Saturday, August 5, 2017

Meteorology: "The Medici Network (1654-1667) and the Little Florentine Thermometer"

From EuropeNow Journal:
This is part of our special feature Facing the Anthropocene.
This article aims at presenting the context for the introduction of the earliest meteorological observations in the world, involving the history of science and historical climatology. These first observations, carried out under the aegis of the Medici family, centered in Florence, Italy, were collected during the 1654-1670 period. A reconstruction of the scientific reasoning behind this innovative idea, the activities conducted, the observers, as well as the stations involved are described. 
A second aim is to introduce the instrument that was invented through the cooperation of scientists and skilled craftsmen to answer the scientific purposes of a newly emerged Meteorological Network. This instrument, called the Little Florentine Thermometer (LFT) was used to collect daily temperature observations.

Our methodology to retrieve the observations collected under the Network included:
– Reconstructing the history of the Medici Network and the Academy of the Experiments, their protagonists, their national and international contacts;

– Visiting sites (monasteries in Vallombrosa and Florence) where these scientific innovations took place and where scientists in the international meteorological network first applied the Galilean method to the understanding of natural phenomena;

– Researching and retrieving original manuscripts, which, after the French Revolution and the arrival of Napoleon in Italy, were dispersed from their places of origin to unknown libraries after the suppression of monastic orders.

Scientific context and reasoning behind the invention of the first European Meteorological Network (1654-1670) and experimental scientific society (1657-1667)
The Medici Network, which emerged in 1654, can be considered the first European weather service. It can also be linked to the scientific motivations and activities which led to the creation of another important scholarly institution, the Academy of Experiments (1657-1667), considered to be the first experimental European scientific society. The establishment of both scientific institutions can be interpreted by analyzing the wider scientific turmoil that pervaded in Tuscany from the beginning of the 17th century, after Galileo Galilei’s (1564-1642) new discoveries and the establishment of his scientific method (or Galilean method). Science, for the first time had a “method” to proceed to acquire knowledge of objective, reliable, verifiable reality under the guidance of hypotheses to be tested.
Both the Network and the Academy relied on the same interest to discover nature as stated by the teachings of Galileo. “The book of Nature is written in mathematical laws, and in order to understand it, it is necessary to carry out experiments with the objects that Nature makes available to us[i]. However, the motivations behind each institurion were different:
The Medici Network aimed to:
– Discover key meteorological parameters,
– Invent instruments to measure them,
– Look at the distribution of variables in time and space (Figure 1),
– Discover the fundamental laws of physics, biology and other sciences.
[i] Galilei, G. 1623. Il Saggiatore. Lincean Academy, Rome.
While the Academy of Experiments aimed to:
– Expand on the scientific heritage left by Galileo, continuing to apply the scientific method
– Establish stable contacts between leading scientists of the time in Italy (its members were Ferdinand II, Leopold, and some pupils of Galileo like Torricelli and Viviani) and strengthen contacts with other European scientists
– Know and understand natural phenomena through direct observations and instruments
– Disseminate research findings, i.e. publish the results of the experiments and/or data analysis

The two institutions represent the dawn of modern science after the darkness of the Middle-Ages. They set to abandon a world based on Aristotelianism, traditions or other unproven ideas. They sought to create knowledge based on actual observations of nature with repeated testings, i.e. a new science based on objective and experimental research. In addition, nature was for the first time no longer considered as something revealed to us in a mystical way, but rather, as the expression of phenomena still unknown and that needed explanation. The language to interpret them was mathematics and physics. Quantitative measurements were considered key. Thus, new instruments were needed and they had to be invented for this purpose. Last but not least, a very modern concept, the unknown, was considered so vast that scientists had to work jointly to do research, and share and discuss knowledge.

Examples of fundamental questions that both the Academy and the Network posed and tried to answer were:
  • What is the range of temperatures in various countries?
  • Does ice always melt at the same temperature, regardless of location or altitude?
  • How much does liquid density change with temperature fluctuations?
  • What is the temperature difference between sunshine and shadow exposure?
  • What is the link between precipitation and river floods?
  • What is the velocity of sound?
  • How is animal and vegetal life regulated?
Both institutions were funded and politically protected by the Prince Leopold de’ Medici (1617-1675) and his brother the Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinand II (1610-1670). The two influential brothers were passionate about science. Hence, they were patrons for the scientists and researchers of their time, such as Galileo Galilei, Evangelista Torricelli and Vincenzo Viviani. They also were personally dedicated to scientific studies and activities. However, these activities lasted only for 10 years. Any “new philosophy” of nature, based on scientific research was distrusted by the Roman Catholic Church and considered too dangerous. Only one year after the publication in 1667 of “Saggi di Naturali Esperienze” or “Essays of Natural Experiments”– the main achievement of the academicians – the Academy was “diplomatically” closed and its members dispersed. Within the Medici Network and for similar reasons, only the Convent of Angels in Florence continued observations. However, in 1670 all activities came to a stop after the Grand Duke died.

The Medici Network (1654-1667) and the Little Florentine Thermometer
The first meteorological network, called Medici Network or Rete Medicea, was composed of 11 stations in Europe (7 in Italy) and was active for the period 1654-1667 (Figure 2). Only Florence’s main station stayed in operation until 1670. The majority of the stations were located in Italy (7 out of 11). The headquarters were located in Florence (station 1), while the other European stations were located in Innsbruck (station 8), Warsaw, Osnabruck and Paris (Figure 3)....