Made by German duo, Egon Wanke and Tobias Volgnandt, this new lightning map, called Blitzortung, is built on a foundation of amateur meteorologists who have connected their lightning receivers to the web.
According to Olivia Solon at Wired UK, the project was developed by Wanke two years ago, with the idea to democratise access to information on lightning strikes. There are lightning receivers available for people to buy, but they’re expensive, and not particularly accurate. And often the commercial networks that gather and store information about lightning strikes will charge people and organisations large fees to access it. This includes airports and energy companies seeking information about possible power surges.
So Wanke decided to develop his system for lightning detection, and he wanted the focus to be on ‘time-of-arrival’ information.
"His goal was to create something really low-cost," Volgnandt told Solon over the phone. "It is also about providing free maps for everyone and having some fun.”
The Blitzortung map currently relies on a network of around 800 volunteers, who calculate the exact positions of lighting based on information gathered by the receiver and its built-in GPS locator.
"Once the receiver is built, users can connect it to the internet and Blitzortung's central processing servers receive the data and can then calculate the exact positions of the discharges that have been detected, based on the intensity of the measurements combined with the GPS location of the receiver. This data is then published in real-time to the website. Individuals who supply data to the network are free to use the raw data for non-commercial purposes.”
Right now, the communities are strongest in Europe, the US and Australia, and Wanke and Volgnandt are looking for more volunteers in Asia, Africa and South America to even out the coverage. Anyone can join the Blitzortung network and start feeding their own data into the map by purchasing one of their receivers for €200 (about AUD$290).
"It's really cool when you see the signals on the detector from thousands of kilometres away and then in a few seconds you see the lightning strikes on the map,” said Volgnandt. "It's not a job, it's a hobby. We are working every day. We try what we can, but we need days that are 100 hours long!"