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Humans Among the Clouds

For over 100 years, scientists have trekked to an observatory on top of Blue Hill in Milton, Massachusetts to observe and record the weather. When the Observatory was founded in 1885, scientists’ understanding of Earth’s atmosphere was still too limited for them to reliably predict the next day’s weather. Today, a global network of satellites, weather balloons, airplanes, and ocean buoys makes Blue Hill’s contribution to day-to-day weather prediction minimal, and yet the Observatory has found itself at the center of a looming crisis — climate change. Throughout the decades, Blue Hill scientists have stayed deeply committed to consistency. They continue to use thermometers, barometers, anemometers, and other equipment from as far back as the 1800s to avoid disrupting their record by changing their instrumentation. As a result, records from Blue Hill and similar sites are some of the most reliable indicators that the Earth’s climate has shifted in a small, but meaningful, way. Old equipment is difficult to maintain, however, and justifying their seemingly-arcane methods to the lawmakers who control their budget can be challenging. As technology evolves, and automation sweeps through disciplines ranging from meteorology to medicine, will Blue Hill weather observers be able to maintain their way of life? And what will science lose if they can’t?

Saimas Sidik
Written by
Saimas Sidik

Saima Sidik’s path through science began during her bachelor’s degree at McGill University, where she spent hours sorting fruit flies with a paintbrush to breed mutations in genes encoding ion channels. After graduating, Saima used her knowledge of genetics to help ocean ecologists map marine food webs. Saima has always been fascinated by the little things in life, so she turned to studying microbes, first as a master’s student at Dalhousie University where she worked with the dysentery-inducing bacterium Shigella, then as a research associate at the Whitehead Institute where she studied the beautiful cell biology of a parasite called Toxoplasma. Blogging about microbiology, medical research, and natural history as well as writing for the MIT Biology website convinced Saima that she wanted to tell science stories full-time, and this led her to join the GPSW. She wants to explore all types of science writing, but she’s especially interested in ecology and earth science.

Saimas Sidik Written by Saimas Sidik