic. I then cut each of the circles out. I punched a hole in the centre of each using a hole punch.

Sea level necklace in progress

Now here’s the fun bit. When heated, shrink plastic shrinks by about 60%, and also gets thicker. You can do this in the oven, but I used a crafting heat tool.

Sea level necklace in progress

Sea level necklace in progress

After I’d shrunk each circle (taking care to keep them in the correct order!) I then threaded each one onto some nylon beading thread.

Sea level necklace in progress

Even though that looked quite nice, and you could see the change in disc size easily (especially if you look at the smaller circles that represent low waters, they get teeny towards the end) I thought it didn’t really work as a piece of jewellery. I took the discs off the thread again, and then put them back on, but this time with some small plastic silver coloured beads between each disc.

I then put a crimp bead at either end of the necklace, after the last disc and silver bead, and squished it to clamp the thread in place, and prevent the beads from moving. I took a spring ring closure and tied the nylon thread through the loop on it. I secured the thread with another crimp bead. The other side of the nylon thread I tied onto the hoop piece of the spring ring closure and secured the thread with a crimp bead.

And here’s the final necklace! George’s Pier high and low water values, July 1891.

Sea level necklace in progress

Sea level necklace in progress

The Art of Sea Level

This week I spotted a couple of interesting art projects relating to wave and tidal data on the internet.

The first one is a tutorial on how to make your own waveform necklace. It was developed by David Bizer, a designer living in Berlin, who makes his own 3D-printed jewellery. David suggests recording your voice and using the audio waveform created, but the concept could be applied quite easily to use tidal data instead.

Waveform Necklace. Image is by David Bizer (BY-NC-SA)

Waveform Necklace. Image is by David Bizer (BY-NC-SA)

The second project is the “Time and Tide Bell” by Marcus Vergette. From his website,

“This project is to make a permanent installation of the Time and Tide Bell at the high tide mark at a number of diverse sites around the country, from urban centres to open stretches of coastline. The rise of the water at high tide moves the clapper to strike the bell. Played by the movement of the waves, the bell creates a varying, gentle, musical pattern. As the effect of global warming increases, the periods of bell strikes will become more and more frequent, and as the bell becomes submerged in the rising water the pitch will vary.”

Trinity buoy wharf bell by kenjonbro (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Trinity buoy wharf bell by kenjonbro (CC BY-NC 2.0)

At the moment, there are four bells around the coast of the UK. Vergette intends to install 12 in total. The photo is of the Trinity Buoy Wharf bell at Greenwich, London, near the Prime Meridian. According to the website:

“One of this bell’s potential meanings is as a time-piece or time-marker, both in the way the bell is rung by the movement of the sea at high tide daily, and as a long time marker of sea levels and present shoreline. This site is where lighthouse keepers were trained and navigation buoys were made.”

Here’s a video clip of the bell in action from YouTube.

If you know of any other artistic uses of the tide, please get in touch.

British Weather!

This week, torrential rain and strong winds combined to create severe flooding in a number of regions across the UK.

These floods have mainly been caused by the heavy rain. The most dramatic inundation from the sea, so far, may have been the sea foam pushed on shore near Aberdeen, a result of high winds blowing shoreward from a choppy sea. However, flood forecasters have been keeping a particularly close watch on the elevated levels of tidal rivers, which could be catastrophic when combined with a high tide.

A stormy sea

According to the Environment Agency (EA), coastal flooding is flooding that “results from a combination of high tides and stormy conditions. If low atmospheric pressure coincides with a high tide, a tidal surge may happen, which can cause serious flooding.

Sea level data can help our understanding of coastal flooding in a number of ways. The Met Office runs a computer surge model (PDF), which incorporates modern real-time tide gauge data and will alert the EA if the forecast comes close to a danger level.

Historic tide gauge data is useful for ascertaining the frequency of storm events. These data can be used in planning future flood defence measures. The EA ran the Thames Estuary 2100 project to develop a long-term tidal flood risk management plan for London and the Thames estuary. Historic sea level data from 6 tide gauges along the Thames was quality controlled by BODC and used in the project.

Sea Level Data at the Olympics

Sailing boats

Sailing relies on accurate tidal data recording

Britain’s triple Olympic sailing gold medallist Ben Ainslie has been quoted as saying:

“When I started sailing as a youngster, trying to qualify for the Olympics at Atlanta in 1996, there was no funding in place at all. When I received the Olympic funding in 1997-98, it effectively gave me an extra £20,000 a year as a top performer. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that sailing and all the Olympic sports would be a lot poorer without that level of investment. Looking at the sport we had then compared to the sport we have now it’s almost unrecognisable: all the physio, support on the water, meteorology and tidal analysis is there because of the cash we get now.”

As part of their preparation for major events, Olympic sailing teams gather detailed information about the local sea conditions (currents and tides), to give them every possible advantage on the day. The custom tidal analyses the teams use require quality-controlled sea level data.

It would be nice to think that perhaps the NTSLF tide gauge at Weymouth may have helped provide data for the tidal analyses that allowed our athletes to sail to victory.

During the Olympics, the Met Office are generating daily forecasts of tidal information for the race area.

Predicting the Future (using historic sea level data)

Our tide gauge data has been used to validate models that predict future sea level rise and storminess, such as those used by Defra. Increasing the amount of data available for analyses and extending records back chronologically helps scientists to improve their predictions.

The BBC Radio 4 programme Material World, broadcast on 26 July 2012, contained a section discussing the possibility of tsunamis, specifically those caused by underwater landslides, affecting the UK. Predicting the degree to which a tsunami could inundate the UK coastline in the future relies on predictions of future sea levels.

Seven Dials Sundial Pillar

Seven Dials Sundial Pillar, photograph by Julian Andrews.

Data predicting future changes in sea level can also be of interest outside the science community. Earlier this year, the artist Michael Pinsky transformed three monuments in central London, using a ring of blue light to illustrate where sea level could be 1000 years into the future.

Using Historic Tide Gauge Data to Study Tsunami

After the tsunami of 26 December 2004 off the west coast of northern Sumatra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) commissioned a report examining the possibility of a tsunami affecting the UK. The report looked at historical events to highlight future seismic sources and the impact they might have.

Working with the British Geological Survey and the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (now the National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool), BODC compiled a catalogue of historic tide gauge charts corresponding to dates of possible tsunami.

Some of the charts in our archive show evidence of tsunami reaching the south west coast of the UK. However, the effect was small and only increased the local sea level by ~20cm.

The tide gauge at Newlyn, Cornwall shows a tsunami occurred on 25th November 1941

The tide gauge at Newlyn, Cornwall shows a tsunami occurred on 25th November 1941 following an earthquake west of Portugal, magnitude 8.2 Ms. The tsunami consisted of seven waves with a maximum amplitude of about 20cm and lasted about four hours (from LONG, D AND WILSON, CK. 2007. A catalogue of tsunamis in the UK. British Geological Survey Commissioned Report, CR/07/077. 29pp.).

Read the final report to Defra (PDF opens in new window).

We hope that by making our historic sea level data available online, it will be easier for the data to be used in future studies. At the moment, access to physical records is limited and time consuming. By digitising charts and scanning ledgers, we aim to improve the service we provide.

Some Interesting Uses of Historic Tide Gauge Data

After the last blog post about suggestions for interesting uses of historic tide gauge data and a bit of fortuitous web surfing at the weekend, I decided to do a bit of research and found a few interesting examples.

Being based in the same building as the National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, I had already heard about (and seen) the tidal pavement in the Liverpool ONE shopping centre. Grosvenor Estates, the developers of Liverpool ONE, have attempted to convey some of the history of the old dock by outlining its boundaries in the walls and brickwork of the pavement of the new open space. The fountains vary to represent the height of the tide, over the period of a month.

Liverpool ONE’s tidal pavement

Liverpool ONE’s tidal pavement

What prompted me to write this blog post was finding the table below mentioned in a home furnishing blog. The table’s design incorporates historic tide gauge data from San Francisco. As the artist says:

“The body of work titled “Tidal Datums” is the result of my senior thesis project. The collection consists of a variety of objects inspired by the formal language of data graphics, intended to be a representation of analytic information through the medium of furniture. My work process began by gathering data graphs from NOAA’s historic tide database followed by translating the empirical information into tangible materials. The forms modeled from the data not only reveal a dynamic pattern, they facilitate a new way of experiencing information by enabling a physical interaction of tidal patterns with the body.”

“Tidal Datums” table by Adrien Segal

“Tidal Datums” table by Adrien Segal

And finally, Marty Quinn from the Design Rhythmics Sonification Research Lab took tide gauge data from Venice and turned it into music!

“A few years ago, I was approached by Dr. Davide Tagliapetra of the Venice Marine Institute asking if I could turn the tides of Venice into music. This piece is based on 5-minute data from 2002 in Venice and includes weather related climatic elements. Here is the mapping from data to music.”

Tide gauge data from Venice, turned into music

Tide gauge data from Venice, turned into music

Hopefully someone will find an equally exciting new use for the historic tide gauge data we are digitising.