The Colonial Era Archive Data Project

Historical Data for Data Sparse Underdeveloped Countries

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For much of the underdeveloped world there is a dearth of early historical digital climate data. The well known plots of global temperature trends from the 1850 to the present should really be thought of as basically just representing the U.S. and Europe prior to 1900, perhaps even up to 1930 or 1940, depending on the gridding algorithm used. Therefore, without early data from Africa, South America, and other developing regions, our knowledge of global climate trends is severely limited. Also, our understanding of regional climate change (for example, putting a drought in Africa into historical perspective) is severely hampered by this lack of early data. Yet there are good data for these regions in bound volumes published by European colonial powers. We are digitizing these data to make them available to researchers world wide.

Project Goals and Methodology

Our goal is to create a digital climate data base for most of the underdeveloped world for the mid to late 1800s through 1950. This is a time when there are few digital records available. The approach is rather straightforward. First, we search several major libraries with primary focus on the NOAA Central Library and the United Kingdom Meteorological Service Library.

When volumes of old data are located, we determine where and when the data were observed. Using our knowledge of existing digital climate data, we carefully select stations from these European colonial era archives that will fill in the gaps of our current data and digitize them. After digitization, the data are quality controlled and added to the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN). Once in GHCN, they are made available to researchers world wide.

Data Collection and Analysis

Our data come from land surface weather stations. The specific parameters we digitize are mean monthly values of maximum and minimum temperature and total monthly precipitation. The data are transcribed and digitized, unrealistic values are noted, and finally, the data are comprehensively quality controlled.

Results and Accomplishments

A detailed document describing hardcopy sources of historical African data is available, click here.

An Animated GIF file has been created to show the location of the stations whose data are being digitized and incorporated into GHCN.


  • Principal Investigator:
      Thomas C. Peterson
      National Climatic Data Center/NOAA
      151 Patton Avenue
      Asheville, NC 28801
      Telephone: (828) 271-4265
      Facsimile: (828) 271-4328

  • Principal Investigator:
      John F. Griffiths
      Department of Meteorology
      Texas A&M University
      College Station, Texas 77843
      Telephone: (409) 845-8076
      Facsimile: (409) 862-4466

    Funding was provided by NOAA Climate and Global Change Program.

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