Crowdsourcing Historic Ships to Improve Climate Modelling

Published May-11-14

An open innovation project to transcribe the logs of historic United States ships is providing researchers with valuable data sets to improve climate modelling.

Zooniverse, United Kingdom

The Story:

Crowdsourcing Historic Ships to Improve Climate Modelling “Many hands make light work”, the old saying goes. Today’s open innovation and crowdsourcing initiatives demonstrate how this is so. They utilize the smarts of the crowd to solve problems and break colossal undertakings into smaller, more manageable tasks. This is clearly seen in some areas of scientific research.

The routes to eureka moments are long and data-ridden, requiring months, even years of analysis to spot meaningful patterns or trends. To understand how galaxies or cancer cells form, where stars come from or where the planet is vulnerable to global warming require the study of reams of data and images.

Quicker Results

These are often so vast that investigating teams are just not big enough to cope, meaning that research, and therefore answers and discoveries are delayed. By engaging the crowd, results can come through quicker and at a lower cost, something that brings a big smile to cash-strapped universities and other research organisations.

Old Weather

Old Weather is a web-based project to transcribe Arctic and worldwide weather observations made by United States ships since the mid-19th century. Digitizing observations recorded in US log books is helping climate model projections and improving a database of weather extremes. The crowdsourcing initiative will also help historians studying past ship movements and the lives of people on board.

As of April 2014, 30% of the logs have been completed. They cover nearly 45,000 pages and seven complete voyages. Among the logs being analysed are those belonging to the USS Albatross, the USS Perry and the USS Patterson.

These sea records are just as important and valid as land-based records as most of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. They are being used by a number of climate reanalysis projects, including the Simple Ocean Data Assimilation (SODA).

The Importance of the Crowd

According to scientists, the crowd is essential for this kind of research. Dr Clive Wilkinson from the University of East Anglia says:

“The Old Weather project isn't about proving or disproving global warming. We need to collect as much historical data as we can over the oceans, because 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.”

The Power of the Crowd

The advantages of Old Weather’s crowd based approach are:

• Extracted data will be more accurate as logbooks will be examined by several
• More work can be done.
• Research can be concluded in shorter time frames.
• Computers can't analyse logbooks as accurately as humans.

Once the data has been transcribed it is available for anyone. Scientists, geographers, historians and the public can access the information and use it to improve our knowledge of what the weather will be doing in the future. And it's all thanks to the crowd.

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