But the data will feed into scientists’ predictions of future changes, which includes long-term climate change effects, Brohan said.
The aim of the project is not to inform policy or spur action on climate change, but to improve climate prediction models, he added. “I’m expecting influence on big policy changes to come through mathematics. We use data to improve models, and models to inform policy.”
Demystifying the Science
Beyond transcribing massive amounts of data, the scientists behind Old Weather said they hope the project will also help demystify climate science for the public.
One problem with public misconceptions about climate change is that people fail to understand what scientists are doing when they use climate models, Lintott said. “One of the things Old Weather does is to help make transparent that process….Getting involved in the process makes it less remote.”
That’s one reason Brian Elliott volunteered to transcribe logs for Old Weather. A research contracts officer at Aston University in Birmingham, England, Elliott said he was drawn by the historical aspects of the project but also liked the idea of nonscientists getting involved in a scientific project.
“I hope that we have all learned something new so far, and hopefully the weather data will be useful in due course,” Elliott told SolveClimate News in an e-mail. “If it opens up the world of science to a wider audience then it will have been a success.”
So far, Old Weather’s hundreds of volunteers have made good headway. In the projects’ first two weeks they’ve logged data from more than 126,000 pages, completing about 10 percent of the initial project, which is expected to be finished within a year. But that could be just the beginning. There are hundreds of thousands of ships’ logs in existence from different historical periods, each waiting to be captured and added to historical weather databases.
“We’re hoping this will expand backwards [in time] and go international,” Lintott said.