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It’s as if every scientist is reading from his or her own watch, but nobody’s watch is synchronized with anyone else’s.
Earthtime’s goal is to synchronize the numerous watches worn by scientists who study deep time, then use them to create one superaccurate chronology of Earth’s past.
The model will also be adjustable so that it can explore unusual physiology (a higher-functioning left hemisphere, say, or a weakened hippocampus) and environmental changes (like the effects of taking a pharmaceutical).
The data can then be interpreted via computer images.
Such is the case with most of the big questions about the history of the Earth, says Paul Renne, director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center: “Often, our arguments about causality depend on timing.” That’s why he and hundreds of other scientists around the world have joined Earthtime, a 10-year endeavor to nail down the sequence of past events on Earth by refining scientists’ techniques for measuring deep time.
Over the past 10 years, such tools have become astonishingly accurate and precise.
Take radioisotope dating, which scientists do by measuring the relative abundance of certain forms of elements (like potassium-40) called isotopes and then using the known decay rates of those elements to calculate the age of the minerals in which they are found.
But a few glitches are preventing scientists from making the most of these improvements.
First, separate labs using the same dating techniques employ slightly different materials and methods, leading to different results.