Global warming? Family log of 114 years tells all (Lead)

May 8th, 2010 - 5:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 8 (IANS) Every day since Jan 1, 1896, an observer has hiked to a spot at the Mohonk Preserve, a resort and nature area, some 145 km north of New York City, to record daily temperature and other conditions.
The weather station is the rarest of the rare: one that has never missed a day of temperature recording, never seen its surroundings change and never been tended by anyone but a short, continuous line of family and friends, using the same methods for 114 long years.

Observers have for decades recorded related phenomena such as first appearances of spring peepers, migratory birds and blooming plants.

Mohonk offers a powerful confirmation of global warming, as well as a compelling multigenerational yarn.

Mohonk was founded in 1869 by the Smileys, a close-knit Quaker family that still runs the 7,200-acre property on a high ridge in the Shawangunk Mountains.

When the fledgling US Weather Bureau (later the National Weather Service) founded an official station there, it supplied thermometers, log sheets and other materials. Albert K. Smiley, one of the twin brothers who founded the place, volunteered to man it.

The thermometer (occasionally replaced by a new duplicate over the decades) has always been kept in a box out of direct sun, in the same place, a short walk from the Mohonk hotel. A brass rain gauge at the end of a boat dock is the 1896 original.

In 1906, Albert’s half-brother, Daniel, took over the readings. In 1930, Daniel’s sons Bert and Doc followed and in 1937, Bert’s son Daniel Smiley Jr., picked up the job.

Then Daniel Jr., an old-school amateur naturalist, started recording many other observations on some 15,000 index cards. In 1988, he handed his duties to Paul Huth, a longtime friend and employee. Today Huth or one of his staff walks up to the box at 4 p.m. every day.

The weather log, for many decades kept on hand-written sheets, lacks only 37 days of precipitation data.

In 1971, Edward R. Cook, then serving as a military policeman at nearby West Point, became friends with Daniel Smiley Jr.

Later, Cook became a tree-ring scientist and climatologist at Lamont and began studying conifer trees at Mohonk — some of which turned out to be over 400 years old.

From these, he extracted a rough record of weather in the Hudson Valley before the Europeans settled. Then Edward Cook’s son, Benjamin I. Cook, became a climate modeller at Lamont. It was under Benjamin’s leadership that the Cooks and their colleagues at Mohonk began studying the instrumental readings and other data.

Starting in 1990s, Mohonk staffers spent hundreds of hours digitizing the records so they could be analysed. “It is incredibly rare to have the level of continuity that we have at Mohonk,” said Benjamin Cook.

“Any one record cannot tell you anything definitively about climate globally or even regionally. But looking closely at sites like this can boost our confidence in the general trends that we see elsewhere, and in other records.”

At Mohonk, average annual temperatures from 1896-2006 went up 2.63 degrees Fahrenheit. Global measurements in the same time over both land and oceans put the rise at about 1.2 to 1.4 degrees; but land temperatures are rising faster than those over the oceans, and those at Mohonk track the expected land trend closely, said a Columbia University release.

The story is told by researchers from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Mohonk in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology.

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