Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How was the Weather?

Most citizen science weather projects fit into two categories.  There are the highly passive distributed computing weather projects that ask people to model climate change on their computers.  This is very useful and important work but isn't as interactive or satisfying as one would hope.  The other type asks for direct observations from citizen scientists using their own weather equipment.  While interesting and interactive it can also get pricey, and is not for everyone.  In the sweet spot in between lies the OldWeather project.

OldWeather is another Zooniverse project that combines simplicity of learning and scientific rigor with an engaging science experience.  The project utillizes the thousands of weather readings taken by sailors of the UK Royal Navy to better understand world (and ocean) weather between 1900-1940.  This data set even includes data from uninhabited parts of the world (such as Antarctica) where no other data exists.  Not only does this help us understand weather patterns 100 years ago but is useful for creating, and testing, climate models for tomorrow. 

Project scientists have imaged log books from nearly 250 Royal Navy ships and asks your help digitizing the data.  Just follow the handy guides to record the handwritten data that a computer can't read but a human like you can.  This will provide the data, location, and weather conditions encountered all those years ago.

An added bonus of this site is learning about the ships and gaining insight into the daily events of each voyage.  You can pick a ship and track its progress across the sea as you move through the days.  The program even adds representations of the weather you're in the middle of transcribing.  So even if your just reading naval logs the project designers do a great job of keeping things interesting.

Getting Started is Easy:
  1. Visit OldWeather: Home and click "Get Started" to sign in with your existing Zooniverse profile.  If you have not previously registered for another of their projects all it takes is your name, e-mail address, and a password to sign up.
  2. View the OldWeather: Tutorial web page including the videos and explanatory text.  All it takes is five minutes to understand the simple user interface.
  3. Review the OldWeather: Vessels web page to find a ship you want to follow.  It doesn't really matter scientifically or impact the project, but helps build a connection to the men (and women) who lived on the vessel and meticulously recorded the data for posterity.
  4. Click on the Transcribe Logs button, get out your glasses, and have fun!
For you fans of weather projects I highly recommend this project as a way to round out your experience.  Transcribe the data from yesteryear, use your own equipment to find today's weather, and  develop models to figure out tomorrow's.  The best part is you can do them all in the same night!

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