Sometimes, the sites we find for WorldChanging just make us sit back with a big grin and say, "wow."
CLIWOC (a program sponsored by the European Union) is creating a database of the world's ocean climate -- temperature, wind, precipitation -- from 1750-1850. A team at the UK's University of Sunderland is working with universities in Spain, the Netherlands and Argentina to compile the daily (sometimes hourly) log entries from thousands of ships over thousands of voyages into a massive database. The first official release just came out, and contains over 180,000 records. The database is freely available in both ASCII and Microsoft Access format.
There's something ineffably cool about using the detailed ship logs from Dutch, Spanish, and English sailing vessels in order to track ocean climatic conditions in the 18th and 19th centuries. Translating two-century-old sailing jargon, deciphering the personal scripts of sailors, figuring out where the ship really was (which may or may not match where the sailors thought it was), is all, in its own way, quietly heroic. This research could prove critical for understanding climate change, as the data gives a baseline for what the world's climate was like before industrialization.