Captain Cook plays part in climate change prediction


Climate change

Ernest Shackleton

Explorers like Ernest Shackleton (pictured), Captain Cook and Benjamin Franklin are being used to help fill gaps in the climate change record. The data may also be useful in weather prediction.

Credit: Wikimedia

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BRISBANE: Famous explorers and scientists like Captain Cook and Benjamin Franklin are being used to help fill the gap in climate records, thanks to the work by a British organisation.

Historic records about weather conditions are to be included with millions of others in a database that aims to reconstruct 250 years of weather.

The UK-based project called The Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth (ACRE) is gathering, digitising and making available global weather records, in an effort to assist weather forecasters and climate researchers.

"As far as we're aware, it's the only project of its type in the world," says Rob Allan, the climate researcher who is leading the ACRE project.

"Millions of observations"

Detailed, global weather record collections usually only go back to the 1950s, Allan says, and have a heavy emphasis on temperature and precipitation, so their usefulness is limited for climate researchers who want to test their models or quantify just how climate has changed over the last few hundred years.

In contrast, the ACRE team is collecting all sorts of weather and climate measurements - wind speed, cloud cover, atmospheric pressure, and even sea ice distribution - which are mostly found as paper records in logbooks, journals and diaries, hidden away in archives around the world and going back as far as the early 18th century.

"[There's] an enormous quantity of information - terabytes of data, hundreds of millions of observations, hundreds of thousands of documentary pages," says Allan's ACRE colleague Philip Brohan.

Records from the southern hemisphere are less abundant than those for the northern hemisphere, Allan says, but there's still plenty of information that could be useful.

Scientists travelling with Cook and the early explorers of Antarctica - the likes of Shackleton, Scott and Mawson - kept valuable and detailed records, says Allan, and whaling, merchant and navy ships, and remote meteorological outposts are other southern-hemisphere sources.

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