AGW Observer

Observations of anthropogenic global warming

Papers on rescuing old weather observations

Posted by Ari Jokimäki on September 25, 2010

This is a list of papers on the rescuing of old weather observations (from ship logbooks for example). The list is not complete, and will most likely be updated in the future in order to make it more thorough and more representative.

The weather of the First Fleet voyage to Botany Bay, 1787–1788 – Gergis et al. (2010) “Researchers from the University of Melbourne recently stumbled upon a culturally priceless ship’s logbook containing the weather conditions experienced during the British First Fleet’s voyage to Botany Bay in 1787-1788 (Figure 1). … Aboard the First Fleet’s flagship HMS Sirius was a young marine, William Bradley, who kept a daily logbook of weather observations including temperature, barometric pressure and winds (Figure 2).” Joëlle Gergis, Philip Brohan, Rob Allan, Weather, 2010, DOI: 10.1002/wea.608.

Rescuing old meteorological data – Le Blancq (2010) “This short paper describes the recent rescue and digitisation of Jersey surface pressure data and some potential uses.” Frank Le Blancq, Weather, Volume 65, Issue 10, pages 277–280, October 2010, DOI: 10.1002/wea.510.

The importance of ship log data: reconstructing North Atlantic, European and Mediterranean sea level pressure fields back to 1750 – Küttel et al. (2010) “Local to regional climate anomalies are to a large extent determined by the state of the atmospheric circulation. The knowledge of large-scale sea level pressure (SLP) variations in former times is therefore crucial when addressing past climate changes across Europe and the Mediterranean. However, currently available SLP reconstructions lack data from the ocean, particularly in the pre-1850 period. Here we present a new statistically-derived 5° × 5° resolved gridded seasonal SLP dataset covering the eastern North Atlantic, Europe and the Mediterranean area (40°W–50°E; 20°N–70°N) back to 1750 using terrestrial instrumental pressure series and marine wind information from ship logbooks. For the period 1750–1850, the new SLP reconstruction provides a more accurate representation of the strength of the winter westerlies as well as the location and variability of the Azores High than currently available multiproxy pressure field reconstructions. These findings strongly support the potential of ship logbooks as an important source to determine past circulation variations especially for the pre-1850 period. This new dataset can be further used for dynamical studies relating large-scale atmospheric circulation to temperature and precipitation variability over the Mediterranean and Eurasia, for the comparison with outputs from GCMs as well as for detection and attribution studies.” M. Küttel, E. Xoplaki, D. Gallego, J. Luterbacher, R. García-Herrera, R. Allan, M. Barriendos, P. D. Jones, D. Wheeler and H. Wanner, Climate Dynamics, Volume 34, Numbers 7-8, 1115-1128, DOI: 10.1007/s00382-009-0577-9. [Full text]

Arctic marine climate of the early nineteenth century – Brohan et al. (2010) “The climate of the early nineteenth century is likely to have been significantly cooler than that of today, as it was a period of low solar activity (the Dalton minimum) and followed a series of large volcanic eruptions. Proxy reconstructions of the temperature of the period do not agree well on the size of the temperature change, so other observational records from the period are particularly valuable. Weather observations have been extracted from the reports of the noted whaling captain William Scoresby Jr., and from the records of a series of Royal Navy expeditions to the Arctic, preserved in the UK National Archives. They demonstrate that marine climate in 1810–1825 was marked by consistently cold summers, with abundant sea-ice. But although the period was significantly colder than the modern average, there was considerable variability: in the Greenland Sea the summers following the Tambora eruption (1816 and 1817) were noticeably warmer, and had less sea-ice coverage, than the years immediately preceding them; and the sea-ice coverage in Lancaster Sound in 1819 and 1820 was low even by modern standards.” Brohan, P., Ward, C., Willetts, G., Wilkinson, C., Allan, R., and Wheeler, D., Clim. Past, 6, 315-324, doi:10.5194/cp-6-315-2010, 2010. [Full text]

Marine Observations of Old Weather – Brohan et al. (2009) “Weather observations are vital for climate change monitoring and prediction. For the world’s oceans, there are many meteorological and oceanographic observations available back to the mid-twentieth century, but coverage is limited in earlier periods, and particularly also during the two world wars. Before 1850 there are currently very few instrumental observations available. Consequently, detailed observational estimates of surface climate change can be made only back to the mid-nineteenth century. To improve and extend this early coverage, scientists need more observations from these periods. Fortunately, many such observations exist in logbooks, reports, and other paper records, but their inclusion in the climatic datasets requires that these paper records be abstracted from the world’s archives, digitized into an electronic form, and blended into existing climate databases. As a first step in this direction, selected Royal Navy logbooks from the period of 1938–47, kept in the U.K. National Archives, have been photographed and digitized. These have provided more than 1,500,000 new observations for this period, and a preliminary analysis has shown significant improvements to the record of climate change in the mid-twentieth century.” Brohan, Philip, Rob Allan, J. Eric Freeman, Anne M. Waple, Dennis Wheeler, Clive Wilkinson, Scott Woodruff, 2009, Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 90, 219–230. [Full text]

Ships’ Logbooks in Climatological Research – Wheeler & Garcia-Herrera (2008) “This paper traces the history of the use of ships’ logbooks in climatological studies from the earliest days of the 17th century to the present day. Although early theories concerning global air circulations by Halley and Hadley were based on information gathered by mariners and recorded in their logbooks, it has only been in the last two decades that interest has returned to this important, but long-overlooked, source of climatic information. Attention is drawn to the many advantages offered by logbooks, in particular the long period of time that they collectively cover, their near-global geographic range, the large number of such documents that have survived, and the degree of detailed and reliable record that they provide. Before the mid-19th century, much of the recorded information is noninstrumental in character but its scientific potential is reflected in the variety of approaches and methods that have been used in its analysis and in the equally wide range of outcomes, from databases to synoptic charts and long-time series indices that have emerged from the most recent research. Attention is also drawn to the benefits to be derived from old and more recent instrumental logbook data. As only a small percentage of the tens of thousands of logbooks that have been preserved have thus far been examined, the potential for yet further development is enormous.” Dennis Wheeler, Ricardo García-Herrera, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 1146, Trends and Directions in Climate Research pages 1–15, December 2008.

Advances in the Use of Historical Marine Climate Data – Kent et al. (2007) A review article discussing also old measurements. Kent, Elizabeth, and Coauthors, 2007, Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 88, 559–564. [Full text]

Ship Logbooks Help Analyze Pre-instrumental Climate – Garcia-Herrera et al. (2006) “The Climatological Database for the World’s Oceans: 1750–1854 (CLIWOC) project, which concluded in 2004, abstracted more than 280,000 daily weather observations from ships’ logbooks from British, Dutch, French, and Spanish naval vessels engaged in imperial business in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These data, now compiled into a database, provide valuable information for the reconstruction of oceanic wind field patterns for this key period that precedes the time in which anthropogenic influences on climate became evident. These reconstructions, in turn, provide evidence for such phenomena as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation. Of equal importance is the finding that the CLIWOC database—the first coordinated attempt to harness the scientific potential of this resource [García-Herrera et al., 2005]—represents less than 10 percent of the volume of data currently known to reside in this important but hitherto neglected source.” García-Herrera, R., G. P. Können, D. A. Wheeler, M. R. Prieto, P. D. Jones, and F. B. Koek (2006), Eos Trans. AGU, 87(18), doi:10.1029/2006EO180002. [Full text]

Description of the Cliwoc Database – Können & Koek (2005) “We developed a user-friendly database with the 1750–1854 CLIWOC data, which is suitable to be integrated with the ICOADS database. The meteorological content focuses on wind direction and wind speed. The data, stored in the IMMA format, are accessible in numerical and in their original descriptive forms. Apart from alphanumerical meteorological information, the database contains nautical information relevant to historians, and provides access to a considerable number of images of logbook pages. The construction of the database involved a number of difficulties, including language, unit conversion, terminology and zero meridian problems. We believe that this publicly accessible database can give an important contribution to the understanding of low-frequency climate variability, as it extends the current climatological ocean databases by more than a century and probes deep into the pre-industrial era.” G. P. Können and F. B. Koek, Climatic Change, Volume 73, Numbers 1-2, 117-130, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-005-6946-4. [Full text]

CLIWOC: A Climatological Database for the World’s Oceans 1750–1854 – Garcia-Herrera et al. (2005) “We have compiled a meteorological database over the world’s oceans by digitizing data from European ship logbooks of voyages in the period 1750–1854. The observations are carefully reviewed and transformed into quantitative data. The chief contents of the database are wind direction and wind force information, from a period without standardized scales. It is found that the information content of these so-called non-instrumental data is much higher than previously believed. The 105-year CLIWOC database extends existing meteorological world ocean databases like ICOADS back in time by a full century.” R. García-Herrera, G. P. Können, D. A. Wheeler, M. R. Prieto, P. D. Jones and F. B. Koek, 2005, Climatic Change, Volume 73, Numbers 1-2, 1-12, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-005-6952-6. [Full text]

An Examination of the Accuracy and Consistency of Ships’ Logbook Weather Observations and Records – Wheeler (2005) “Logbooks have survived in large numbers and contain notable quantities of climatological information. This paper examines the degree to which these data are reliable and consistently recorded. This is done by comparing the daily observations entered in the logbooks of vessels sailing in convoy, at which times the respective ships’ officers would independently estimate and record the prevailing wind force and wind direction. The results are described using a variety of descriptive summary statistics. In general, wind force records are highly correlated and wind direction differences are relatively small compared with the natural variability of this phenomenon. Wind directions were studied and found to have a bias towards 4-, 8- and 16-point compass readings at the expense of 32-point readings. Corrections were needed to convert the recorded directions, which were made by reference to magnetic north, to their true north equivalents.” Dennis Wheeler, Climatic Change, Volume 73, Numbers 1-2, 97-116, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-005-6950-8. [Full text]

Understanding seventeenth-century ships’ logbooks: An exercise in historical climatology – Wheeler (2004) “The present writer can also confirm the usefulness of logbooks in climatic research, having used them to reconstruct the weather at the time of naval battles in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; studies have also been carried out to examine the reliability with which shipboard observations can be made and to investigate the vocabulary of ships’ officers of the Georgian Navy. The results have consistently supported the view that eighteenth-century logbooks are a reliable source of information. This paper develops these themes, but in the particular context of the oldest English logbooks, those from the late seventeenth century.” Dennis Wheeler, Journal of Maritime Research, March 2004, ISSN: 1469-1957. [Full text available in the abstract page]

The Weather of the European Atlantic Seaboard During October 1805: An Exercise in Historical Climatology – Wheeler (2001) “Several thousand ships’ logbooks have survived from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.They provide a valuable source of climatic information. This paper takes the Battle of Trafalgar as an example of how this source can be used to provide a better knowledge and understanding of weather and climate from those distant times. The reliability of the non-instrumental climatic records of the logbooks is confirmed and a simple statistical measure is used to quantify their degree of consistency. Reconstructions of daily weather patterns are made and a zonal index is calculated to represent the circulation patterns of the region. The movements of pressure systems are plotted and indicate that the zonal index was negative (air pressure increasing from south to north) for most of the month. The storm that followed the battle is identified as one of notable severity. This extreme behaviour is interpreted within the context of longer-term aspects of the contemporary climate.” Dennis Wheeler, Climatic Change, Volume 48, Numbers 2-3, 361-385, DOI: 10.1023/A:1010789509980.

Summer sea ice severity in Hudson Strait, 1751–1870 – Catchpole & Faurer (1983) “Annual indices of sea ice severity in Hudson Strait, for the period 1751 to 1870, are derived from written historical evidence contained in ships’ log-books. These logs were all kept on Hudson’s Bay Company ships sailing from London to the Company’s trading posts. The log-books are homogeneous in nature and this property facilitates their numerical interpretation. The annual indices are subjected to face validity testing which indicates that they may plausibly be accepted as measures of sea ice severity. The results are examined in relation to the presentday behaviour of sea ice in Hudson Strait and they provide evidence that the summer severity of ice conditions is mainly determined by atmospheric circulation conditions.” A. J. W. Catchpole and Marcia-Anne Faurer, Climatic Change, Volume 5, Number 2, 115-139, DOI: 10.1007/BF00141266. [See also Catchpole & Halpin (1987) and Catchpole & Hanuta (1989)]

Past Climates from Unexploited Written Sources – Landsberg (1980) Helmut E. Landsberg, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 10, No. 4, History and Climate: Interdisciplinary Explorations (Spring, 1980), pp. 631-642.

Closely related

CLIWOC – Climatological Database for the World’s Oceans 1750-1850

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