Save the data

9 December 2009  •  Close to a million surface and upper-air observations have been retrieved from data purgatory through an ambitious nonprofit effort. The International Environmental Data Rescue Organization (IEDRO) has launched efforts in twelve countries in Africa and the Americas since 2005. Its mission: find data stored in perishable media and preserve them for international use.

Zambia collaborators on IEDRO projectA team in Zambia that includes IEDRO African program manager Martin Munkhondya (second from right, on loan from the Malawi Meteorological Service) is archiving years of radiosonde data.

"Our vision is to rescue and digitize historical environmental data at risk, creating a safer and better global society," states the project's website. Scientists in developing countries who know of data in jeopardy due to lack of interest and/or funding for proper storage can ask IEDRO for help. The group prioritizes its work based on each dataset's rarity and risk.

Executive director Richard Crouthamel is seeking volunteers, including recent retirees and others with time to join IEDRO's data rescue trips. The group covers air fare and per diem for visits that last an average of five days. Each team helps local staff set up a process to assemble, sort, and inventory historic, paper-based weather observations. With team-purchased computers and digital cameras, the local staff photograph each page of data, burn the images onto CD-ROMs, and send them to IEDRO to be digitized and entered into a NOAA database. IEDRO is also looking for volunteers to help with the organization's website and newsletter and to help develop software applications involving the newly rescued data.