Algernon Henry Belfield's weather dairies given new life

RECORDS: Algernon Henry Belfield's 19th century detailed weather observations can now help put recent climate events into a long-term context. Picture: The Belfield family.

RECORDS: Algernon Henry Belfield's 19th century detailed weather observations can now help put recent climate events into a long-term context. Picture: The Belfield family.

The dedication of a 19th century New England pastoralist is now being used in 21st century science.

Every morning at 9am, from 1882 to a month before his death in August 1922, Algernon Henry Belfield, meticulously recorded weather observations at his property Eversleigh, at Dumaresq.

According to his grandson, Armidale resident Richard Belfield, no one could get in the way of Algernon when he was doing his daily weather recordings.

In 2011, Richard and Elspeth Belfield donated his grandfather’s meticulous weather diaries to the University of New England and the University of Newcastle.

The diaries were scanned into digital format but did not receive any more attention until they were rediscovered by a small group of researchers from Newcastle, Armidale, and Melbourne in late 2015.

Thanks to this group and a network of 27 volunteers, found through online crowd-sourcing, Algernon’s handwritten efforts have now been converted into a format suitable for scientific analysis. 

Last week the dataset was officially released at the University of Newcastle, with the blessing of the Richard and Elspeth Belfield.

While many pastoralists of the time recorded only temperature and rainfall, Belfield also recorded other variables such as atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity and cloud cover. 

His detailed weather observations can now help put recent climate events into a long-term context, assisting scientists to identify what is natural, and what is human-induced climate change.

“Belfield’s diaries are important,” said Dr Linden Ashcroft, a researcher involved in the project from The University of Melbourne.

“Not only because they shed light on New England’s past climate, but they can contribute to international databases, improving understanding of global climate change.”

Belfield’s diaries are important. - Dr Linden Ashcroft

Belfield’s diaries will also improve understanding of historic climatic events, such as how the 1888 Centennial and the 1895-1903 Federation Droughts were experienced in the New England area. 

Anyone interested in the dataset can now view the original diaries and download the data through the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections (https://uoncc.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/lindenashcroft).

The team at the university said they would also like to hear from anyone else who has old weather records throughout the New England region.

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