Archive by Author | Philip

International Archives Day

Today, 9th June, is International Archives Day, where archives around the world unite to celebrate their remarkable resources by sharing an iconic image from their collection. oldWeather is no archive, but we certainly do appreciate them, and we aim to add value to their collections through our transcription work.

So here’s an image in which we saw some special value – this is from the collection of the UK National Archives: The logbook of HMS Tarantula, from August 1920. Thanks to generations of archivists for preserving these records for use today; without their skill and dedication this record, and all the others from which we have learned so much, would have been lost forever.

Logbook of HMS Tarantula, August 1920

On Sunday 29th Aug. aneroid was compared with Standard Mercurial in HMS Carlisle and found to be reading 0.26 ins. too low. An examination of the aneroid showed it to contain an ants’ nest and be otherwise defective. This aneroid is being surveyed and until a new one is received the Captain’s private Baragraph will be used. This barograph was corrected on 29th August.

DIY for digital humanists

oldWeather is, of course, a science project. Or at least mostly science. Or … OK, we do lots of things, plenty of science, but also work on history, archives, data visualisation, information retrieval, human-computer interaction, motivation, and much else. In fact, we are something of a poster child for the young research field of digital humanities.

If you are a researcher interested in the digital humanities, you might want to come to this year’s Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School. In particular, Victoria Van Hyning, one of our friends from the Zooniverse is running a workshop on Crowdsourcing for Academic, Library and Museum Environments where participants will learn how to build their own citizen science projects, using the same Zooniverse technology that’s being used for developing oldWeather.

oldWeather has proved both fun and productive for almost everyone involved (very hard work, too, of course), so I’m keen to encourage other such projects. Try it – there must be many fascinating object collections that would benefit from examination by several hundred eyes.

All will be assimilated

Weather from a scout run of the 20th Century reanalysis, using the US oldWeather observations.


The observations we are recovering will have many uses, but one is clear – they will be assimilated into collective reconstructions of historical weather (reanalyses). We’ve done this already with the original set of Royal Navy ships, and now we are starting to use the US Arctic ship observations in the same way. Leading the way, again, is the 20th Century reanalysis (we are working on nineteenth century records at the moment, but it’s too late to change the name now); the video above shows a new reconstruction of the weather for 1880 and 1881, and stars three of our ships (red dots) Jeannette, Corwin, and Rodgers. As well as the wind (vectors), temperature (colours), sea-ice, rain (black shading), and observations used (dots), it shows grey fog masking the areas where the reconstruction is still very uncertain (because there are no observations there – yet).

The improvement from our new observations can be seen clearly in the gaps in the fog surrounding each red dot, but the effect can be seen even more starkly if we follow one ship:

Observations from the arctic voyage of the USS Jeannette.


The map shows the route of the ship and the sea-ice for the period. The graph shows sea-level pressure, and near-surface air temperature, as observed by the ship (red dots), as reconstructed by 20CR version 2c (not using the ship’s observations: light grey band), and as reconstructed by a scout version of 20CR assimilating the Jeannette’s pressure observations (dark grey band – starts in Nov. 1879). Small yellow dots mark the other observations available to the reanalyses. The narrowing of the band indicates a reduction in our uncertainty about the weather – an increase in the value of the reconstruction.

So far we’ve only captured those three ships, but we’ll get to the rest – their observations and historical distinctiveness will be added to our reconstructions. Resistance is futile.

1085 conversations

Gil, Gina, & Mark by Kevin's banner

And straight against that great array Forth went the dauntless Three.
Gil (left), Gina, and Mark.

Our representatives at last weekend’s Smithsonian Arctic Spring Festival had a busy and succesful time: On Friday they welcomed 375 visitors, and on Saturday 710; including people not only from around the U.S, but also from Australia, India, Poland, Russia, and Korea. 710 people over a daily stint (10:00 am to 4:00 pm) averages at two people every minute for the whole six hours. Even though the visitors mostly came in groups and couples, that’s still a lot of talking – it’s hard work, even for a fun event.

But of course we have plenty of enthusiasm and a lot to talk about, and with Mark, Gina and Gil all present we had experts covering the whole sweep of the project, from the original records at NARA, through the logbook imaging and organisation, to the climate reanalysis outputs.

Gil talks to some colourful and enthusiastic visitors

Gil talks to some colourful and enthusiastic visitors

oldWeather at the Smithsonian spring festival



Old Weather: Our Weather's Past, the Climate's Future

This weekend – Friday 8th to Sunday 10th May – the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, in Washington DC (USA), is holding an Arctic Spring Festival (all welcome, free entry).

There’ll be lots going on: music, crafts, art, dance performances, …, and also an opportunity for visitors to meet and talk to scientists researching the Arctic. oldWeather will be there: Kevin has organised our display, with the video above and some good posters – and Gina, Mark, and Gil will be there in person, ready to talk about all aspects of the project.

So please do drop in, or tell your friends – we’ll be happy to see you.

At the National Maritime Museum, London, April 15th

On April 15th (2015) the (UK) National Maritime Museum is hosting a special one-day seminar organised by the (UK) Royal Meteorological Society. The meeting is in honour of the remarkable Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), who established the value of marine weather observations for scientific research.

The meeting covers everything from using the very earliest records to make circulation indices, to modern satellite observations. The speakers include several members of the oldWeather science team, and one of the talks is about the leading current method of recovering marine observations: I’m talking about oldWeather at 14:40. (Full agenda).

It’s an open meeting – all are welcome.

Crossovers (3)

What links weather observations, citizen science, open data, the Met Office, contributions to climate science …?

It does all sound rather familliar, but actually I was thinking of The Secret Life of a Weather Datum – a project from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Digital Transformations theme, led by the University of Sheffield and the University of the Creative Arts.

So while we are mostly interested in the effect of newly-recovered weather observations on our understanding of physical climate variability, The Secret Life are interested in the cultural effect of the same data as it flows through people, systems, and organisations – including oldWeather.

Their website launched on March 16th. Joan Arthur and Helen J. contributed interviews as representatives of the oldWeather participants, and Joan was also at the launch event to give a talk.

Thanks to @LifeOfData, @PaulaGoodale, and our own Joan and Helen for this citizen science/weather/open data crossover.

Crossovers (2)

oldWeather has its own venue for high-quality science gossip, but in the late nineteenth century there were no internet forums; instead they had a printed magazine: Hardwicke’s Science Gossip: A Monthly Medium of Interchange and Gossip for Students and Lovers of Nature.

Today we’d call those ‘Students and Lovers of Nature’ scientists, so our friends at the Zooniverse have set up another transcription project, to read Science Gossip and related magazines, and find out what the citizen scientists of 100 years ago were interested in.

There is one thing in particular that we are also interested in – it’s a safe bet that the pages of those magazines contained information on the weather of the time; comments and perhaps original observations. At oldWeather we specialise in ship’s logbooks, but we are not fussy, and we value weather observations from any source. So we’ve added another tag to this new project for marking pages: #oldweather for any weather observations that turn up.

Thanks to @VanHyningV, @SiobhanLeachman, our own Jil, and the whole Science Gossip project community, for this Zooniverse/documentary records/historic weather crossover.

Crossovers (1)

Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey was an eminent ornithologist round about a century ago. The Smithsonian have her diary from 1887, and are running a volunteer project to transcribe it. Despite the strong hints given in the printed page headers of her diary, Florence rarely included weather observations, but there is at least one:

Minus 26 degrees (presumably F), and down to minus 30 in the valley. That’s pretty cold even for New York state (where Florence was at the time). Why so cold? Now, that’s something we can help with, with our rich collection of historical observations and renalysis. I don’t usually do forecasts (there’s another part of the Met Office for that), but as this one’s for 128 years ago maybe we can stretch a point:

Forecast for Monday, January 3rd, 1887: The high pressure currently over the central United States will strengthen and move eastward, bringing clear skies, northerly winds, and very cold weather.

A forecast for Florence Bailey in 1887: Uses data from the Twentieth Century Reanalysis (esrl.noaa.gov/psd/data/20thC_Rean/ - version 2c) and shows the places where we have observations (yellow dots) sea-level pressure anomalies (contours: solid=low pressure and dashed=high), and temperature anomalies (red=unusually hot, blue=unusually cold).

Thanks to @SiobhanLeachman, @MeghaninMotion, @TranscribeSI, and Florence Bailey herself; for this citizen science/documentary records/historical weather crossover study.

Two million

We’ve now transcribed more than 2,000,000 (two million) weather observations from the U.S. logbooks we are currently working on. (Previously: 1,2).

Just to put that number into context:

Two million weather observations ago oldWeather-Arctic was already on its way, and our mountain of vital data is now looking really impressive.

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