Built in 1904, its remote location was chosen to minimise electrical interference with geomagnetic instruments, which were relocated here from Kew Observatory in London in 1908 after the spread of electric tramcars led to excessive electromagnetic interference there.
The distinguished meteorologist and mathematician Lewis Fry Richardson served as Superintendent at the Observatory between 1913 and 1918.
The observatory is situated in the valley of the White Esk river at an altitude of 242m, and so represents the climate of highland in northern Great Britain.
It currently monitors:
- Meteorological parameters
- Solar radiation
- Atmospheric pollution
- The UK Geomagnetic field
- Seismological activity
The area has a low background of seismic acitivity, so is ideal for these measurements.
In the early evening of 21 December 1988, the observatory's seismometers recorded the ground impact of Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed into the nearby town of Lockerbie 23 kilometres (14 mi) away after being destroyed by a bomb. The event registered 1.6 on the Richter scale.
There is a second seismic array approx 3 km north of the main observatory established by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, which has been managed by Güralp Systems Ltd since 2002 on behalf of AWE Blacknest which provides the UK part of the international monitoring network of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. This network allows covert nuclear tests to be detected via their seismic signatures. At Eskdalemuir it consists of an array covering 10 square km, consisting of two intersecting lines of 10 pits containing seismometers, a seismological vault and a recording laboratory.
- "A Scientific Workshop Threatened by Applied Science: Kew Observatory to Be Removed Owing To The Disturbance Caused by Electric Traction". The Illustrated London News. 8 August 1903.
- "Overview Of Eskdalemuir Observatory". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 9 February 2008.
- "The Eskdalemuir Seismic Array". Guralp Systems. April 2004. Retrieved 28 October 2007.