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Old Weather

Here is a wonderful idea I came across in the NYT's Green Blog: Old Weather. There are untold number of weather records dating back a hundred years or more that would be invaluable for climate scientists if only they were digitized. Ship logs from the 1890s, balloon flights from the 1920s - all of it would be useful if climate scientists could get their hands on the data in a way that made sense for their modeling. As Justin Gillis of Green puts it,

The most basic of all weather observations, temperature, began to be recorded more or less accurately in a handful of places in the 18th century, but widespread, highly accurate temperature observations began only in the mid-19th century, and global coverage was obtained only in the 20th century.

This scanty record hurts modern climatology in many ways. Perhaps the most obvious is that it is difficult to know whether a modern observation is within or outside the range of past experience.

For example, do the harsh winters that have afflicted the eastern United States and Europe the past two seasons fall in a range that might be expected from past climate? Does a particular hurricane, like Katrina, fit within past boundaries or represent something new?

An improved ability to answer such questions could help scientists figure out which modern-day weather extremes to attribute to human-induced global warming; which to natural variability in the atmosphere; and which to other factors, like variations in the sun's output.

So the push is on to get these records into the climate database. And you can help. Here is one site that gives you access to old ships logs and you can help scientists digitize the data. Get your teenager to do it rather than having them waste time on facebook.