Last week’s report began with a look ahead to the climate summit in Paris at the end of the month, written in ignorance of the events of that evening that would push climate change off the front pages as the world focused instead on global terrorism. To the friends and family of the victims of the horrific events in Paris last Friday, as well as the parallel events earlier in Lebanon and Egypt, go our condolences and our steadfast support.
For most of us at the Observatory, the most effective response to the actions of a few terrorists is to redouble our efforts to work toward a deeper understanding of our planet, in the hope that such knowledge will improve our ability to forecast and manage global change on behalf of all of Earth’s citizens.
This week the Marine and Large Programs Division welcomed Will Fortin as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist. Will completed a Ph.D. earlier this year at the University of Wyoming, under the supervision of Steve Holbrook, on seismic waveform inversion and seismic oceanography. He also participated in four cruises of the R/V Langseth between 2008 and 2014. At Lamont he will work with Dave Goldberg on the interpretation of offshore seismic profiles in the vicinity of gas hydrates in the Gulf of Mexico and the potential for carbon dioxide storage reservoirs along the U.S. east coast.
Speaking of the Langseth, the ship embarked from Athens on Thursday to begin an expedition to image the seismic velocity structure of the magma plumbing network beneath the Santorini volcanic system in the Aegean Sea. This week, the Columbia Record also released a story about Senior Data Technician Carlos Gutierrez, who has spent 43 years on Lamont vessels, including the Vema, the Conrad, and the Ewing, as well as the Langseth (http://news.columbia.edu/content/cu-people-carlos-gutierrez). Carlos is in the thick of the current cruise, but his retirement next spring will mark a major transition for those who manage the operations of the ship’s seismic system at sea.
Members of Lamont’s polar geophysics group reported from Antarctica that the Rosetta Project to survey the Ross ice shelf – which plays a critical role in stabilizing the West Antarctic ice sheet – has been progressing well despite problems with instruments and local weather. The group is flying the IcePod remote sensing module and two airborne gravimeters to map the structure within and seafloor bathymetry beneath the ice shelf. Margie Turrin posted the most recent addition to the group’s blog yesterday (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/research/blogs/decoding-mysteries-ross-ice-shelf). Kirsty Tinto wrote, also yesterday, “Our second flight was an opportune mission, where we were to fly to South Pole as part of a visit from the National Science Board. We were backup transport, and hoped to survey one of our tie lines on the return journey. When the backup turned out to be needed we didn’t survey the line, but [we] kept gravimeters and magnetometer running for high-elevation data and were able to provide an up-close view of the pod system to an interested group of visitors as we travelled home together.” You can follow the project flight lines on http://pgg.ldeo.columbia.edu/projects/rosetta/.
In a paper published online Monday by Nature Geoscience, Donna Shillington, Anne Bécel, Spahr Webb, Jiyao Li, and their American, Canadian, and French colleagues reported evidence from multi-channel seismic imaging along the Alaskan subduction zone that the orientation of faults in subducted oceanic lithosphere inherited from mid-ocean ridge processes tens of millions of years earlier can strongly affect the character of local earthquake activity. Where such faults are closely aligned with the deep sea trench, Donna and her collaborators find that there is greater reactivation of those faults from bending of the lithosphere outward of the trench, deeper hydration of the subducting lithosphere from water circulation along those faults, and higher levels of interplate and intermediate-depth seismicity – the latter presumably tied to the release of water of hydration at depth – along the subduction zone. Their results provide important insight into variations in the seismic characteristics at short spatial scales along other subduction zones worldwide. A Stacy Morford story on the paper (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/ancient-faults-water-are-sparking-earthquakes-alaska) appears on the Lamont web site.
On Tuesday, reports from NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency established that last month was globally the warmest October on record. Earlier this month, NASA and England’s Met Office projected that the rise in Earth’s average atmospheric temperature since the pre-industrial era will exceed 1°C for the first time later this year (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2015/11/17/record-crushing-october-keeps-earth-on-track-for-hottest-year-in-2015/?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_cwg-october-1210pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory).
On Thursday, Jonathan Nichols posted a story on the Lamont web page about peat fires in Indonesia and their harmful effects on air quality in Southeast Asia and global climate more generally (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/peat-fires-choking-southeast-asia-pose-new-threat-global-climate). Although peatlands occupy only 3% of Earth’s land surface, they hold 30% of soil organic carbon, and the peat fires now raging release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day than the entire U.S. Many of the peat fires are the result of manmade efforts to clear land for the production of palm oil and have been made worse by drought conditions brought on by strong El Niño conditions this year.
Several Lamont scientists were interviewed for news stories over the past week. An in-depth news story in last Friday’s issue of Science on geological studies of past episodes of sea level rise cited Maureen Raymo’s work on Pliocene sea levels and the complicating effects of mantle convection and glacial loading and unloading on dynamic topography (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/350/6262/752.full). On Tuesday, Peter Kelemen was interviewed on a “How Do We Fix It?” podcast (http://www.howdowefixit.me/podcasts/2015/11/17/carboncapture) about subsurface capture and storage of carbon dioxide. Also on Tuesday, Talk Radio News Service spoke with Adam Sobel on the effects of this year’s El Niño on unusual weather patterns (http://www.talkradionews.com/audio/2015/11/17/the-world-in-2-november-17-2015.html). On Wednesday, the Columbia Record released an interview with Peter deMenocal on the goals of the newly established Center for Climate and Life (http://news.columbia.edu/content/new-center-climate-and-life-bring-latest-science-business-and-finance-worlds).
Today’s Earth Science Colloquium will be given by alumnus and former Lamont Assistant Research Professor Neil Pederson, now a Senior Ecologist at Harvard Forest. Neil will be speaking today on the question, “Did the climate of the late 20th Century mask mechanisms for rapid, large-scale change in eastern U.S. forests?” I hope to see you there.