A global inventory of historical documentary evidence related to climate since the 15th century
- 1Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, 3012, Switzerland
- 2Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, 3012, Switzerland
Abstract. Climatic variations have impacted societies since the very beginning of human history. In order to keep track of climatic changes over time, humans have thus often closely monitored the weather as well as natural phenomena influencing everyday life. Resulting documentary evidence from archives of societies enables invaluable insights into the past climate beyond the timescale of instrumental and early instrumental measurements. This information complements other proxies from archives of nature such as tree rings in climate reconstructions, as documentary evidence often covers seasons (e.g., winter) and regions (e.g., Africa, Western Russia, and Siberia, China) that are not well covered with natural proxies. While a mature body of research on detecting climate signals from historical documents exists, the large majority of studies is confined to a local or regional scale and thus lacks a global perspective. Moreover, many studies from before the 1980s have not made the transition into the digital age and, hence, are essentially forgotten. Here, I attempt to compile the first-ever systematic global inventory of documentary evidence related to climate extending back to the Late Medieval Period. It combines information on past climate from all around the world, retrieved from many studies on historical documentary sources. Historical evidence range from personal diaries, chronicles, administrative/ clerical documents to ship logbooks and newspaper articles. They include records of many sorts, e.g., tithes records, rogation ceremonies, extreme events like droughts and floods, as well as weather and phenological observations. The inventory, published as an electronic supplement, comprises detailed event chronologies, time series, proxy indices, and calibrated reconstructions, with the majority of the documentary records providing indications on past temperature and precipitation anomalies. The overall focus is on document-based time series with significant potential for climate reconstruction. For each included record series, extensive meta information and directions to the data (if available) are given. To highlight the potential of documentary data for climate science three case studies are presented and evaluated with different global reanalysis products.
This comprehensive inventory promotes the first-ever global perspective on historical documentary climate records and, thus, lies the foundation for incorporating historical documentary evidence into climate reconstruction on a global scale, complementing early instrumental measurements as well as natural climate proxies.
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