British researchers have uncovered an intriguing new way to reconstruct past climate trends. They are poring over thousands of ships’ logs from the British Navy, some dating back to the 1600s.
The logbooks kept by every naval ship, ranging from Nelson’s Victory and Cook’s Endeavour down to the humblest frigate, are emerging as one of the world’s best sources for long-term weather data.
The research thus far has revealed several weather anomalies that mimic today’s weather patterns — but long before anthropogenic global warming could have had any influence on the climate. For example:
It is commonly believed that hurricanes form in the eastern Atlantic and track westwards, so scientists were shocked in 2005 when Hurricane Vince instead moved northeast to hit southern Spain and Portugal.
Many interpreted this as a consequence of climate change; but Wheeler, along with colleagues at the University of Madrid, used old ships’ logs to show that this had also happened in 1842, when a hurricane followed the same trajectory into Andalusia.
One of the researchers, Dr. Dennis Wheeler, says that these old records argue for caution in the current global warming debate.
What our data shows is that climate science is complex and that it is wrong to take particular events and link them to CO2 emissions.