Belfield weather diaries from 19th century returned to Armidale at Saumarez

WEATHER FANS: The seminar presenters with Richard and Elspeth Belfield, Saumarez's Les Davis, and Newcastle University's Archivist John Di Gravio.  Dr Ashcroft and John di Grazio seated.  Photo: Supplied.
WEATHER FANS: The seminar presenters with Richard and Elspeth Belfield, Saumarez's Les Davis, and Newcastle University's Archivist John Di Gravio. Dr Ashcroft and John di Grazio seated. Photo: Supplied.

Digitised weather diaries dating back to the mid-19th century were returned to Armidale at a seminar at Saumarez Homestead on Monday – and those diaries may hold a clue to tomorrow’s climate.

Algernon Henry Belfield, pastoralist, astronomer and meteorologist, kept detailed records of New England weather since his arrival in Australia in 1855.  His grandson, Richard Belfield, and wife Elspeth donated the records to the University of New England and the University of Newcastle in 2011. 

Mr Belfield worked with UNE’s archivist Bill Oates to scan the diaries, which the University of Newcastle’s archivist John di Gravio then uploaded to Newcastle's Cultural Collection website, with the help of 25 crowd-sourced volunteers.

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The newly digitised records were handed over to UNE at Monday’s seminar, attended by scholars from both universities.

Dr Linden Ashcroft from the Bureau of Meteorology, speaking at the event, said that historical weather data was necessary to study the climate.

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.

“Old weather observations are important because they provide context for modern weather events,” she said. “Records from the Southern Hemisphere are particularly crucial to improve how weather and climate models represent our part of the world.”

Algernon Belfield’s diaries were special, she said. 

“New England climate is sensitive to large-scale patterns, like El Ninos and La Ninas. We saw a few strong events during Algernon’s time, and because he recorded the weather every day, we can look more closely at the link between El Ninos, La Ninas and extreme weather events.

“It is the extreme events, like heat waves and heavy rainfall, that are going to be a real problem in the future, so the diaries provided a fantastic opportunity to learn more about how they behaved in the past.”

Mr Oates said UNE was interested in collecting more historic weather diaries, and encouraged anybody who may be aware of other historic diaries to donate them to UNE’s Heritage Centre.

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