Climate Models and Eocene Isotopes, or How to Make My Head Hurt – #365papers – 2017 – 49

#365papers for February 18, 2017

Feng, Poulsen, Werner, Chamberlain, Mix, and Mulch, 2013, Early Cenozoic evolution of topography, climate, and stable isotopes in precipitation in the North American cordillera: American Journal of Science, v. 313, p. 613-648.

What’s it about?

Isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen in precipitation vary based on multiple factors, including how far from water vapor sources (usually the ocean) the precipitation is taking place, and whether or not there are mountains present, which can deflect and change patterns and amounts of precipitation. Because of this, we can use isotopes of oxygen from rocks and fossils, which reflect ancient precipitation, and understand the pattern and timing of uplifts of mountains.

This paper goes a step further, by using mathematical models to predict what oxygen isotopes of precipitation should have looked like based on a few ideas of how the Rocky Mountains may have come up.

Why does it matter?

This is one way in which we can test hypotheses and make predictions about something that happened millions of years ago. Knowing for certain how the Rocky Mountains came up can help us understand the distribution of ancient animals and plants on the land surface and can help us understand the mechanisms by which mountain ranges form.

Why did I read this?

I’m doing research involving stable isotopes from an Eocene-aged (early Cenozoic) basin in the North American cordillera (AKA, the Rocky Mountains), so it seemed like an obvious read. Alas, most of this was a discussion of mathematical, computerized climate models, and was very foreign to me. I got the most from the abstract, introduction, and conclusions.

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