Citizen scientists needed to unearth 'lost' Ben Nevis weather data

Citizen scientists needed to unearth 'lost' Ben Nevis weather data

Thu, 07/09/2017 - 14:30
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Attention budding scientists - your help is needed! 

Researchers are on a mission to rescue two million pieces of 'lost' weather data that was gathered over 100 years ago by volunteers - now known as the Weathermen of Ben Nevis’ - on Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis. The team of Victorian meteorologists recorded temperature, pressure, rainfall, sunshine, cloudiness, wind strength and wind direction every hour, day and night, 365 days a year for more than 20 years, from 1883 to 1904. All this information was compiled in five hefty volumes published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh between 1890 and 1910.

Operation Weather Rescue: Ben Nevis

Researchers now want to 'digitise' this data by asking public volunteers to help type the data into a database. The additional data will help to uncover information about the past climate and how it has changed and is likely to change in the future. The citizen science project is led by Society Fellow, climate scientist Professor Ed Hawkins, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the University of Reading. 

Ed commented, "The fastest way to collect new weather observations is by looking back in time. Operation Weather Rescue: Ben Nevis will fill gaps in our knowledge and provide a baseline from which we can measure any changes to the weather today. Unearthing this type of data feeds into the bigger picture; helping international researchers understand climatic changes and make better forecasts for the future. The Ben Nevis weather data will tell us more about extreme rainfall which is thought to be becoming more common in the UK. The logbooks also contain records of sightings of the Northern Lights. On top of this, using historic data to better understand mountain weather will be useful to mountain rescue agencies."

Marjory Roy, former Superintendent of Met Office Edinburgh, and author of the RMetS book ‘The Weathermen of Ben Nevis’, a fascinating insight into the work and lives of those who gave their time on the top of the mountain to make the original weather observations, is also supporting the campaign. Ms Roy said: "The meteorologists dutifully took observations every hour and, at the end of each month, and sent copies of them to the Met Office where they were stamped, filed and promptly forgotten. There is very little data from the top of any British mountains, and to have such complete detailed hourly observations is incredible. We are missing so much data worldwide that it is vital that we start to uncover these hidden records and put them to use. They will be invaluable in helping us to better understand changes in our weather and the  relation between sea-level weather  and conditions on our  mountain tops.

"The logs also reveal what life was like for the team on top of Ben Nevis. They were very hospitable to climbers who scaled the north face in winter, presumably because it  meant someone new to talk to. In summer they had too many "tourist" visitors, who could interfere with the work. They enjoyed when the snow built up around the building in  the early winter  and insulated it  from the  howling winds outside.  At one point they even had a pet cat."

To join 'Operation Weather Rescue: Ben Nevis', click here and follow the instructions in the tutorial.

'Operation Weather Rescue: Ben Nevis' launched on 6th September as part of the UK Natural Environment Research Council's free public event UnEarthed at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh, from 17-19 November.

Tweet about your involvement using #WeatherRescue.


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