Statistics in cryptanalysis and paleoclimatology

Reading Wallace Broecker‘s new book on paleoclimatology, I realized that a statistical technique from cryptanalysis could be useful in that field as well. Just as the index of coincidence can be used to match up different ciphertexts partially or completely enciphred with the same key and polyalphabetic cryptosystem, the same basic statistics could be used to match up ice or sediment samples by date.

As with the cryptographic approach, you would start with the two sections randomly aligned and then alter their relative positions until you see a big jump in the correlation between them. At that point, it is more likely than not that you have aligned the two. It probably won’t work perfectly with core samples – since they get squished and stretched by geological events and churned by plants and animals – but an approach based on the same general principle could still work.

Doubtless, some clever paleoclimatologist devised such a technique long ago. Nonetheless, it demonstrates how even bits of knowledge that seem utterly unrelated can sometimes bump up against one another fortuitously.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

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