Scientists look to ancient wisdom to help predict weather
Scientist says ancient wisdom of Pacific can be put to practical use when combined with modern weather forecasting tools.
A scientist in Australia is examining ancient methods of weather prediction in the Pacific, saying that data could help improve contemporary forecasting tools.
Roan Plotz, who is a traditional knowledge scientist at the bureau of meterology in Melbourne, says traditional methods include observing animals, plants and atmospheric conditions.
Mr Plotz says his work is just one component of a larger project aiming to help strengthen the forecasting capabilities of the Pacific metservices.
Mr Plotz talked to Amelia Langford about trying to bridge the gap between ancient wisdom and modern science.
ROAN PLOTZ: It is the way many indigenous communities and rural communities particularly have adapted to the environments they found themselves in and taking note of things like the timing of the flowering of the trees or plants, certain animal behaviours in terms of the location of the animal or the way it behaves, you've also got atmospheric things where you look at the colour of the clouds or whether there is a ring around the moon or the sun - these are all quite well-known indicators that particular weather events are on the way.
AMELIA LANGFORD: And those are all proven indicators are they - they actually are accurate?
RP: Well, when I say 'proven', if you spoke to a lot of people, in particular the indigenous, they would very much believe that to be the case but what we are trying to do is to be able to integrate the two systems in terms of the indigenous knowledge or traditional knowledge with an actual scientific statistical forecast. We need to understand how relevant or how true that is, yes. So when I say it is true, there is definitely evidence to say people have very much found it to be the case but on an empirical basis, there are few studies that have attempted to actually test it so a lot of it is based on... traditional knowledge is very much based on people's trial and errors, how they have learnt things, how they have passed things on, and used that and been able to adapt. The fact they could adapt is very much an indicator is that it is something that helps, as without it being helpful it would not be adapted.
AL: Indeed. So up till now, has modern forecasting sort of overlooked those traditional measures?
RP: Yeah, look, it's an interesting question. I think I would rather say that it wouldn't have overlooked it. It probably might not have known it was there, to be honest. It's more along the lines of, the value of it became apparent to us, because when [scientists] went in with the project, designing it and talking to the different metservices, they were finding that the traditional knowledge component of the communities and how they were reading the weather and what they valued - traditional knowledge was a very big, relevant part of what they used and what we realised is if we were going to try and disseminate our findings or our modern forecast and make it more relevant to people in the communities then it would make sense to take advantage of that indigenous knowledge, that is already part of their lives, and if we can match or integrate them together it will only make it a better forecast.
Roan Plotz, who is working with Pacific meteorological services, says the project will also help record important cultural knowledge that might otherwise be lost.
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