Utilizing Weather Data from Bombed Battleships’ Logbooks to Gain Insights into Climate Change

A daring rescue mission has successfully recovered invaluable weather data from numerous ships that endured Japanese aerial attacks at Pearl Harbor during World War II. This data retrieval effort promises to provide critical insights for scientists in their quest to comprehend the ever-changing global climate.

In December 1941, as Japanese pilots targeted battleships like the USS Pennsylvania and the USS Tennessee, brave crew members lost their lives. Despite the tragic losses, many of these vessels were subsequently reinstated into service during World War II. Remarkably, their crew members continued to perform their daily duties, which included meticulously recording weather information.

A research paper recently published in the Geoscience Data Journal chronicles the remarkable story of how weather data from 19 U.S. Navy ships was rescued. This achievement was made possible through the dedicated efforts of over 4,000 volunteers who painstakingly transcribed more than 28,000 logbook images from the U.S. Navy fleet stationed in Hawai’i between 1941 and 1945.

Previous research had hinted at abnormal warmth during these war years. The newly acquired dataset, encompassing over 630,000 records with more than 3 million individual observations, will serve as a vital resource in determining the accuracy of this hypothesis.

Dr. Praveen Teleti, the lead research scientist from the University of Reading, expressed gratitude, saying, “Disruptions to trade routes during World War II significantly reduced marine weather observations. Until recently, records from that era remained confined to classified paper documents. The scanning and retrieval of this data offer a unique glimpse into the past, enabling us to comprehend the behavior of the world’s climate during a time of profound upheaval.”

He continued, “Two groups of people deserve our heartfelt thanks for the success of this mission. We are deeply appreciative of the global team of citizen scientists who dedicated their time to transcribing these observations, creating an expansive dataset comprising millions of entries related to air and sea surface temperatures, atmospheric pressure, wind speed, and wind direction.”

“Additionally,” Dr. Teleti noted, “the utmost respect must be paid to the courageous servicemen who diligently recorded this data. Despite the turmoil of war surrounding them, they executed their duties with unwavering professionalism. It is their dedication and determination that have bestowed upon us these invaluable observations eight decades later.”

The logbooks used for this project originated from 19 distinct ships, including battleships, aircraft carriers, destroyers, and cruisers, many of which played pivotal roles in World War II events. Several of these ships, including those at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, witnessed significant action during the Pacific theater. For instance, the USS Pennsylvania sustained a bomb hit during the Pearl Harbor attack, resulting in the loss of nine servicemen, but it remained in service. The USS Tennessee, bombed twice in December 1941 with the loss of five servicemen, also returned to service in February 1942.

The observations from naval vessels stood as the primary source of marine data during World War II, but numerous records were destroyed during the course of war or were forgotten due to their classification status. The rescued dataset offers insights into the wartime adaptations in observation practices, such as conducting more observations during daylight hours to reduce the risk of detection by enemy ships. These adaptations may have contributed to the recording of slightly warmer temperatures, which, in turn, may explain the period of abnormal warmth in global datasets during World War II as depicted in historical records. This new data is poised to resolve these uncertainties.

Crucially, very few or no other digitized observations exist from the Indo-Pacific and Far East regions during World War II. The retrieval of this data will enable scientists to rectify and fill gaps in existing datasets, fostering a better understanding of the evolution of global climate since the early 20th century.

Source: University of Reading

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