Winds of change: Mining climate clues from our whaling past by Caroline C. Ummenhofer1 and Timothy D. Walker2
1Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, USA;
2Department of History, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, MA, USA
Bringing together oceanographer Dr. Caroline Ummenhofer from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Dr. Timothy Walker, Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, our project examines the use of weather recordings contained in American whaling voyage logbooks to assess changes in climate and weather patterns. We focus on unexploited caches of archival documentation, namely Yankee whaling logbooks of voyages (ca. 1785-1910) in New England archives housed by the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Nantucket Historical Association, and Providence Public Library. The logbooks contain systematic daily maritime weather observations (e.g., wind strength/direction, sea state, precipitation).
In historical climate research, long datasets are invaluable for establishing baseline weather and climate conditions, against which changes can be assessed. Yet pre-19th century instrumental data are sparse, especially over oceans. In our innovative project, we showcase how descriptive, qualitative weather recordings from New England whaling ship logbooks can be transferred to quantitative data to compare against modern, instrumental data – and how we can use the novel data we generate to assess long-term shifts in wind and weather patterns around the world.
Image: The research team on a “field trip” to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, which holds several hundred whaling logbooks in its archives. From left to right: Justin Buchli, Caroline Ummenhofer, Cali Pfleger, Sujata Murty, Abigail Field, and Timothy Walker. (Photo courtesy of New Bedford Whaling Museum)
Caroline Ummenhofer received a Joint Honours B.Sc. in Marine Biology and Physical Oceanography from Bangor University, UK, and a PhD in Applied Mathematics from the University of New South Wales, Australia, specializing in climate modeling. In 2012, she took up a faculty position in the Physical Oceanography Department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, USA, following postdoctoral appointments in Australia. She won several awards, including the Uwe Radok Award by the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, Eureka Prize for Water Research and Innovation by the Australian Museum, and the James B. Macelwane Medal by the American Geophysical Union. She is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.
Caroline’s research focuses on the ocean’s role in climate, particularly on the water cycle and extreme events, such as droughts and floods, and their impact on human and natural systems, including marine heatwaves. Her applied research bridges the gap between ocean and climate dynamics and its impacts on end users. As such, she aims to provide practical outcomes of use to stakeholders and the broader public. She has participated in showcasing scientific findings through art-science collaborations at museum exhibits about marine heatwaves and the oceanic water cycle, and provided educational resources on extreme weather for k-12 schools serving students around the world.
Timothy D. Walker is Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where he serves on the Executive Board of the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture. He is a scholar of maritime history, colonial overseas expansion, and trans-oceanic slave trading, and is an Affiliated Researcher of the Centro de História d’Aquém e d’Além-Mar (CHAM); Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal. Walker was a visiting professor at the Universidade Aberta in Lisbon (1994-2003) and at Brown University (2010). He is the recipient of a Fulbright dissertation fellowship to Portugal (1996-1997), a doctoral research fellowship from the Portuguese Camões Institute (1995-1996), and a NEH-funded American Institute for Indian Studies Professional Development Grant for post-doctoral work in Goa, India (2000-2002). In 2018 Walker was appointed a Guest Investigator of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, drawing historic climate data from archived whaling logbooks, Portuguese colonial, and other maritime documentation. He has taught maritime history aboard numerous traditionally-rigged sailing vessels, is a contributing faculty member of the Munson Institute of Maritime Studies, and Director of the NEH “Landmarks in American History” workshops series, titled “Sailing to Freedom: New Bedford and the Underground Railroad” (2011–2022).
March 22, 2023
In-Person Reception begins at 6 pm
Lecture begins at 7 pm, Eastern
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