Niwa calls for cit­i­zen sci­en­tists

The Northland Age - - Local News -

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 jour­ney to the South Pole in 1912.

Scott and his four-man team per­ished and their bod­ies were left on the ice, but their weather records were re­trieved. Now sci­en­tists plan to use those records, and 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, to learn more about cli­mate change.

To do that, they are look­ing for vol­un­teers to key-in in­for­ma­tion from hand­writ­ten weather log­books into a com­puter database.

Niwa cli­mate sci­en­tist Pe­tra Pearce said the more that was known about weather in the past, the more ac­cu­rate pre­dic­tions for fu­ture cli­mate pat­terns would be.

Big gaps in weather records be­fore the 1950s made it harder to work out fu­ture cli­mate changes, “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,” she said.

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 had never been tran­scribed, and had 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,” Ms Pearce said.

Any­one with an in­ter­net con­nec­tion could log on to the South­ern Weather Dis­cov­ery web­site (www.south­ern­weath­erdis­cov­ and im­me­di­ately be­gin key­ing-in data, do­ing as much or as lit­tle as they liked. Niwa was hop­ing to have 250,000 com­pleted ob­ser­va­tions by the mid­dle of next year, and would be ex­tremely grate­ful for any help.

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

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

Robert Scott and his team did not sur­vive their jour­ney to the South Pole in 1912, but left some valu­able weather data.

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