Wednesday 13 October 2010

WW1 Ships Chart The Past Climate

Taken from an Oxford University News Release of October 12th, 2010;

The public are being asked to revisit the voyages of World War One Royal Navy warships to help scientists understand the climate of the past and unearth new historical information.

Visitors to, launched on 12 October 2010, will be able to retrace the routes taken by any of 280 Royal Navy ships including historic vessels such as HMS Caroline, the last survivor of the 1916 Battle of Jutland still afloat.

By transcribing information about weather, and any interesting events, from images of each ship’s logbook web volunteers will help scientists to build a more accurate picture of how our climate has changed over the last century, as well as adding to our knowledge of this important period of British history.

‘These naval logbooks contain an amazing treasure trove of information but because the entries are handwritten they are incredibly difficult for a computer to read,’ said Dr Chris Lintott of Oxford University, one of the team behind the project. ‘By getting an army of online human volunteers to retrace these voyages and transcribe the information recorded by British sailors we can relive both the climate of the past and key moments in naval history.’

Dr Peter Stott, Head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the Met Office, said: ‘Historical weather data is vital because it allows us to test our models of the Earth's climate: if we can correctly account for what the weather was doing in the past, then we can have more confidence in our predictions of the future. Unfortunately, the historical record is full of gaps, particularly from before 1920 and at sea, so this project is invaluable.’

Dr Robert Simpson of Oxford University, one of the team, said: ‘Luckily, these observations made by Royal Navy sailors every four hours without fail – even whilst under enemy fire! – can help to fill this ‘data gap’. It’s almost like launching a weather satellite into the skies at a time when manpowered flight was still in its infancy.’ forms a key part of the International ACRE Project, which is recovering past weather and climate data from around the world and bringing them into widespread use. Met Office Hadley Centre scientist Dr Rob Allan, the ACRE project leader said: ‘By reconstructing past weather from these historical documents we will complete our knowledge of weather patterns and climatic changes.'

Most of the data about past climate comes from land-based weather monitoring stations which have been systematically recording data for over 150 years. The weather information from the ships at, which spans the period 1905-1929, effectively extends this land-based network to 280 seaborne weather stations traversing the world’s oceans.

The ‘virtual sailors’ visiting are rewarded for their efforts by a rise through the ratings from cadet to captain of a particular ship according to the number of pages they transcribe. The project is inspired by earlier Oxford University-led ‘citizen science’ projects, such as Galaxy Zoo and Moon Zoo – that have seen more than 320,000 people make over 150 million classifications – which have shown that ordinary web users can make observations that are as accurate as those made by experts.

But it isn’t just gaps in the weather records that the team hope to fill but gaps in the history books too. is teaming up with naval historians in an effort to add to our knowledge of the exploits of hundreds of Royal Navy vessels and the thousands of men who served on them.

‘Life in the trenches is well documented but the maritime struggle that took place during World War One is less well known,’ said historian Gordon Smith of Naval-History.Net, Penarth, UK. 'This was a global conflict that reached across the world’s oceans to every part of the globe and was about far more than just the Battle of Jutland. We hope these new records will give people a fresh insight into naval history and encourage people to find out more about Britain’s naval past and the role their relatives played in it.’ features a range of historically-important ships including Battle of Jutland-survivor HMS Caroline, which is still in existence in Belfast, HMS Defence and HMS Invincible, which were both blown up at Jutland with the loss of most of their crews, and HMS Valerian which foundered in a hurricane off the coast of Bermuda in 1926.

It also holds the records of less well-known ships including HMS Dwarf, which on service in the Cameroons in 1914 suffered a boat attack similar to the one mounted by Humphrey Bogart’s character in the movie The African Queen, and river gunboats such as HMS Gnat, HMS Mantis and HMS Moth which patrolled the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates in a military expedition to Iraq with echoes of the modern-day conflict there.

Dr Lintott said: ‘Rather like the Royal Navy sailors setting out on a voyage, with this new project we cannot be sure what is waiting for us over the horizon, what our volunteers find will make a significant contribution to climate science and might even rewrite the history books!’

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