Nature’s Radar a paper by Tristan Gooley (one of our heroes) published in the Journal of Navigation in October 2012.
Tristan and a friend set out in a little boat to navigate from Kirkwall on the North of Ockney via the Faroes over the top of Iceland to Reykjavik.
Please see http://www.naturalnavigator.com/nature’s_radar.pdf for the full paper.
The purpose of this paper was to see whether some of the traditional techniques used by the Vikings and Pacific Islanders here are in fact useful.
This has relevance to animal navigation as Ingo Schiffner has proposed that all navigators use different cues at different parts of the journey and that as navigation is very difficult, everyone uses everything that is available.
The basic idea is that birds and clouds and other sightings tell you if you near land.
Gooley confirmed that whilst pelagic birds such as Fulmars and Puffins only come to land to breed in April so range the seas and give no navigational guidance non pelagic species such as the Guillimot do tell one if you near land.
Gooley counted the birds for 5 minutes at the end of each hour and when he registered an elevated bird count this delivered a clear message that he was within 40 nautical miles of land.
Gooley found an unusual cumulus cloud formation which did signal land (the Faroes) although they could not see land at the time. However, on another occasion the same sort of cloud formation did not directly signal land.
The Pacific Islanders are recorded as saying that reading the swell patterns is a very important for their navigation. On this voyage on some days this was easy and Gooley reckoned that he would have been able to set a course using these swell patterns but on other days the swell was impossibly confused.
He did note a clear change in the water colour off Iceland probably formed by the melt water running off the land in the Irminger current. For people with local knowledge this would definitely been a navigational cue.