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Why Collect Data?

Why Collect Data?

Step outside and your own senses can tell you what the weather is like. But to get a more comprehensive and detailed picture of your local environment, you'll need data.

The Wired Pier Environmental Field Station monitors the state of Bay water, weather, and air quality, using more than a dozen different sensors. Why do we collect so much data?

To Support Scientific Research

Many of our sensors are the same as those used by scientists, enabling us to share our data with regional and national data networks. Bringing together data from across the Bay Area or the West Coast, these networks create a more holistic understanding of how environmental conditions vary across space and time.

For example, the BEACON network tracks carbon dioxide levels across the Bay Area, and reveals how these levels respond to traffic and wind patterns.

The BEACON Network, based at UC Berkeley, gathers carbon dioxide data from low-cost sensors all over the Bay Area, including two at the Exploratorium. In this picture, redder dots mean higher carbon dioxide levels, bluer dots mean lower levels.

To Observe Over Time

Some trends in environmental data only emerge when you look over many years. For example, scientists first discovered climate change by examining many decades of temperature and carbon dioxide measurements. By archiving our measurements, we’re building a database that scientists can use to study long-range trends in the atmosphere and Bay water.

Water temperature data in San Francisco Bay shows strong seasonal cycles, with warmer temperatures in the summer, and colder temperatures in the winter. The black line here is Bodega Marine Lab on the Pacific Ocean, the colors are stations in the Bay. The Exploratorium's data, in red, begins in 2013. (Graph from the Master's thesis of Maeve Daugharty, San Francisco State University.

To Educate the Public

Through this website and several exhibits in the Exploratorium's Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery, visitors can see and compare live data streams from water, weather, and atmospheric sensors around the Exploratorium’s campus. For example, do you know how much carbon dioxide is in the air today? 

The Bay Water Data screen in the Exploratorium's Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery shows how conditions fluctuate over a 25-hour tidal cycle, and how they change throughout the year.

To Support Teachers

Teachers are also using the data gathered at the Environmental Field Station to help their students learn to analyze data and understand environmental systems. Students can search back through the archives and search for connections between, for example, tides in the Bay and water temperature and salinity.

Check out some of these activities at our Data Activities page.

How We Maintain Our Instruments

Keeping all of our sensors working correctly requires an extensive program of maintenance and testing. When a sensor fails or provides bad data, we need to work with our collaborators to investigate the problem and fix it.

Our carbon dioxide buoy needs to be pulled out of the water once a year to remove the buildup of marine organisms that grow on it. The sensors and calibration system also need to be serviced.