Tracking Timber Movements between Britain, British North America, and the West Indies: A Geographic Information System Approach
During the early to mid-nineteenth century, sailing ships were the primary mode of transportation used to ship goods throughout the world. During this time, human expansion from Great Britain across the Atlantic Ocean toward British North America and the West Indies was creating an increasingly large market for timber trade among these nations. At the time, written logs were the only method of tracking important information with respect to these shipments such as the origin, destination, type of ship and timber on board. Through the advent of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and spatial analysis programs it is now possible to take the historic logs and further our knowledge of these shipments by creating historically accurate visual representations of the voyages.
The purpose of this study was to identify the most likely routes taken by sailing ships carrying timber between Britain, British North America, and the West Indies between 1805-1840. This was accomplished though the development and application of a GIS-based Multi-Criteria Evaluation (MCE) model that integrates a series of various criteria and constraints that influenced the routes taken by sailing ships. By identifying and using spatial information within the study site and outlining the constraint (bathymetry) and criteria (wind speed and direction, and ocean current speed and direction), the most likely routes were found. A least cost pathway (LCP) analysis was completed in order to identify the least costly shipping routes across the Atlantic Ocean based on the MCE. Distributive Flow Lines (DFL) were also used for the purpose of mapping likely routes. The results from running the DFL tool were then input into CartoDB, an online map making software, and interactive maps displaying the most frequently used routes were constructed. This project lays the foundation for future projects that can ameliorate this "think like a ship" idea.