“Remarkable” donation could provide climate change insight

Published 07 March 2012

A donation to the University of New England heritage centre of more than 40 years worth of meteorological data promises to make a substantial contribution to scientists’ understanding of climate in the region.

The data, collected by 19th-century “gentlemen researcher” Algernon Henry Belfield, were presented to the university by his grandson, Richard Belfield. They represent the fruits of almost half a century of careful observation and recording, spanning the period 1877 to 1922.

Richard Belfield described his grandfather’s interest in science, the circumstances of his weather recording activities, and the rediscovery of his records at a public talk organised by the UNE Development Office.

“The old man always said you never went near him at a quarter to nine,” Richard Belfield said. “That’s because every morning at nine o’clock he would go out and make his observations. He recorded 10 things every day.”

Those “10 things” included measuring rainfall, maximum and minimum temperature, cloud cover, and air pressure, as well as “observations of what was going on in the atmosphere”, according to Dr Howard Bridgman, a climatologist from the University of Newcastle, who was on hand to describe the significance of the records. (Dr Bridgman is pictured above with UNE archivist Bill Oates.)

Algernon Belfield’s weather records were remarkable for their thoroughness and the insight they provided to the climate of the New England region of New South Wales around the time of white settlement, Dr Bridgman said.

“These datasets are better in quality than just about any other I’ve seen from the same period,” Dr Bridgman said. “They give us vital background information to try to assess any impact human activity may have had on climate since they were recorded.

“We can also use these datasets to evaluate the effects of phenomena such as El Niño.”

UNE archivist Bill Oates said the records made an important addition to the University of New England archives and that he expected them to be of interest to climatologists worldwide.

“Thanks to Richard’s generous donation, we are able to preserve and store these records in a format that will make them accessible to future generations,” Mr Oates said. “It is now up to the scientists to interpret these data and hopefully add to our knowledge of climate worldwide.”

The picture above links to an expanded picture of Mr Oates and Dr Bridgman with Richard Belfield.