Biogeochemical tales told by isotope clumps

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Science  24 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6233, pp. 394-395
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab1604

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How do you take a dinosaur's temperature, reconstruct the elevation histories of Earth's great mountain ranges, probe the workings of photosynthesis, and confirm biological origins of a greenhouse gas? Increasingly, the answer lies in clumps. Clumped isotope geochemistry (1) is the latest branch of stable isotope geochemistry, the field that illuminated the Pleistocene glacial-interglacial cycles (2), the oxygenation of Earth's atmosphere some 2.5 billion years ago (3), and the enigmatic presence of grass in hominid diets (4). In this issue, Yeung et al. (page 431) (5) and Wang et al. (page 428) (6) describe clumped isotope effects that, among other things, can serve as tracers of biological versus abiological origins of gases.