Captain's log 1768 – now charting climate change
SHIPS' logs of historic voyages by Charles Darwin and Captain James Cook from as early as 1768 are to be studied by scientists to find out more about climate change.
Researchers believe the logbooks from epic journeys by ships including the Beagle and HMS Discovery will provide vital untapped historic records about global weather.
Nearly 300 ships' logs dating back to the 1760s have been digitised by the UK Colonial Registers and Royal Navy Logbooks project, including those from Darwin's Beagle, Cook's HMS Discovery and Sir William Parry's polar expedition in HMS Hecla.
Now the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) – a group which encourages the pooling of digitised research – the University of Sunderland, the Met Office Hadley Centre and British Atmospheric Data Centre are to jointly study the data they contain.
Dr Dennis Wheeler, research team leader, from the University of Sunderland, said: "The observations from the logbooks on wind force and weather are astonishingly good and often better than modern logbooks.
"Of course, the sailors had to be conscientious – the thought you could hit a reef was a great incentive to get your observations absolutely right.
"What happens in the oceans controls what happens in the atmosphere – so we absolutely need to comprehend them to understand weather patterns."
The logs were the main resource used to monitor the oceanic weather. Officers kept records of daily, and sometimes hourly, climate conditions.
This means modern researchers are now able to find out what the weather was like all over the world on any particular day by referring to the logs.
Researchers are transcribing the observations so they can begin work with the Met Office on analysing the data to feed into research on climate change.
Ben Showers, JISC digitisation programme manager, said: "There is a lack of high-quality digital material for those studying historic weather data.
"By making these logbooks and lighthouse records available online, JISC aims to help researchers address the challenges of climate change and open up this historic resource to everyone via the website."
Logbooks from voyages undertaken by other great explorers are also being studied, including the notorious Bounty skipper William Bligh and Matthew Flinders who sailed around Australia. Each log also gives unique accounts of life on board ship.
There are many footnotes and personal observations about life at sea and the places and people the explorers encountered.
Oliver Morley, director of customer and business development at the National Archives, added: "The logbooks have long been of interest to historians and naval enthusiasts and the fact they are being used for scientific research is an example of how archival information created for one purpose can be reused for something entirely different."
A fully searchable version of the logs will be available on the National Archives site next year.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 5 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North east