NOAA's Data Detectives
This old newspaper clipping shows the ruins of San Francisco after the historic earthquake and fire of 1906. Click image for larger view.
Historical data that are useful for today’s science are all around us. NOAA is involved in a multi-year data rescue project that takes many types of old documents and digitizes them. In some cases, it is the last chance these items have for rescue before they disintegrate completely. What historic collectibles might hold the key to future scientific breakthroughs?
Data clues may be found in many different formats—even in personal items such as letters, postcards, artifacts, and family stories. Narrative information is used mainly in sociological research. However, the stories may also contain important data (for hazards events, especially) such as time and date of an event, measurements, and the amount of destruction.
Back of the newspaper clipping with an essay by William Randolph Hearst. Click image for larger view.
Very old printed or hand-written materials that contain scientific data are essential to NOAA’s data rescue mission. And, although many data sets have been copied to microfilm, microfiche, magnetic tapes, maps, or diskettes, these media are aging, and some are inaccessible. Media and technology must be continually upgraded to keep data alive. NOAA has transferred many historical documents to more stable media, but other, important historical data await their turn.