The people solving mysteries during lockdown

Frank Swain at the BBC: “For almost half a century, Benedictine monks in Herefordshire dutifully logged the readings of a rain gauge on the grounds of Belmont Abbey, recording the quantity of rain that had fallen each month without fail. That is, until 1948, when measurements were suspended while the abbot waited for someone to repair a bullet hole in the gauge funnel.

How the bullet hole came to be there is still a mystery, but it’s just one of the stories uncovered by a team of 16,000 volunteers who have been taking part in Rainfall Rescue, a project to digitise hand-written records of British weather. The documents, held by the Met Office, contain 3.5 million datapoints and stretch as far back as 1820.

Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, leads the project. “It launched at the end of March, we realised people would have a lot of spare time on their hands,” he explains. “It was completed in 16 days. I was expecting 16 weeks, not 16 days… the volunteers absolutely blitzed it.” He says the data will be used to improve future weather predictions and climate modelling.

With millions of people trapped at home during the pandemic, citizen science projects are seeing a boom in engagement. Rainfall Rescue uses a platform called Zooniverse, which hosts dozens of projects covering everything from artworks to zebra. While the projects generally have scientific aims, many allow people to also contribute some good to the world. 

Volunteers can scour satellite images for rural houses across Africa so they can be connected to the electricity grid, for example. Another – led by researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK – is hunting for signs of modern slavery in the shape of brick kilns in South Asia (although the project has faced some criticism for being an over-simplified way of looking at modern slavery).

Others are trying to track the spread of invasive species in the ocean from underwater photographs, or identify earthquakes and tremors by speeding up the seismic signals so they become audible and can be classified by sharp-eared volunteers. “You could type in data on old documents, count penguins, go to the Serengeti and look at track camera images – it’s an incredible array,” says Hawkins. “Whatever you’re interested in there’s something for you.”…(More)”.