At the turn of the 20th century, a huge sheet of sea ice collapsed, trapping a group of 200 whalers against the coast of Alaska for a long, grueling winter. To keep sane against hunger, sickness, and hopelessness, they kept a weather diary to record
Climate scientists are using data from old whaling logs
At the turn of the 20th century, a huge sheet of sea ice collapsed, trapping a group of 200 whalers against the coast of Alaska for a long, grueling winter.
To keep sane amidst hunger, sickness and hopelessness, they kept a weather diary to record daily temperature, wind directions and barometric pressure.
Scientists today are using these logs to understand historic weather patterns and compare them to current conditions in the Arctic.
The year was 1897.
One of the coldest and deadliest in maritime history.
But the men aboard the didn't know what they were in for, or that scientists more than a hundred years later would benefit from their tragic voyage.
Every spring, ships headed up the West coast following the sea ice as it melted back into the Arctic.
They were hunting bow head whales.
Their blubber was used for oil.
Their baleen for women's corsets.
It was a booming business.
Some say whaling was more lucrative than the gold rush.
For the the whaling season of 1897 was going great, until September.
A big sheet of sea ice came down out of the Arctic Ocean and pinned the and six other ships against the coast of Alaska.
That left 200 men trapped in the Arctic as the winter set in.
Two nearby ships sank and all the men piled into the 150 men in one ship.
They're running out of food, so they start shooting seals and polar bears.
Some get scurvy.
One sailor has such a bad case of syphilis that he commits suicide.
What's the one thing they do every day to hold on to their sanity?
They keep a weather diary.
Through the frozen winter months, the sailors aboard those ships took note of the temperature, barometric pressure, ice location and wind directions in the ship's logbook.
And it turns out data like this is valuable to climate scientists today.
They're gathering it from thousands of old whaling ship logbooks like the and plugging it into a big computer program to re-create historical weather patterns and compare them to the way things look in the Arctic today.
Bottom line, if you were a whaler today, it would be highly unlikely you would encounter the same treacherous ice conditions that the crew of the saw.
What happened to those guys, anyway?
16 of them died.
After ten months trapped in the ice, though, the rest of them were finally free.
But instead of heading home, they went right back to hunting whales.