Nobody succeeds alone, and that’s doubly true of oldWeather: not only are we legion in ourselves – a community of thousands working on logbook weather, but even as a project we are embedded in a community – we have friends and relations.
Our close relations, of course, are the other Zooniverse projects: That’s a diverse family – from the paterfamilias to the newest member, united by shared principles and the talents of the core team. But we also have more distant relatives. oldWeather is neither the first, nor the biggest, climate and weather citizen science project. climateprediction.net (CPDN) turned ten this year, and they have a very different way of doing science.
Many of the experiments climate scientists would like to do are impossible in practice: What would happen to the weather, for example, if we were to induce artificial volcanoes as a way to cool the planet? To investigate these questions, we do simulations – we build computer models of the climate system and do the experiment in the model. We have learned an enormous amount by doing this, but it does take a lot of computer time. CPDN asks volunteers to let their desktop computers contribute to this work – most of the time we use only a small fraction of the power of our computers, so this work can be done entirely in your computer’s spare time – it does not interfere with your normal use.
CPDN is also part of a family: There are lots of volunteer computing projects sharing the infrastructure provided by the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) and you can contribute to any you choose.
Several of the oldWeather community have doubled their efficiency by doing citizen science and volunteer computing simultaneously: while the people are reading logbooks, their computers are simulating the climate, or Neutron stars, or malaria, or the Milky Way, or … I’d like to congratulate the oldWeather BOINC group on their tremendous contribution both to oldWeather and to volunteer computing.
Last year, Kevin was out making such measurements from a ship, on a research cruise in the Bering Strait. This field season he’s back out there, but he’s gone up in the world. For some purposes ground level is too low, and satellites are too high, and to fill this gap NOAA have two research aircraft (affectionally known as ‘Kermit’ and ‘Miss Piggy’). Kevin’s group have got some time on one of them, they are trying to “quantify the air-ice-sea interactions and lower atmospheric structure in the marginal ice zone, with the ultimate goal of being able to infer how recent reductions in sea ice extent in autumn will impact the atmosphere“.
The research aircraft is complex and well-equipped: According to Kevin “The NOAA WP-3 is instrumented like ten satellites. So we are able to collect a vast array of data from deep oceanography with AXCTD and AXBT expendables, SST and surface microwave emission (wind/waves/ice), upward/downward radiation, up to 22 thousand feet where we deploy dropsondes from above the clouds to characterize the structure of the atmosphere. On a survey we collect flight level data continuously while deploying AX instruments about every six minutes.”
To do all that effectively requires close cooperation between the crew of the aircraft and the scientists – that’s Kevin’s job. He’s sent back this video to give us a taste of what it’s like. It looks exciting – they spend a lot of time travelling at 200 knots, only 200 feet off the ground, much to the distress of the auto-pilot – but it’s hard work: one flight means 8-10 hours flight time + 2 hours for briefings before and after.
See more about this mission on the NOAA website.
We’ve looked at the world from the top; this is the view from beneath: Antarctica in the centre, South America at top, South Africa right, Australia and New Zealand bottom left. Streamlines show near-surface wind, colours indicate temperature, dots mark rain and snow. All data are from the Met Office global analysis.
One reason why weather forecasting and climate research are hard is that the atmosphere is complicated: There’s a lot going on – all sorts of different motions and changes occurring simultaneously all over the world. So while it’s often useful to use simplified views – perhaps to look only at mean-sea-level pressure, for example – it’s also good sometimes to embrace the complexity, and remind ourselves why we need a supercomputer to keep track of it all.
So this time I’ve put as much as possible in the video: sea-ice, wind speed and direction, temperature and even rainfall. It’s still only a tiny fraction of the full three dimensional atmospheric state that our forecast models have to simulate, but there’s plenty to look at: We can see not only the small-scale complexity of the winds, but also some larger-scale patterns: the strong clockwise circulation around Antarctica formed by the southern hemisphere westerlies, the cyclones forming in that strong flow, and atmospheric waves folding outwards.
This isn’t really old weather, it’s almost new – from only last month. But I used this example because it illustrates that the weather is not only complicated and interesting, it also matters. If you set the video to September 16th you’ll see a low pressure (clockwise circulation) off Marie Byrd land, linking with a high pressure (anti-clockwise circulation) in the south-east Pacific. These combined to channel cold Antarctic air up toward central Chile, which contributed to a late frost which cost their fruit industry an estimated $1 billion. Expect to pay extra for peaches, cherries, and even Cabernet Sauvignon, as a result.
Most of the oldWeather science team are weather scientists or historians, but not all. This post is by Charlene Jennett, Alexandra Eveleigh and Laure Kloetzer. We are social scientists and we are trying to find out what makes a good citizen science project – who better to ask than the oldWeather participants?
About a year ago we asked the participants in oldWeather for a different sort of help: We asked you to tell us what it was like to participate in the project, by filling in an online survey. And we followed that up with several interviews with Old Weather volunteers. It has been fascinating to learn about your experiences of volunteering and we were so happy that so many of you responded – we received 545 survey responses and interviewed 16 volunteers in total. Since conducting this research we have been very busy analyzing all of the data and recently we have started to present some of our findings at conferences. In this blog post we wanted to share with you some of our findings and say thank you again for all of your help – we could not have done it without you!
Creativity in Citizen Cyberscience: All for One and One for All
On Wednesday 1st May 2013, the ACM Web Science conference (in Paris, France) held a workshop called ‘Creativity and Attention in the Age of the Web.’ During the workshop Charlene presented some of our initial findings, discussing what does it mean for volunteers to be ‘creative’ in citizen cyberscience? These findings were based on our interviews with Old Weather and several other projects – Galaxy Zoo, Transcribe Bentham, Bat Detective and Noise-Map.
In her presentation Charlene discussed two kinds of creativity:
- Creativity as Imaginative Self-Expression – When asked to give an example of creativity, several participants described instances where volunteers contributed artwork and humour to the project forums. These contributions were viewed as creative because they were imaginative and served as interesting discussion points for the project communities.
- Creativity as Solving Project Problems – Other examples that participants gave of creativity involved problem-solving. Several participants described instances where volunteers took it upon themselves to suggest ideas or create content in order to solve problems experienced by project members.
One of our conclusions is that a good project community is important for encouraging creativity in citizen science. You can see more in the full paper.
Learning by volunteer computing, thinking and gaming: What and how are volunteers learning by participating in Virtual Citizen Science?
On Friday 6th September 2013, the ESREA conference (in Berlin, Germany) held a session on ‘Learning with ICT.’ During this session our colleagues Laure Kloetzer and Daniel Schneider from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) gave a presentation about what volunteers learn by participating in virtual citizen science projects. These findings were based on UCL’s interviews with Old Weather volunteers, and Laure’s interviews with BOINC and Eyewire volunteers.
In their presentation Laure and Daniel discussed six kinds of learning:
- Task/game mechanics – e.g. commands of the interface, rules and concepts of the game.
- Pattern recognition – looking repeatedly at the data you get a sense of what is meaningful.
- On-topic learning – e.g. content knowledge related to weather and naval history.
- Scientific process – understanding what science does and how it works.
- Off-topic knowledge and skills – e.g. communication skills, computer literacy.
- Personal development – e.g. expanding your interests, extending your social network.
One of our conclusions is that most of the learning that happens in citizen science projects tends to be informal, unstructured and social.
“I want to be a Captain! I want to be a Captain!” Gamification in the Old Weather Citizen Science Project
On Friday 4th October 2013, the Gamification conference (in Stratford, Canada) held a session on ‘Education’. During this session Charlene gave a presentation about what volunteers thought of Old Weather’s ranking system, where you start as a Cadet and can be promoted to Lieutenant (30+ weather observations) and possibly even Captain (top transcriber). These findings were based on our survey and interviews with Old Weather volunteers.
In her presentation Charlene described how volunteers had a mixture of positive and negative views:
- Positive Views – Volunteers liked that the ranking system validated their efforts. It allowed them to track their personal progress and to assess their personal contribution towards the project’s progress. Also some volunteers really enjoyed the competitive aspects. It was fun to work towards being the Captain of a ship, and once it was achieved, to try to maintain the position of Captain.
- Negative Views – Some volunteers found the ranking demotivating, feeling that they could never catch up with the Captain. Captains themselves sometimes found it stressful trying to stay on top. Some volunteers also expressed concerns that the ranking system rewarded quantity over quality, as the system didn’t reward volunteers for submitting more detailed transcriptions that include daily ‘event’ occurrences (useful for historical research)
One of our conclusions is that the same competitive gamification mechanisms which motivate some volunteers can be demotivating for others. Again you can see more in the full paper.
We launched oldWeather three years ago today (October 12th, 2010). It was an exciting but scary moment – would she float? We’d done everything we could, but you’re never quite sure until the splash has settled.
One thing we did know at launch was where we were going: The map of past climate variability and change contains some very large blank areas – great expanses of space and time where we knew almost nothing of what the weather had done. Ours was a voyage of exploration: We would sail, via the archives, into these regions and rescue their weather observations, adding systematically and permanently to the scientific records on which our understanding of the climate is based.
And it’s worked very well. As with any research project we’ve encountered plenty of surprises along the way, but they’ve been good surprises – we knew about the weather in the logs, but we didn’t realise just how much else was in there. So we’ve added detailed ship histories, maps, geographical databases, illustrations of the course of WW1, tales of life on board, …
But our primary aim is still the weather, and we’ve recovered an enormous account of historical weather information, more than 1.6 million new observations from our original set of Royal Navy logs alone. These new basic observations are a permanent foundation on which scientists all over the world can build new reconstructions and products, and today we can see such a building appear.
Gil Compo and colleagues, from NOAA/CIRES/University of Colorado, are using our new observations in an atmospheric reanalysis (20CR). Essentially they combine surface weather observations (such as ours) with information on sea temperature and sea-ice, and a physical model of the atmosphere, to make a detailed and comprehensive picture of the global weather. It takes some of the world’s largest supercomputers to do this analysis: 20CR was produced at the US National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center and the US Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility. But it’s worth the effort – not only do they make a global weather reconstruction, but they also calculate the accuracy of their reconstruction, and we can compare their new reconstruction with one they made earlier, to see how much difference our observations have made.
So the video above has four components:
- The weather. The reanalysis calculates everything about the weather: winds, temperatures, clouds, rainfall, the jet stream, … but I can’t show all that in one video so we’re only seeing mean-sea-level-pressure. The solid black contours show where this is low (bad weather), and the dashed contours where it is high (good weather).
- The observations. Grey dots mark observations we’ve had since before oldWeather started. Yellow dots mark new observations. Most (but not quite all) new observations are from oldWeather. (We are only part of a wider recovery program).
- The fog of ignorance. Grey fog marks the areas where we still don’t have enough observations to say exactly what the weather was doing.
- The glow of discovery. Yellow highlighting marks the areas where the reconstruction is much better than it was before (mostly because of our new observations).
That’s a lot to get in one image, but it’s the yellow that matters. Our work has cleared the fog, and illuminated the weather, over a huge area of land and ocean. The improvement stretches over about 20% of the Earth’s surface – more than 100 million square kilometres – and is there for every hour of the 9+ years covered by the Royal Navy logs we read.
That’s not a bad return for our three years hard work.
Two summers: On the left, 1980; on the right, 2012.
(The picture is of the Arctic Ocean (with Iceland at the bottom and Alaska towards the top). It is about 3000 miles from side to side).
We tend to use ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ almost as synonyms, but that’s not quite right: the climate is changing, and one of the ways we see that change is as an increase in global mean temperature. We like global temperature as a measure partly because it is relatively well observed and understood (thanks, in a small part, to our contributions), but climate change is also showing itself in other ways, some of them more dramatic.
Every year in the Arctic, the sea-ice starts to melt in March and continues to retreat through the summer, reaching its minimum extent in September. Since 1979 we’ve been able to watch the change by satellite, and even over the 30-odd years of satellite observations we’ve seen some big changes, particularly in the summer ice coverage:
This is one reason why we are now concentrating on polar data. Arctic sea-ice is harder than global temperature – to measure, to understand, and to predict. So more observations are particularly valuable. And because changes in ice cover can be so large, we can make useful comparisons to modern records even with a limited set of ship observations: in 2012 the Northwest passage was clear of ice – it’s certain that William Parry, John Franklin, Roald Amundsen, and even our own Thetis, met very different conditions.
We’ve not quite finished the Jeannette, but thanks to the excellent work of gastcra, clewi, jill, and the crew, I have already been able to reconstruct her route. And for this ship, we can learn a lot from just the route, because she spent nearly two years drifting embedded in the sea-ice.
The Arctic ocean has winds and currents, so the sea-ice does not just advance and retreat with the seasons, it also moves about. To understand its movement, nowadays we use ice stations and ice drifters: These are groups of people, or more often just un-manned automatic instruments, that are placed on an ice-floe and drift with the ice for months or years, recording its movements and the weather at their location. From them, we’ve learned a lot about how the sea-ice works and changes.
Jeannette was effectively the first ice station. The video shows the route of the ship reconstructed from her logbook, together with a sea-ice field. We don’t have good sea-ice records for 1879 so I’ve used the sea-ice from exactly 100-years later (as we did for the Thetis). We need to remember that the sea-ice in 1879 would not have been the same as that in 1979, but the comparison does add poignancy to the story of the voyage: They were unlucky not to escape the ice in the autumn of 1880, and they came so close to reaching the seasonal melt region around the New Siberian Islands – another couple of weeks, and maybe they would have escaped.
Our records from Jeannette end on June 13th, 1881, when she was abandoned and sank. But her contribution to science did not end there. Wreckage from the ship continued drifting across the Arctic Ocean, and was recovered in Greenland; and that evidence helped inspire Fridtjof Nansen to build the Fram and undertake an even greater Arctic voyage.
[This post is from Maikel, who has come up with a new way of using and viewing the information we are collecting].
Having been active as an Old Weather transcriber and in editing the transcribed logs for display on Naval-History.Net, I started to be curious about the journeys of the Royal Naval ships.
Giving in to this form of Old Weather addiction, I started to create an application that could retrieve the position information for the vessels I had edited. Seeing the dry numbers being transformed into a 2-dimensional voyage on a map was such a satisfying experience, I just had to share it with others.
This resulted in Journey Plotter, a Windows application for plotting the journeys, or parts thereof, of Royal Navy ships from the World War 1 era. Journey Plotter makes use of data from original Royal Naval log-books that have been transcribed and edited by oldWeather volunteers, and then made available by Naval-History.Net. Journey Plotter also turned into a valuable tool for the log editors: Position mistakes of a vessel are easily overlooked if it’s just a number. Seeing a strange jump in a voyage makes it much easier to spot.
If you are interested in Journey Plotter, visit http://tinyurl.com/journeyplotter to learn more about it. I trust you will enjoy looking at the journeys of the Royal Navy vessels and/or have a useful tool during the editing of their voyages.
Working on oldWeather is a pretty wide-ranging education: we’ve got weather and climate, history, naval and maritime operations – and, it turns out, a sizeable chunk of geography as well. The logs are thorough in recording the ship locations, but they sometimes think that it’s enough to mention that they’ve sighted Qeqertarsuup Tunua, or anchored off Changqingshaxiang. To follow along, and to map the ships and use their observations, we have to turn those mentions into latitudes and longitudes.
This is another area where human ingenuity and effort are vital, and it’s another job we are doing well: The section on the forum dedicated to geographical help has yielded another project output – a database of port and place locations which is valuable not just to us, but also to other researchers trying to find out where their ships are.