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Moby Dick Learnings: Adding in Arctic Weather History from Whaling Logs

Dec 09, 2015 03:06 PM EST
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Ever walked six miles to school in the snow? Or experienced consistently colder winters than we have now--or wanted to know what that was like?

Mariners on ships in the Arctic in the mid-1800s lived in that different weather. With that in mind, a citizen-science project at the University of Washington (UW) is leading volunteers who transcribe information from historic ship logs from maritime explorers and whalers in the Arctic, to get a picture of the Arctic climate over the last two centuries--and learn about today's climate and how to project for the future. 

Recently, the project, Old Weather, expanded to include whaling ships' logbooks that were scanned digitally from New England museums and libraries. You too could help in transcribing beautifully spidery handwriting that would have made Herman Melville happy with its quotidian maritime detail. (Scroll down to read further...)

Before this, the project had sourced federal ships' logbooks from the National Archives, in Washington, D.C.

"The whaling ships provide a rich resource for us to use for the region north of Bering Strait," Kevin Wood, project leader and a scientist at the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and the Ocean, a partnership between UW and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a release. "In some years there may have been 40 or 50 ships working in that sector of the Arctic."

Here's what was recorded: sea ice, weather data, some other details. The newly available data from the whaling boats dates back as far as the 1840s in more than 400 logbooks. Many of the voyages were in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.

The logbooks are from institutions including the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Nantucket Historical Association, Providence Public Library, Martha's Vineyard Museum, New Bedford Free Public Library and Mystic Seaport.

"These stories will provide the best historical documentation of the Arctic marine environment over the past two centuries that it is possible to assemble," Wood said in the release.

So far, volunteers on the project have transcribed almost 3 million historical weather records to be used in climate and environmental research, noted the release.

If you'd like information or to volunteer, go here.

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-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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