Visit the New Cloud Atlas website 

The world’s data increases ten-fold every five years. Massive amounts of information move across globally distributed networks as the data is processed, broken down, archived, and repackaged. ‘The cloud’ invokes a seemingly ubiquitous collection of data that is accessible everywhere to contemporary users of information networks. Indeed, the ease with which information moves does seem to render data placeless: the cloud is invisible territory simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. However, processing and storing the vast flow of virtual information requires significant physical assets, the primary nodes of which are known as data centres. The ever-expanding global network of physical data centres that have arisen to meet the demands that the flow of information require have an equally large appetite for energy to keep all of the bits flowing freely. The energy required to operate data facilities around the world collectively outranks the energy demand of all but five countries. Inchoate as it seems, the virtual cloud is inextricably tethered to physical installations and kept aloft by massive inputs of conventional energy. New Cloud Atlas is a global effort to map each physical location that makes up the cloud in an open and accountable way. We have set out to find and map each warehouse data centre, each internet exchange, each connecting cable and switch. Anything of any physical significance in the operation of the cloud should be observed is some way, and recorded for everyone to see and use.

New Cloud Atlas uses OpenStreetMap and therefore the Open Data Commons Open Database Licence (ODbL) to ensure that the work of mapping the global cloud infrastructure is kept openly accessible. If you want to use the New Cloud Atlas data, you can build on the resources of the vibrant OpenStreetMap community. Changes made to the OSM database gets parsed and imported into the New Cloud Atlas at 15 minute intervals.

The publication of the first International Cloud Atlas in 1896 inspired our approach to the New Cloud Atlas. The book enabled cloud weather observatories around the world to share consistent observations of the clouds and observe weather systems whose scale stretched over national boundaries. The publication of the International Cloud Atlas represented a move beyond national concerns and boundaries to an international perspective.

After the initiatives of the first International Meteorological Congress, meteorologists began to realise that even with their network of observatories they did not have enough granularity to record some weather phenomena accurately. What was needed was many more observations across a large area. Vilhelm Bjerknes is said to have persuaded fishermen and other people living along the coast of Norway to help by showing them a newspaper photo in which each dot of the print represented one person’s observations, and the image become visible from the dots. Similarly, the way to build a new cloud atlas, to truly capture the cloud, is to make it a crowd sourced project.


More on this project in Data as Place.

As part of the: 
Information Everything

Exhibition from June 17 - July 30, 2014 

This exhibition will reflect on dynamic developments in the areas of information design and visualization, highlighting the work of practitioners who bring innovative and experimental approaches to negotiating information.

See the project poster.


Curated by: 

Gillian Russell
Independent curator, PhD candidate in Design, RCA, London 

Katherine Gillieson
Associate Professor, Emily Carr University of Art and Design

As part of the conference:
Information+ Interdisciplinary practices in information design and visualization

The inaugural Information+ conference will bring together researchers and practitioners in information design and information visualization to discuss common questions and challenges in these rapidly changing fields. Information+ will be held at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, Canada. It will include three events: a two-day conference (June 16–17), one-day hands-on workshop (June 18), and an exhibition of information design and visualization projects (June 17–July 30).


Amber Frid-Jimenez
Canada Research Chair in Art and Design Technology Associate Professor, Emily Carr University of Art & Design

Ben Dalton
Principal Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University
Creative Exchange doctoral researcher at the Royal College of Art

Joe Dahmen
Assistant Professor, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and Peter Wall Scholar, University of British Columbia

Tim Waters
Freelance geospatial developer and consultant.