How the OPAL Climate Survey is enlisting the observatory powers of the British public: The OPAL Climate Survey and roadshow

How the OPAL Climate Survey is enlisting the observatory powers of the British public: The OPAL Climate Survey and roadshow

Wed, 09/03/2011 - 14:02
Posted in:

Turn off the lights. Half fill the kettle. Have a shower instead of a bath. Whatever you do in your daily life, you probably don't feel like you're making all that much of a difference in the fight against the relentless march of climate change – which is where the OPAL Climate Survey steps in.

This innovative survey aims to aid climate research by compiling a unique range of previously unused data – the observations of the likes of you and me. ""We're asking people to go outside and observe and measure the weather. What they see and record will be useful in checking the models we use for forecasting weather and predicting climate,"" explains Dr Geoff Jenkins, one of the project's chief proponents.

Take cloud-watching for example. This might seem like an agreeably self-indulgent pursuit, suitable for a lazy picnic, but to Dr Jenkins and the OPAL crew, it can help determine wind direction at cloud level - a key data set for measuring climate change. Similarly, by gathering information from the public about the number and location of plane trails, known as 'contrails', scientists hope to build a clearer picture of the impact of these emissions. ""We know these contrails can have a warming effect on climate, but how much is very uncertain,"" explains Geoff. ""Getting as many reports as possible from across the country will help us make better estimates.""

Contributing to OPAL doesn't require any high-tech equipment. One experiment involves blowing a bubble, following it, then blowing another bubble and timing how long it takes to travel 10 metres. This will help with research into the impact of our local environment, including trees and buildings, on wind speed and direction near the ground.

Even less high-tech is that suggestion that you record what you're wearing and indicate how warm or cold you feel. With this information, OPAL hopes to investigate if there are age, gender or regional differences in how the climate makes us feel – for example, whether people in the north of England really do feel more comfortable at lower temperatures than southerners. For more information on these activities, download the survey pack here.

To coin an unpopular phrase, we're all in this together – and as Dr Mark McCarthy, climate research scientist at the Met Office points out, ""these new insights will complement and build on our existing research looking at the potential impacts of climate change through the 21st century"".

Look out for The OPAL Weather Roadshow, coming to a town near you. Ever fancied having a go at being a weather forecaster, making a cloud in a bottle, or even your very own tornado? Click here for a full list of activities, or visit the OPAL website for more information.

Tour dates

10-12 March: The Big Bang, London
14-17 March: Newcastle Science Fest
21-27 March: Manchester Climate Week
29 April - 2 May: BBC Discover Nature Weekend, Lincolnshire
21-25 May: Plymouth
31 May - 5 June: Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham
8-12 June: Cheltenham Science Festival1
7-19 June: East of England Show
20-23 June: Bruce Castle Museum, London
12-14 July: Great Yorkshire Show