American Elephants


Nelson, Cochrane, Seymour and other Royal Navy Captains have left an amazing inheritance for today’s scientists by The Elephant's Child

Have you read the marvelous seafaring novels of Patrick O’Brien? There are twenty in the series featuring the sea captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, the surgeon and scientist Steven Maturin. I have read them all over and over, as have many others. The movie, based on the series was “Master and Commander”, and a wonderful entertainment.

Now the logbooks, kept by every Royal Navy captain from the seventeenth century onwards, which were Patrick O’Brien’s inspiration, are becoming one of the world’s best sources for long-term weather data. Ship’s officers recorded details of air pressure, wind strength, air and sea temperature, as well as extreme weather conditions such as storms and hurricanes.

An early study of 6,000 logbooks has produced results that raise important questions about many climate change theories. A paper by Dr. Dennis Wheeler, a Sunderland University geographer, in the journal The Holocene, details an increase in the frequency of summer storms over Britain in the 1680s and 1690s.

Some scientists believe that storms are a consequence of global warming, but these were the coldest decades of the so-called Little Ice Age of the years from 1600 to 1850. The article is fascinating, and you can read it all here. Many of the logbooks contain verbal descriptions of weather rather than numerical data, but ship’s captains recorded weather in consistent language. There were forms to be observed in logbooks, and seafarers stuck to them.

British archives contain more than 100,000 Royal Navy logbooks from around 1670 to 1850 alone. They are an incredible resource.


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