Clouds, from Both Sides

In this project the clouds are photographed simultaneously from the ground looking up, and from a satellite looking down.

While a satellite passes over our geo-location, we take a photograph looking towards the satellite. We record an observation of the clouds from the perspective of a human experience. Later we download the satellite’s image and the cloud analysis. The two pairs of observations and images are displayed together.

The participants in the project come from different backgrounds, including writers, climate scientists, artists, weathermen and many others.

Here’s a short ‘trailer’ of the video:

And images from a few different ways the project was shown in galleries:

And below are a few of the image pairs along with short excerpts from each conversation.


Oliver Morton is a science writer and editor. His writing has appeared in leading publications such as the New Yorker and National Geographic. His most recent book is The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World.

8 8 2013 | Local time 14:02 | UTC 18 02
Cambridge, MA, USA | 42.378093,-71.117742

“Clouds are, although oddly they seem like objects, processes. That’s what I find fascinating about all sorts of parts of the natural world: things that we see as objects can also be seen as processes. That tree, which we see as a tree, is also a process for taking sunlight in and water up from below and turning thin air, carbon dioxide in thin air, into its own body. It’s a set of processes. But we see it as an object.

The cloud is a process that is much more obvious to us, because it doesn’t have a solid body, it has a shifting form. I remember sitting with a cloud scientist once and just watching a cloud as it changed. We weren’t even talking about it, but we were both looking at it, and it was changing: it was always the same cloud but by the end of our conversation it looked completely different.

I am very influenced by that image of the Parliament of Things in Bruno Latour’s “We have never been modern”. That idea that there is a way of talking about the world and how we’re within it in which the non-human and the human mingle, hybridize, in a way which we just don’t accept. I remember a friend of mine, who’s a national delegate on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, saying that a plenary for the ICCP is the nearest thing you can ever come to a Parliament of Things, because there are people speaking for nations, other people speaking for the water cycle, and these things are wonderfully fluid, and at the same time (and very important for Latour), they become quasi-legislative. I find fascinating the idea that Latour has written about natural processes, but also about laws, as similar sorts of things. I do find that taking the solid thing and seeing it as a process is often a way of getting, if not a deeper understanding, an aesthetic of something you wouldn’t get otherwise.”


Leena Valkeapää is a Finnish artist and ecologist. She lives with her Sami husband, yoik artist and reindeer herder Oula Valkeapää in Lapland in Finland. Her recent book is titled Luonnossa.

9 21 2013 | Local time: 11:43 | UTC 8:43
Kilpisjärvi, Enontekiö, Finland | 69.042923,20.802699

“There are many meanings in the wind. In this time of year, for example, if the wind is strong, I can’t cross my lake, I can’t go out of my house. I need to know what the wind is, but it is a deeper question for my partner, because he works with the reindeers. For him, wind is very important because reindeers follow the wind. My partner needs to follow the wind. That’s how he follows the reindeer. There is a link between all of life. It comes from the wind.

When I recognize the wind, then I understand what’s going on in my daily life.

When the water is open, I see the wind from the lake. But, when the water is covered in the wintertime, I see it from the snow. I see it from the sky if there are clouds. And then, from the ground, if there is snow, or from open water.”

Tim Dye is a meteorologist and an advocate of open environmental data. He explores the intersection of data, technology and art.

9 6 2013 | Local time 13:31 | UTC 17 31
Central Park, New York City, USA | 40.779402,-73.968944

“We’ve seen huge changes in meteorology in the last 120 years. From where we could only predict things a couple of days in advance, now we can predict things out more than a week.

And the observational network is increasing massively. To the point where we have so many observations, how do we deal with them all? The observations, physical measurements of the atmosphere, are one component. The other part of it is being able to capture that with mathematical equations. If you can model that, you can do predictions. If we have better predictions, then we can look into the future and say What are the ramifications of this action today on the future?”

Usman Haque is founding partner of Umbrellium and founder of Internet of Things data infrastructure and community platform Trained as an architect, he designs and builds technological tools to support citizen empowerment and high-impact engagement in cities.

9 25 2013 | Local time 13:53 | UTC 12 53
London, UK | 51.523436,-0.084093

“It’s funny that we have this implicit assumption that we’re going to find truth by measuring things ever more finely. With weather, almost from the dawn of time, we have been building a model for what’s happening. And it never quite matches the prediction. So, we change the model a little bit, and we keep changing the model – that’s the one constant.

That’s actually an interesting aspect of using the model to tell the story that makes us feel better about the things that are happening to us. And yet, we don’t seem to be getting that much closer to being able to predict things. Because as you get ever more fine data, you actually start to uncover ever more complex relationships between all of the things that you’re trying to measure and model, which are integrated in something like the feel of the weather, but that doesn’t necessarily get you any closer to making a prediction with any accuracy. In fact, it almost lulls you into this false sense of security. You’ve got this very linear causal model in your head, so your prediction comes out a little wrong. I suppose that’s why there are concerns about the geoengineering of climate. We don’t actually know what the complex repercussions are going to be. Because we’re basically telling ourselves stories.”


Holly Jean Buck’s work looks at climate change, energy system transformation, and human-environment interactions. Her dissertation work looks at social dimensions of climate engineering in landscapes on the front lines of climate change.


Ken Caldeira is an atmospheric scientist who works at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology. He researches ocean acidification, climate effects of trees, intentional climate modification, and interactions in the global carbon cycle/climate system.


Sascha Pohflepp is an artist, researcher and writer.


Tyler Schnoebelen finds the patterns in data that make it meaningful. He has ten years of experience in UX design/research in Silicon Valley and a PhD in Linguistics from Stanford. His work there included experimental psycholinguistics, fieldwork on endangered languages, and a dissertation on emotion.


Ada Smailbegović is a poet and a Professor of English. Her writing explores relations between poetics, non-human forms of materiality, and histories of description. She is a co-founder of The Organism for Poetic Research.


Frances Beinecke was the Natural Resources Defense Council’s president from 2006 to 2014. Under her leadership, NRDC focused on finding solutions to some of the biggest environmental challenges of our time, including establishing a clean energy future that curbs climate change, reviving the world’s oceans, defending endangered wildlife and wild places, protecting our health by preventing pollution, fostering sustainable communities, and ensuring safe and sufficient water.


Lynn Russell is Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her research is in the area of aerosol particle chemistry, including the behavior of particles in marine and anthropogenically-influenced conditions.

And here are a few more of the pairs of observations:












Here are images from an observation from June 14, 2013, in Brooklyn, NY.




The satellite images are taken by MODIS imager and the meteorological analysis is done by CERES instruments on Aqua and Terra satellites. NASA uploads the images a few hours after the flyover and they can be found here.

Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) is on-going NASA climatological experiment from Earth orbit. Results from the CERES and other NASA missions could lead to a better understanding of the role of clouds and the energy cycle in global climate change.

There’s no image without a point of view. This project represents two ways of knowing, a scientific narrative, and a personal narrative.

The observations are done through conversations in which we are guided by NASA’s ground-truth questionnaire which includes questions such as What is the sky color? and How high are the clouds?. The practice of ‘ground truthing’ is used in the fields of which build a model of reality from remotely gathered data, such as cartography, meteorology or artificial intelligence. ‘Ground truth’ is human observation confirming information gathered by a technical apparathus. A mass of these human judgements helps the process of reading and interpreting the data.

The satellite view represents a view from the ‘outside’, looking down, a perspective of sovereigns over nature (after all we’re used to the idea that if something is looking back at us when we look up, it’s omnipotent). In Ecology Without Nature, Timothy Morton proposes that an ecological criticism must be ‘divested of the bifurcation of nature and civilization’, or the idea that nature exists as something that sustains civilization, but exists outside of, and separate from, civilization. Instead, Morton proposes the term ‘mesh’ to refer to interconnectedness of everything: ‘The mesh has no central position that privileges any one form of being over others, and thereby erases definitive interior and exterior boundaries of beings. […]All beings are said to relate to each other in a totalizing open system.’ Using Morton’s terminology, our observation is a report form within the ‘mesh. It describes a unique moment in time and space stamped by a particular formation of clouds, from a perspective informed by the individual history of the observer. Within the mesh, all beings become ‘strange strangers’, as the defining boundaries between them are dissolving. The more we describe the clouds the more we end up describing everything else. The more we know about an entity, the stranger and harder to define it becomes. A person’s observation of an environment is as much an image of the observer and his or her connections to the environment.

Cheryl Foster describes these two dimensions of experience of nature as ‘narrative’ and ‘ambient’, the second one being the “more powerful and enduring experience [that] resists direct or clear expression in discursive prose,” while the first one, prevalent in our culture, “privileges natural history and the frameworks of science for understanding and seeing what nature reveals through its surface. The depth of time beneath the formal and perceptual features cannot be seen by the naive eye and thus must be understood, rather than observed, as directly influencing the perceptual surface. Through a grasp of previously present processes we can read the natural environment as the offspring of its progenitors and see its perceptual features as manifestations of those progenitors.”
Neither approach in isolation gives us a full picture, constitutes full knowledge, argues Foster.

Each observation results in the pair of images of the clouds from above and from below. The conversations are recorded and edited together stringing together conversations at different times and spaces.