February 10, 2011

Whither weather? Ask a book


“An Israeli researcher says a source for studying the Earth’s pollution history has been discovered in books — not what is written there, but the paper itself,” according to a report from the UPI.

Environmental science Professor Dan Yakir, a scientist at the Weizmann Institute, has found that “the paper in library collections of old books and newspapers contains a record of atmospheric conditions at the time the trees that went into making the paper were growing.” What’s more, Yakir says “he has traced the effects of atmospheric pollution from burning fossil fuel going back to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution.”

Ice cores or tree rings have long been what scientist looked at for atmospheric information. But, according to Professor Yakir,  a reliable tree ring history requires an analysis of quite a few trees.”Rather than going to forests all over the world to sample trees,” he says, “we went to the local library.”

In the archives of the Weizmann Institute’s library, Yakir found issues of the scientific journals Science, Nature and the Journal of the Royal Chemical Society dating back to the late 19th century. They were very revealing, Yakir says: “Small samples from the margins of successive volumes were analyzed for the proportion of two carbon isotopes that showed levels of CO2 added to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuel. The levels in the paper were a good match for existing atmospheric records and even revealed some local phenomena, including differences between American and European records.”

Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.