Darrel Tremaine has been known to go to extremes for his research, such as crawling on his hands and knees through a dark, muddy limestone cave in Northwest Florida to learn more about the weather thousands of years ago.
His goal? To compare ancient meteorological patterns with modern ones in the northern Gulf of Mexico region and ultimately inform policymakers on how to build a sustainable water supply.
On a recent morning, the Florida State University doctoral student in oceanography huddled with artisan Charlie Scott-Smith at Florida State's Master Craftsman Studios (http://craft.fsu.edu/). The two were making molds of stalagmites, the natural formations rising from the floor of limestone caves that are formed by the dripping of water containing calcium carbonate. (Their counterparts, stalactites, hang from the ceilings of such caves.) Video: Digging deep to study ancient climate
Surrounded by the studio's eye-catching artifacts models of architectural fittings, an ancient ship, even a copy of the sculpture "Winged Victory" from the Louvre Museum Tremaine and Scott-Smith worked with a rubbery urethane compound to create stalagmite molds that resembled giant beeswax candles. Next, they filled the molds with cement and glass.
After the cement thoroughly dried, Tremaine returned the reproduction stalagmites to the cave, where, over time, dripping water will coat them with calcite and they will start growing again. The remote, Northwest Florida cave maintains a constant, year-round temperature of 72 degrees and a 100 percent relative humidity level, which means, as Tremaine likes to joke, "that if you start to sweat, you stay wet."
As part of a three-year climate research project, he harvested the two stalagmites one 4,000 years old, the other 25,000 years old from the cave to analyze them for isotopic and trace element variations in an effort to build a 4,000-year paleo-rainfa
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Florida State University