One million, six hundred thousand new observations

For all its charm, oldWeather is a quantitative science project, so we shouldn’t be surprised that so many of the blog posts feature numbers: We’ve had 7s versus 4s, 3 transcriptions not 5, our first 8000 transcribers, 476 sick sailors, the first 120,000 observations, another 3000 logs, 63 voyages, 97% accurate, 1.85 characters, 127 games of cricket, 0.02953 inches, 150 ships, and 1 million pages.

My excuse for this nostalgia is that we’ve finished! We’ve done all our logs – every page, of the thousands of Royal Navy logs we’ve been looking at, has been read and transcribed by at least three people. And in the process we’ve generated one more impressive number – something over 1 million, six hundred thousand new weather observations (1,659,212 as I write this, but I’m always a bit behind with the analysis, so it’ll be a few more when we’ve got them all). Looking right back to the beginning, and the metaphor of the fog of ignorance, 1.6 million new observations is a lot of huffing and puffing, and many square miles of fog will be cleared by our efforts. Completing now is very timely, because the next generation climate reanalysis is starting this August, so we’re just in time to feed our results into a whole new sequence of climate research.

Every science project aims to change the world, and oldWeather has succeeded in this more profoundly than anyone expected: we hoped to recover weather records which were badly needed by climate researchers, and perhaps to get a bit of useful historical information along the way. We’ve got the weather records, and richer and more detailed and extensive historical infomation than we expected, but we’ve got much more than that: we’ve grown an amazing community of project participants, and we’ve planted the seeds for several other projects with similar aims.

Thousands of people have participated in the project, and many people have comitted lots of time and effort to it – bringing in their own expertise and combining it with new knowledge learned from the logs. Sharing that knowledge on the project forum has built a community expertise in weather, history, geography, marine and naval details, …, which is finding much more value in the logbooks than we initially expected. It’s not all work either – we’ve made art, and poetry, with a good deal of fun along the way.

And I’m not the only one who’s been watching the project with strong admiration – researchers around the world have looked at oldWeather, and then turned back to their own archival records thinking ‘if oldWeather can do it, why not…’. Most of the resulting projects are still embryonic and we can’t yet say which will grow to full life, but don’t be surprised in future to see projects popping up based on Dutch logbooks, French logbooks, and a wide variety of non-meteorological records. (There is at least one follow-on project that will definitely appear – our own: oldweather.org the next generation is already available – but that’s material for another post).

Thanks and congratulations from the science team, the climate science community, the marine historical community, and many newly-inspired citizen scientists. Three cheers for oldWeather, there’s none like us.

See also: Observations by ship, the fog of ignorance, and the credits reel.

9 responses to “One million, six hundred thousand new observations”

  1. Caro says :

    I couldn’t agree more. Thanks Philip.

  2. Janet Jaguar says :

    Thanks for the summary of just how much this community has accomplished. It has been an amazing (almost) 2 years!

  3. Keith Ball says :

    We, the transcribers, have had such fun over the past two years, so thank you to the scientists who came up with and implemented this mad idea.

  4. George Oates says :

    Huzzah!! Congratulations all, on a Herculean effort of many hands making light work.

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