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A Breeze from the Past: Uncovering Climate Clues from Whaling Ship Logbooks (Falmouth)

June 20 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Bringing together oceanographer Dr. Caroline Ummenhofer from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Dr. Timothy Walker, Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, our project examines the use of weather recordings contained in American whaling voyage logbooks to assess changes in climate and weather patterns. We focus on unexploited caches of archival documentation, namely U.S. whaling logbooks of voyages spanning the period 1790 to 1910 from New England archives housed by the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Nantucket Historical Association, and Providence Public Library. The logbooks, often covering multi-year voyages around the globe, contain systematic daily weather observations (e.g., wind strength/direction, sea state, precipitation).
In historical climate research, long datasets are invaluable for establishing baseline weather and climate conditions, against which changes can be assessed. Yet pre-19th century instrumental data are sparse, especially over the ocean. We showcase how descriptive, qualitative weather recordings from New England whaling ship logbooks can be transferred to quantitative data to compare against modern, instrumental data. We also highlight how we can then use the novel data to assess long-term shifts in wind patterns around the world, such as long-term shifts in position and strength of the Southern Hemisphere westerlies, variations in the North Atlantic subtropical winds surrounding the Bermuda (or Azores) High pressure system, or strengthening of the Pacific equatorial trade winds since the 19th century. Our results demonstrate that the historical records provide an important long-term context for changing maritime wind patterns in remote ocean regions lacking observational records during the 19th century.
$20 Non-Members/$10 Members; or donation based ticket. Light refreshments served. Ticket sales go towards supporting our Nautical Narrative Initiative to use our historic whaling logs to trace historic weather patterns. Please Register Here.


Falmouth Museums on the Green
65 Palmer Ave
Falmouth, MA United States

Event calendar courtesy of See Plymouth.