Your chance to digitize history

Hydrologists and water resources engineers depend on data for absolutely everything. We ought to be extremely grateful to the visionaries who, perhaps a hundred years ago, decided it would be a good idea to start measuring the volumes of water reaching the earth’s surface and landing in 5-inch diameter metal buckets. Their work has underpinned a multitude vitally important sciences, including hydrology, meteorology, and climatology.

Amazingly, we’re not taking full advantage of this record keeping.

The problem is that before 1961 there were actually thousands of rain gauges but the data has not been transferred from the original hand-written paper records to something digital so that we can use it.

That’s from Rainfall Rescue.

This project aims to ‘rescue’ a comprehensive set of monthly measurements of rainfall taken across the UK between the 1820s and the 1950s so that we can better map and understand the weather during this period. This was before the world started to warm rapidly so these old measurements provide a baseline from which to measure any changes to the weather.

The project is being run by Ed Hawkins (the #ShowYourStripes climate guy) and Stephen Burt of University of Reading.

It takes seconds to get started and only a few minutes to crunch through a few records. The one thing I’m wondering is whether the user entries are being used to train a text recognition machine learning model, or if all records are to be digitized manually. Either way it’s an excellent idea and I hope they get through it all. I wonder how many other counties are sitting on a goldmine of unprocessed, handwritten rainfall or flow records.

Shout out to uWellous for sharing this on Reddit Hydrology.