Great question! Simplest answer: thermometers. Simple instruments such as thermometers and barometers have been used for centuries. Governments began to collect data from these instruments beginning in the early 1700s. (There are early data sets, but these focused on local or route specific locations rather than globally. For example, shipping companies collected ocean temperatures during the 1600s along specific routes to report conditions to insurance companies.).
The old-school instruments were placed in locations all around the world (locations ranged from trees, church steeples and clocks, tall poles, cliff faces, to just stuck in the ground). Governments collected the temperatures typically for military, farming, and shipping purposes.
The U.S. Weather Bureau, established in 1735, was sporadically managed by a few individual states (rather than the Federal Government). The bureau collected local information - not global.
In 1814, the U.S. Federal Government established the U.S.’s first nation wide weather service. Army doctors and ‘war’ hospitals were instructed to keep diaries of local weather. But, again, this was not a global system.
In 1870, President Ulysses Grant established the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS):
The beginning of the National Weather Service we know today started on February 9th, 1870, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed a joint resolution of Congress authorizing the Secretary of War to establish a national weather service. This resolution required the Secretary of War:
“to provide for taking meteorological observations at the military stations in the interior of the continent and at other points in the States and Territories…and for giving notice on the northern (Great) Lakes and on the seacoast by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms”
After much thought and consideration, it was decided that this agency would be placed under the Secretary of War because military discipline would probably secure the greatest promptness, regularity, and accuracy in the required observations. Via NOAA
The NWS worked internationally. It collected data from its own instruments, and also from data shared by other countries, such as Denmark, France, India, and the U.K.
The NWS’s information was collected over time, and digitized into big data sets. These sets are used today!
The chart below shows temperature data over 1,000 years. (NOTE: This chart is from wikipedia entry “Temperature record of the past 1,000 years." I do not endorse this chart. I’m posting for illustrative purposes to help answer anon’s question about records from 1880).
Note the black line (far right). It shows collected instrument data from 1850 to 2004. Data prior to 1850 is collected by climate proxies.
Finally, if you’re interested, you can read about the weather data sets collected in the 1850s. This paper, Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: a new dataset from 1850, covers the history of that data, as well as issues with using it in modern climate models.
Hope that helps!
President Obama issues new Executive Order, “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change." The new EO, issued November 1st, directs the agencies to
1) Federal infrastructure spending will have to take climate into account. Agencies are supposed to examine their policies and find ways to help states prepare for the effects of climate change.
So, for example, federal disaster-relief programs that help coastal communities rebuild after a storm or flood will have to take into account the possibility that the next storm or flood could be even worse. Likewise, roads and bridges built with federal money will have to be planned with changing climate conditions — such as future sea-level rise — in mind.
2) Water- and land- management will get revamped. Agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior will have to review their land- and water-management policies to take shifting conditions into account.
For example, agencies will have to ”evaluate how to better promote natural storm barriers such as dunes and wetlands” and figure out “how to protect the carbon sequestration benefits of forests and lands to help reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” (The EPA has already released its plans to this effect.)
3) The federal government will try to provide better data on what climate impacts are actually coming. As part of the executive order, federal agencies are supposed to offer better information “that state, local, and private-sector leaders need to make smart decisions.” - WaPo
It’s an integrative approach, folding climate science and data into decision making at the federal level. Each agency was directed to create an adaptation policy back in 2011. Now the agencies have to implement their plans and use the National Climate Assessment and other findings from peer-reviewed climate scientists. This new EO builds upon several(!) orders by the President, including Executive Order 13514, which I wrote about here.
Sea Level Rise Maps
NOAA, in partnership with FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has created a set of map services to help communities, residents, and other stakeholders consider risks from future sea level rise in planning for reconstruction following Hurricane Sandy.
These map services (click here for NJ and NY State counties andclick here for NYC) integrate the best available FEMA flood hazard data for each location with information on future sea level rise from two different peer-reviewed sources (click here for a visual guide to the data sources used in the tool):
- A NOAA-led interagency report prepared as input to the National Climate Assessment, Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States National Climate Assessment. Scientists from multiple federal agencies and academic institutions synthesized the best available science to create a set of scenarios of global mean sea level rise through 2100. This team considered both ocean warming and melting of mountain glaciers and ice sheets. For all areas in NJ and NY outside the five boroughs, the maps use these global scenarios combined with the best available FEMA flood hazard data.
- The 2013 New York City Panel on Climate Change report,Climate Risk Information 2013: Observations, Climate Change Projections, and Maps. Experts convened by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability developed regional sea level rise scenarios for the five boroughs in New York City out to 2050. These scenarios include sea level rise from both ocean warming and ice sheet melt, and factor in local conditions such as vertical land movement and regional climate variations. For all areas inside the five boroughs of NYC, the maps use these scenarios combined with the best available FEMA flood hazard data.
The outage of an important weather satellite demonstrates the ongoing degradation in U.S. observing systems.
Now reading (devouring).
Politics and an oversimplified understanding of demographic dynamics have long kept population issues out of serious discussions in the framework of climate negotiations. Within adaptation actions, however, this is beginning to change, and this volume is intended to provide a framework for taking that change forward, towards better, more evidence-based adaptation.
It provides key concepts linking demography and adaptation, data foundations and techniques for analyzing climate vulnerability, as well as case studies where these concepts and analyses illuminate who is vulnerable and how to help build their resilience.