Centre for World Environmental History

Human environment interaction in the Indian Ocean World

McGill University collaborative project with CWEH

Team 7

Vinita Damodaran, Mick Frogley, James Hamilton, Rob Allan, Dominic Kniveton, Yi Wang, Melissa Lazenby and Natsanet Alameriew.

We collect data on climate and the environment in the Longue Durée  from archives and are interested  in making this information understandable to the public in terms of understanding the  climate and how we engage with it in the Indian Ocean World.  The potential to bring together our data within the MCRI database, the integration of the database to GIS, and the tools in development for ICRA are all exciting.

To aid visualisation we hope to create models concerning the periods surrounding  two major volcanic eruptions, reconstructing wind directions and shipping routes with the help of Philip Brohan (Met Office) that shows the composite of all ships routes for the 2 years before and after the volcanic eruptions which will be displayed through a movie loop that shows each new route as it progresses but keeps past routes on the image with new routes changing colour after the volcanic eruptions and having two separate movies for the two volcanic eruptions. This visualization will be completed by two  graduate students on the project Melissa Lazenby and Netsanet Alamirew.

Vinita Damodaran is an environmental historian specialised in South Asia. She is involved in the AHRC network on the botanical and meteorological history of the Indian Ocean, a 90 people strong international collaboration. She is currently building a large database of archival sources for the environmental history of India and the Indian Ocean for the period, 1500-1900. This data will be an important contribution of Indian historical data for the MCRI database.

Mick Frogley, Dominic Kniveton and Yi Wang have amassed data with high resolution across the Indian Ocean from East Africa, South India, Nepal, middle China and Indonesia on the climatic variances over the last 2000 years. This data is currently being entered into a database. It is expected to package this data in testable ‘windows’ so as to trial predictive models of climatic patterns. Yi Wang is developing climate models simulating wind current direction changes over the course of the time of data held in the 2000 year database. The database of the MCRI would be an excellent connection point for this area of work as the team’s data would benefit from their  humanities and social science data.

James Hamilton is working in the British Library and India Archives to gather information to be organized and used as a seed project to understand the breadth of data available within these institutions and how to connect these with visualizations expected to be produced from the team members’ environment data.

Rob Allan is a climatologist at the Met office. His interest is using past weather records to simulate past climate.  He is developing data collection of image digitization from both land and sea surface observations. Most of his data is from maritime sources so the more terrestrially orientated data of the MCRI is appealing. His data are of synoptic observations of barometer (temperature) data. He is also working with US colleagues to assimilate rig analyses in which the variables from modern weather forecast entries can be used to produce models of past environment. These are drawn from aircraft, balloons satellite. Synoptic, Monthly sea temperatures are another area of his research and he has 200 years of data with quality dimensions. Data is in the form of IMMA. Along with US colleagues he  has 56 observations in an hour of previous data to check consistency and irregularities of the gathered data. They have data as early as 1830s, 1840s, 1850s and 1870s with a number of observations for reconstructions over North America. There is also an 1815 project in which it is possible to understand the impact of the volcanic eruption of Tambora over Indonesia, and the data will be made freely available on internet. The potential of this project is to go as far back as 1600. A lot of Rob’s data is from the Taunton Hydrographic Office and he also has data fro the Citizen data project of ‘old weathering’ in which citizens have collected over 7000 entries of digitized WWI observations. He also has ties with a project in Oxford on Zooniverse where 1000s of people are involved in this. The potential for this  project to share data on drawings of boats helping with boat identification with the ICRA team are strong. Rob is also conducting a reconstruction of the shipwreck Endurance Shakelton’s ship 1915 which Damodaran noted it was a year of El Nino and La Nina protracted events. 

Testing the short-term effects of historical volcanism on merchant shipping routes

Part of the remit of the McGill project was to explore the effects of significant volcanic eruptions on the Indian Ocean World (IOW). A working hypothesis was that post-eruption disruption to regional wind patterns may have forced merchant shipping routes to change. We tested this hypothesis in relation to the Karakau eruption (26–27 August 1883) by overlaying documented hourly shipping position data (obtained from ICOADS) with 4x-daily wind data (derived from the NOAA Twentieth Century Reanalysis V2 project). Out of 185 shipping records available, the most detailed (those falling in the 95th percentile) were selected and animated prior to the eruption (1881–1883) and after (1883–1885). The dataset used here is small and only one ship (the Watso) had sufficient data available before and after the event to make a direct comparison. Accordingly, although the animations suggest that there was no significant disruption to shipping routes from the eruption, the data are too sparse to draw any solid conclusions. Nevertheless, this exercise demonstrates proof-of-concept and the methodology could be used effectively to investigate this issue further.

Animations and data analysis conducted by Netsanet Alamirew and Melissa Lazenby. With thanks to Philip Brohan (UK Met Office) for assistance with the data animation process.

Shipping tracks 1881–1883 (BEFORE Krakatau eruption)

Shipping tracks 1883–1885 (AFTER Krakatau eruption)