UNCA professor principle investigator for citizen science project

Today, NCDC, the National Climatic Data Center, announced the launch of a new website that could help climate scientists estimate the historical intensities of hurricanes around the world faster than before—and the public is invited to help.

The website, CycloneCenter.org, allows volunteers to examine color-enhanced images from 30 years of tropical cyclones taken from the archives of NCDC’s Hurricane Satellite Data system. Then, the site will guide users through a process to analyze a specific hurricane image and answer questions, using a simplified technique for estimating the maximum surface wind speed of tropical cyclones.

CycloneCenter.org was developed in partnership with the Citizen Science Alliance, the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, and the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

The method for determining the strength of tropical cyclones has been applied differently around the world and has changed over time. That inconsistency has led to uncertainties in the global historical record of tropical cyclone activity, especially in parts of the world where additional data sources such as aircraft reconnaissance are not available. After many people review the same image, scientists will then use that feedback to come up with new estimates of a cyclone’s intensity.

“The human eye can best recognize patterns in storm imagery, which is why we are enlisting the public to identify image patterns and build a consistent analysis of tropical cyclone data worldwide,” said Chris Hennon, Ph.D., an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at UNC Asheville and a principal investigator for this project.

The end product will be a new global tropical cyclone dataset that will provide 3-hourly tropical cyclone intensity estimates, confidence intervals, and a wealth of other metadata that could not be realistically obtained in any other fashion. Using citizen scientists could allow meteorologists to make more rapid progress on the analysis of historical tropical cyclone data. NOAA climate scientists and other researchers will use the new dataset in an attempt to better understand and research global tropical cyclone activity.

“The main advantage of a citizen science approach is that dozens of people, rather than one or two, will analyze a single image,” said Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D., NCDC director. “Scientists will be able to use the analysis by a large number of people to better define the accuracy of the historical intensity of tropical cyclones.”

Hennon added, “We have nearly 300,000 hurricane images from around the world – more than a full length motion picture has movie frames. By collaborating with the public, we hope to perform more than a million classifications in two months, something that would take a team of analysts more than a decade to accomplish.”


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