The voyage begins..
This post marks the beginning of a three year project called ARCdoc. The project, which has been generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust, seeks to clarify and enhance our knowledge of climate change in the Arctic region using historical marine meteorological observations made on board Royal Navy,whaling and commercial (The Hudson’s Bay Company) ships, between 1750 and 1850.
The Arctic constitutes a key part of the global climate system, responding to, and in turn influencing conditions beyond its boundaries. However, the region’s complex climatic character, although of global significance, is amongst the most poorly chronicled and its climatic history therefore, remains poorly understood.
This project seeks to address this problem of data deficiency by extracting weather information from the largely overlooked logbooks kept by the ships of the Royal Navy, Whaling industry and the Hudson’s Bay Company. The study period commences with the earliest logbooks (1750) and concludes with the advent of organised gathering of marine observations in the mid-nineteenth century.
All the logbooks contain non instrumental observations of wind force and wind direction, supplemented by additional information on the state of the sea, sea ice cover and the prevailing weather conditions. Preparation of instrumental observations (air pressure and temperature) were not common practice until the mid nineteenth century, although there are exceptions: those being the Hudson’s Bay Company logbooks, which start to contain observations in the early part of the 180o’s and in the logbooks of Royal Navy discovery ships voyaging in search of the North West Passage, from 1819 onwards.
The geographical range of the study region includes the seas around Greenland, including the Denmark Strait, Labrador Sea and Davis Strait. Records from Whaling vessels in Baffin Bay take the study region west of Greenland to nearly 80N. In addition, records from much of the ‘sub-Arctic’ Atlantic, north of 55N allow the project to include notable quantities of data from the far North Atlantic, which have never been used before.
These marine meteorological observations will provide an improved picture of the Arctic climate (wind circulations, ice coverage, temperature and air pressure) between 1750 and 1850, allowing us to set our findings against the current understanding of conditions at the time and in doing so, provide for more reliable predictions of future climates based on models that require calibration against such ‘historic’ information.