"Gravestone Project" Takes Citizen Science to the Cemetery

By Andrew Moseman | December 10, 2009 6:13 pm

gravestone220To build a history of how Earth’s climate has changed over centuries, you need something long-lasting that’s been around the whole time—long-lived trees, or cores from ice in Antarctica and Greenland that has built up over the years, or maybe gravestones.

Gravestones? They’re actually ideal candidates, standing in one place and receiving little touch or attention from the living. If you’ve ever tried to read inscriptions in an older cemetery, you know what the elements can do to the stone as atmospheric gasses dissolved in the rain wear it down. But to some climate scientists, the amount of wear is raw data attesting to the climate history of the area.

So, the citizen science program EarthTrek has begun a “Gravestone Project,” asking volunteers to take GPS readings of gravestones and measure the wear. Just be careful, LiveScience reports:

Naturally, volunteers are asked to follow local regulations, laws and customs when visiting graveyards, and they may need to seek permission from land managers before collecting data from these sites. Also, graves are sacred places for many in the community, and volunteers are asked to not walk on, disturb or damage a grave or gravestone in any way.

There you have it: Being dead is no excuse for not contributing to science.

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Image: flickr / spratmackrel

  • Brian Too

    Neat idea, especially as it taps in to the human taboo against interfering with the dead (a taboo frequently violated against perceived enemies).

    However I don’t get the link to climate history. What can marker inscriptions tell us about climate?

    e.g. Wyatt Earp, b. 1800, d. 1850. Those who live by the sword…

    What do such messages tell us about weather?

  • http://blog.denniswilliamson.us Dennis

    @Brian Too, #1: “asking volunteers to take GPS readings of gravestones and measure the wear

  • http://www.gravestones.org.uk Bryan

    It is amazing what gravestones can tell us. They have always be referred to track family history and now the weather.

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