Arctic Warming: Unlock the Mystery with Naval Records from the 1800's

Arctic warming mysteries may be unlocked on an online site lets visitors transcribe centuries-old naval logbooks.

Arctic warming could be better understood if climate scientists could study a larger history of climate patterns in the area. (Photo: Keenpress/Getty Images.)

Nov 3, 2012· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

What do Arctic warming, Hurricane Sandy, and Naval records from the Victorian Age have in common? Everything. Arctic warming may have played a large role in redirecting Hurricane Sandy farther south than would be usual, allowing it to hit the Jersey Shore (historically not a popular hurricane destination.) Though Arctic warming was confirmed earlier this year when ice levels were found to be at an all-time low, the truth of the matter is our records only go back about 30 years. In order to confirm these warmer climates, handwritten U.S. Naval logbooks, dating back to the 1800s, are being transcribed via a unique crowdsourcing project that may unlock key mysteries to Arctic changes.

Scientific American reports that Old Weather, a site belonging to the Zooniverse network of citizen science projects, allows visitors to actively participate in transcribing naval ship records from bygone eras in order to gain a deeper understanding arctic warming and current alterations in climate patterns.

Slate reports that Old Weather visitors have already helped the site’s scientists transcribe more than 1.6 million weather observations from Great Britain’s Royal Navy logbooks. Now that Old Weather has uploaded 150 years worth of Arctic-related records from the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard― all hand written, much of it without a thought towards good penmanship― the site is hoping its weather geek users will devote their time to accomplishing a similar goal.

The U.S. Navy has made voyages to the Arctic since 1839, and the minutiae related to each of these visits― including observations about the weather, pirate abductions, and other moments of note― were recorded in well-preserved books, scans of which were uploaded to the site last week. Once those entries have been transcribed, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will integrate it into already known data in order to identify weather patterns and changes to arctic warming.

Skeptics may wonder how the Old Weather project can really make a difference in our current understanding of arctic warming if it’s being crowdsourced. According to Slate, crowdsourcing projects like this— ones that are helmed by scientists, but need droves of researchers to collect data— have yielded some impressive results. One of the most well-publicized happened last year when online gamers deciphered the molecular structure of an HIV enzyme in a matter of weeks after the mystery had stumped scientists for over ten years.

But how does Old Weather ensure the accuracy of transcriptions? Text of each log has to pass through three different transcribers before it can be accepted.

MORE: Long-Lost Eskimo Village Discovered Thanks to Depleting Ice Caps

But perhaps the best part of the project is that it connects science buffs, activists, historians and the like to collaborate towards a common goal that could have life-altering consequences. And doing something about arctic warming and climate change is much more rewarding than simply fearing it.

Do you think projects like Old Weather will actually lead to shifts in our understanding of arctic warming? Let us know in the Comments.

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