New Weather Station Technology in Africa (Part 2)
Weather data improve the lives of many people. But, there are still parts of the globe, such as Africa, where weather monitoring doesn’t exist (see part 1). John Selker and his partners intend to remedy the problem through the Trans African Hydro Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO). Below are some challenges they face.
Big Data, Big Governments, and Big Unknowns
Going from an absence of data to the goal of 20,000 weather stations offers hope for positive changes. However, Selker is still cautious. “Unintended consequences are richly expressed in the history of Africa, and we worry about that a lot. It’s an interesting socio-technical problem.” This is why Selker and others at TAHMO are asking how they can bring this technology to Africa in a way that fits with their cultures, independence, and the autonomy they want to maintain.
TAHMO works with the government in each country stations are deployed in; negotiating agreements and making sure the desires of each recipient country are met. Even with agreements in place, the officials in each country will do what is in the best interest of the people: a gamble in countries where corruption is a factor which must be addressed. Selker illustrates this point by recalling an instance in 1985 when he witnessed a corrupt government official take an African farmer’s land because the value had increased due to a farm-scale water development project.
Most TAHMO weather stations are hosted and maintained by a local school, making it available as an education tool for teachers to use to teach about climate and weather. Data from TAHMO are freely available to the government in the country where the weather station is hosted, researchers who directly request data, and to the school hosting and maintaining the weather station. Commercial organizations will be able to purchase the data, and the profits will be used to maintain and expand the infrastructure of TAHMO.
Terrorism, Data, and Open Doors
“When I wanted to go out and put in weather stations, my wife simply said, ‘no, you will not go to Chad.’ … because it is Boko Haram central,” Selker says.
The Boko Haram— a terrorist organization that has pledged allegiance to ISIS— creates an uncommon hurdle. Currently the Boko Haram is most active in Nigeria, but has made attacks in Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.
Selker also mentioned similar issues with ISIS, “When ISIS came through Mali, the first thing they did is destroy all the weather stations. So they have no weather data right now in Mali.” Acknowledging the need for security, he adds, “we’re completing the installation of eight stations [in Mali] in April.”
“We have good contacts [in Nigeria] and they’re working hard to get permission to put up stations right now in that area. We’ve shipped 15 stations which are ready to install. With these areas we can’t go visit, it’s all about collaboration. It’s about partners and people you know. We have a partnership with a tremendous group of Africans who are really the leading edge of this whole thing.”
A Hopeful Future
Despite the challenges of getting this large-scale research network off the ground, Selker and his group remain hopeful. About his weather data he says, “It’s not glamorous stuff, you won’t see it on the cover of magazines, but these are the underpinnings of a successful society.”
Selker optimistically adds, “We are in a time of incredible opportunity.”
Next Week: Read an interview with Dr. John Selker on his thoughts about TAHMO.