Percussa micro super signal processor

Aaron Koblin’s 2006 Flight Patterns was one of the works that helped people to understand how data visualization, in motion, could matter – and why Processing was a powerful tool for making data visual. That, in turn, landed the project everywhere from Wired Magazine to the Museum of Modern Art, and helped raise the visibility of other data visualization work, as well. But while the various iterations of Flight Patterns were aesthetically beautiful and revealed some of the logic of airplane traffic and flight approaches, there was no immediate, real, everyday application.

What a difference a volcano makes.

Countless traveler this month, of course, became spontaneously interested in previously-archaic topics like air pollution, dissipation of clouds of volcanic ash, and, yes, air traffic control patterns. The availability of open data and open street maps has allowed data visualization group ITO to show just what happened as European air carriers struggled to “reboot” their air network — all with equipment and crews scattered in the wrong place and the system backed up from days of banned flight.

One interesting quality of all this animated data is that it is, by its very nature, essentially collaborative. It requires data to be open and shared, down to the maps on which the data is plotted. ITO explains:

A visualisation of the northern European airspace returning to use after being closed due to volcanic ash. Due to varying ash density across Europe, the first flights can be seen in some areas on the 18th and by the 20th everywhere is open.

The flight data is courtesy of and covers a large fraction of Europe. There are a few gaps (most noticeably France) and no coverage over the Atlantic, but the picture is still clear.

The map data is CC-by-SA and contributors.

This CC-by-SA visualisation was produced by with support from

Here’s a set of flight patterns, 2010 – the year of Eyjafjallajokull.

Airspace Rebooted from ItoWorld on Vimeo.