Popular Science

Century-old ship logs show how much ice the Arctic has lost

Until recently, logs like these were not easily accessible, and could only be viewed at the National Archives. But digital imaging—and painstaking work by volunteers—have enabled scientists to learn about ocean conditions in the 1900s, specifically sea ice.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter <em>Bear</em>, moored to sea ice near Nome, Alaska, in 1918.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter <em>Bear</em>, moored to sea ice near Nome, Alaska, in 1918. (U.S. Coast Guard/)

When retired Canadian meteorologist Michael Purves transcribes the handwritten notes from an ancient ship’s log, he finds himself transported back in time a century, imagining he is on board an old cutter, a fast-moving patrol boat, as it sails through the Bering Sea.

In August 1919, for example, the cutter , one of the forerunners of today's Coast Guard, was en route to remote villages north of Nome, in modern-day Alaska, carrying supplies and people when it ran into heavy ice. The crew had no choice

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