Logbooks from whaling ships part of climate change research

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. -- Maritime historians, climate scientists and ordinary citizens are coming together on a project to study the logbooks of 19th-century whaling ships to better understand modern-day climate change and Arctic weather patterns.

See Full Article

Whaling ships kept meticulous daily logbooks of weather conditions during their often yearslong voyages searching the globe for whales, valued for their light-giving oil, said Michael Dyer, senior maritime historian at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts, which is supplying much of the data.

Some logs include information about life on board, such as sailors falling overboard, or being disciplined for stealing or other transgressions, and of course, notations whenever whales are spotted. More important for this project, they include precise longitude and latitude measurements, weather conditions, the presence of icebergs and the edge of the ice shelf.

"If they're cruising in the Bering Strait and there's ice, there will be a notation in the logbook that ice fields are present," Dyer said.

The project, called Old Weather: Whaling, is led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The whaling museum is transcribing and digitizing its own logbooks, as well as original data sources from the Nantucket Historical Association, Martha's Vineyard Museum, Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, and the New Bedford Free Public Library.

The digitized logbooks are being posted online so ordinary "citizen-scientists" can help researchers sift through the vast amounts of information.

The museum has about 2,600 whaling logbooks dating from 1756 to 1965, but the project so far includes just about 300 logbooks related to whaling trips to the Arctic from the mid-1800s to the first decade of the 20th century.

One entry from the San Francisco-based whaler Beluga during a two-year voyage to the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas from 1897 to 1899 is typical of the information in the logs.

"Lat. 61.19. Long. 175.42. Fast to the ice till 6 A.M. then made sail and worked to the N.E. at 8:45 A.M. Commenced steaming. Steamed till 1 P.M. then struck open water. Carrying topsail and fore and aft sails. Steering from N.N.W. to N.E. as the ice allowed. Wind light and variable first part. Latter part strong E.S.E. winds thick and snowing. Ther. 30. Bar. 29.60."

On a most basic level, the information from an old whaling logbook can be compared to current conditions; for example, is there sea ice today in the places where whalers saw sea ice 150 years ago?

But the project is much more than that, said Kevin Wood, a climate scientist with NOAA's Joint Institute for the Study of the Ocean and Atmosphere at the University of Washington and a lead researcher on the project. By recovering as much weather data as possible, the information could help create sophisticated computer models of past climate and help predict future conditions.

He called it a "virtual time-travelling weather satellite."

"We can build an enormously detailed reconstruction of the conditions at the time ... and we can we can understand how the climate has been changing over a longer period of time," Wood said.

The project launched this month is an offshoot of Old Weather, an ongoing partnership between NOAA and Zooniverse, the citizen science Web portal that is looking at logbooks of other vessels, including merchant and naval ships.

Sifting through the documents is where the public comes in. There is just too much data for a small group of scientists to pore over.

High-resolution images of historical documents, extracted data and related research products are available online, sad Michael Lapides, the museum's director of digital initiatives.

Already, the logbooks of more than 20 whalers are online. The project is expected to take about a year, Lapides said.


Latest Tech & Science News

  • #RIPVine, long live stardom: Canadians who cashed in on Vine

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The timer has finally run out on Vine. When Twitter launched the micro-video feature back in 2013, it quickly became a viral enigma, challenging users to cram as much comedy, or culture, into each 480×480 pixel frame. Source
  • Fossilized dinosaur brain discovered on English beach

    Tech & Science CTV News
    What at first sight looked like just another brown pebble on an English beach turned out to be the first known example of fossilized brain tissue from a dinosaur. The brain tissue likely belonged to a species related to Iguanodon, a large herbivore that roamed the Earth approximately 133 million years ago, the Geological Society of London said in a blog post Thursday. Source
  • Apple's MacBook Pro gets a touch-sensitive panel [Photos]

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple unveiled long-awaited updates to its Mac computers Thursday, aiming to spark consumer interest in a product line often overshadowed by newer gadgets, such as the iPad and iPhone. The breakout feature is, as widely speculated, a new touch-sensitive panel on the MacBook Pro, Apple’s top-of-the-line laptop. Source
  • Tougher than steel, lighter than cotton: spider webs are a scientific marvel

    Tech & Science CBC News
    In amongst the jack-o'-lanterns, ghosts and goblins, spider webs always make a strong showing at this time of year. But spider webs are much more than just a spooky way to spice up your Halloween decorations. Source
  • Apple refreshes MacBook Pro with touch-sensitive strip

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CUPERTINO, Calif. -- Apple is announcing long-awaited updates to its Mac computers, aiming to spark consumer interest in a product line that often seems overshadowed by newer gadgets like the iPad and iPhone. Source
  • Study predicts deserts in Spain if global warming continues

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BERLIN -- Southern Spain will become desert and deciduous forests will vanish from much of the Mediterranean basin unless global warming is reined in sharply, according to a study released Thursday. Researchers used historical data and computer models to forecast the likely impact of climate change on the Mediterranean region, based on the range of scenarios that countries committed to at a global summit in France last year. Source
  • Twitter cutting 9% of staff, killing off Vine

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    NEW YORK — Twitter, seemingly unable to find a buyer and losing money, is cutting about 9% of its employees worldwide. The social media site has failed to keep pace with rivals Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram and in recent months, rumours that it would be acquired have run rampant. Source
  • New images show crater created on Mars by European lander

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BERLIN -- New images from a NASA satellite indicate that the European Space Agency's experimental Schiaparelli lander created a shallow crater on Mars when it plummeted to the surface last week. ESA lost communication with Schiaparelli shortly before the probe was supposed to touch down on Oct. Source
  • Battlefield 1 review: An odd way to play with history

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    Battlefield 1942 made war into an irreverent sport. Released in 2002 after a burst of Second World War nostalgia driven by Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and the Medal of Honor games, Swedish studio DICE designed a 64-person multiplayer shooter that would emphasize co-operation across enormous maps using the finicky weapons of the Second World War. Source
  • Small brown pebble turns out to be 'pickled' dinosaur brain tissue

    Tech & Science CBC News
    When fossil hunter Jamie Hiscocks came upon small brown pebble more than a decade ago in Sussex, England, he knew there was something weird about it. Turns out he was right — his 2004 find marked the first ever discovery of fossilized dinosaur brain tissue. Source