Fenner in the News - Unearthing Australia’s climate history

11 November 2020

Few people realise that snow was once a common occurrence for southern Australia’s climate.

Historical records help document impacts of past weather extremes such as heatwaves, floods, droughts and even snow. Now scientists are using these fascinating resources to uncover more about Australia’s climate history and also shed light on modern severe weather events.

A clearer understanding of Australia’s climatic past lies buried in colonial-era records and documents such as weather journals and ships’ logs, as well as photographs, old newspapers, sketches and paintings. And yet it’s estimated that only half of all the old weather diaries available globally have been analysed.

Even once a record is rediscovered, there’s still the matter of transferring all the handwritten data into digital format, which makes it easier to access for research purposes. Computers have trouble reading cursive numbers and words, especially in tabulated formats like those used for meteorological observations, so this research relies on people. And that’s where citizen scientists can really help – by transcribing centuries-old handwriting in the pages of historical weather diaries.

Find out more about this facinating citizen science project at Australian Geographic.