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Walking around an old graveyard may seem like the stuff of horror movies, but an international research project wants you to do just that - to help track shifts in world pollution levels.
The global Gravestone Project, which kicks off this month and will continue until late 2011, is the first scientific research project undertaken across the world as part of the international EarthTrek citizen science program.
The Australian arm of the unique project was launched yesterday, with individuals, schools and community groups across the country being encouraged to visit their local graveyards (after obtaining required permissions) to measure the weathering rates of old marble headstones.
Determining its location using GPS, they will be able to add their cemetery's location to a global graveyard map on the EarthTrek website. If the cemetery is host to white marble headstones, they will be asked to select five varying in age - including the oldest and youngest in the graveyard - and to respectfully measure the weathering of the stones using micrometer callipers, and log this and various other helpful data on the website.
"It is amazing to consider that, because marble headstones are freshly cut when they are placed in a cemetery, the weathering 'clock' is effectively set to zero," said Deirdre Dragovich, from the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney in NSW.
"The Gravestone Project provides a unique opportunity to gather important information about [weathering of tombstones] from different countries, climates and pollution environments - and it is also a great way for the wider community to contribute to cutting-edge research on pollution and climate change."
The measurements collected through the Gravestone Project will help assess whether some regions of the globe are experiencing higher pollution and more rapid climate change than others. This idea is that rain contains acid from air pollution and chemicals, which chemically erodes the marble stones - and the rate of weathering can indicate changes in pollution or climate between locations over time.