Volunteers needed to unlock historic weather secrets

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NIWA climate scientists are calling for volunteers to unearth weather secrets from the past – including those recorded by members of Captain Robert Scott’s doomed trip to the South Pole in 1912.

Scott and his four-man team perished in Antarctica and their bodies were left on the ice - but the weather records they made on their expedition were retrieved.

Now those records – plus millions of daily observations made by early explorers, people on whaling ships, cargo ships and lighthouses around New Zealand and the Southern Ocean before the 1950s – are needed by scientists trying to find out more about climate change.

That’s why NIWA is launching a huge citizen science project seeking volunteers to key in information from handwritten weather logbooks into a computer database.

NIWA climate scientist Petra Pearce says the more we know about our past weather, the better we can accurately predict climate patterns today and into the future.

“There are big gaps in weather records before the 1950s. This makes it harder to work out future changes in our climate,” Ms Pearce says.

“But by recovering many of these records and digitising them, we can feed the information into weather reconstructions that help us understand how rapidly this important part of the Earth is changing. The more observations we have, the more certainty we have about the conditions at the time.”

Petra Pearce, NIWA Climate Scientist

The weather records – some dating back to the mid-1800s - were normally meticulously kept in logbooks, with entries made several times a day recording information such as temperature, barometric pressure and wind direction as well as comments about cloud cover, snow drifts or rainfall.

However, most of this incredibly valuable information has never been transcribed and has not previously been used by scientists for modelling.

“We have 150,000 images of logbook pages from archives in the UK and Scandinavia that need to be keyed. Each image has about six days of data which can include up to 70 pieces of information. That adds up to millions of observations to key over the course of the project.”

Anyone can log on to the Southern Weather Discovery website and immediately start keying in data and do as much or as little as they like.  Ms Pearce says they are hoping to have 250,000 completed observations by the middle of next year and she is extremely grateful for any help.

The weather data will be fed into global daily weather reconstructions going back to the 1800s to give better daily weather animations and a longer-term perspective of events that occurred in the past.

“It will also help us understand how the weather generated form Antarctica and the Southern Ocean impacts on New Zealand.”

The project is part of an initiative called ACRE Antarctica, led by NIWA scientists within the Deep South National Science Challenge, and is also supported by the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Help key in weather data at: www.southernweatherdiscovery.org

Contact

Petra Pearce, NIWA climate scientist
Ph 09 375 2052

Research subject: AntarcticaClimate