2011-03-01 06:04:14Giving denialists the 11th finger: Paper
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

A short-n-sweet blog post on a new human indicator of climate change:  Paper

NOTE:  Revised per advice given by Ari & Dana; revised copy further below

2011-03-01 06:08:53
Ari Jokimäki


If you want more details, you can get them from the paper in Yakir's homepage.

2011-03-01 06:56:36Thanks Ari!
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Couple of thoughts:

Should I go simpler, or more complex?

If more complex, should I use the image from the study:


Changes in the 13C content of the paper used in the printing of periodicals and a daily
newspaper (names indicated in figure), compared to available record of the 13C changes in
atmospheric CO2, during the 1882 to 2000 period. Paper samples were taken from an arbitrarily
selected issue of each year for which the archive was available. The isotopic data were
normalized for comparison of the atmospheric and paper records. The normalizing offset and
summary of the changes in 13C values are indicated in Table 1. The outliers associated with the
period immediately following World War II are indicated.


2011-03-01 15:53:18nice post
Dana Nuccitelli

Nice post Daniel.  I like the 13C graphs.  If you're going to use the graph in your draft post, you should make it bigger, because it's hard to read that small.

2011-03-03 08:20:14Latest version; any further inputs? Thanks!
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Putting a new finger on climate change

Posted on 1 March 2011 by Daniel Bailey

It's a settled fact that the world is warming and is generally accepted that humans have contributed to the majority of the warming, especially since about 1980.

Previously here at Skeptical Science we've looked at 10 Human Fingerprints on Climate Change.

Now a new report from the Weizmann Institute of Science establishes another: Paper.

Paper Archives Reveal Pollution's History

Some of the history preserved in old tomes and newspapers may be hiding in between the lines of print. A Weizmann Institute scientist has found that the paper in such collections contains a record of atmospheric conditions at the time the trees that went into making it were growing.
 Gutenberg BibleBy analyzing the carbon isotopes in bits of paper clipped from old magazines, Prof. Dan Yakir of the Environmental Sciences and Energy Research Department in the Faculty of Chemistry has traced the rising effects of atmospheric pollution from burning fossil fuel going back to beginnings of the industrial revolution.
Declaration of Independence
Scientists generally reconstruct the record of past climate change from such sources as ice cores or tree rings. But a reliable tree ring history, says Yakir, requires an analysis of quite a few trees.
“Rather than going to forests all over the world to sample trees,” says Yakir, “we went to the local library.”
In the Weizmann library’s archives, Yakir found issues of the scientific journals Science, Nature and the Journal of the Royal Chemical Society going back over 100 years to the late 19th century. Removing small samples from the margins of successive volumes, he took them back to the lab for analysis.
The analysis was based on a finding that the proportion of a carbon isotope – carbon 13 (13C) – to its lighter counterpart – carbon 12 (12C) – could provide information on the CO2 added to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuel. This is based on a cycle that begins with plants taking up CO2 in photosynthesis. All plants prefer to use CO2 made with the more common version of carbon, 12C, than the slightly heavier 13C. Plant biomass from millions of years ago was transformed into reservoirs of oil, gas and coal, and so these are naturally low in 13C, as well. When we started to burn those reservoirs following the industrial revolution, we began returning the 13C-poor CO2 to the atmosphere.
Recent CO2 concentrations and emissions.IPCC AR4 WG1
(a) CO2 concentrations 
(b) Annual global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement manufacture

Now the atmospheric 13C content has become increasingly diluted, and this is reflected in the carbon ratios in the trees milled for pulp and paper. Yakir’s work shows that this continuing dilution is, indeed, clearly recorded in the archival paper and, plotted over time, it demonstrates the increasing intensity of our fossil fuel burning in the past 150 years.
This project has been ongoing for about 14 years, with figures from new issues added over time. In the process, says Yakir, he has had to learn something about the paper industry. Some early issues, for instance, had been printed on rag paper (made of cotton, flax, etc.) rather than wood pulp, while blips in the data around the time of WWII led Yakir to suspect that the paper was either recycled, or again supplemented with rag content to make up for wartime shortages.
Anomalies aside, 13C levels in the paper, especially for two of the journals, were a good match for existing atmospheric records, and even revealed some local phenomena, including differences between American and European records. In addition to alerting climate scientists to a very well organized, untapped, source of global change records, says Yakir, the technique could be used to authenticate antique paper samples.
10 fingerprints: Make room for Number 11 (gonna need a bigger glove).

Suggested Resources For Beginners


Other Related Posts at Skeptical Science


Image Credits

  1. Gutenberg Bible (Wikimedia Commons)
  2. US Declaration of Independence (Wikimedia Commons)
2011-03-03 10:15:15


Nice post. I like the figure from the paper more.

One question need to be asked: where did the Boston Globe buy the paper for its journal after WWII?  :)

2011-03-03 13:29:49
Rob Painting

Tomes?. Seems a bit knobby!. Nice post though.

2011-03-03 13:41:40
Glenn Tamblyn


Nice post Daniel, and an interesting piece of research


Small point. Isn't this an additional confirmation of one the existing 10 fingerprints - more fossil fuel CO2 in the air - rather than an additional fingerprint? The Blackhats might jump on the distinction


2011-03-03 15:23:19
Rob Painting

Yeah, was going to mention that too Glenn. So maybe it's more like a DNA sample, rather than a fingerprint. Still the same villain. 

2011-03-03 15:44:59Hmmm...
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Thanks all for your input.

In regards to the more fossil fuel CO2 in the air fingerprint: I would agree except that one of the other 10 human fingerprints is more fossil fuel CO2 in coral.

If, after everyone chewing on that a bit the consensus is that we stick with the ten, I'll revise & update the article accordingly.

Riccardo, I liked the source article's graph as well, but thought I was getting too technical as it was, so I compromised & went with a link to it instead.  I was aiming for a telling appealing to a wider audience, figuring that those wanting specifics would follow the link to the open-access paper.

I'll change tomes to books.  My Dungeons & Dragons childhood experiences made me not catch the colloquialism there.


Will implement these changes in a few minutes, after I get out of the hot tub (no, I'm not in it yet; not decadent enough to have a waterproof laptop).  Sucks that the body needs such maintenance to run properly, but whatchagonnado?

2011-03-03 16:43:58You may fire it off to the presses when ready
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Changes made (still not happy with the text spacing for the Keeling curve, but not losing any more sleep over it).

2011-03-03 18:26:29
Glenn Tamblyn




Since when is Dungeons & Dragons a 'childhood experience'?

2011-03-03 23:29:26
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Since I haven't had time to play it since I turned 30...  Sucks to finally become an adult  :)