WG5: Non-instrumental and Documentary Data

WG Leaders    (Dr Dennis Wheeler, University of Sunderland, UK - dennis.wheeler@sunderland.ac.uk)

                                (Prof Lorna Hughes,  National Library of Wales, UK - Lorna.Hughes@llgc.org.uk)

                                (Dr Clive Wilkinson, University of East Anglia, UK - C.W.Wilkinson@uea.ac.uk)

                                (Dr Fiona Williamson, University of East Anglia, UK - F.Williamson@uea.ac.uk)

                                (Dr Catharine Ward, University of Sunderland,, UK - catharinesi@aol.com)


Terms of reference:

Identification of new sources world-wide

Coordination between projects

Cataloguing of documentary sources

Contribute to data rescue

Imaging and digitisation

Validation of known material and cross-referencing with natural proxies

Development of methods of expressing narrative in number form

Establishing a community for historical climatology

Engagement and dissemination of findings both to the climate and wider community

Encouraging young scientists and inter-disciplinary studies


Members:  Clive Wilkinson (C.W.Wilkinson@uea.ac.uk); Dennis Wheeler (dennis.wheeler@sunderland.ac.uk); Fiona Williamson (F.Williamson@uea.ac.uk); Catharine Ward (catharinesi@aol.com); Gil Compo (compo@colorado.edu); Scott Woodruff (Scott.D.Woodruff@noaa.gov); Eric Freeman (Eric.Freeman@noaa.gov); Catherine Marzin (Catherine.Marzin@noaa.gov); David Nash (D.J.Nash@bton.ac.uk); Kevin Wood (Kevin.R.Wood@noaa.gov): Vicky Slonosky (victoria.slonosky@mail.mcgill.ca); Rob Allan (rob.allan@metoffice.gov.uk); Lorna Hughes (Lorna.Hughes@llgc.org.uk), Penny Brook (penny.brook@bl.uk), Vinita Damodaran (V.Damodaran@sussex.ac.uk), Dinah Molloy Thompson (dmt@compuserve.com).



Following the seminal works of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Hubert Lamb and Christian Pfister, the challenge of working with historical documents, many of which were never written with a view to ever being used for climate studies, has been taken up by a growing number of scientists.

Yet, for all the work of the past two decades in this field of ‘historical climatology’, much remains to be done. The known sources are vast, embracing ecclesiastical, civic, government and private documents; the sources as yet unknown might be even larger. The task facing WG5 is to coordinate the efforts being made around the world to harness the scientific potential of these sources.

            One of the sources, to which particular attention will be given, is that of ships’ logbooks. Many ten of thousands of them survive across Europe and the US, providing a daily record of wind and weather, some going back to the late seventeenth century. As the ships of the European imperial powers sailed the world’s oceans we have the possibility of reconstructing oceanic and near-global coverage for the past three centuries: no mean achievement, but one demanding careful planning and abundant resources. Fortunately, notable progress has been made in this area and the EU-funded CLIWOC project (Climatic Database for the World’s Oceans: 1750 to 1850) has provided an important platform on which later work has been carried forward


Visit the CLIWOC website at http://www.ucm.es/info/cliwoc/ for details and downloadable database


Currently a Leverhulme Trust-funded project is allowing us to examine logbooks from the Arctic region, and the output from this undertaking will contribute directly to the ACRE objectives.

Visit the ARCDOC website at:  http://arcdoc.wordpress.com/


Closely related to these endeavours, and acting as a coordinating body is the RECLAIM Recovery of Logbooks and International Marine Data project


The RECLAIM website can be found at:  http://icoads.noaa.gov/reclaim/


            Further indications, but using documents from a wider range of sources, of what can be achieved in terms of turning ‘narrative into number’ can be found at the EU-funded Millennium project website where Sub-Group 1 used such material recreate some valuable indexed expressions of decadal and centennial scale climatic change across Europe


The Millennium project website resides at:

This Historic Weather Network will bring together stakeholders from disparate research communities to investigate, discuss and document the key historical source materials for weather reporting, and to explore ways in which these materials can be represented and accessed digitally in order to create new knowledge. 

The Historic Weather website can be found at: http://historicweather.cerch.kcl.ac.uk/node/12

The AHRC-funded Landscape and Environment Programme project Snows of Yesteryear investigates how to reveal and relate past experiences, both historical and more recent, as ways of understanding and coping with phenomena that are increasingly regarded as markers of climate change. It explores the ways that extreme weather events are remembered and mythologised by the people of Wales, in order to interpret what is ultimately learned from them as both warning and opportunity.  Project Partners:       

  The Snows of Yesteryear website can be found at:  Prosiect Eira Ddoe / Snows of Yesteryear Project

The AHRC-funded Network Programme project on a Collaborative Research Network on the Meteorological and Botanical History of the Indian Ocean, 1600-1990 will address some of the most serious challenges to the future of humanity: global warming, extreme climate events, deforestation, desertification, famine, inequity, pollution and land degradation, through an interdisciplinary approach to historical records that document alterations in the climate and responses to them in the past.  It builds on existing relationships that the Centre for World Environmental History (CWEH) at the University of Sussex in the UK has developed over the last few years with Kew Gardens, the British Library, the Natural History Museum, the MET Office/ACRE, JNU in Delhi and the French Institute in Pondicherry.

The Collaborative Research Network on the Meteorological and Botanical History of the Indian Ocean, 1600-1990 website can be found at:


 The ACRE initiative will build on the valuable experience of these undertakings in order to exploit yet further an area that has for too long been overlooked and has by no means been fully explored