Since the 1960s, most weather and climate records have been routinely computerised. Before that, all records were written on paper. Scattered and often lost in old cupboards, stacked on shelves, all-but forgotten in archives, there is a rich source of documents containing weather observations going back more than 250 years. These include extensive ship-based measurements and observations taken at weather stations, observatories, on ships, in schools, at churches and farms and towns. This storehouse of old data can help us understand today’s weather and climate and predict how climate might change in future. Once digitised, the data can be fed into computerised weather reanalysis systems, such as those run by ACRE partners and facilitated by data collected and digitised by ACRE, which dynamically recreate in great detail 4D global weather going back 150 years or more.Locating, imaging and digitising old weather data is a time consuming activity. One of ACRE’s core activities is to support citizen science initiatives that carry out the vital work of building a global database of historical, dense and quality-checked climate data. Citizen science is scientific work conducted generally by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. Citizen scientists are typically volunteers who donate their time to projects that have short to medium timelines, some working from home and others working in an office. Citizen scientists are crucial to ACRE as few funding sources would cover the extensive costs of paid-staff required for the 10,000’s hours involved rescuing millions of historic weather readings. Without the help of citizen scientists, much of our climate heritage would be lost.
Examples of ACRE-allied citizen science initiatives are:
This web-based initiative uses a form of citizen science called ‘crowd sourcing’, a format that attracts citizen scientists to contribute their work over the Internet. It specialises in recovering data from ship logbooks, data which is needed to complement historical observations from land-based readings. The internet volunteers “join the crew” of a ship that once plied the oceans and work to digitise it’s logbooks. As images are presented on-screen, the “crew members” type the data they see. In this way they have recovered 1.6 million new weather observations from 28,000+ pages of Royal Navy logbooks covering 1914-1923. Their work has considerably added to the historical depth of the International Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set (ICOADS) marine data repository. In the second phase of this project, volunteers are transcribing the logbooks of US Government ships that travelled in the Arctic and other destinations in the mid-19th century. To date over 85,000 pages have been transcribed adding marine weather readings to our climate history.How crowd sourcing helps climate analysis (video)Oldweather digitises whaling shipsOldweather digitises US naval shipsAlso see the Australian Weather Detective, configured like Oldweather, but concentrating on the logbooks of commercial ships sailing to and from Australia in the 1890’s to early 1900’s. To date 400,000 lines of weather data have been digitised.First outputs (video)
International Environmental Data Rescue Organization (IEDRO)
IEDRO’s mission is to locate, rescue, image and digitize historic climate data, particularly in developing countries. Run by volunteers, the organization works on site with owners of climate data, providing “in-a-box” solutions to image and digitise their historical weather records. The data owners, typically national meteorological services, are provided with computers, camera equipment and training to image their records. Data on the images is then digitised by data entry personnel, or if the images are strip charts, the digitising is done automatically by software. The data are then made available worldwide through environmental World Data Centers.
Canadian Historical Climate Data
Volunteers working remotely type up historical weather data from early Canadian observers. These observations going back to the 1740s are sourced from newspapers and diaries kept by explorers, commercial agents and military establishments.
Australian Weather Folios Project
The Australian Meteorological Association, working from the Adelaide offices of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology is imaging and digitising data from the South Australian weather folios, 1879-1959. Over the past 8 years, the team of 12 volunteers have created 80,000 images of the records and recovered 350,000 data points, mainly covering the SW Pacific for the latter half of the 19th Century. A subset of the project’s images are available on their website while the data have been included in the ISPD and the ISTI for access by researchers.
“Consolidating the paper record presents a major challenge…”
“Crowd sourcing citizen scientists to recover 1.6 million data items…”