Old whaling logbooks offer new insights into modern-day climate conditions

phys.org | 6/28/2019 | Staff
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In September 1871, a fleet of 33 American whaling ships navigating through Arctic waters came upon a disastrous impasse. Mountains of ice pack, some clumped nearly mast high, formed a natural blockade around the convoy. Crews anxiously waited for winds to bail their ships out from the pulverizing grip of the ice, but it never blew their way. Ice tore into hulls and as the shredded vessels surrendered to the sea, more than a thousand men, women, and children fled for nearby rescue boats.

Today—nearly 150 years later—whalers in the same stretch of the Arctic would likely not have been trapped. Climate has changed considerably since then, and while seasonal ice still forms during the winter, much of the thicker, multi-year ice sea ice in the region has been diminished.

Lot - Changes - Decades - Oceans - Ice

"We've observed a lot of changes over recent decades, including warming oceans, melting ice sheets on Greenland, shifts in weather patterns, and more frequent, intense droughts and floods," said Caroline Ummenhofer, a climate scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "However, in many remote areas, such as the Arctic, we lack long datasets that can put recent observations into a long-term context. This has limited our ability to understand how shifting weather and climate patterns may affect human society and ecosystems."

Ummenhofer, along with Timothy Walker, her research colleague from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMassD), are trying to fill these pre-nineteenth century weather data gaps with old climate records from whaling ship logbooks.

Captains - Mates - Whaling - Disaster - Log

Captains and first mates of whaling ships—like those caught in the Whaling Disaster of 1871—kept a daily log of events during each voyage; these invariably included a brief account of weather conditions. At various points throughout the day—in between chores like adjusting sails, pumping out water, and making ship repairs—they'd keep close tabs on wind speed and direction, sea conditions, air...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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