2902: Ice Core

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Ice Core
If you find an ash deposition layer from a year in which an eruption destroyed an island that had Camellia sinensis growing on it, you can make a Gone Island Ice_τ.
Title text: If you find an ash deposition layer from a year in which an eruption destroyed an island that had Camellia sinensis growing on it, you can make a Gone Island Ice_τ.


Some people may like to taste a wine dated to the year they were born, or perhaps are subject to it as a family tradition. This would more typically be for a special occasion such as a milestone birthday than because it happens to be a 'good year' for the wine(s) they favor (unless they were particularly fortunate). Reaching the legal drinking age would be an appropriate opportunity to partake in a wine that is the same age as themselves. This comic extends this practice into a joke that paleoclimatologists, who study the climate, use dated ice instead of dated wine, drilling into the ground to find the layer of ice matching the birth year of the recipient, either to drink 'neat' (once sufficiently melted) or as the 'on the rocks' part of another drink, perhaps a cocktail.

Megan, a paleoclimatologist, decides to make a cocktail with the ice from the ice sheets (present in the Arctic and Antarctic, for example). Normally, scientists would try to date the ice and then use it to describe the state of the climate when these ice sheets formed. Here, Megan tries to find the ice layer corresponding to Knit Cap's birth year to use the ice for the chosen drink. The caption asserts that this method of creating drinks is “traditional” for paleoclimatologists. She then asks if Knit Cap has the cocktail shaker that they presumably brought to the site ready. Cocktail shakers are used in the preparation of many mixed drinks, which often contain ice (usually produced by refrigeration, rather than harvested from natural sources).

The title text says that if they manage to find some ice with ash coming from an eruption which destroyed an island with Camellia sinensis growing on it, they'll be able to make a cocktail called a 'Gone Island Ice_τ', which is a punning reference to the cocktail known as a Long Island iced tea. Camellia sinensis (common name, "tea plant") is generally used for making tea, so this cocktail would have tea infused into the ice. The Greek letter tau is used in place of "tea". The joke here likely is that this character is used in various fields to denote time, and presumably in this case refers to the time the ice deposit in question dates to.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[Knit Cap and Megan are both wearing knit caps and scarves in a snowy and icy environment, most likely a glacier, looking at an ice drill that is a tripod with the drill in the middle. There is a helicopter on the ground in the background, with their footprints between them and the helicopter, suggesting they flew with the helicopter to the glacier. Knit Cap is holding a small container between her hands while Megan is holding the middle of the drill.]
Megan: Next, we'll identify the ice core layer matching your birth year. Do you have the shaker ready?
[Caption below the panel:]
Making the traditional paleoclimatologist cocktail

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Akin to 2729: Planet Killer Comet Margarita, which perhaps needs mentioning in the upcoming Explanation... 23:04, 4 March 2024 (UTC)

Added a short explanation, but it'll definitely need more work. 23:11, 4 March 2024 (UTC)

The title text raises a lot of questions. It's a play on the mixed drink Long Island Iced (or Ice) Tea of course. But why the underscore? Why does the T look funny (tau?)? Why isn't tea spelled out? 23:44, 4 March 2024 (UTC)Pat

Yes, Randall did use tau in the title text. I recently made mention of that in my most recent edit. I'm not sure why he used it but maybe instead of a "Gone Island Ice Tea", it's a "Gone Island Ice Tau"? OmniDoom (talk) 23:58, 4 March 2024 (UTC)

Tau is tortuosity in a lot of equations involving porous material (including ice), and also represents time in some engineering disciplines. It's written as "Ice_τ", and I have no idea what the oddly specific underscore is. Maybe it's "I x c x e" from some equation that involves τ? And somehow could be relevant to a sunken island? 00:05, 5 March 2024 (UTC)

It could be the case that the underscore before the tau is indicating a subscript and that, as you said, the "Ice" could be "I * c * e_τ" but I have no way of being sure. (Quick aside: I originally read the "I x c x e" expression as though it were "Ixcxe" and took it for a word or an acronym or something. Humanity really needs to agree on a universal form of multiplication sign for typing.)OmniDoom (talk) 00:28, 5 March 2024 (UTC)
Aside cont.: We already have a character specifically for this: × (U+00D7 MULTIPLICATION SIGN). How to type that is an exercise left to the reader. 01:01, 5 March 2024 (UTC)

I've heard recently (possibly reheard, as (amongst other things) I've been relistening to The Infinite Monkey Cage broadcasts/podcasts but can't immediately pin down the remembered context) about ice-core samplings having been used as drink-ice. But this is thousands-of-years-old ice, with thousands-of-years-old atmosphere trapped in it, as bubbles that get released as it melts. It was supposed to be special, given that (with a bit of poetic licence) you could technically breath in the ancient atmosphere with a good sniff at the glass. Though, as might not be surprising, the taste was described as "like drilling fluid". 02:24, 5 March 2024 (UTC)

Is it really possible to date ice layers to specific years? I assume dating precision is millenia, maybe at best centuries. The explanation should mention how impossible it is to date to a specific birth year, unless there happened to be a specific climatologic event that year (like a big eruption). Barmar (talk) 02:54, 5 March 2024 (UTC)

If compressed (centuries or more of snow atop), it might be more difficult, but this is going to be maybe a handful of decades of layers. Depending upon the local buildup method (still snows a bit during the long (ant)arctic night, then (ant)arctic day gentle crisps the surface snow), it might be fairly obvious under visual inspection. Even without key marker deposits from atmospheric dust/soot/etc. But would depend upon both weather and climate patterns. 04:39, 5 March 2024 (UTC)

" ice (usually sourced locally).[citation needed]" Up until just about a hundred years ago, most ice in the eastern US came from Maine. In winter the Mainers sawed-up the ponds, stored ice in sawdust-filled ice-houses, then in summer shipped it as far south as Cuba. --PRR (talk) 05:23, 5 March 2024 (UTC)

While the ending pun on the name of actor/rapper "Ice Cube" is funny (as would be a more elaborate pun also involving Ice-T), I think it detracts from the explanation, actually making things more confusing. Mathmannix (talk) 11:54, 5 March 2024 (UTC)

Can anyone identify the specific geological event Randall refers to? When did a Volcano destroy a tea plant producing island? 11:57, 5 March 2024 (UTC)

I think I have answered my own question... This is the google search results:

Has a volcano ever destroyed an island? The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa (Indonesian: Letusan Krakatau 1883) in the Sunda Strait occurred from 20 May until 21 October 1883, peaking in the late morning hours of 27 August when over 70% of the island of Krakatoa and its surrounding archipelago were destroyed as it collapsed into a caldera. 12:00, 5 March 2024 (UTC)

An aside: Though I don't know if it was intentional on Randall's part, there is an additional pun to Ice_τ: In German 'Tau' is not just the Greek letter, but also the word for 'melt' - which does fit the comic's theme. 13:59, 5 March 2024 (UTC)

About the _τ, some times programs (like Desmos) use underscores to portray subscripts, which may be the intent here -- 19:47, 6 March 2024 (UTC)

I think this is a clear reference to the weel known anecdote in the paleoclimatologist community. Claude Lorius was drinking a glass of Whisky on an Antarctic base when he noticed that air bubles trapped in the ice could provide key information on fomer climatic conditions. After a quick search, here is a reference citing this anecdote [1]. Sapin (talk) 21:51, 6 March 2024 (UTC)

It would not surprise me if Rat from 'Pearls Before Swine" was on his way over with a baseball bat to have a "word" with Randal about puns. These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 01:24, 12 March 2024 (UTC)