Using ship’s logs from the past to predict the climate of the future

Your moment

Are you, like many of us, feeling helpless about the impending climate crisis? Maybe actively participating in scientific efforts to make sense of the changing climate so we can find out ways to stop its destruction can give your mind a little bit of peace.

Old Weather is a project with the main goal of studying a wide range of climate phenomena in order to understand their impact on the global environment. They do this by looking at weather observations. According to Kevin Wood, the Lead Investigator of Old Weather Arctic Project, information about the weather in the past is crucial to understanding what is happening to our climate in the present and what will happen to it in the future.

Old Weather's information about the history of our climate is collected by investigating sea-journeys,  as old as 150 years. Dating back to the 19th century, Old Weather has amassed a large number of logbooks from ships ⁠— mostly military and whaling. These logbooks, along with logistical details about the journeys themselves, also contain detailed descriptions of the weather and sea-ice conditions of their time.

This is valuable data for the scientists at Old Weather, especially because the logs belong to ships that patrolled the Arctic. The area is now a matter of major concern in terms of climate destruction. Old Weather takes this data and plugs it into computer models specifically made to improve climate projections based on past conditions. 

“In order to understand what the weather will be like in the future, we need to understand what it was like in the past.”

Information about what the weather and sea-ice conditions were like in the past is not only crucial for climate scientists to make sense of the present and predict the future of our climate, but it’s also extremely valuable for historians to better understand the context in which world-changing historical events occurred.

Old Weather, however, has one big obstacle in their pursuit: the fact that the data they are trying to recover all comes from old ship’s logs means that all of it is handwritten by hundreds of different people. For the scientists, this means that they cannot automate the transcription of these ship’s logs because computers are not able to decipher human handwriting accurately. 

This is where concerned global citizens came in. Old Weather works with volunteers from all over the world in getting the handwritten information from old ship's logs into computer models. People decipher the information on these old logbooks and deliver it to the scientists at Old Weather.

Anyone who is comfortable with the English language can sign up to become a citizen scientist with Old Weather. So, if you want to actively contribute to climate science fighting the destruction of our living planet, you can do so by volunteering with Old Weather. As a bonus, you'll get to read original historical documents, detailing epic adventures of sailing the seas.

More about: climate change / Volunteer

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