The Dope on Isotopes

So for younger readers, I should probably start off by explaining that I am using the word “dope” in the mid-twentieth century, American usage of the word, when for a couple decades hipsters used it to mean “information.” Lessons on archaic slang aside, it was interesting to learn yesterday that the average temperature of the earth from the ancient past can be determined by seeing if water molecules trapped in the sea floor have oxygen atoms that contain extra neutrons. Scientists were able to observe that certain isotopes are more likely to be found in the ocean during periods of warm climate and have worked out the formula to determine average temperatures of the past based on ratios of oxygen isotopes in core samples. It is just one more thing that impresses me about what we can do with our brains and a large drilling ship to learn about the world.

Along with that, the last day and a half has been pretty busy. We learned what to do if the ship sinks (not always the thought experience you want after you have already left shore) and also that lifeboat technology has changed enough that they now look more like commuter buses with a Jetsons style bubble on top than rowboats. We travelled into a gale with strong winds and rough seas, which makes trying to walk very interesting but does little to enhance sleeping. And we learned that perhaps the most important part of graphing data is knowing how to use Microsoft Excel (or at, the very least, having everyone using it from the same computer platform, so that the one person that does know how to use it doesn’t have relearn it while trying to decipher its quirks on your computer).The Dope on Isotopes