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Climate History à la Carte

Everybody talks about the weather – but for climate researchers it’s not just small talk but big data. Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Glaser from the Institute of Environmental Social Sciences and Geography and his team have collected climate data from almanacs, newspapers, and chronicles reaching all the way back to the year 148 before Christ and made them available to the public on the online platform “tambora.org.”


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It’s worth it to dig around in the annals of European climate history, even for non-experts with only a casual interest in history and climate. The website tambora.org compiles historical weather sources and displays them on a map. (Source: tambora.org/Rüdiger Glaser)

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Tambora.org isn’t just a reference work for historical climate researchers but also a communication platform for exchanging, analyzing, and comparing data and preserving it for posterity. The virtual research environment www.tambora.org is operated by the Freiburg University Library along with the project partner Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography.


It’s worth it to dig around in the annals of European climate history, even for non-experts with only a casual interest in history and climate. Did it snow more in the winter a thousand years ago, or was it even warmer than today? How often did storms occur in the 18th century? One doesn’t just learn about long-term climatic developments but also about how people in the past dealt with changes in their environment.
 

  • Weather Records from Written Sources

With painstaking attention to detail, the researchers combed through all manner of written sources in search of references to the weather and other events with relevance for environmental history. They then used these records to compile time series and maps according to parameters like temperature and precipitation as well as storms and floods. There are more than 150 such records on tambora.org for Freiburg alone.

„Anno domini 1289 do was der Oktober, November und December also warm, das umb sant Thomastag (21. Dez.) zuo Fryburg im Bryßgow im predigerbomgarten die bom blügtent und sach man och daselbst unmd dieselbige zit erber und wißrosen.“
Ruppert, Philipp: The Chronicles of the City of Constance

 

As this excerpt demonstrates, it was very warm in Freiburg in the year 1289. The quotation appears when the user clicks on “Freiburg im Breisgau” on the interactive map on Tambora. The sources do not contain precise temperature measurements, but the quotations provide climatologists with valuable clues concerning how warm it was in that year. To find out what temperature might correspond to the present-day perception of “warm,” the climatologists have to compare the data with measurements from climatic data obtained by means of methods from physical geography or geology. This enables the researchers to corroborate the accounts from the historical sources.

  • Exploring Climate History

The events recorded on the database are visualized on an interactive map. The pool of data for Central Europe is particularly extensive. In addition to the map, there is also a search function for retrieving text sources that meet specific criteria. Tambora.org includes more than 110,000 citations from 148 to 2005 AD. The researchers are continually improving the online tool, entering new data and making the maps and the records easier to navigate.
 

The project has been running since 2010 and is coordinated by the Department of Physical Geography. Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Glaser, Dr. Dirk Riemann, and Dr. Steffen Vogt and their partners at the Freiburg University Library, the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography in Leipzig, and the Esslingen University of Applied Sciences succeeded in securing an additional two years of funding for the ongoing project tambora.org from the German Research Foundation.


Click here for a printable version of this text (PDF).

 

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Sou: Rüdiger Glaser (privat)

Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Glaser

Rüdiger Glaser has served as professor of physical geography at the University of Freiburg since 2004. He earned his PhD at the University of Würzburg in 1989 and remained there as a research assistant at the Institute of Geography until 1991. He completed his habilitation in 1997 with a thesis on historical climatology in Central Europe since the year 1000. He was appointed to a professorship as a temporary replacement in 2001 and subsequently moved to the University of Heidelberg, where he accepted the chair in physical geography. He received a prize from the Commemorative Year Foundation of Lower Franconia for work on historical climatology in his dissertation (1989). In addition, he received the “Virtual Teaching Prize” of the State of Baden-Württemberg (3rd place) along with other project partners (2003) and the Media Prize of the University of Freiburg (2004) for the e-learning projects PEMO and WEBGEO, respectively.
His textbook Klimageschichte Mitteleuropas – 1200 Jahre Wetter, Klima, Katastrophen (“The Climatic History of Central Europe – 1200 Years of Weather, Climate, Catastrophes”) (WBG, Darmstadt, 2013) has already seen three editions and is a frequently cited standard work for this area of research.
Dr. Dirk Riemann and Dr. Steffen Vogt are research assistants. Dr. Riemann earned his doctorate with a dissertation on methods for climatic reconstruction with historical data using the example of Central Europe and is specialized in climate protection and collaborative research environments. Dr. Steffen Vogt has participated in numerous database projects. He is in charge of a project on the climate history of the Near East. The two research assistants are supervising the project tambora.org.

 

 

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A search function allows users to filter the climatic events described in the citations according to categories like location, year, and source.
https://www.tambora.org/index.php?r=research/search/index (5.3.2014)
      

 

 

   
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Spring hadn’t sprung yet in Berlin in April 1578: “6 April 1578* die greuliche keltte: 7. tag aneinander 6. schnee nacheinander geschneit” (“6 April 1578* horrible cold for 7 days in a row; snow for 6 days in a row)
Thurneysser, L. (Ed.): Eintragungen in einem Schreibkalender aus dem Jahr 1578.;
https://www.tambora.org/index.php?r=vis/default/index#(5.3.2014)
   

 

 

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Most of the reports on climatic events the researchers have entered into Tambora so far, like floods, temperatures, or storms, concern Central Europe.
https://www.tambora.org/images/map_of_coded_events_small.png (5.3.2014)

 

More Information

 

www.tambora.org


Rüdiger Glaser,
Klimageschichte Mitteleuropas - 1200 Jahre Wetter, Klima, Katastrophen. WBG, Darmstadt (2013)

 

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