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The prodigious mobilization of science that produced nuclear weapons was so far-reaching that it revolutionized even the study of ancient climates.
Nuclear laboratories, awash with funds and prestige, spun off the discovery of an amazing new technique radiocarbon dating.
In 1958, Hessel de Vries in the Netherlands showed there were systematic anomalies in the carbon-14 dates of tree rings.
His explanation was that the concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere had varied over time (by up to one percent).
In 1961, Minze Stuiver suggested that longer-term solar variations might account for the inconsistent carbon-14 dates. Libby, for one, cast doubt on the idea, so subversive of the many dates his team had supposedly established with high accuracy.(9) Suess and Stuiver finally pinned down the answer in 1965 by analyzing hundreds of wood samples dated from tree rings.
For example, Hans Suess relied on a variety of helpers to collect fragments of century-old trees from various corners of North America.
He was looking for the carbon that human industry had been emitting by burning fossil fuels, in which all the carbon-14 had long since decayed away.
A stronger field would tend to shield the planet from particles from the Sun, diverting them before they could reach the atmosphere to create carbon-14.
and "not very attractive."(8) However, solar specialists knew that the number of particles shot out by the Sun varies with the eleven-year cycle of sunspots.
Any contamination of a sample by outside carbon (even from the researcher's fingerprints) had to be fanatically excluded, of course, but that was only the beginning.