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Discussion > An ideal proxy from the natural world... doesn't have to currently exist

I am looking for ideas. To help someone with a work of fiction.

Basically you are a scientist and you can choose any proxy you like to indicate global temperatures over say the last 5000 years.

Tree rings, sediments? I am not interested in them.

Use you imagination. Is there anything that would make a fantastic proxy? We just haven't found it it, or even looked for it yet.

It does NOT have to be in current existence. Just be a feasible proxy.

Jan 2, 2013 at 1:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

We have fairly good archaeological records for humans over the last 5000 years, perhaps we can use the numbers and sizes of fires they built to work out how cold it was.

Jan 2, 2013 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

TBYJ, actually I was thinking along similar lines for one idea. So similar thinking in one direction.

Human behaviour influenced by climate.

It could also be human record keeping. Something in theory that could exist. But maybe never did, or was lost. Maybe something related to a church record? Cave paintings?

It just has to be feasible, without actually ever having existed.

Jan 2, 2013 at 2:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

What about fossilized imprints of icicle stalactites? A retereating glacier grows stalactites on the end every winter, and these drop off and become frozen in the permafrost... then you have a chronological trail of temperature guagues :)

Jan 2, 2013 at 2:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Seem to remember one proxy was using a pile of bat droppings in a cave, it went back several 1000 years due to its size ;) .

Jan 2, 2013 at 3:06 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

Breath of Fresh Air:
Q - How do you date a bat dropping?
A - Twitter

Jan 2, 2013 at 4:00 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

If you wanted a proxy going back to the ice age or before, you could measure (via C14 dating) the age of the Northernmost human relics. This would give you, as a function of date, the extent of the ice, from which you could infer something about the climate.

My recollection is of reading that there were modern humans in Europe but then the ice age cleared them out, so the continent was repopulated relatively recently (eg the last few tens of 1000's of years), as the glaciers retreated.

But this would not tell you about recent stuff like the last 5000 years.

The Northernmost traces of vinyards carbon dated? - no point in having a vinyard if it's too cold to produce useable grapes.

Jan 2, 2013 at 8:23 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

It is well known that the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth, presenting the same face continually. But the lock is not perfect and the Moon in fact drifts very slightly, making a rotation with respect to Earth every few thousand years. Less well known is the effect the Earth has on a small circle a few kilometers wide at the Moon's equator. Due to a lensing effect of Earth's atmosphere, the ambient temperature on Earth has a slight influence on this circle of lunar surface such that the magnetic characteristics of the rocks to a depth of a few meters are minutely altered according to the surface temperature of Earth. These magnetic changes, coupled with the slow rotation of the moon relative to earth, mean that a band around the moon records Earth's past temperature, similar to an old wax drum recording.

Now not many people know that ;-)

Jan 3, 2013 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

No, I didn't know either of those. Is there a reference to the former?

I'd always assumed that the moon's rotation on its axis was absolutely phase-locked to its orbit around the earth.

The latter has a faint air of a tall story to it...

Jan 4, 2013 at 10:02 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Tidal locking is, as I'm sure you know, common knowledge (for those to whom it is new, see Wiki). From the 2nd sentence onward, my concoction is fictional, but a feasible-sounding proxy as the OP requested.

Jan 4, 2013 at 10:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Homo sapiens teeth rings?

Jan 4, 2013 at 11:51 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

I thought so. Oscillators are close enough frequencies pull each other into phase lock, so there is no remaining frequency difference at all. So the second sentence sounded vaguely fictional.

Jan 5, 2013 at 12:07 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

What about human civilization itself? Cold periods - serious reflective philosophizing. Warm periods - decadent extravagances like the Conference of Parties.

Jan 5, 2013 at 9:58 AM | Registered Commentershub

Pottery from archaeological sites is easily dated by experts in the field or by carbon dating. The age of artefacts going back millennia can be established pretty accurately.

Much pottery is made from clay which is sedimentary in origin, and often contains organic material. After firing, this material is forever "locked" in the pottery. It should be possible to take a small sample of ancient pottery, crush it to a fine powder and using existing, well-established techniques, establish the isotope ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 of the sample.

The isotope ratio is already used in paleoclimatology as an indicator of past climate.

I hope you don't think this idea too potty!

Jan 5, 2013 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterScottie

Since we are talking about fiction, why not invent a new animal (a really interesting and strange animal) which we now know became extinct because of disease XYZ in 1271.
You can make up what kind of climate this creature needed and then invent fossil records that show where and when that climate existed (and allowed the creature to flourish)

Jan 5, 2013 at 11:16 AM | Registered CommenterDung

The book that documents the most diverse lists of proxies is:

Climate, History and the Modern World
By H. H. Lamb

You can read substantial parts of it at various sites on the web.

As it's a work of fiction. Why not create an ancient and long lasting society or religion that celebrates certain astronomical dates e.g. the soltices or equinoxes (actually very common in real history). But as part of their long-established fertility ritual these guys seal some sort of harvest offering (grains, fruits, berries, etc.) into containers (something like a cross between clay Venus figurines and a Russian doll) and inter them in their catacombs or whatever. This always happens on the same day(s) each year. And the containers are placed in order.

The important point is that the offerings are often of plants that have sprung up and grown in a single year and were harvested or gathered at very specific times in the year.

So millenia later, archaeologists uncover several of these sites stretching from Scandinavia to Eastern Siberia. They soon assign specific dates to each container they find (using same kind of methods as dendros). Biologists then examine the organic remains for size etc. and determine the weather for ... and so on.

Stories about people are always more interesting. You can even throw in some sacrificed virgins just for effect. Or how about an intrepid climatologist who stumbles upon a surviving remnant of this cult, is made king for a day before being sacrificed in a wicker-work statue -Burning Mann? : )

Jan 8, 2013 at 4:14 PM | Registered CommenterDavid Ross

Why sacrifice the virgins??? In these days of sustainability we need to utilise ALL our resources more carefully. Where do I sign up?
We really need to know whether this book will be serious/humerous/Sci-fi or what?

Jan 9, 2013 at 5:26 AM | Registered CommenterDung

I've heard it called many things ... but "utilizing your resources"? I wouldn't try that one as a pick-up line.

Jan 9, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Registered CommenterDavid Ross

You never heard of "Human Resources"?

Jan 9, 2013 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered Commentersplitpin

Serious, grounded in reality so no cheating with Scifi.

Jan 9, 2013 at 9:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

Thanks so far. Based on what I know of the plot David's is interesting.

But... the proxy has to have a value. I do not mean monetary value, but a threat value.

And frankly dendro has as much threat value as tea leaves in fortune telling.

It has to be something that is irrefutable, or as near damn it.

Jan 9, 2013 at 9:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

That's a toughie.... proxies are passive by nature.... what you seem to need is a direct temperature record.

Jan 9, 2013 at 9:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Yes :) Hence the thread... we have had some interesting discussions and could not come up with something of real value.

You could invent some ancient order like in the DaVinci code who took measurements, but something more scientific and grounded would be better.

Jan 9, 2013 at 9:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

If you need a record, you need someone to record, there are only a few options:

- aliens
- primitive people
- lost civilization
- technology left behind from aliens or lost civilization

Jan 9, 2013 at 9:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

The criteria you set are really tough.

"Tree rings, sediments? I am not interested in them."

So natural proxies seem to be ruled out.

"to indicate global temperatures over say the last 5000 years."

But any human society/cult/religion/whatever that lasted that long and is geographically spread enough to yield globally relevant results, might not be credible.

Paleolithic Venus figurines, with similar features have been unearthed over a surprisingly large area. And some cultural traits may be even more spread and enduring e.g. the so-called circumpolar bear cult.

If you want a real Indiana Jones, wisdom-of-the-ancients, secret priesthood and prophecy, setting I'd go with Elephantine Island, near Aswan. The nilometer there was used to record the flood levels for thousands of years.

Aswan, near the Tropic of Cancer, and where Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth, is known as Syene in the Bible. So you've got a Da vinci style in.

Ezekiel 30:6 ...They also that uphold Egypt shall fall; and the pride of her power shall come down: from the tower of Syene shall they fall in it by the sword, saith the Lord GOD.

Self-flagellating albino monks are optional.

I'm thinking melting ice caps, flood myths. You with me so far?

Origen, an early Christian, asserted that Noah's ark was in the form of a truncated pyramid that tapered to a flat square top. You've probaly seen one. [This is all easily googled.]

And of course it had a door in the side. Not sensible for a ship but the point of access of your typical Egyptian pyramid, which is also a storehouse for things to sustain you in the new/afterlife.

The tip of a truncated pyramid is implied but in Egyptian pyramids the capstones signified the Benben the first primeval mound to emerge from the waters of chaos in the Egyptian creation myth. An egg is laid on the mound and from it emerge the Ogdoad, four male and four female deities -the principal one was called Nu.

There were four males and four females on the Ark -the principal one was called Noah. This is, of course, a coincidence as otherwise the Biblical flood story sounds like it was an attempt to absorb a second creation myth from another set of religious beliefs.

All this is background to the plot, where a secret priesthood preserves a secret prophecy of a new flood. The melting of the ice-caps by runaway global warming.

What do you mean fanciful? It's more credible than Mann's hockey stick : )

Jan 11, 2013 at 2:31 AM | Registered CommenterDavid Ross