How to map climate change with 200 year-old ships logbooks

December 2020

One of the key aspects of maritime historical research that is helping us understand our modern world is the use of ships logbooks to understand and map climate change in various regions across the world. Today Dr Sam Willis Dr Matthew Ayre, a Climate Detective (or more officially a Historical Climatologist) at the Arctic Institute of North America. Matt uses 200 year old documents surviving from the Arctic whaling trade to look back at the Arctic climate.It’s an important topic. Over the past 30 years, the Arctic has warmed at roughly twice the rate as the entire globe, a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification.

Ships’ logbooks are now an accepted data source in climate change studies.Matt is an expert on the particular issues surrounding logbooks from the Arctic region in what is known as the pre-instrumental period and has tackled important questions linked to this research – how, for example, can you reliably express narrative descriptions of wind, weather and sea ice in index form? An dhow then can you most effectively manage scientific analysis fo such data, which – remember — was not recorded for such purposes. How do you digitize historical logbooks?