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Heroic reconstructions of polar climate

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In 1914-16 Ernest Shackleton led the ‘Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition’, aiming to make the first crossing of the Antarctic continent (Weddell Sea to Ross Sea). He did not succeed, and the expedition is remembered as a catalogue of disasters and bold escapes. But alongside the chaos and adventure, some science was done – members of the expedition made many observations of the weather. These observations were never published, but have been preserved in the archives of the Scott Polar Research Institute. To mark the centenary of the expedition, we have digitised their weather observations, assimilated them into the 20th Century Reanalysis, and used them to investigate Antarctic climate variability over 100 years.

We have learned a lot just from the records of this one expedition, but to build a good dataset of long-term climate variability and change we need to repeat this work with every voyage or expedition from which records have survived: voyages of discovery, scientific expeditions, whaling, fishing, trading and military ships. And we need to do this not just for the Antarctic, but for the whole world. This is an enormous task, but we are greatly helped by the contributions of 20,000 volunteers working through http://oldweather.org . This project has rescued the records from the Jeannette expedition of 1879-81, along with many more mundane voyages, and is giving a new insight into Arctic climate change.

This talk is part of the British Antarctic Survey series.

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