Historical Documents and the Study of Climate Change

17 01 2011

According to CBC News, researchers are hoping to glean new information about Arctic climate change by digging through the historical records of polar explorers.

Alan MacEachern, who is a professor of  history at UWO and the director of (NiCHE) the Network in Canadian History and Environment was interviewed for this story.

“The only way we know about climate change or environmental change anyway is by knowing the past temperatures, what the past environment was like,” he said. MacEachern said the field of historical climatology is still in its infancy in Canada, despite its obvious relevance in understanding modern climate change. “Why isn’t it happening more? I’m not sure,” he said. “I think the sources are kind of everywhere, and I think it’s taking a while for people to figure out exactly where they should start looking or even where they should stop looking.”

In 2008, NiCHE hosted a two-day workshop on Canada’s Climate History. To watch videos of the presentations, click here. The Early Canadian Environmental Data Project can be found here. Detailed observations of the weather were kept at HBC trading posts, as George Colpitts explained in his talk. Another important source of information for climate historians are the ships’ logs of the Royal Navy. The project Old Weather is crowdsourcing the transcription of these documents.
In the last few days, stories about the possible role of climate change in the fall of the Roman Empire have been prominent in the media (see here for example) and the blogosphere (see here, here, here and here). Doubtless this historical debate will add fuel on the fire of the political controversy over the science of climate change.