There’s a lot of history hiding in even purely scientific datasets. This movie shows just the locations of the 1.4 billion observations in the International Surface Pressure Databank (1851-2008), and in it I think I can see:
- The constraints on sailing-ship trade routes imposed by the global wind fields.
- The transition from sail to steam in shipping (late nineteenth century).
- The opening of the Suez canal in 1869 (01:30).
- The Famous Arctic voyage of Nansen’s Fram (03:20).
- The heroic age of Antarctic exploration (starting at about 04:00).
- The opening of the Panama canal in 1914 (05:10).
- The first world war (05:10).
- The second world war (07:00).
- Major administrative changes in India (08:00).
- The introduction of drifting buoys (1978: 10:20)
- And, sadly, a reduction in observations coverage in the last couple of decades as participation in the Voluntary Observing Fleet declines.
Of course these observations are not all that were made. Many more historical observations exist (on paper, or in restricted access collections), but these are the ones that are currently available to science. The process of rescuing the observations has also left its mark on the coverage – including right at the beginning of the video, where the coverage of ship observations reduces sharply in 1863 – the end of Matthew Fontaine Maury‘s pioneering data collection work. Various subsequent rises and falls in coverage result from the work of many other scientists and teams; including, of course, a large group of Royal Navy ship observations in the period around the First World War (starting about 05:00) clearly distinguishable just from their locations, as Naval ships move in a quite different pattern from commercial shipping. (Our US Arctic ships are not in this database yet – they will be in the next version).
oldWeather forum moderator Caro has been showcasing the history in our logs, by tweeting, every day, excerpts from the logs of exactly 100-years ago (follow along here). The terse style of the logs is a good match for Twitter, but on some days so much happened that we’d like to go into more detail. December 8th, 1914 was such a day, so Caro has written this post:
It’s been said before: oldWeather is not just about the weather. We transcribe history too and few of the historical narratives to emerge from our WWI ships’ logs can compare to the events that took place on this day, 8 December, 100 years ago: the Battle of the Falkland Islands. The logs of all nine Royal Navy ships involved ― Bristol, Canopus, Carnarvon, Cornwall, Glasgow, Inflexible, Invincible, Kent, and Macedonia ― have given our transcribers and editors first-hand accounts of one of the most important sea battles of WWI.
Back on November 1, Admiral von Spee and his German cruisers had defeated a Royal Navy squadron near Coronel, Chile. British losses were heavy; the ships Good Hope and Monmouth were lost and with them the lives of about 1600 men. Glasgow and Otranto escaped. The British Admiralty, realising the danger of the German ships escaping into the South Atlantic and disrupting the Allies’ operations along the African coast; or sailing around the Horn to attack the now almost defenceless British base in the Falkland Islands, sent a squadron to the South Atlantic to track down von Spee’s cruisers. Eight Royal Navy warships assembled at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands on December 7. The old battleship Canopus had been set in place as guardship for Port Stanley, resting on the mud, since mid-November.
On 8 December, the German cruisers Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Nürnberg, Dresden and Leipzig, together with three auxiliary vessels, gathered to attack the Falklands and raid the British facilities there. Gneisenau and Nürnberg detached from the rest of the German squadron and moved to attack the wireless station and port facilities of Port Stanley. The two raiders were seen by a hilltop spotter who reported their approach to Canopus, waiting out of sight behind the hills.
The logs continue the story:
- 9.19am Canopus: Opened fire fore & aft 12” turrets on Gneisenau & Nürnberg
- 930am Canopus: Ceased fire. Enemy retreated
- 9.30am Glasgow: Weighed and proceeded
- 9.50am Kent: Proceeded to follow enemy. 3 more German cruisers reported in sight, Scharnhorst, Leipzig, and Dresden
- 10.15am Glasgow: As requisite keeping touch with enemy; squadron weighing and proceeding from Port William
- 11.43am Carnarvon: Bristol ordered to take Macedonia & destroy transports
- 12.57pm Inflexible: Opened fire at extreme range on Leipzig, firing 12 rounds of 12 inch, apparently making no hits
- 12.57pm Invincible: Invincible opened fire
- 1.25pm Invincible: Enemy’s light cruisers observed to spread to starboard
- 1.33pm Invincible: Scharnhorst & Gneisenau opened fire
- 1.35pm Invincible: Cornwall, Kent & Glasgow ordered to chase enemy light cruisers
- 2.51pm Inflexible: Opened fire on Gneisenau, 15,200 yards, Invincible engaging Scharnhorst, the leading ship in line ahead
- 3.00pm Glasgow: Opened fire & engaged Leipzig with 6″ gun
- 3.30pm Bristol: Fired 2 rounds fore 6″ and ordered Santa Isabel and Baden, German colliers, to stop; crews ordered to abandon ships. German crews transferred to Macedonia
- 4.01pm Inflexible: Scharnhorst listing heavily to starboard, two funnels gone, and ship on fire. Ceased firing on her
- 4.15pm Carnarvon: Opened fire [on Scharnhorst]
- 4.17pm Carnarvon: Scharnhorst turned over & sank bow first; cease fire
- 5.00pm Kent: Kent proceeded in chase of Nürnberg
- 5.30pm Cornwall: Opened fire [on Leipzig] with 6″ guns & continued action with all guns
- 5.40pm Macedonia: Opened fire on Baden
- 5.48pm Inflexible: Finally ceased firing [on Gneisenau]. Signalled to Carnarvon, “I think enemy have hauled down their colours”
- 6.02pm Invincible: Gneisenau sinks. Invincible, Inflexible and Carnarvon proceeded at full speed to pick up survivors
- 6.45pm Kent: Opened fire and finally ceased fire at 6.57pm; Nürnberg sank at 7.25 pm
- 6.50pm Cornwall: Enemy [Leipzig] on fire fore and aft
- 7.00pm Bristol: Macedonia ordered to remain till colliers sunk and proceed to Port Stanley with crews
- 7.23pm Kent: Stopped and endeavoured to pick up [Nürnberg] survivors
- 7.53pm Macedonia: Baden sank
- 8.15pm Macedonia: Opened fire on Santa Isabel
- 9.00pm Cornwall: Stopped; lowered port boats to pick up [Leipzig] survivors
- 9.23pm Cornwall: Leipzig foundered
- 9.30pm Macedonia: Santa Isabel sank
The German auxiliary Seydlitz and light cruiser Dresden escaped. Almost 1900 German seamen lost their lives; 10 British were killed.
One hundred years on, we remember all those who died at Coronel and the Falklands and in the battles to come.
Jr nyjnlf unir na rlr gb gur shgher, urer ng byqJrngure, naq jr’ir abgvprq bhe sevraqf ng gur nepuvirf cubgbtencuvat fbzr arjre ybtf – H.F. fuvcf sebz gur zvq-20gu praghel – nf jryy nf gur byqre barf jr’er hfrq gb. Gur nepuvirf ner abg cubgbtencuvat gurz sbe hf – gurl ner cneg bs nabgure cebwrpg – ohg gurl ner trarebhf crbcyr, naq gurl jvyy tvir hf n pbcl bs gur ybt obbx vzntrf vs jr jnag gurz. Qb jr jnag gurz?
Jryy bs pbhefr jr qb – bhe ybir sbe ybtobbxf arire snvyf, naq jr ner qrgrezvarq gung gur xabjyrqtr va gurz jvyy abg cnff njnl. Ohg jr pna’g qb rirelguvat evtug abj. Fb jr qb, hasbeghangryl, unir gb or frafvoyr, naq frg cevbevgvrf, naq lnqn lnqn lnqn.
Gur zbfg vzcbegnag guvat gb xabj nobhg nal cbffvoyr arj ybtf, vf jurgure nalbar unf ybbxrq ng gurz orsber: unir gurve jrngure bofreingvbaf nyernql orra genafpevorq? Gb svaq bhg, jr arrq gb ybbx va VPBNQF (gur vagreangvbany qngnonfr jurer jr fgber bhe jrngure erpbeqf) naq frr jung gurer vf sebz nal fuvc jr ner vagrerfgrq va – ohg gurer’f n pngpu.
Zbfg bs hf ersre gb n fuvc ol vgf anzr; bapr gur bjare unf qrpvqrq gb anzr n fuvc UZF Jbatnaryyn gura gur erfg bs hf fubhyq whfg sbyybj nybat. Bhe cerqrprffbef, ubjrire, jub qvtvgvfrq fbzr ybtobbx jrngure erpbeqf qrpnqrf ntb, qvq abg nterr. Creuncf gur anzrf jrer gbb ybat gb svg bagb gur Ubyyrevgu pneqf gurl hfrq sbe qngn fgbentr, ohg jungrire gurve ernfba gurl hfrq pbqr ahzoref nf fuvc vqragvsvref. Fb vs jr jnag gb svaq gur erpbeqf bs gur HFF Nexnafnf va VPBNQF, jr arrq gb xabj gung ure pbqr ahzore vf 01033 – naq, va trareny, jr qba’g.
Ohg gur byqJrngure grnz ner n pncnoyr ohapu, naq Xriva naq Znex ner sngubzvat guvf zlfgrel. Jvgu uryc sebz VPBNQF rkcregf ng APQP naq ABPF gurl ner qrpbqvat gur VPBNQF vqragvsvref fb jr pna yvax gur byq bofreingvbaf jvgu gur Nepuvir’f ybtobbxf naq cvpx bhg gubfr fgvyy haernq.
We chose our first batch of logbooks to cover the period of the First World War, as our climate records from this period were particularly poor. This gave us not only invaluable new climate information, but also a new look at a key historical period which is about to reach its centenary.
To use our historical results, we teamed up with Gordon and Naval-History.net. In Gordon’s words: ‘Our present world has been shaped by World War 1 – as much a maritime war as World War 2. Not just the Battle of Jutland or the Allies near-defeat by the U-boats, but Mediterranean, Belgian coast, South West & South Africa, East Africa, Persian Gulf, German raiders, Atlantic convoys, North Russia.’ We need to present our logbook records so they can contribute to public and scholarly understanding of the period.
The transcribed and edited logbook records are now a major component of naval-history.net, where they are described as:
British warship log books of the World War 1 era, totalling some 300,000 pages. The logs of over 300 ships have been transcribed, and most are online. They include coverage of Battle of the Falklands, Northern Patrol, Dardanelles, East Africa, trans-Atlantic convoys, Indian Ocean, China Station, amounting to some 60-70 percent of all major warship movements 1914-18, outside of British home waters.
But they are not enough on their own, we should combine them with other sources of information. Naval-History.Net has prepared for the centenary for some years, using contemporary sources where possible and more recent research where available. Current projects include:
- Chronology providing the political and military background to the war at sea.
- Naval Operations by Corbett and Newbolt – many of the excellent plans are online including all the Battle of Jutland – and the three volume Merchant Navy histories by Hurd.
- Navy despatches and relevant Army despatches from the London Gazette. Also Royal Navy honours and gallantry awards by award and by Gazette date. Includes Medal index/database by name.
- Royal Navy and Royal Marine casualties (researched by Don Kindell working with the Naval Historical Branch (MOD)), as well as those of the Dominion Navies and U.S. Navy & Marine Corps.
- Royal Navy warships and auxiliaries from the invaluable “Ships of the Royal Navy 1914-1919″ by Dittmar and Colledge. Although still in progress, all warships and many of the auxiliaries are listed by name and by type/class.
[This post is from Maikel, who has come up with a new way of using and viewing the information we are collecting].
Having been active as an Old Weather transcriber and in editing the transcribed logs for display on Naval-History.Net, I started to be curious about the journeys of the Royal Naval ships.
Giving in to this form of Old Weather addiction, I started to create an application that could retrieve the position information for the vessels I had edited. Seeing the dry numbers being transformed into a 2-dimensional voyage on a map was such a satisfying experience, I just had to share it with others.
This resulted in Journey Plotter, a Windows application for plotting the journeys, or parts thereof, of Royal Navy ships from the World War 1 era. Journey Plotter makes use of data from original Royal Naval log-books that have been transcribed and edited by oldWeather volunteers, and then made available by Naval-History.Net. Journey Plotter also turned into a valuable tool for the log editors: Position mistakes of a vessel are easily overlooked if it’s just a number. Seeing a strange jump in a voyage makes it much easier to spot.
If you are interested in Journey Plotter, visit http://tinyurl.com/journeyplotter to learn more about it. I trust you will enjoy looking at the journeys of the Royal Navy vessels and/or have a useful tool during the editing of their voyages.
Today we launch a new fleet on oldWeather.org: the focus this time is on Arctic voyages, and the logbooks are from the collection of the US National Archives in Washington. We’ve ships from the Revenue and Coast Guard, the Navy, and the Coast Survey; and they include some famous names and some exciting voyages.
The Arctic is very sensitive to climate variability and change. This year (2012) was a record year for sea-ice: there was less sea-ice this September than for any other year for which we have good satellite records. But the satellite records only go back to 1979, and we need many more than 30 years of records to really understand how the Arctic climate behaves. This means we need to rescue the weather records of the people who travelled there – to read the logs of Arctic voyages.
If you joined in the original oldWeather, you’ll notice some differences in this new version: There are fewer ships (at least to start with, we’ll be adding more regularly), but the records for each ship usually cover many years, so we have just as many pages to read. These logbooks are also older (back to 1850 in some cases), and differently laid-out, so we’ve had to change the way you enter data: Basically it’s the same – select the location on the log page with an important record and then type the record into the pop-up box – but the details have changed. So whether you’re a new recruit or an old hand, please experiment until you get used to it – there is a tutorial to guide you, and help and encouragement on the project forum.
We’re still looking for all weather records, and anything else you read and think is interesting or notable. There will be plenty of notable historical events: the dangers of sailing through the ice add a lot of drama to the stories in the logs – whether you prefer the daring rescue by USRC Bear, ice and fire on the USS Rodgers, or the so-far-unknown adventures of less famous ships.
The weather in Exeter yesterday was best described as “ocr“, so I missed the transit this time. Fortunately, the skies were clear back in 2004, and I remember the experience of peering through a pair of binoculars equipped with a sun-filter and seeing the small black dot of Venus silhouetted against the sun.
The transit of Venus is a periodic event, and the big year was in 1769. I understand that the astronomers valued the transit as a way to get a handle on the size of the universe; but the real virtue was that it provided an excuse for the British Government to send an expedition down into the South Pacific. That expedition was commanded by James Cook, and it started the career of the greatest explorer of them all.
Of course, as a naval officer (Lieutenant, at the time), Cook kept a journal. If your eyesight is up to it, you can read his account of June 3rd 1769 in the original handwriting; but I admit that I looked up Project Gutenberg’s transcription:
Saturday, 3rd. This day proved as favourable to our purpose as we could wish. Not a Cloud was to be seen the whole day, and the Air was perfectly Clear, so that we had every advantage we could desire in observing the whole of the Passage of the planet Venus over the Sun’s Disk. We very distinctly saw an Atmosphere or Dusky shade round the body of the planet, which very much disturbed the times of the Contact, particularly the two internal ones. Dr. Solander observed as well as Mr. Green and myself, and we differ’d from one another in Observing the times of the Contact much more than could be expected. Mr. Green’s Telescope and mine where of the same Magnifying power, but that of the Doctor was greater than ours. It was nearly calm the whole day, and the Thermometer Exposed to the Sun about the Middle of the day rose to a degree of heat we have not before met with.
The ideal weather observer does not expose his thermometer to the sun (shade temperatures please), so perhaps it’s no great loss that Cook’s journal does not contain regular weather observations. For those, we must turn to the Master’s log of HM Bark Endeavour (the closest equivalent to the familiar modern-day logs). For the day of the transit, this records “Little wind and variable with fine pleasant clear weather”. I reckon that’s “Lt. Airs, Var., 1, b” in our notation. Sadly, none of the logs contain regular thermometer or barometer observations – Cook did better on his subsequent voyages – but we do get wind speed and direction reports for every day.
Edmond Halley is best known for his comet, but he was one of the great polymaths – as well as making astronomical discoveries he was also a notable meteorologist: he did important early work understanding the trade winds and monsoons. It’s less well known that that he was also a Naval Officer: in 1699 he was granted a commission as captain in the Royal Navy, and he commanded HMS Paramour (a pink) on an expedition into the South Atlantic to investigate the variation of the compass.
His main concern was with magnetism, but as a man of wide interests, Halley took with him examples of those two exciting modern scientific instruments: the thermometer and the barometer. I can’t find the logbook of the voyage, but Halley’s notes have survived: they were published by Alexander Dalyrmple, in 1775, as part of “A collection of voyages chiefly in the Southern Atlantick Ocean“. They date from 220 years before the logbooks we’re used to in OldWeather, but to anyone who’s looked at our logbooks they are oddly familiar: records of latitude, longitude, wind force and direction and, in the left-hand margin, thermometer and barometer readings.
In 1699 the barometer had been around for more than 50 years, and the barometer records in Halley’s account are clearly in the familiar inches of mercury. But the thermometer did not become a reliable, precision instrument until about 1725, when Fahrenheit invented the mercury thermometer with a standardized, calibrated scale. So when Halley says the temperature is ’33’ it’s not immediately obvious how this should be interpreted. Careful scholarship has established, however, that Halley was using a thermometer designed by Robert Hooke, and lavishly described in his book Micrographia:
The Stems I use for them are very thick, straight, and even Pipes of Glass […] above four feet long […] [filled] with the best rectified Spirit of Wine highly tinged with the lovely colour of Cocheneel, which I deepen the more by pouring some drops of common Spirit of Urine, which must not be too well rectified, […]
From Hooke’s description we can convert Halley’s reported units into modern equivalents at least approximately – Halley’s ’33’ was about 8°C.
The diary entries are mostly routine accounts of the movements of the ship, but occasionally he puts in longer and more interesting reports: here’s an example from Thursday 1st February 1700, when they were close to South Georgia, in the cold waters of the Southern Ocean:
[…] between 4 and 5 we were fair by three Islands as they then appeared; being all flat on the top, and covered with Snow milk white, with perpendicular Cliffs all round them […] The great height of them made us conclude them land, but there was no-appearance of any tree or green thing on them, but the Cliffs as well as the tops were very white, our people called A by the name of Beachy-Head, which it resembled in form and colour. And the Island B in all respects was very like the land of the North-foreland in Kent, and was at least as high and not less than 5 miles in front, […]
The following day they were disconcerted to discover that these ‘islands’ had moved, and fled north to warmer waters. This is the first recorded sighting of a tabular iceberg.
Halley’s observations are probably not of great value to climate scientists: his instruments were state-of-the-art for 1699, but it took decades longer for such observations to became accurate and plentiful enough for climate reconstructions. He did set a precedent though – possibly as the first person to go to sea with a barometer and a thermometer – and we’re still following his example more than 300 years later.
When scientists talk about pressure, they measure it in Pascals (Pa: the SI unit for pressure). For atmospheric pressure, 1Pa is an inconveniently small number, so we lump them together in groups of 100 and talk about hectopascals (hPa: 1hPa=100Pa). The atmospheric pressure at sea level is usually given as 101325 Pa, which is approximately 1000 hPa; so 1 hectopascal is also referred to as 1 millibar – when you hear your weather forecaster talking about millibars, hectopascals are what he’s really using. The ships, however, don’t measure pressure in hectopascals or even millibars; they measure it in inches. This is an artefact of the way they measure the pressure – with a mercury barometer.
Back in the early 17th century there was much discussion among the scientists of the day about why it was impossible to pump water more than about 10m upwards. It was Evangelista Torricelli, in 1643, who realised not only that the height to which the water rose was determined by the weight of the surrounding air, but also that you could use this effect to measure changes in the air pressure. A 10m column of water is a nuisance to work with, so he switched to the much heavier mercury as his working medium, and made the first ever barometer measurement.
We’ve been measuring air pressure in the same way ever since – balance the weight of a column of mercury against the weight of the surrounding atmosphere, and the taller the column the higher the atmospheric pressure. At sea-level, the column will be about 76cm (29 inches) high, and the changes in atmospheric pressure as the weather changes cause fluctuations of up to a few inches. The pressure is proportional to the height, so we can get the pressure in hPa by multiplying the height in inches by 33.86389.
Of course, making precise measurements requires great care (very pure mercury, no air in the tube, careful calibration, …) but by our period (1914) barometer manufacturers were making very good instruments. There are, unfortunately, still a few complicating factors which we need to be aware of:
- The weight of a column of mercury changes with temperature – the weight of 760mm of mercury is less when it’s hot than when it’s cold, so we need to adjust for this when calculating pressure from height. A further complication is that the column height is usually measured using brass measuring rods, and the length of brass rods also changes with temperature. So we apply a correction from a table or an empirical formula – these tables vary slightly depending on the barometer design, but in OldWeather we don’t usually know the make of barometer in use so we use a generic table. To make this temperature correction we need, of course, to know the temperature of the barometer: Almost all mercury barometers have a thermometer attached and it is usual to record the barometer height and attached thermometer temperature together – as is done in many of our logs. Moving from 0C to 35C (Arctic to the tropics or February to July in the UK) would introduce a change of about 0.5% (2 tenths of an inch).
- The weight of a column of mercury changes with latitude. We launch satellites from French Guiana, rather than Europe, because satellites weigh less in French Guiana than they do in Europe. Moving from Plymouth to Singapore would reduce your weight by about 0.2% (about 8 hundredths of an inch)
- We generally want the pressure at sea-level. We usually keep the barometer above sea-level, so we need to add a little to the pressure to adjust for this. Every 80 or 90 feet above sea-level reduces the pressure by 1 tenth of an inch.
- It’s usual to measure the position of the top of the mercury column. As the mercury rises in the tube, the level of the mercury in the cistern at the bottom of the tube will fall. Because the mercury column balancing the atmosphere runs from the top of the level in the tube to the level in the cistern, we need to add a little to measured height changes to allow for this.
- If the glass tube containing the mercury column is narrow (to reduce weight and to damp oscillations) the height of the mercury will be reduced by capillary action. We need to add a little to the measured height to allow for this.
We call these, respectively, the temperature correction, the gravity correction, the height correction, the capacity correction and the capillary correction. By 1914, with a good barometer, the last two should have been allowed for in the instrument’s calibration and operation, and the third is small for ships, but we still need to make the first two corrections. The changes involved are small compared with the changes associated with short term weather, but they are important for correctly representing the more subtle, longer-term changes.
Mercury barometers are great for fixed, stable, weather stations. They are however expensive, difficult to read accurately in a ship in motion, a terrible nuisance to carry around, and really too fragile for service in a warship. So much ingenuity has been spent on devising cheap, portable, alternatives. The aneroid barometer is essentially a sealed metal bellows that grows and shrinks as the air pressure rises and falls, coupled to machinery to amplify its movements and display them on a scale. These first appeared in 1843, but it took a long time to make them accurate and reliable enough for serious use. By 1914, however, they were coming into use, and it’s clear from the logs that our ships used both mercury and aneroid barometers. Aneroids don’t require gravity, capacity, or capillary correction – and are mostly deliberately designed to be insensitive to temperature changes, so they don’t need an attached thermometer measurement. Nowadays aneroid barometers report pressure in hPa, but back in 1914 most gave readings in inches of mercury. So far I’ve only seen one ship reporting pressures in hPa – HMS Glowworm.
Were the aneroids on our ships less accurate than mercury barometers? more accurate? different in some subtle way? I don’t know – but I look forward to finding out. So if you see any reference in the log to the type or make of barometer in use, please transcribe it. We don’t need to know what they were using, as we can guess with good accuracy, but it does help. A few ships record both mercury and aneroid barometer readings – if you see this, please transcribe both of them; the comparison between them helps us estimate the accuracy of the measurements.