Citizen Science for Data Rescue: Recovering Historical Climate Records with a Network of 20,000 Volunteers.

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 1:40 PM
Philip Brohan, Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, United Kingdom
Recent years have seen many extreme and damaging weather events - for example the low Arctic sea-ice of 2012, and the severe winter of 2013/4 in North America and the UK. To understand these events, and to judge whether they represent environmental change, we need to compare today's weather to the long-term historical record. Our long-term historical record of the weather is based on the billions of observations, from scientists, explorers, mariners, and others, that have been made, across the world, over the last few centuries.

Many of these records are still dark: They exist only as hand-written paper documents in various archives and libraries, and are inaccessible to science. As a result our historical weather reconstructions have major gaps, where we do not know how the climate has varied. is a citizen science project rescuing these observations. By providing an web interface to scans of paper records, we enable volunteers around the world to contribute to the task of rescuing the observations. So far a community of around 20,000 volunteers have read well over 1 million pages of paper records and contributed millions of recovered weather observations to international climate datasets.

As well as learning about past weather, we are also learning what it takes to build a successful volunteer science project in this area: building a community, breaking down the task into manageable steps, feeding back success to the volunteers, and enabling comitted volunteers to take on more responsibilities were all vital to our success. We are currently using those lessons to build a new version of oldWeather that can rescue even more data.