Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Paper archives reveal pollution's history

Date:
February 23, 2011
Source:
Weizmann Institute of Science
Summary:
A new source of climate records is as close as the nearest university library: Back issues of magazines reveal the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.

Some of the history preserved in old tomes and newspapers may be hiding in between the lines of print. A Weizmann Institute scientist has found that the paper in such collections contains a record of atmospheric conditions at the time the trees that went into making it were growing.

By analyzing the carbon isotopes in bits of paper clipped from old magazines, Prof. Dan Yakir of the Environmental Sciences and Energy Research Department in the Faculty of Chemistry has traced the rising effects of atmospheric pollution from burning fossil fuel going back to beginnings of the industrial revolution.

Scientists generally reconstruct the record of past climate change from such sources as ice cores or tree rings. But a reliable tree ring history, says Yakir, requires an analysis of quite a few trees. "Rather than going to forests all over the world to sample trees," says Yakir, "we went to the local library." In the Weizmann library's archives, Yakir found issues of the scientific journals Science, Nature and the Journal of the Royal Chemical Society going back over 100 years to the late 19th century. Removing small samples from the margins of successive volumes, he took them back to the lab for analysis.

The analysis was based on a finding that the proportion of a carbon isotope -- carbon 13 (13C) -- to its lighter counterpart -- carbon 12 (12C) -- could provide information on the CO2 added to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuel. This is based on a cycle that begins with plants taking up CO2 in photosynthesis. All plants prefer to use CO2 made with the more common version of carbon, 12C, than the slightly heavier 13C. Plant biomass from millions of years ago was transformed into reservoirs of oil, gas and coal, and so these are naturally low in 13C, as well. When we started to burn those reservoirs following the industrial revolution, we began returning the 13C-poor CO2 to the atmosphere. Now the atmospheric 13C content has become increasingly diluted, and this is reflected in the carbon ratios in the trees milled for pulp and paper. Yakir's work shows that this continuing dilution is, indeed, clearly recorded in the archival paper and, plotted over time, it demonstrates the increasing intensity of our fossil fuel burning in the past 150 years.

This project has been ongoing for about 14 years, with figures from new issues added over time. In the process, says Yakir, he has had to learn something about the paper industry. Some early issues, for instance, had been printed on rag paper (made of cotton, flax, etc.) rather than wood pulp, while blips in the data around the time of WWII led Yakir to suspect that the paper was either recycled, or again supplemented with rag content to make up for wartime shortages.

Anomalies aside, 13C levels in the paper, especially for two of the journals, were a good match for existing atmospheric records, and even revealed some local phenomena, including differences between American and European records. In addition to alerting climate scientists to a very well organized, untapped, source of global change records, says Yakir, the technique could be used to authenticate antique paper samples.

Prof. Dan Yakir's research is supported by the Cathy Wills and Robert Lewis Program in Environmental Science and the estate of Sanford Kaplan.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Weizmann Institute of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Weizmann Institute of Science. "Paper archives reveal pollution's history." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110208101318.htm>.
Weizmann Institute of Science. (2011, February 23). Paper archives reveal pollution's history. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110208101318.htm
Weizmann Institute of Science. "Paper archives reveal pollution's history." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110208101318.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) A Texas man is lucky to be alive after he and three others floated for more than a day in the Gulf of Mexico when their boat sank during a fishing trip. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Federal researchers are exploring more than a dozen underwater sites where they believe ships sank in the treacherous waters west of San Francisco in the decades following the Gold Rush. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Isolated N. Korea Asks For International Help With Volcano

Isolated N. Korea Asks For International Help With Volcano

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) Mount Paektu volcano in North Korea is showing signs of life and there's not much known about it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins