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Deep-sea expeditions over a century ago offer new insight into climate change


The SMS Planet, shown here on a postcard, was a survey ship that sailed from Germany to Hong Kong from 1906 to 1907. Credit: Wikimedia Commons In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, German scientists and surveyors crossed choppy waters and braved dangerous conditions on ships called the Gazelle, Valdivia and Planet. These arduous expeditions, one of which circumnavigated the globe, yielded several discoveries—including the first documented vampire squid—at a time when little was known about life in the deep sea.

Though these early researchers were mostly interested in marine biology , some of their “cruise reports” also contained measurements of subsurface temperatures in the Indian Ocean. These long-overlooked data sets from 1874 to 1907 were revisited more than a century later, sparking new research with important climate implications.

A team led by atmospheric and oceanic scientists at the University of Maryland studied the water temperature data from these three expeditions, digitizing the information and putting it in a modern context to offer a new perspective on ocean warming.

Their analysis—published online on June 25, 2022, in the journal Geophysical Research Letters —determined that interior temperature changes in the Indian Ocean were limited in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. […]

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