Gravestones Talking through Time

Dec 08, 2009
EarthTrek draws upon the local citizenry to build global information databases. Here, Canadian student Pascal records data from a gravestone in Sydney, Australia, as part of the EarthTrek Gravestone Project.

(PhysOrg.com) -- A visit to your local graveyard can provide not only a history lesson, but a science lesson as well. Historians know that gravestones can reflect the lives of people whose memories are lost in time, and they have long scoured old burial sites to piece together the stories of those who rest there.

But today scientists are learning much more from those letters carved in stone. Gravestones are telling the story of changes in Earth’s atmospheric chemistry and rainfall. Moreover, scientists are asking for your help to read the stones.

The iconic white marble headstones found in most graveyards around the world are wonderful diaries of changes in the atmosphere. occur between the marble and the atmosphere over time. Little by little, dissolved in rain drops cause the marble to erode. Changes in also change the rate at which the marble weathers.

By accumulating volunteers' measurements of marble gravestones of different ages around the world, scientists hope to produce a world map of the weathering rates of those gravestones and thereby deduce how the atmosphere has been changing.

Participants are asked to take measurements using simple calipers and GPS, following a set of scientific protocols that are explained online. Data is then logged by participants directly into the scientific database via the project Web site.

The project is part of the new global citizen science program called EarthTrek, which is administered by The Geological Society of America in partnership with organizations across America and around the globe. People interested in participating can register online and follow links to the Gravestone Project or any of several other scientific research projects currently underway through the EarthTrek program.

"Being involved in EarthTrek provides people with the opportunity to be involved in real scientific research," says Gary Lewis, EarthTrek Director.

"The data they collect while participating in a wonderful outdoor activity may make a real difference in the way we manage our environment. And it's free to participate!"

Not only can participants be involved first-hand in scientific research, they can also accumulate points for online rewards and other recognition. EarthTrek can become an obsession --enthusiasts sometimes plan weekend trips to collect gravestone data or engage in other EarthTrek activities. Other current studies involve spotting hummingbirds and investigating invasive plant species.

More projects are soon to be added. "We are working with scientists on new projects involving hail, natural springs, animal and plant inventories, and much more," Lewis says.

More information: For more information, visit the EarthTrek Web site at www.goearthtrek.com

Provided by Geological Society of America

Explore further: Climate researchers measure the concentration of greenhouse gases above the Atlantic

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Star Count Goes Global

Oct 15, 2008

Schoolchildren, families and citizen scientists around the world will gaze skyward after dark from Oct. 20 to Nov.3, 2008, looking for specific constellations and then sharing their observations through the ...

World fire maps now available online in near-real time

May 24, 2006

For a decade now, ESA satellites have been continuously surveying fires burning across the Earth’s surface. Worldwide fire maps based on this data are now available to users online in near real time through ...

Destruction of greenhouse gases over tropical Atlantic

Jun 25, 2008

Large amounts of ozone – around 50% more than predicted by the world's state-of-the-art climate models – are being destroyed in the lower atmosphere over the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Published today (26th ...

Mother Earth naked -- a modern masterpiece

Jul 31, 2008

Have you ever wondered what our world would look like stripped bare of all plants, soils, water and man-made structures? Well wonder no longer; images of the Earth as never seen before have been unveiled in what is the world's ...

NASA to open new Smithsonian exhibits

Apr 12, 2006

NASA has announced the Washington opening of two Smithsonian exhibits, "Atmosphere: Change in the Air" and "Arctic: A Friend Acting Strangely."

Recommended for you

NASA sees last vestiges of Tropical Depression Jack

8 hours ago

Tropical Cyclone Jack had weakened to a tropical depression when NASA and JAXA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite passed above on April 22, 2014 at 1120 UTC/7:20 a.m. EDT.

New discovery helps solve mystery source of African lava

11 hours ago

Floods of molten lava may sound like the stuff of apocalyptic theorists, but history is littered with evidence of such past events where vast lava outpourings originating deep in the Earth accompany the breakup ...

Climate change likely to make Everest even riskier

12 hours ago

Climbing to the roof of the world is becoming less predictable and possibly more dangerous, scientists say, as climate change brings warmer temperatures that may eat through the ice and snow on Mount Everest.

User comments : 0

More news stories

On global warming, settled science and George Brandis

The Australian Attorney General, Senator George Brandis is no stranger to controversy. His statement in parliament that "people do have a right to be bigots" rapidly gained him notoriety, and it isn't hard to understand why ...