It must be tough being a meteorologist right now. Previously, if you had predicted rain on someone’s wedding day and you were right, your name was cursed. If you we’re wrong, you were laughed at.
These days, however, meteorologists face more than just the wrath of a dampened public. With the debate over climate change still raging, researchers face pressure and intense scrutiny from special interest groups, politicians, and the media. What’s the best way to deal with all of this interest? Get more data and use it to improve existing models.
That’s where you and the Old Weather project come in. Researchers want you to review and transcribe some of the thousands of ship’s logs left behind by the world’s great naval expeditions. The logbooks are a vast treasure trove of data points about oceanic conditions, and how the oceans behave over time is key to understanding global climate patterns. Indeed, in one of life’s great ironies, the weather data captured by Captain Robert FitzRoy of the HMS Beagle is now as of much interest to science as the zoological data taken down by his passenger, Charles Darwin.
Why can’t the logbooks simply be scanned? While modern scanning technology is good, it would have a tough time reading and recognizing handwriting, and especially the handwriting done on a pitching deck. And who knows what interesting tidbits you might uncover besides weather data?
To get started, register for an account (please note that Old Weather is part of the Zooniverse program, which includes GalaxyQuest, studying the ancients, and Whale.fm) and then watch the tutorial videos here.