How Coders Are Fighting President Trump on Climate

February 14th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

In an effort to preserve climate science data collected by federal agencies, hackers and coders around the United States are teaming up to save and store information on government websites they fear might otherwise be lost.

There's concern among some environmentalists that President Donald Trump's administration will attempt to wipe scientific data gathered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as part of an anti-climate agenda.


Though the administration indicated in January that it plans to delete some climate-related data from the EPA website, the plan was shelved days after the announcement in response to criticism, Science Magazine reported. Still, hundreds of computer specialists and environmental activists aren't taking any chances.

Around 200 coders turned up at the University of California, Berkeley, on Saturday to collect and archive data from NASA's earth science program and the Department of Defense (DOD), for example. The information they collected includes government reports and data sets on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and oceanic temperatures — the kind of information that informs climate policy decisions. 

An image from photographer Jamie Lyons captured the scene:

Jamie Lyons

How does the data collection work?

It's a complicated process because "these systems were written piecemeal over the course of 30 years" and there's "no coherent philosophy to providing data on these websites," Daniel Roesler, a volunteer guide at the Berkeley event, told Wired.

For certain government web pages that are easily readable, coders are able to send "web crawlers" — automated programs that browse pages and send the raw text to the Internet Archive. But for more complicated pages, which contain things like interactive graphs and databases, experts have to design specialized scripts that identify and store the data.

By the end of Saturday, the volunteer group had stored more than 8,400 web pages from NASA and DOD on the Internet Archive, while amassing at least 25 gigabytes from "101 public datasets," according to Wired.