Hot Carbon

Carbon-14 and a Revolution in Science

John F. Marra

Columbia University Press

Hot Carbon

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Pub Date: June 2019

ISBN: 9780231186704

280 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£27.00

Pub Date: June 2019

ISBN: 9780231546782

280 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£27.00

Hot Carbon

Carbon-14 and a Revolution in Science

John F. Marra

Columbia University Press

There are few fields of science that carbon-14 has not touched. A radioactive isotope of carbon, it stands out for its unusually long half-life. Best known for its application to estimating the age of artifacts—carbon dating—carbon-14 helped reveal new chronologies of human civilization and geological time. Everything containing carbon, the basis of all life, could be placed in time according to the clock of radioactive decay, with research applications ranging from archeology to oceanography to climatology.

In Hot Carbon, John F. Marra tells the untold story of this scientific revolution. He weaves together the workings of the many disciplines that employ carbon-14 with gripping tales of the individuals who pioneered its possibilities. He describes the concrete applications of carbon-14 to the study of all the stuff of life on earth, from climate science’s understanding of change over time to his own work on oceanic photosynthesis with microscopic phytoplankton. Marra’s engaging narrative encompasses nuclear testing, the peopling of the Americas, elephant poaching, and the flax plants used for the linen in the Shroud of Turin. Combining colorful narrative prose with accessible explanations of fundamental science, Hot Carbon is a thought-provoking exploration of how the power of carbon-14 informs our relationship to the past.
You may never have heard of carbon-14, but from chemistry to physiology to oceanography, no isotope has affected more aspects of modern life. With precision and verve, oceanographer John F. Marra profiles the most important isotope on earth. Eli Kintisch, correspondent, Science magazine
This is an engaging and witty account of the discovery of carbon-14 – there are surprising twists and turns along the way. With its entertaining descriptions of carbon-14’s role in understanding fundamental life processes, dating archaeological specimens, and chronicling past climate, this book is a page-turner for anyone interested in the history of scientific discovery. James J. McCarthy, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University
The more times I read this book, the more favorably impressed I am with the clarity and drama of the narrative. Marra’s work will be very well received and appreciated by those interested in how science advances. This is true particularly now, when there is so much controversy surrounding the validity of science per se. Richard T. Barber, Harvey W. Smith Professor Emeritus of Biological Oceanography in the Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Duke University
Preface
Acknowledgments
Prologue: Aboard the Research Vessel Endeavor, South of Iceland, May 1991
1. Discovery
2. Discovery’s Wake
3. The “Invisible Phenomenon”
4. Dating
5. Photosynthesis
6. Calvin’s Cycle
7. Scintillations and Accelerations
8. The Shroud of Turin and Other Relics
9. Ocean Circulation
10. Carbon-14 in the Ocean
11. Ocean Fertility
12. Resolution: Plankton Rate Processes in Oligotrophic Oceans
13. Carbon-14 and Climate
Epilogue
Appendix 1. List of Nobel Prize Winners Mentioned
Appendix 2. The Periodic Table of Elements
Notes
References
Index

About the Author

John F. Marra is professor of earth and environmental sciences and director of the Aquatic Research and Environmental Assessment Center at Brooklyn College. He was previously a research scientist and associate director of the Division of Biology and Paleoenvironment at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.