DATABASE: Logging a Century of Climate Change

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Science  30 Jan 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5658, pp. 601
DOI: 10.1126/science.303.5658.601d

To deduce past climate, researchers pore over everything from tree rings to ice cores to historical tallies of grape harvests. This new database opens up another source: records kept by sailors, whose lives depended on carefully noting the weather. Sponsored by six institutions in Europe and South America, the Climatological Database for the World's Oceans, or CLIWOC, amasses weather data from ships plying the seas between 1750 and 1850, the time period when industrial emissions began to transform the atmosphere. Such observations can allow climate scientists to analyze monthly or even daily changes.

To compile the collection, researchers trawled the logbooks of British, Spanish, French, and Dutch ships, translating the crews' meteorological descriptions into numerical values for wind speed and direction, air temperature, and other variables. The site's first cargo of data—derived from more than 1300 logs—came aboard last November; a new load should arrive this spring. Check out the logbook of the Noord Beveland, a Dutch ship traveling the English Channel in 1761.

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