NOAA 2004-077
Contact: Pat Slattery

NOAA News Releases 2004
NOAA Home Page
NOAA Public Affairs


For centuries, mariners have kept detailed records of meteorological observations, because, at least until the advent of steam ships, weather was key to navigation. An international team, including members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are incorporating many of those data, stored in logbooks dating back to the mid-1700s, into a database for climate research and to test the accuracy of automated observing systems.

Scott Woodruff and Joe Elms of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. are organizing an international meeting Aug. 23-24 in Asheville, about a proposed new sub-project for the international database, aiming to digitize additional European logbooks to enrich the currently data-sparse World War II period and eventually extend the climate record back to about 1700.

“It’s fascinating to read these logbooks, especially knowing what we know today about weather and climate,” said Scott Woodruff of NOAA’s Climate Diagnostics Center in Boulder, Colo., one of NOAA’s representatives on the team. ”Mariners recorded what they saw, but cannot have understood the immense scientific value to later generations of their efforts. Having this information accessible electronically will be of great value to researchers.”

In 1981, NOAA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, began a cooperative project called the Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set (COADS) to look at historical marine observations. The first set of data covered 1854 to 1979 and included many international data.

In 2002, a new name was adopted in recognition of the multinational efforts and data contributions—the International COADS. Additional data from Japanese whalers, German merchant ships, Spanish sailors and Dutch mariners began to be added.

“We thought we might have an opportunity and resources through the NOAA Climate Database Modernization Project to make progress on this and make more data available to the scientific community through ICOADS,” Woodruff said.

The effort to transfer the information to a database was begun to not only catalogue the data but also to preserve it. Many logbooks have been lost because of fire or natural disasters, while others languish in public or private collections.

With some variations most of the logbooks, especially those in the mid-to-late 1700s, recorded the ship’s speed and the winds every few hours. Mariners also took note of weather and precipitation, the state of the sea and sky, thunder and lightning.

The Commerce Department's NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through research to better understand atmospheric and climate variability and to manage wisely our nation's coastal and marine resources.

On the Web:


See some of the historic logbooks at: