News: Climate change lessons from the grave

By Natsumi Penberthy 22 July 2009
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Changes in environment are being tracked by volunteers inspecting white marble headstones.

Australian geologists are spearheading a new program which uses volunteers to take a standard measure – in this case the wear-and-tear on white marble gravestones – to track global levels of pollution and climate change.

Because calcite in marble dissolves – even under weak acid rainfall – headstones can provide solid evidence on pollution levels. Australian geologist Gary Lewis, Director of Education and Outreach at the Geological Society of America, says white marble gravestones are also fairly ubiquitous where there have been European influences, and this provides a global point of reference.

The Gravestone Project, which is part of the EarthTrek citizen science program, is being directed in Australia by the Geological Society of Australia, CSIRO Education and the University of Sydney.
Gary said: “The idea for the international project sprung from my university days when I had to measure gravestones with then lecturer Deirdre Dragovich.” Deirdre has since done significant research on graves, and now leads this program.

Volunteer search for EarthTrek’s gravestone project

Ross Kingsland, Manager of CSIRO Education, told us the CSIRO had been surprised by the level of accuracy for some of the data from projects that have involved lay scientists, and that the CSIRO plans to continue involvement in EarthTrek’s citizen science program.

The Gravestone Project is now looking for volunteer groups to locate appropriate headstones and do simple measurements of headstone thickness and wear behind lettering, under the guidance of a scientist.

This international project by the EarthTrek citizen science program will run until 2011. To find out more go to the EarthTrek website or the Geological Society of Australia website.

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