A new crowdsourced science project called Old Weather lets you look through handwritten ship captains’ logs from the early 20th century and help build better climate models at the same time.
The project, which is led by Oxford University and the UK Met Office, was launched Oct. 12 by the Zooniverse, the citizen-science powerhouse behind Galaxy Zoo and Moon Zoo.
Until now, most Zooniverse projects have relied on using human eyes to pick out shapes and recognize features of astronomical objects, something computers are notoriously terrible at.
Old Weather puts those sharp recognition skills to work on handwriting.
The writing in these logs ranges from scribe-quality copperplate to slapdash and scruffy, and computers make too many errors to be useful for transcribing them.
But human eyes and brains are good at interpreting written words, especially as the reader starts to recognize the style of writing and the words the ship captains used.
The data collected from the logbooks will be used by scientists, geographers, historians and the public.
Climate scientists can feed hundreds of individual observations of the weather, temperature and air pressure into atmosphere models to build weather maps of the entire globe.
Data on the ocean, which is a good store of heat, can provide information on what was happening on land as well.
“We need to collect as much historical data as we can over the oceans,” said Clive Wilkinson, coordinator of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, in a how-to video on Old Weather.
“If we wish to understand what the weather will do in the future, then we need to understand what the weather was doing in the past.”
- BBCNews : WWI ships to chart past climate