In most parts of the world, New Mexico included, there have only been rain gauges and thermometers to record the weather for a little more than a century.
To figure out what happened before, scientists are exploiting a growing arsenal of tricks, from layers of ice in Antarctica to corals that grow differently depending on whether the water around them is warm or cold.
In New Mexico, tree rings have long been scientists’ tool of choice. But tree ring records here only go back 2,000 years. Asmerom has turned to cave formations to push the climate record back in time.
The idea is that changing rainfall patterns on the mountains above Pink Panther Cave are reflected in the growth patterns of the cave’s stalagmites. Asmeron and his colleagues painstakingly analyze the stalagmite’s layers in a University of New Mexico lab to tease out the story.