Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
The Shipping Forecast: a Map of Britain's Splendid Isolation
The Shipping Forecast is quite possibly the most British thing ever.
The general synopsis at midday: High west Sole 1028 expected east Sole 1019 by midday tomorrow. Low southern Portugal 1010 losing its identity. The area forecasts for the next 24 hours. Viking, North Utsire: Northwesterly 4 or 5, occasionally 6 at first. Moderate or rough. Occasional rain. Good, occasionally poor.
The Shipping Forecast is quite possibly the most British thing ever. It’s quirkier than cricket, defiantly old-fashioned and ceremonial, and as reassuringly regular as Big Ben (1). Produced by the UK’s Meteorological Office, it's broadcast four times a day by BBC Radio Four.
But it is more than mere maritime meteorology. For over 90 years, the Shipping Forecast has been a punctual reminder of Britain’s island status – a declaration of geopolitical detachment expertly disguised as a weather bulletin. Splendid isolation masquerading as shifting isobars (2). And as such, one of the greatest examples of classic British understatement. If that isn’t an oxymoron.
South Utsire: Northwesterly 5 or 6. Moderate or rough. Occasional rain. Good, occasionally poor. Forties, Cromarty: Northwest 4 or 5, occasionally 6 at first. Moderate, occasionally rough in northeast Forties. Rain or drizzle, fog patches developing. Moderate or good, occasionally very poor.
Listing the weather conditions in 31 sea areas surrounding the British Isles, the Shipping Forecast is read out at 5.20 am, 12.01 pm, 5.54 pm and 00.48 am. The first and last broadcasts of the day also include reports from additional weather stations and inshore waters forecasts. The last one also includes an outlook for next-day weather across the UK itself.
Forth, Tyne, West Dogger: Westerly or northwesterly 4 or 5, occasionally 6 at first. Slight or moderate. Fair. Good. East Dogger, Fisher, German Bight: Northwesterly 5 or 6. Moderate, occasionally rough. Fair then occasional rain, fog patches later. Moderate or good, occasionally very poor later.
Much of the Forecast’s charm derives from the – literally – outlandish names of the sea areas listed in the bulletin. The names derive from sandbanks (e.g. Dogger, Bailey), estuaries (Forth, Thames, Shannon), islands or islets (Wight, Rockall, Utsire), towns (Dover), or other geographic features (e.g. Malin Head, Ireland’s northernmost point).
Humber, Thames: West or northwest 4 or 5. Slight or moderate. Mainly fair. Good. Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth: Variable 3 or 4. Slight. Fair. Good.
One is named FitzRoy, after the captain of HMS Beagle, Britain’s first professional weatherman and the founder of the Met Office. The southernmost region, Trafalgar is only mentioned standard in the last forecast of the day. The regions are always listed in the same order, starting north with Viking, between Scotland and Norway, and then proceeding in a roughly clockwise direction:
Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth, Biscay, Trafalgar, FitzRoy, Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, Fair Isle, Faeroes and Southeast Iceland.
Biscay: Northeast 4 or 5, increasing 6 at times. Slight or moderate. Fair. Good. Southeast Fitzroy: Northerly or northeasterly 5 or 6, occasionally 7 at first. Moderate or rough. Showers. Good.
The map shown here also lists the coastal weather stations mentioned in the Shipping Forecast:
(1) Tiree, (2) Stornoway, (3) Lerwick, (4) Fife Ness, (5) Bridlington, (6) Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic, (7) Greenwich Light Vessel Automatic, (8) Jersey, (9) Channel Light Vessel Automatic, (10) Scilly Automatic, (11) Valentia, (12) Ronaldsway, (13) Malin Head
A few others are mentioned only in the 00:48 broadcast: Boulmer, Milford Haven, Liverpool Crosby, Machrihanish Automatic, among others.
Northwest Fitzroy: Northeasterly 4 or 5 becoming variable 3 or 4. Moderate. Rain later in west. Good. Sole: Variable 3 or 4, becoming southerly 4 or 5 in west. Slight or moderate. Rain later in west. Good.
One of the Shipping Forecast’s attractions to others than fishermen and sailors is its poetic effect, the result of its very strict format and an arcane terminology, only intelligible to the initiated.
Each bulletin begins with exactly the same opening line, and follows the same structure. Preceded by gale warnings if necessary, a General Synopsis gives the position, pressure in millibars and track of pressure areas. Then follows the forecast for each of the 31 areas, sometimes with some areas grouped together if they have the same outlook. Each of these lists wind direction and strength, precipitation if applicable, and visibility (‘good’ for more than 5 nautical miles, ‘poor’ for less than 2 nm, and ‘fog’ for less than 1,000 metres). The whole thing never exceeds 370 words.
Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea: Westerly 4 or 5 at first in east Lundy, otherwise variable 3 or 4. Smooth or slight, occasionally moderate in Fastnet. Fair. Good. Shannon, Rockall: Southerly or southwesterly 4 or 5, occasionally 6 in west. Slight or moderate, becoming moderate or rough. Rain later in west. Mainly good.
The gap between Radio Four’s last programme of the day and the final Shipping Forecast, at 48 minutes past midnight, is plugged with as much as necessary of ‘Sailing By’, an orchestral piece by Ronald Binge, otherwise famous for his arrangements for Mantovani. The repetitive waltz helps sailors find the right frequency. For the many landlubbers tuning in to the last Shipping Forecast of the day, the cozy number signals that it’s almost time to turn in for the night.
Malin: Southwest 4 or 5. Slight or moderate. Mainly fair. Good. Hebrides: West 5 or 6, backing southwest 4 or 5. Moderate. Occasional drizzle. Good, occasionally poor.
Thousands use the day’s last forecast as a lullaby. Adding to its hypnotic, soporific effect is the fact that it’s read out at a deliberately slow pace, to allow seafarers to make notes. The strange place-names and the weird jargon give the Shipping Forecast a magical shine. And perhaps they give the thousands tucked away safe in their beds pause to think about those out at sea at that very moment, in the dark, listening to the same bulletin.
The forecast is followed by God Save the Queen, after which it’s exactly 1 am, and BBC World Service takes over.
Bailey: West backing south or southeast 5 or 6, decreasing 4 for a time. Moderate. Occasional rain. Good, occasionally poor. Fair Isle, Faeroes:West or northwest 4 or 5, occasionally 6 at first, becoming variable 3 or 4 at times later. Mainly moderate. Occasional rain, fog patches developing. Moderate or good, occasionally very poor.
The Shipping Forecast has made a huge mark on music, literature and the wider culture. It inspired songs by Jethro Tull, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Wire, Blur, Radiohead, Tears for Fears, British Sea Power, Beck and the Prodigy, among others, and it was used in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.
Nobel-prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney wrote a sonnet called ‘The Shipping Forecast’, and British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy mentions “the radio’s prayer” in one of her poems. The programme is used in books, films, tv series, and has been parodied countless times (once as ‘The Shopping Forecast’, listing UK supermarkets instead of sea regions).
Southeast Iceland: Cyclonic becoming easterly or southeasterly 4 or 5, increasing 6 or 7 later in west. Moderate, occasionally rough. Occasional rain. Good, occasionally poor. Trafalgar: Cyclonic 4 in southeast, otherwise northerly 5 to 7. Slight or moderate in southeast, otherwise moderate or rough. Thundery showers. Good, occasionally moderate.
Here is BBC Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast page. Quoted text is that of the Shipping Forecast issued by the Met Office at 16.25 on Monday 21 March 2016, retrievedhere from the Met Office website. Map of the sea regions by Emoscopes, found here on Wikimedia Commons.
Update 27 March 2016: changed the composer's name from Ronald "Ronnie" Biggs, whose fame derives from his participation in the Great Train Robbery. Thanks Aneel for pointing out the error!
Update 11 January 2017: Many thanks to Janos Vargha for sending in this news item about this artwork by Jane Tomlinson, awarded the John C Bartholomew Award for Thematic Mapping by the British Cartographic Society.
Strange Maps #774
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Even more so, since Big Ben has been silenced since 21 August 2017 for maintenance, for a period of up to four years. The bell will still chime for special events such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday. The hourly bell chimes will start again in 2021.
(2) Insert Brexit reference here.
Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.
Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?
Some scientists have studied near death experiences (NDEs) to try to gain insights into how death overcomes the brain. What they've found is remarkable, a surge of electricity enters the brain moments before brain death. One 2013 study out of the University of Michigan, which examined electrical signals inside the heads of rats, found they entered a hyper-alert state just before death.
Scientists are beginning to think an NDE is caused by reduced blood flow, coupled with abnormal electrical behavior inside the brain. So the stereotypical tunnel of white light might derive from a surge in neural activity. Dr. Sam Parnia is the director of critical care and resuscitation research, at NYU Langone School of Medicine, in New York City. He and colleagues are investigating exactly how the brain dies.
Our cerebral cortex is likely active 2–20 seconds after cardiac arrest. Credit: Getty Images.
In previous work, he's conducted animal studies looking at the moments before and after death. He's also investigated near death experiences. “Many times, those who have had such experiences talk about floating around the room and being aware of the medical team working on their body," Dr. Parnia told Live Science. “They'll describe watching doctors and nurses working and they'll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them."
Medical staff confirm this, he said. So how could those who were technically dead be cognizant of what's happening around them? Even after our breathing and heartbeat stops, we're conscious for about 2–20 seconds, Dr. Parnia says. That's how long the cerebral cortex is thought to last without oxygen. This is the thinking and decision-making part of the brain. It's also responsible for deciphering the information gathered from our senses.
According to Parnia during this period, "You lose all your brain stem reflexes — your gag reflex, your pupil reflex, all that is gone." Brain waves from the cerebral cortex soon become undetectable. Even so, it can take hours for our thinking organ to fully shut down.
Usually, when the heart stops beating, someone performs CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). This will provide about 15% of the oxygen needed to perform normal brain function. "If you manage to restart the heart, which is what CPR attempts to do, you'll gradually start to get the brain functioning again," Parnia said. “The longer you're doing CPR, those brain cell death pathways are still happening — they're just happening at a slightly slower rate."
CPR may help retain some brain function for longer. Credit: Getty Images.
Dr. Parnia's latest, ongoing study looks at large numbers of Europeans and Americans who have experienced cardiac arrest and survived. "In the same way that a group of researchers might be studying the qualitative nature of the human experience of 'love,'" he said, "we're trying to understand the exact features that people experience when they go through death, because we understand that this is going to reflect the universal experience we're all going to have when we die."
One of the objectives is to observe how the brain acts and reacts during cardiac arrest, through the process of death, and during revival. How much oxygen exactly does it take to reboot the brain? How is the brain affected after revival? Learning where the lines are drawn might improve resuscitation techniques, which could save countless lives per year.
"At the same time, we also study the human mind and consciousness in the context of death," Parnia said, “to understand whether consciousness becomes annihilated or whether it continues after you've died for some period of time — and how that relates to what's happening inside the brain in real time."
For more on the scientific perspective on a near death experience, click here:
That's as fast as a bullet train in Japan.
The way an elephant manipulates its trunk to eat and drink could lead to better robots, researchers say.
Elephants dilate their nostrils to create more space in their trunks, allowing them to store up to 5.5 liters (1.45 gallons) of water, according to their new study.
They can also suck up three liters (0.79 gallons) per second—a speed 30 times faster than a human sneeze (150 meters per second/330 mph), the researchers found.
The researchers wanted to better understand the physics of how elephants use their trunks to move and manipulate air, water, food, and other objects. They also wanted to learn if the mechanics could inspire the creation of more efficient robots that use air motion to hold and move things.
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash
While octopuses use jets of water to propel themselves and archer fish shoot water above the surface to catch insects, elephants are the only animals able to use suction both on land and underwater.
"An elephant eats about 400 pounds of food a day, but very little is known about how they use their trunks to pick up lightweight food and water for 18 hours, every day," says lead author Andrew Schulz, a mechanical engineering PhD student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "It turns out their trunks act like suitcases, capable of expanding when necessary."
Sucking up tortilla chips without breaking them
Schulz and his colleagues worked with veterinarians at Zoo Atlanta, studying elephants as they ate various foods. For large rutabaga cubes, for example, the animal grabbed and collected them. It sucked up smaller cubes and made a loud vacuuming sound, like the sound of a person slurping noodles, before transferring the vegetables to its mouth.
To learn more about suction, the researchers gave elephants a tortilla chip and measured the applied force. Sometimes the animal pressed down on the chip and breathed in, suspending the chip on the tip of its trunk without breaking it, similar to a person inhaling a piece of paper onto their mouth. Other times the elephant applied suction from a distance, drawing the chip to the edge of its trunk.
Elephants inhale at speeds comparable to Japan's 300 mph bullet trains.
"An elephant uses its trunk like a Swiss Army knife," says David Hu, Schulz's advisor and a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Mechanical Engineering. "It can detect scents and grab things. Other times it blows objects away like a leaf blower or sniffs them in like a vacuum."
By watching elephants inhale liquid from an aquarium, the team was able to time the durations and measure volume. In just 1.5 seconds, the trunk sucked up 3.7 liters (just shy of 1 gallon), the equivalent of 20 toilets flushing simultaneously.
Soft robots and elephant conservation
The researchers used an ultrasonic probe to take trunk wall measurements and see how the trunk's inner muscles work. By contracting those muscles, the animal dilates its nostrils up to 30%. This decreases the thickness of the walls and expands nasal volume by 64%.
"At first it didn't make sense: an elephant's nasal passage is relatively small and it was inhaling more water than it should," Schulz says. "It wasn't until we saw the ultrasonographic images and watched the nostrils expand that we realized how they did it. Air makes the walls open, and the animal can store far more water than we originally estimated."
Based on the pressures applied, Schulz and the team suggest that elephants inhale at speeds comparable to Japan's 300-mph bullet trains.
"By investigating the mechanics and physics behind trunk muscle movements, we can apply the physical mechanisms—combinations of suction and grasping—to find new ways to build robots," Schulz says.
"In the meantime, the African elephant is now listed as endangered because of poaching and loss of habitat. Its trunk makes it a unique species to study. By learning more about them, we can learn how to better conserve elephants in the wild."
The paper appears in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The US Army Research Laboratory and the US Army Research Oﬃce 294 Mechanical Sciences Division, Complex Dynamics and Systems Program, funded the work. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the sponsoring agency.
Source: Georgia Tech
Original Study DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2021.0215
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century, but where's the science behind it?
At the age of 16, when Tony Kofi was an apprentice builder living in Nottingham, he fell from the third story of a building. Time seemed to slow down massively, and he saw a complex series of images flash before his eyes.
As he described it, “In my mind's eye I saw many, many things: children that I hadn't even had yet, friends that I had never seen but are now my friends. The thing that really stuck in my mind was playing an instrument". Then Tony landed on his head and lost consciousness.
When he came to at the hospital, he felt like a different person and didn't want to return to his previous life. Over the following weeks, the images kept flashing back into his mind. He felt that he was “being shown something" and that the images represented his future.
Later, Tony saw a picture of a saxophone and recognized it as the instrument he'd seen himself playing. He used his compensation money from the accident to buy one. Now, Tony Kofi is one of the UK's most successful jazz musicians, having won the BBC Jazz awards twice, in 2005 and 2008.
Though Tony's belief that he saw into his future is uncommon, it's by no means uncommon for people to report witnessing multiple scenes from their past during split-second emergency situations. After all, this is where the phrase “my life flashed before my eyes" comes from.
But what explains this phenomenon? Psychologists have proposed a number of explanations, but I'd argue the key to understanding Tony's experience lies in a different interpretation of time itself.
When life flashes before our eyes
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century. In 1892, a Swiss geologist named Albert Heim fell from a precipice while mountain climbing. In his account of the fall, he wrote is was “as if on a distant stage, my whole past life [was] playing itself out in numerous scenes".
More recently, in July 2005, a young woman called Gill Hicks was sitting near one of the bombs that exploded on the London Underground. In the minutes after the accident, she hovered on the brink of death where, as she describes it: “my life was flashing before my eyes, flickering through every scene, every happy and sad moment, everything I have ever done, said, experienced".
In some cases, people don't see a review of their whole lives, but a series of past experiences and events that have special significance to them.
Explaining life reviews
Perhaps surprisingly, given how common it is, the “life review experience" has been studied very little. A handful of theories have been put forward, but they're understandably tentative and rather vague.
For example, a group of Israeli researchers suggested in 2017 that our life events may exist as a continuum in our minds, and may come to the forefront in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress.
Another theory is that, when we're close to death, our memories suddenly “unload" themselves, like the contents of a skip being dumped. This could be related to “cortical disinhibition" – a breaking down of the normal regulatory processes of the brain – in highly stressful or dangerous situations, causing a “cascade" of mental impressions.
But the life review is usually reported as a serene and ordered experience, completely unlike the kind of chaotic cascade of experiences associated with cortical disinhibition. And none of these theories explain how it's possible for such a vast amount of information – in many cases, all the events of a person's life – to manifest themselves in a period of a few seconds, and often far less.
Thinking in 'spatial' time
An alternative explanation is to think of time in a “spatial" sense. Our commonsense view of time is as an arrow that moves from the past through the present towards the future, in which we only have direct access to the present. But modern physics has cast doubt on this simple linear view of time.
Indeed, since Einstein's theory of relativity, some physicists have adopted a “spatial" view of time. They argue we live in a static “block universe" in which time is spread out in a kind of panorama where the past, the present and the future co-exist simultaneously.
The modern physicist Carlo Rovelli – author of the best-selling The Order of Time – also holds the view that linear time doesn't exist as a universal fact. This idea reflects the view of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that time is not an objectively real phenomenon, but a construct of the human mind.
This could explain why some people are able to review the events of their whole lives in an instant. A good deal of previous research – including my own – has suggested that our normal perception of time is simply a product of our normal state of consciousness.
In many altered states of consciousness, time slows down so dramatically that seconds seem to stretch out into minutes. This is a common feature of emergency situations, as well as states of deep meditation, experiences on psychedelic drugs and when athletes are “in the zone".
The limits of understanding
But what about Tony Kofi's apparent visions of his future? Did he really glimpse scenes from his future life? Did he see himself playing the saxophone because somehow his future as a musician was already established?
There are obviously some mundane interpretations of Tony's experience. Perhaps, for instance, he became a saxophone player simply because he saw himself playing it in his vision. But I don't think it's impossible that Tony did glimpse future events.
If time really does exist in a spatial sense – and if it's true that time is a construct of the human mind – then perhaps in some way future events may already be present, just as past events are still present.
Admittedly, this is very difficult to make sense of. But why should everything make sense to us? As I have suggested in a recent book, there must be some aspects of reality that are beyond our comprehension. After all, we're just animals, with a limited awareness of reality. And perhaps more than any other phenomenon, this is especially true of time.