Help develop Australia’s longest weather records

13 May 2021

Scientists from the Fenner School of Environment & Society at The Australian National University (ANU) are looking for volunteers to help create Australia's longest daily weather record from Perth, Western Australia, a globally recognised climate change 'hot spot'.

The citizen science project will help scientists reconstruct Perth's daily weather from 1830 to the present day. Volunteers will transcribe historical journals which are critical for understanding Australia's pre-industrial climate, and how climate change has impacted extreme weather events.

"These weather records are the oldest meteorological observations for Western Australia, and are likely to be the longest, near-continuous daily records for the Southern Hemisphere," said Dr Joëlle Gergis.

Recently, the team recovered and analysed the oldest known daily weather observations from Perth, south-western Australia, that spans 1830 to 1875.

"This project will bridge the gap between historical observations we've already collected with the start of the Bureau of Meteorology's daily weather records in 1897."

"We need citizen scientists to transcribe old weather observations taken at the Perth Survey Office from 1880 to 1884 and also the Botanic Gardens from 1885 to 1900 which will provide a big part of the missing link needed to connect these records."

"By looking back at history, scientists can learn a lot about how past climate variability and extremes have impacted Australian society," said Gergis.

Why Perth is a climate change 'hot spot'

Perth is a particularly important region for studying past climate as it's located in the path of southern Australia's storm track. Research shows that rainfall declines in the Perth region have been caused by a southward shift in storms in this region since the 1970s.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO noted in their recent State of the Climate 2020 report that this shift is due to climate change. Understanding Perth's past climate variability will help to better prepare for future weather extremes in the region.

By analysing the temperature, pressure, wind and rain observations contained in these historical records, scientists can determine the kinds of weather systems that moved across southern Australia in the past and see how they might have changed.

"Detailed information like daily journals about the past climate of Perth can help us better prepare for future extreme events - which we know are predicted to increase in frequency and severity," said Gergis.

How can I become a citizen scientist?

By transcribing historical weather observations from 1880 to 1900, volunteers can help ANU scientists to develop Australia's earliest daily weather record starting in 1830.

"We need the help of citizen scientists like you to unearth the historical weather observations in these old journals before they're forgotten or lost to science," Climate History Australia citizen science project officer, Caitlin Howlett, said.

"Anyone with access to the internet can participate in this online project, and they can spend as little as a few minutes or much longer towards the effort."

"This research is exciting, not only because of the history we uncover, but because it has cross-generational appeal. It engages students and young people in historical sciences, but also respects the knowledge of older generations, and gives them a chance to leave a positive legacy for future challenges," said Ms Howlett.

If you'd like to get involved in the project, you can register your interest at www.climatehistory.com.au.

To get started, volunteers can use this link to access the project on the citizen science platform, Zooniverse: www.zooniverse.org/projects/caitlinhowlett/climate-history-australia.

 

Page of the Perth meteorological journals which is being transcribed by this citizen science project. Source: National Archives of Australia – Perth

Page of the Perth meteorological journals which is being transcribed by this citizen science project. Source: National Archives of Australia – Perth

 

Caitlin Howlett, citizen science project officer at the ANU, looks after all the volunteer and engagement aspects of this citizen science weather rescue project. Source: Peter O’Rourke/ANU.

Caitlin Howlett, citizen science project officer at the ANU, looks after all the volunteer and engagement aspects of this citizen science weather rescue project. Source: Peter O’Rourke/ANU.

 

View from an elevated point of the Swan River, Perth, in the 1880s.

View from an elevated point of the Swan River, Perth, in the 1880s. This photo was taken very close to where some of the meteorological journals you can help transcribe in Climate History Australia’s newest citizen science project were recorded. The current Perth project on Zooniverse will help transcribe historical weather journals from 1880 to 1900.
Source: Noel Butlin Archives Centre at The Australian National University (K3963)