Call for home-based citizen scientists to help with major rainfall project

Britons are being urged to take part in a major citizen science project that could give them an important mission to get involved in while confined to home and simultaneously help fill a major gap in the UK’s historical weather records.

Researchers are calling for people who are being forced to stay at home amid the coronavirus pandemic to take part in a major project to digitise rainfall records dating back two centuries
Researchers are calling for people who are being forced to stay at home amid the coronavirus pandemic to take part in a major project to digitise rainfall records dating back two centuries

The Rainfall Rescue project has been set up to create digital records of the country’s weather dating back 200 years.

To help achieve the goal, the team is inviting members of the public to transcribe observations made long before computers were invented.

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The extra information this can provide will help scientists to better understand why certain parts of the UK are wetter or drier than others at different times and analyse long-term trends and patterns.

Data was collected from several thousand rain gauges scattered across the UK in the 1950s, but measurements from only a few hundred have been digitised. The vast majority of the information remains on paper only.

The Rainfall Rescue project aims to expand the digital record of monthly rainfall measurements and information on locations available from 1961 back to the 1820s.

The move will enable researchers to use computer modelling and examine unusual weather events in detail.

Of particular interest are extreme conditions, such as a drought in 1921 and a particularly wet summer in 1912.

The project also has the potential to help water companies make better plans by testing their current systems against historic conditions.

Ed Hawkins, professor of climate science at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the University of Reading, is leading the project. He is now encouraging people to step up and help his team.

“With much of the population facing long spells indoors due to the Covid-19 virus, the chance to be part of a serious science project may provide a welcome distraction,” he said.

“We are set to reach back further than ever in time to rescue millions of pieces of UK rainfall data that are currently going to waste in filing cabinets. These records will help scientists better understand how and why rainfall varies so much in different locations across the UK.”

Professor Hawkins has already been involved in three similar Weather Rescue projects, but the latest represents the biggest challenge to date – aiming to digitise double the amount of data.

Members of the public also took part in these earlier projects, which included transcribing historic measurements taken at a remote weather station on the summit of Ben Nevis.

To find out more or sign up as a citizen scientist, log on to rainfallrescue.org.

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