Learning about past climate from ships logs

Understanding the climate of the past is extremely valuable to help put modern weather observations into a long-term context. Although we have considerable records of past weather, especially over land, more data is always welcome. Given the British obsession with the weather it is perhaps of no surprise that more data is available, it is just buried in hand-written logbooks. Transcribing this data is normally a time-consuming and expensive task….

The Old Weather project aims to change all this. It has put online the logbooks from more than 200 Royal Navy warships, from the extended World War 1 period (1914-1923). These ships recorded various aspects of the weather every 4 hours for years at a time! The clever interface allows volunteers to transcribe the observations quickly and accurately. More than 8,000 volunteers are freely giving up their spare time to contribute to our science. In less than 9 months they have contributed more than 3 million new weather observations to our historical records! These observations will allow us to better characterise and understand the causes of past climate variability. Watching the voyages gives a great idea of what is possible using this technology.

Why am I writing about this? Well, Old Weather is planning to expand to use new types of logooks. I am hoping to utilise Old Weather to extend our records of Arctic climate and sea-ice back to the 18th century – it just depends on the funding….

About Ed Hawkins

Climate scientist in the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) at the University of Reading. IPCC AR5 Contributing Author. Can be found on twitter too: @ed_hawkins

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