To understand global patterns of climate change across deep time, Shannon shows, researchers must study samples from ice cores, sediments, tree rings etc. She shows how ice, rocks, sediments, and soils become archival documents in themselves.
But she argues, for example, the preservation of ice cores as document has a deeply paradoxical nature. It is at once concerned with tracking and monitoring patterns of environmental change, but its intensely complex processes of collection, transportation, storage and requires an enormous amount of energy to ensure its refrigeration during all these stages. “Freezing ice cores to study climate change is a practice saturated with ironies,” she quotes Joanna Radin and Emma Kowal. In a similar vein, as data storage centers now make up a large chunk of global energy use.
Data and archiving (and perhaps infrastructure?) are central to the interface between environmental processes and policy, consciousness, and imagination. How do we negotiate the energy-intensive means of tracking environmental meltdown that is itself caused by the dependency on energy? Indeed, a cosmic irony!