Energy - Environment

Understanding Weather and Climate of the past 300 years from Ships’ Logbooks

Ships’ logbooks dating back to the seventeenth century have helped scientists to capture different features of climate during the last centuries previously unknown.

Climate change has never been higher-placed on the environmental or political agenda than it is today. As a result we need to know as much as evidence permits about past climates. A recent WIREs Climate Change review describes how ships’ logbooks – a rich and abundant source of evidence that extends back to the seventeenth century, have helped scientists to capture different features of climate during the last centuries previously unknown.

Some examples discussed are: description of weather during historical events and their societal impact, long term variability of hurricanes,  the steady enhancement of the Australian monsoon, the high variability of the atmospheric circulation over the Euro-Atlantic region during the Late Maunder Minimum (a very cold period in European history) or the relationship between the Western North Pacific Summer Monsoon and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation. The extended record of observations also aids the search of climate analogues before the human fingerprint, thus improving the detection and attribution of climate change. The paper shows that logbooks are a consistent but underexploited source of relevant climatic data that widens our knowledge of the past climate, as a way to better understand present conditions and predict their future changes.

But this is by no means the end of the logbook story; many archives remain to be searched and many thousands of items remain known but untouched.  This points the way to a future that promises much in terms of a growing and reliable evidence base of the history of our climate.

 

Kindly contributed by Ricardo Francisco Garcia Herrera.

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