- Title: USA-ARCTIC ICE RESEARCH Old ship records to shed light on Arctic ice loss
- Date: 15th December 2014
- Summary: ARCTIC SEA (FILE) (REUTERS) POLAR BEARS
- Embargoed: 30th December 2014 12:00
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVAESPJGV3KUVYZ6AAHFNJ3Z4NUU
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- Story Text: Explorers aboard ships have gathered scientific data about the Arctic for centuries. Now, scientists are hoping handwritten observations from the past will shed light on the future. An ambitious effort, aided by a global network of citizen scientists, is starting to decode and digitize tens of thousands of logbooks from ships dating back to 1850.
Kevin Wood, research scientist at the University of Washington, has spent the majority of his adult life at sea. He says the data in these books will help scientists predict the fate of Arctic ice in the years to come.
"What we have are the old records which are handwritten and we have these super computers. We need to get data out of these books, vast amounts of data, millions and millions of weather records, out of these books and into digital format and then into these databases where these re-analysis systems can take up the data and use it," said Wood, who was a merchant marine for 25 years.
Use it to create more accurate ice loss models. Wood says these observations lengthen the timeline of data scientists can use to create models. That, in turn, will lead to more accurate future predictions.
The project began two years ago and Wood says it will take time for the data to be fully incorporated into future models. He says the Arctic described 140 years ago bears little resemblance to the Arctic of today.
"So the information in the logbooks, the descriptions and the things that they actually measure to me don't look like what I see when I travel to the Arctic every year. The ice is thicker, the ridges are higher, the keels are deeper, the ice is aground in places that are almost unbelievably deep, you know, well over a hundred feet deep, and those things we just don't see any more. And also the ice is thick and in places that it just doesn't exist anymore," said Wood.
Sea ice cover has been significantly shrinking in the Arctic since satellite observations began in the late 1970's. Wood thinks the data also gives the sailors aboard these ships, many of whom lost their lives recording it, a voice that would otherwise have been left unheard.
"In a way we are sort of fulfilling their hopes from 130 years ago by analysing the data they gave their lives to collect," he said.
And while the debate surrounding what role greenhouse gases play on Arctic ice loss will be hotly contested for years to come, Woods hopes this look into the past gives science a clearer picture of what to expect in the future.
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