Monks’ Diaries Offer Clues About Climate Change

Researchers in Scotland are using centuries-old monks’ diaries to shed some light on climate change.

Academics at the University of Edinburgh say records of weather and harvest data from the past 500 years largely match modern computer simulations of European climate patterns.


Hoping to gain a fuller understanding of climate change throughout history, researchers analyzed harvest records and weather station archives from the 17th through 19th centuries. Older data is hard to come by, so they scanned European monks’ diaries for earlier weather observations.

Lead researcher Gabi Hegerl said: “Around 1675 it gets quite sparse. Before that, we’re working from monks’ diaries and harvest records and all kinds of indirect evidence about whether they experienced warm or cold summers and winters,” according to The Independent.

Hegerl says the study, which was carried out in conjunction with researchers at Justus-Liebig University of Giessen in Germany and the Universities of Bern in Switzerland and Spain, will allow climate scientists to make more accurate predictions.

“The climate models seem to be working quite well for the past, so we should expect that — at least when it comes to temperature — they will do well for the future,” Hegerl said.

Hegerl added that her team of researchers plans to look next at the causes of cold winters in the late 16th and early 19th centuries, and at fluctuations in rainfall. They will also probe the climate patterns of the tropics and southern hemispheres over the past 500 years.

The work was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the European Union. It was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.


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