Scientists need your help to complete Australia’s longest daily weather record

By Australian Geographic 9 September 2020
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Climate scientists are calling on the public to help transcribe important weather observations from 170 years ago.

SCIENTISTS HAVE recently uncovered long-lost historical weather records that will fill large gaps in Australia’s climate history, but they need your help to digitise them.

The Australian National University has launched a new, citizen science element of its Climate History Australia project where volunteers are asked to digitise observations from the 1840s and 1850s.

“Recently, we discovered 170-year-old weather journals taken at the Adelaide Surveyor General’s Office that will complete an eight-year gap to create Australia’s longest daily weather record,” says lead researcher Dr Joëlle Gergis.

Author of Sunburnt Country: The History and Future of Climate Change in Australia, Joëlle has been at the forefront of research that reconstructs Australia’s pre-industrial climate history.  

“Historical weather records like these can give us an accurate picture of the range of climate extremes experienced in the past. This can help improve climate risk assessment needed for future climate change planning and adaptation,” Joelle says, adding that these journals are among the oldest weather records in the Southern Hemisphere.

In June of this year, the researchers behind the project published a groundbreaking paper detailing the climate in Adelaide from 1838 to 1910. They found that snow was once a regular feature of the southern Australian climate. Such events, the researchers say, have become less frequent due to the burning of fossil fuels that has led to dangerous climate change.

According to ANU citizen science project manager for Climate History Australia, Caitlin Howlet the digitisation of 150 handwritten pages of weather observations taken in Adelaide from 1 April 1843 until 1 December 1856 will fill the remaining gap in the record from 1848 to 1856.

“The variables that volunteers will be working on include instrumental observations of temperature, air pressure, cloud type and wind,” Caitlin says. “And they could include unknown details of Australia’s social and climate history – such as snowfalls, floods, heatwaves or bushfires.”

The team of researchers say that forming a better understanding of these pre-industrial extremes will help Australia adapt to increased climate risk.

Click here to participate in the Climate History Australia project.