Climate data rescue from the Belgian colonial archives : helping to close the data-gap over Central Africa


Kim Jacobsen1, Leen Vanhirtum2, Michael Amara2, Hans Beeckman1, Sofie Meeus3, Filip Vandelook3, Jan Van den Bulcke4, Piet Stoffelen3, Hans Verbeeck5, Koen Hufkens5.

1Xylarium, Royal Museum for Central Africa, 2State Archives Belgium, 3Botanic Garden Meise, 4Laboratory of Wood Technology, Ghent University, 5Computational & Applied Vegetation Ecology laboratory, Ghent University.

During the first half of the twentieth century, climate data was rigorously collected in the former Belgian Congo, currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo . Yet, today this data is practically absent from (international) data repositories and not included in (re-analysis) climate models. The historical archives of La régie des plantations de la colonie (REPCO) and the Institut National d’Etudes Agronomique du Congo Belge (INEAC) hold vast amounts of (eco-) climatological data, with great potential and relevance for basic and applied research in the central Congo Basin. They are currently stored at the State Archives of Belgium, the Royal Museum for Central Africa and the Botanic Garden Meise in Belgium.

The 4-year project COBECORE, short for “Congo basin eco-climatological data recovery and valorization”, was launched in 2017 with the aim to unlock this legacy data using computer vision, machine learning and citizen science. Here we report on the scanning activities during the first year of the project for 575 climatological stations distributed across the Congo Basin, equivalent to 4300 site- years, totalling 58 639 scans. We provide an overview of the climatological stations where this data was collected during colonial times (1901-1960), as well as the parameters and timeframe for which we have data.