Fair Isle's Meteorological Station

Photo: Fair Isle Meterorological Station. Copyright Dave Wheeler.

Fair Isle Weather Station

Sea and weather conditions have been recorded in daily logs at both the North (until it became automatic in 1981) and the South Lighthouse, since they were commissioned in the late nineteenth century, and weather at Shirva until January 1974, when a full Auxilliary Synoptic Station began providing data at Field. Observations are made to Meteorological Office standard and are nowadays transmitted by computer to the Meteorological Office at Bracknell.

The Fair Isle Meteorological Station at Field is situated on well-drained, gently sloping agricultural land some 61 metres above sea level. The land to the east is bounded by steep cliffs, rising to a maximum height of 132 metres at the very prominent Sheep Rock, one kilometre distant from the station.

Northwards the land rises gently across open moorland to Ward Hill. To the west the land is more or less level for a distance of some 800 metres before rising sharply to the cliffs at Hoini at 110 metres.

To the south-west another prominent landmark is the 107 metre high headland of Malcolm’s Head. Southwards from Field the land slopes gently down to the lower, more fertile crofting area. Here, along the south coast, about 2 kilometres from Field, the cliffs are – at around 10 metres – the lowest anywhere on the island.

From Monday to Saturday observations are made hourly from 06-18 h GMT, and also at 21 h GMT and 00 h GMT. On Sunday, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day observations are only made three hourly from 06-00 h GMT. The National Climatological Message (NCM) is completed and sent at 09 and 21 GMT each day.

The Station – marine data gathering

Fair Isle has a long run of climate data going back to the 1960's.

The Fair Isle Meteorological Station began recording in 1974 and has undertaken continuous recording ever since. It is part of the British network and considered by the Meteorological Office as an important site for monitoring UK weather. The Station is operated by island resident, Dave Wheeler. Until March 2011 he took readings manually every hour from 06h to 18h plus 21h and 00h UTC. The system has since been partially automated with continuous recording sending data to the Met Office every 30 minutes 24 hours a day. Manual input of visibility, weather, cloud amount, type and height are still required, although these too were being automated during the summer of 2011.

In addition to an extensive range of air/terrestrial data, the Fair Isle Meteorological Station monitors sea temperatures and other marine data. This information goes to the Scottish Fisheries Research Services, as do seawater samples collected from time to time for ‘ground-truth’ checking, and is used by the Fisheries Research Services in monitoring analyses published regularly in their Scottish Ocean Climate Status reports. This information was formerly collected by Dave Wheeler, but in 2009 a continuous recording facility was established in North Haven. Thus all weather-related data are now collected automatically and on a continuous, ongoing basis.

Fair Isle is a key station for marine climate research as it is one of only three Scottish stations with records extending back more than 30 years (the others being Millford and Peterhead).  Dave Wheeler has been able to back-date sea temperature data to 1963 thanks to German North Seas’ research. The German monitoring scheme overlapped the one operated by the Fair Isle Meteorological Station by a sufficient number of years for data comparisons to be made. There was a good fit between the two sets of data; thus confidence can be placed on the entire database.                                              

A long-term commitment

In setting up the automated systems for air/terrestrial and marine data collection, the UK Met Office and Fisheries Research Laboratories have made a considerable level of investment indicating its resolve to maintain a long-term commitment to a site it considers to be a key station for monitoring weather and climate trends.

Extract from FIMETI Newsletter no 12, March 2015  (Page 19)

Reflections on Fair Isle ecosystem dynamics in 2014

The marine ecosystem in 2014 - implications for research

The fish and seabird summaries in this latest newsletter indicate a sudden and considerable change in the local ecosystem.

Fortunately, the isle has a 50 year run of climate data, held by Dave Wheeler at the Fair Isle Meteorological Station, including surface sea temperature and salinity levels.

For the last 40 years there has been a gradual but steady mean sea temperature increase of approximately 0.1° celsius per decade. In 2014, however, the mean sea temperature in late spring was 2° below the long-term mean – a change first noted the spring before.

The hypothesis that the warmer waters had driven zooplankton such as Calanus finmarchicus to cooler water farther north – leading to severe disruption to the food chain – is further supported by the coincidental nature of a sea temperature dip and a return to a more dynamic ecosystem; as demonstrated by seabird success and the density of small fish.

No direct monitoring of plankton availability was done, but qualitative information in the guise of numerous fulmars close inshore in calm weather successfully picking food items off the sea surface, pecking to left and right at a rate of 4 or 5 pecks per second, suggested that zooplankton levels were high.

Dave Wheeler considered that the drop in sea temperatures could be attributed to the effects of the Greenland ice melt, with a tongue of cold water extending down to northern Britain. Should this be the case, the beneficial effects of cooler temperatures may be relatively short-lived.

A major component of the research programme proposed by FIMETI is to use Fair Isle’s large and wide-ranging long-term datasets to get a fuller understanding of the contributory factors affecting the functioning of the ecosystem.

The changes witnessed in 2014 make this even more needful and apposite. The isle sees such a study as beneficial on a Scotland-wide scale, for sustainable marine management, environmental conservation and the fishing industry.

In addition to Fair Isle data, additional long-term datasets such as the Continuous Plankton Recorder managed by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science and physical oceanographic data can be made available. There can be few places in Scotland so ideally situated and so rich in scientific data as Fair Isle.



Fair Isle Dossier - A baseline for developing MPA management(includes Seabird Data Charts and Sea Surface Temperature Data Charts)

FIMETI Annual Newsletters

EXTERNAL LINKS: (courtsey of Dave Wheeler)


Text and photographs Copyright Fair Isle Marine Environment and Tourism Initiative. All rights reserved.

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