The history of our climate is written in ice. Reading it is a matter of deciphering the complex signals pulled from tens of thousands of years of accumulated isotopes frozen miles below the surface of Antarctica.
When making sense of the massive amount of information packed into an ice core, scientists face a forensic challenge: how best to separate the useful information from the corrupt.
A new paper published in the journal Entropy shows how tools from information theory, a branch of complexity science, can address this challenge by quickly homing in on portions of the data that require further investigation.
“With this kind of data, we have limited opportunities to get it right,” says Joshua Garland, a mathematician at the Santa Fe Institute who works with 68,000 years of data from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide ice Core. “Extracting the ice and processing the data takes hundreds of people, and tons of processing and analysis. Because of resource constraints, replicate cores are rare. ”
By the time Garland and his team got ahold of the data, more than 10 years had passed from the initial drilling of the ice core to the publishing of the dataset it contained. The two-mile ice core was extracted over five seasons from 2007-2012, by teams from the multiple universities funded by the National Science Foundation. From the field camp in West Antarctica, the core was packaged, then shipped to the National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility in Colorado, and finally to the University of Colorado. At the Stable Isotope Lab at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, a state-of-the-art processing facility helped scientists pull water isotope records from the ice.