Ancient logbooks of arctic explorers provide new insight on climate change | WWF

Ancient logbooks of arctic explorers provide new insight on climate change

Posted on 25 December 2002    
Oslo, Norway · The five-hundred year old logbooks of long-dead arctic explorers are helping to reveal the impact of climate change on arctic sea ice, WWF, the conservation organization, and the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI)* announced today.
 
Entries from the explorers· logbooks, which record where they encountered sea ice, as well as the weather they sailed through and even the whales they caught, have been used to produce historical sea-ice charts. These now form part of a series of 6,000 charts which run from the mid-1500s up to the present day and will allow scientists to improve understanding of climate variability and changes in north-west Europe and the Arctic over the last five hundred years. Changes in sea ice impact many species such as polar bears and seals, which hunt and breed on the ice.
 
Much has been made in recent years of the connection between global warming and sea ice extent,· said Lynn Rosentrater, WWF·s International Arctic Programme climate change scientist. ·But prior to the development of satellites few direct observations of sea ice were made in any systematic manner. This new dataset will make it easier to identify the impacts of climate change in the Arctic.·
 
Studies have shown that sea ice extent, an indicator of climate variability and change, has decreased in the Arctic Ocean in the past 30 years in line with global warming trends. Existing analysis of the new charts shows that this is a trend which goes back at least 150 years. The new archive will allow scientists to investigate variations in ice extent as far back as the 16th Century.
 
The Arctic Climate System Study (ACSYS) Historical Ice Chart Archive · created by NPI and the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, and published with funding from WWF · provide some of the oldest records of climate change observations in existence, covering an area from Greenland in the west to Novaya Zemlya in the east from as early as 1553 to 2002.
 
The earliest records used in the archive come from Sir Hugh Willoughby, an Englishman with no nautical experience whatsoever, who set sail from London in 1553 to find a northeast sea route to China. The expedition was the first of the delightfully named Mystery and Company of Merchant Adventurers for the Discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands, and Places Unknown to find new trade routes with the rich Orient. It was also the last. Although second-in-command Richard Chancellor survived to establish new trade deals with Russia, Willoughby's ship became trapped in sea ice near Murmansk and he and his crew perished.
 
·This archive is one of the longest directly-observed records of any climate variable in existence, and represents the culmination of 15 years of work, initiated by renowned Norwegian sea-ice scientist, Torgny Vinje,· said Chad Dick, Director of the International Arctic Climate System Study Project Office at NPI. ·But we are also indebted to the captains and sailors who braved the Arctic conditions hundreds of years ago and who kept such careful note of their observations. Because of their efforts, scientists will be able to assess the current retreat of sea ice in the light of variations over several centuries.·
 
For further information, contact:
Julian Woolford, WWF Arctic Programme
tel: +47 93 00 64 47
email: jwoolford@wwf.no
 
Mitzi Borromeo, WWF International
tel. +41 22 3649562
email: MBorromeo@wwfint.org
 
Note to editors: *Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) under the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment.
The data (and accompanying report), including ·Quicklook· files that can be viewed with most modern graphics packages, and ·shapefiles· for use with Geographical Information System software, can be found on the Internet at http://acsys.npolar.no . For scientific use, copies of the CDs containing the data may be requested from: International ACSYS/CliC Project Office, The Polar Environmental Centre, NO-9296 Tromsø, Norway. acsys@npolar.no
 
Accompanying feature entitled ·Arctic explorers and whalers help map global warming· available on http://www.panda.org/news_facts

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