A climate scientist is calling on people who are stuck at home in the coronavirus lockdown to help transcribe 65,000 pages of rainfall data.
Professor Ed Hawkins said the Rainfall Rescue project aims to digitise records from before 1960, which currently only exist in paper form scanned by the Met Office, and go back as far as 1820.
There are four million measurements to input from weather stations from every corner of the UK, Prof Hawkins said, with people invited to log on to a specially-created website to help with the mammoth task.
We estimate 4 million monthly rainfall amounts, measured all across the UK between 1750 and 1960, have now been scanned but remain undigitised. This is going to be a challenge... #weatherrescue pic.twitter.com/wRBg8YNXkO— Ed Hawkins (@ed_hawkins) February 18, 2020
“I think given the present circumstances we might well find more volunteers who are looking for distractions and are able to help,” said Prof Hawkins, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and Reading University.
“I certainly feel a little bit overwhelmed at the moment and want to have a distraction, something useful to do and this would be very useful to help climate scientists better understand the wonderful British weather.
“You can either sit and binge-watch Netflix, and that’s very necessary, but it would also be great if people could help us out with projects like this.”
He said work would allow scientists to analyse the data.
This could help them to establish worst case flood scenarios, so that defences can be built at the correct height.
It could also help prepare for droughts.
The wettest month on record in the UK is thought to be October 1903, he said.
“This data will help us clarify where exactly it was very wet and why,” said Prof Hawkins. “If October 1903 happened again today we would get floods larger than we’ve seen recently and so understanding how much rain we could get in a particular month nowadays is extremely valuable for those planning flood defences for example.”
He said there were several thousand weather stations recording data back to 1900, and before this the numbers drop off but there were still several hundred in the UK in the early 1800s.
“What we’re trying to do here is to fill gaps in our understanding,” said Prof Hawkins. “We know that in the past we’ve had some very wet periods and some very dry periods in the UK and these have significant impacts on society.
“It’s likely we’ll get very wet periods and very dry periods again in the future so we want to try to understand the causes of very wet and very dry periods so we can plan better to deal with extreme floods or extreme droughts.”
To help transcribe the rainfall data, see www.rainfallrescue.org