The Hidden Role of Women in Monitoring Nineteenth-Century African Weather: Instrumental Observations in Equatorial Guinea

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  • 1 Departamento de Física, Universidad de Extremadura, Badajoz, Spain
  • | 2 Departamento Física de la Tierra II, Facultad de Ciencias Físicas, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
  • | 3 Departamento de Física, Universidad de Extremadura, Mérida, Spain
  • | 4 Departamento Física de la Tierra II, Facultad de Ciencias Físicas, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
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Abstract

Some of the first systematic meteorological observations in Africa were made by two women in Equatorial Guinea in 1875. Sisters Isabel and Juliana Urquiola, together with Manuel Iradier, Isabel's husband, built a meteorological observatory on Little Elobey Island (0°59′46″N, 9°32′14″E), off the tiny nation's western coast. From 1 June to 31 December 1875, the sisters took subdaily readings (6, 12, 15, and 18 h past midnight local time) of humidity, temperature, precipitation, and wind direction and speed. To evaluate the quality of these historical observations, the authors have compared them with equivalent modern meteorological data from Cocobeach (the modern meteorological station nearest to Little Elobey). The monthly-mean distributions of maximum and minimum temperature are similar to those of Cocobeach, but minimum temperatures are 2.4°C higher than Cocobeach values. Despite this difference, the observations of the Urquiola sisters were found to be far better and more consistent than other observations of the time. Sadly, the duo never enjoyed an appropriate acknowledgment of their detailed weather measurements, some taken eight times per day, which were some of the first measurements in Equatorial Guinea. Their unappreciated task unfortunately also had a high cost on their health for the rest of their lives, made all the worse for Isabel Urquiola with the loss of a baby.

Abstract

Some of the first systematic meteorological observations in Africa were made by two women in Equatorial Guinea in 1875. Sisters Isabel and Juliana Urquiola, together with Manuel Iradier, Isabel's husband, built a meteorological observatory on Little Elobey Island (0°59′46″N, 9°32′14″E), off the tiny nation's western coast. From 1 June to 31 December 1875, the sisters took subdaily readings (6, 12, 15, and 18 h past midnight local time) of humidity, temperature, precipitation, and wind direction and speed. To evaluate the quality of these historical observations, the authors have compared them with equivalent modern meteorological data from Cocobeach (the modern meteorological station nearest to Little Elobey). The monthly-mean distributions of maximum and minimum temperature are similar to those of Cocobeach, but minimum temperatures are 2.4°C higher than Cocobeach values. Despite this difference, the observations of the Urquiola sisters were found to be far better and more consistent than other observations of the time. Sadly, the duo never enjoyed an appropriate acknowledgment of their detailed weather measurements, some taken eight times per day, which were some of the first measurements in Equatorial Guinea. Their unappreciated task unfortunately also had a high cost on their health for the rest of their lives, made all the worse for Isabel Urquiola with the loss of a baby.

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