So, most of you know I'm generally more of a historian than a scientist, but here's a small contribution to the science side of things. I'd like to preface this by saying I'm not entirely sure if this is the right part of the board for this, but then, I'm rarely sure if I'm posting in the right place
As per my usual routine, I've been chipping away at Albatross (1884), cross-referencing and studying, and generally putting my excess grey matter to use, when I stumbled across this seemingly minor little event, that may have some rather serious implications in the near(ish) future.http://oldweather.s3.amazonaws.com/ow3/final/Albatross/vol018of055/vol018of055_067_1.jpg
4am to 8am: the last line simply states, "Passed considerable floating kelp".
On the surface, this seems pretty unimportant, until you do some digging into the subject.
Kelp forests can be, and often are, useful for determining several large-scale environmental changes; sea otter population growth (or decline) and range, urchin populations, changes in habitat characteristics, algal community shifts, and climate change being the the most common.
This entry is from the end of August, 1888, and had we known, then, what we know now about the Pacific and her patterns, this simple sentence could have provided a bit of advance warning for what the future had in store for the Pacific coast of North America. Or perhaps not, as there's not really any conclusive evidence linking the Pacific temperature to the scale of the Great Fires of Seattle and Spokane Washington in the spring and summer of 1889, but the implication is certainly there.
Record keeping for weather didn't really become a regular thing until just a decade before this log entry. However, we do have records that reveal the end of a warming cycle for the North Pacific (the entire cycle being referred to as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO), and the beginning of a cold cycle that would last for about 30 years. The PDO is known to be distinct from the more famous El Nino effect, as El Nino currents tend to last for only a few months, whereas PDO effects, as I just mentioned, last for decades.
This entry, and its mention of passing a considerable amount of floating kelp, happened, as I mentioned before, during the tail end of a PDO warm cycle. It was also an El Nino year. The still high, but falling, sea temperatures (caused by the PDO cycle), combined by the El Nino event in the winter of 1887-1888 may have contributed to the incredibly frigid winter, mild spring temperatures and unusually low rainfall in the spring and summer of 1889 that exacerbated the Great Fires of Seattle and Spokane on 6 June and 4 August 1889, respectively.
And these are merely the local effects. The winter of 1887-1888 was one of the most famously brutal on record, and weather worldwide was, to put it mildly, kind of insane. Drought, famine, blizzards, floods, record temperatures (some which still stand today); 1888 was a pivotal year in general, but is infamous for its weather (well... and Jack the Ripper, but that's debatable).
While the ties that bind this mention of floating kelp and the weather are tenuous at best, the point remains that a seemingly unremarkable statement in a ship's log, may be more important than meets the eye. The popular phrase about butterflies in Peking tends to be more about life than actual weather, but in the case of our project, may yet prove to be more accurate than one might think. The smallest details tend to be overlooked, but they may yet prove to hold immensely valuable data.
Edit: forgot my links!Info on El NinoPacific Decadal OscillationSchoolhouse Blizzard of 1888Great Blizzard of 1888Great Seattle FireGreat Fire of Spokane