By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A project to help track Arctic climate change using volunteers to transcribe U.S. ship logs online was launched on Wednesday by the National Archives and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Using citizen scientists to transcribe thousands of pages of logbooks from Navy, Coast Guard and other ships from 1850 to World War Two will fill a big data gap, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said.
Scientists in recent decades have gotten weather data from satellites and ground observations, and such tools as ice samples show ancient patterns, she said. But the archived logs could establish a baseline of historical weather data.
"Naval and Coast Guard records are an invaluable window into the past which will let us know what it was like then," she told Reuters after a news conference.
NOAA scientists have said that the Arctic is undergoing dramatic change as world temperatures climb. Arctic sea ice shrank to a record low of 1.32 million square miles (3.41 million square kilometers) by mid-September.
Project organizers, which include science web portal Zooniverse, hope to enlist thousands of volunteers to transcribe scanned pages from logbooks. The pages will be loaded onto Old Weather, an online weather data project (www.oldweather.org).
Information also could be used by scientists in other fields, as well as historians and genealogists, organizers said. Navy logs carried weather observations 24 times a day.
Mark Mollan, a reference archivist and a project organizer, said the National Archives had 1,000 boxes of Arctic ship logs. Each page put online will be transcribed three times to eliminate errors, he said.
In the first Old Weather project, started in 2010, 16,400 volunteers have transcribed 1.6 million weather observations from British Navy ship logs.
Four bulky logbooks, all with Arctic observations in neat 19th century handwriting, were displayed at the news conference.
The logs included one from the doomed 1879 Arctic voyage of the Jeannette, a U.S. Navy ship that sank after being trapped in ice off Russia. The commander starved to death and 18 other expedition members died.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Philip Barbara)