Through the Mud ...

I have worked for about 5 months to pull information out of my Lake Erie sediment cores so carefully, methodically; now I am sitting here with a huge pile of data and I don't know what to do with it. I feel like a squirrel that's just worked its tail off gathering acorns and has just discovered that the whole pile won't fit in its cheeks at once. Maybe that's not the greatest analogy for it, but I've been studying Geology for the past 4 years, not English, so maybe I can get away with it.

In any case, I am trying to make sense of my data, alternating between analyzing little bite-sized pieces and stepping back, blurring my vision a bit, to get a feel for the ever-elusive "big picture." I've got a smorgasboard of data to mix and match: grainsize, magnetic susceptibility, water content, biogenic silica, carbonate content, stable isotopes, radiocarbon dates, ostracodes, fingernail clams, and diatoms ...

The biggest problem with paleoclimate reconstruction (essentially, trying to predict the past) is that even if you find a beautiful, clearly-defined trend in your data, you can't be quite sure what it means. There are several factors that influence a certain proxy in a certain way, and so at first you can't tell whether it was Influence A or Influence B or a combination of the two. Or a completely new and never-before-thought-of Influence C.

Interpretation of isotopes is particularly tricky for me at the moment. Not just because the relative influences on this proxy are hard to understand, but also because the literature (meaning, scientific papers written by other people all over the world on this topic) actually contradicts itself. Whom to believe? Now I have to go deep -- actually delve into methods, data tables, and other snarly details -- and decide who I think is right! Or come up with my own ideas ... what a thought ...

I suppose I should be excited about this, because that is exactly what science is all about! It's a little frustrating, all the same.


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