There’s an immense amount of value that citizen scientists can bring to the field of climate science.
Historical observations provide researchers with a baseline for evaluating recently observed extremes. However there are missing gaps in historical weather data, some of which are able to be filled by old weather journals that are yet to be transcribed.
“I remember my geography school teacher saying that if the weather conditions were not right, then the history we know might not have happened,” says Wendy Howe, who has been volunteering on historical weather rescue projects with Climate History Australia.
“This interconnection between climate and events has always fascinated me. Now, uncovering this new historical weather data makes me feel like I’m using my skills to do something meaningful for the future while feeling connected to the past.”
So far, Wendy has helped our researchers with journals from the years 1836 through to 1900. The records are from the Surveyor-General’s Office in Adelaide, Carrington Cottages in Adelaide, the Swan River settlements in Perth, and the Government Observatory at the Botanic Gardens in Perth.
Wendy has dived into the journals with a meticulous level of detail to find references to events such as floods, extreme rainfall and bushfires. And, although we can’t use it for our climate research, Wendy says “it’s exciting to find references to earthquakes, and even comets that are visible during the day. It’s these kinds of additional details that make the records so interesting and enjoyable to read”.
Wendy has also done a little background research into the related places and people for the records she’s been transcribing. “Just being able to see images of the faces of the observers and the buildings where they worked gives the records another level of authenticity that I really appreciate,” says Wendy.
How you can help
In today’s fast-moving digital world, there is something romantic about unlocking the past from the scrawled handwriting of long-departed Australians. Anyone who has a computer, internet access and a few hours can become a volunteer – just sign up to our e-newsletter and you’ll be notified whenever we launch new projects here.
If you’re a peachy-keen volunteer who would like to go the extra mile and help us transcribe some non-standard journal pages as whole pages, we’d love to hear from you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a bit about your previous experience transcribing historical documents.
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Weather records taken at the Surveyor-General’s Office in Adelaide from 1843 to 1861 are currently being transcribed through a citizen science project on Zooniverse. Once analysed, these records will be added to global historical climate datasets. To become a volunteer and help transcribe these unique journals now, visit: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/caitlinhowlett/climate-history-australia.