In order to have the most accurate computer models for weather and climate forecasting accurate data from the past is needed. One under utilized resource is the extensive records contained in the weather observations contained in ships’ logs.
The British Library holds an extensive collection of logs from the ships of the English East India company in the period from the 1780s to the 1830s. About half of the logbooks for those ships that traded between the UK and India or China have measurements that are useful to scientists.
While Charles Darwin was taking notes on the Beagle that he would use for his great work on evolution, Robert FitzRoy, the Captain, and his crew also recorded the weather in their logs of the records at every point the ship visited.
Late 19th and early 20th century Antarctic expeditions provide data for the southern hemisphere where data is otherwise hard to come by.
And Arctic and worldwide weather observations made by United States ships since the mid-19th century are contained in their ships’ logs.
By taking part in Old Weather (oldweather.org) you can help scientists recover these Arctic and worldwide weather observations made by transcribing ships’ logs. These transcriptions will contribute to climate model projections and will improve our knowledge of past environmental conditions. Historians will use your work to track past ship movements and tell the stories of the people on board.
Historic measurements allow scientists to reconstruct weather patterns and extremes from the past allowing them to identify changes in the Earth’s climate over time.
With more information about historical weather variability, we can improve our understanding of all forms of weather variability in the past and so improve our ability to predict weather and climate in the future.
Scientists will input weather readings into a database in order to identify weather patterns and extremes. This allows them to test climate projections of how the Earth’s weather will develop in the future against how the climate has behaved in the past.
The numbers themselves give us recordings of temperature and pressure at a particular location – wherever the ships were. Hundreds or thousands of points’ location data from ships can be fed into computer models of the atmosphere, and out of that computer model of the atmosphere comes a weather map.
But instead of feeding in the current data to look at the future, scientists will put in the data from the past – or some of the variables – and reuse the model and the understanding of the physics of the ocean atmosphere system that’s in the models to reconstruct all the other variables that are interrelated physically. The result is a 3D picture of the weather all over the globe.
If we’re worried about extreme weather – unusual events, very large heat waves – then that perspective, that extra length of our records – give us more information about how likely events like that are to occur in the future.
The more people that take part in Old Weather, the more accurate the extracted data will be. Each logbook will be looked at by more than one person allowing mistakes and errors to be filtered out.
For more information and to register to transcribe the records go to oldweather.org.