Citizen science projects use the time, abilities and energies of a distributed community of amateurs to analyse scientific data. In doing so, such projects further both science itself and the public understanding of science. The National Maritime Museum helped develop Solar Stormwatch and Old Weather.
Launched in February 2010, Solar Stormwatch is a website that invites members of the public to spot explosions on the Sun and track them across space to Earth, using video data from NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft. Solar storms have the potential to interfere with communication satellites, upset GPS navigation systems and pose a health risk to astronauts on the International Space Station. Stormwatch volunteers mark any visible solar storms in the STEREO videos, and then trace the progress of a storm through composite images to calculate an accurate speed and direction. This feeds into a user-generated space weather forecast on Twitter.
Launched in October 2010, Old Weather is a website that asks the public to help improve reconstructions of past weather and climate across the world by finding and recording historical weather observations in handwritten Royal Navy ship logs. The work will influence future climate model projections and improve the database of weather extremes, risks and impacts.
I co-authored a paper for Museums and the Web 2011, Bringing Citizen Scientists and Historians Together:
This paper outlines how citizen science projects Solar Stormwatch and Old Weather play to the potentially different motivations of science and history enthusiasts. It draws on informal feedback from the forums and other social channels but also references well-documented crowdsourcing projects Galaxy Zoo and the Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program. It concludes with recommendations for attracting both lightweight contributions and sustained collaboration in online volunteering projects.