Citizen-scientists around the world are poring through digital versions of 19th century logbooks of mariners who sailed from Pacific Northwest and California ports to explore the Arctic and chart the newly acquired Alaskan territories.
Changes in the Arctic climate are bringing new interest in those historic explorers’ observations. A volunteer effort launched last fall, headed by University of Washington climate scientist Kevin Wood with the support of the National Archives, enlists the help of citizen-scientists to examine digitized scans of the log entries and transcribe the information.
While the handwriting is too difficult for computers to decipher, human volunteers can extract the meaning from the decades-old pen strokes to add them to the climate record.
This month, for example, volunteers transcribing pages from their home computers completed the logbooks from the doomed U.S.S. Jeannette expedition, which left San Francisco in the summer of 1879 bound for the North Pole. The ship soon became trapped in thick ice and drifted for almost two years, during which time the 33-member crew maintained the boat, hunted seals and polar bears – and recorded hourly scientific observations.