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640 people we couldn’t do without

14 March 2006

640 people we couldn’t do without

Each morning, every day of the year, a network of dedicated weather watchers record observations from rain gauges, thermometers, anemometers (for wind), and other instruments.

Most of the roughly 640 individuals and organisations are volunteers. Together, they add about half a million observations each year to the National Climate Database.

New Zealand’s climate network dates back to 1841 but records were sporadic until the 1860s. The earliest rainfall observations in the database were made by the Royal Engineers at the Albert Park Barracks, Auckland, in January 1853.

These days the database is run by the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA). The information is used extensively by scientists, students, engineers, consultants, insurance companies, real estate agents, planners, and others.

This week is New Zealand Volunteer Awareness Week and the coordinator of NIWA’s climate observer network, Andrew Harper, says volunteers make a significant contribution to further New Zealand’s climate knowledge. “Some people have been doing this for over 50 years, and some families have been involved for over a century,” says Mr Harper.

The observers come from all walks of life, including farmers, school teachers, market gardeners, and forestry workers. Organisations involved include local authorities, government departments, and some private companies. Though NIWA does not formally collect information about the age of volunteers, some of them seem to continue to a ripe old age. “We know of three volunteers who continued to record rainfall into their hundredth year, one of whom retired at 102,” Mr Harper says.

The volunteers all use standard instrumentation and methods, as recommended by the World Meteorological Organisation, to ensure the data can be compared from one place to another.


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