Captains' logs yield climate clues

By Jonathan Leake

Britain's great seafaring tradition is to provide a unique insight into modern climate change, thanks to thousands of Royal Navy logbooks that have survived from the 17th century onwards. 

The logbooks kept by every naval ship, ranging from Nelson’s Victory and Cook’s Endeavour down to the humblest frigate, are emerging as one of the world’s best sources for long-term weather data.

The discovery has been made by a group of British academics and Met Office scientists who are seeking new ways to plot historic changes in climate. 

This is a treasure trove,” said Dr Sam Willis, a maritime historian and author who is affiliated with Exeter University’s Centre for Maritime Historical Studies.

“Ships’ officers recorded air pressure, wind strength, air and sea temperature and other weather conditions. From those records scientists can build a detailed picture of past weather and climate.


Royal Navy logbooks Nelson Endeavour Sam Willis Exeter University Centre for Maritime Historical Studies