All the data extracted is digitised, then used to reconstruct the past climate and refine models. Yet, with more than 250,000 logbooks in this country alone, there is undoubtedly plenty more work to do.
The logbook of Charles Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle, above, is one of those studied as part of the Old Weather project’s attempt to build a climate database.
www.plantlife.org.uk/ things_to_do/wildflowers_count Every year Plantlife runs a huge, nationwide wildflower count in the UK. It is good fun and helps keep track of common and rare species alike. Plantlife works hard to make this accessible to anyone who wants to get involved, and it does a great job. Participants are allocated a 1km grid square close to their home and sent an ID guide with 99 of the UK’s wild flowers and a simple recording form. Particularly keen folk can revisit their site throughout the summer and include extra species if they wish. All the data eventually goes in to the National Biodiversity Network database, which is freely available for all to access.
www.oldweather.org Completely different from any other project I have come across, Old Weather aims to recover vast amounts of weather data from old ship logs to help refine predictions of our climate future. Clive Wilkinson of the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, describes it like this: “If we wish to understand what the weather will do in the future, then we need to understand what the weather was doing in the past.” To this end they have studied logbooks from the famous voyage of the Beagle, historic expeditions to the Antarctic and the vast English East India Company. Interpreting handwritten records poses a significant challenge to computers, and that is why crowdsourcing to volunteer citizen scientists online has been crucial to the success of this project.
www.whale.fm The Whale Song Project (aka Whale.fm) is a research collaboration between Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Scientists want to understand more about the way whales and dolphins communicate with one another. Sophisticated sensory organs have allowed cetaceans to communicate in a surprisingly complex manner, with family or closely related groups appearing to develop certain calls or dialects. Through an online project, citizen scientists are shown a spectrogram of a certain call collected via non-invasive tags attached to the animals, or hydrophones deployed on ships. A map of the world’s oceans identifies the location at which the call was recorded and, after listening, participants attempt to match it with other calls from the project’s extensive database. A project such as this not only answers questions about the size of whale repertoires, but also shows how well volunteer judgements agree or differ, improving accuracy in the future. Say what? Orca calls are among the communications being analysed to build up the whale.fm project database.
Vol 60 No 3 / the biologist / 25
The Biologist Vol 60 No 3 - June/July 2013