“We anchored on an ice floe. A great day. Bright sunlight, temperatures between 21° and 25°,” the captain cheerfully noted in the ship’s log on September 9, 1879. Just a day later, the USS “Jeannette”, a three-masted barque converted into an expedition ship, got stuck in the pack ice between Russia and Alaska, north of the Bering Strait. Their destination had been the North Pole. Nobody had reached it yet.

Another two years later, the expedition was completely lost when the “Jeannette” was crushed by pack ice and sank. Over all these months she had drifted through the East Siberian Sea, trapped in pack ice; only 13 of the original 33 crew members were able to escape across the frozen sea to the mainland in Siberia. They should never see the pole.

The logbooks of the “Jeannette” were recovered and are kept by the US National Archives in Washington. The researchers have only recently discovered perhaps the most valuable treasure of historical documents for their purposes: the weather records of yesteryear.

Regular temperature measurements were carried out globally as early as the mid-19th century, but it was only weather satellites that made sophisticated weather and climate forecasts possible since the 1960s. How much more precise could the predictions be if researchers had access to data not just from the mid-20th century, but into the 19th century?

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