The precursor to the Finnish Meteorological Institute – the Magnetic-Meteorological Observatory – was established 180 year ago. This began a process which led through many different organisational stages to the formation of the Institute in its current form.
Photo: FMI Archives
On 28 March 1838, Tsar of Russia and the Grand Duchy of Finland Nikolai I signed an order establishing a magnetic observatory at Helsinki University. Physicist Johan Jakob Nervander was appointed as director. The observatory's sphere of operations included both magnetism and also meteorological observations. For this reason, it eventually came to be called the Magnetic-Meteorological Observatory.
At the start of the 1800s, research on magnetic and electrical phenomena represented the cutting-edge of physics research. On the other hand, meteorology also had a long and established academic tradition in Finland. Regular daily meteorological observations had begun to be taken in the Royal Academy of Turku in 1748. After the Turku fire, these observations were continued in Helsinki, to where the university was relocated in 1828. The measuring station has been situated in Kaisaniemi since 1844.
The proposal to establish a magnetic observatory in Helsinki was made by Adolf Kupffer of the St Petersburg Academy of Science. He proposed in 1830 that a magnetic observatory be established and placed under the university's care as an extension of Russia's chain of observatories in line with the international research programme. The scientific motive for the project was to find out how magnetic and meteorological phenomena varied according to time and place across as wide a geographical area as possible. The interaction between electric currents and magnetism was at that time a totally new and radical observation. All modern electrical products, from mobiles to washing machines, are also based on this. Without devices that work based on electromagnetism, the whole technological culture of our times would be completely different.
The Magnetic Meteorological Observatory, which operated at Helsinki University from 1838 to 1881, was primarily conducting basic research and observations. This situation already started to shift in a more practical direction in the 1850s, when daily weather information and the first simple weather forecasts were exchanged between European countries. The first forms of weather service, daily weather overviews and forecasts began to appear in newspapers at the beginning of the 1880s.
The Magnetic-Meteorological Observatory continued its operations as part of the University until 1881, when it became part of the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters and its name became the Central Meteorological Institute. The name change also spoke of the change in focus from magnetism to meteorology. The Central Meteorological Institute was removed in 1918 from under the control of the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters and became a government agency. The Institute then had at its disposal the whole national meteorological observation network and was equipped to provide different meteorological services for the benefit of Finnish citizens and the Finnish economy.
Text: Heikki Nevanlinna