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The Carbon Vault

Fri, 06/10/2016 - 14:41
 K. Allen, 2010

Basaltic rock, Iceland. Photo: K. Allen, 2010

 

The skin of the Earth is the color of tar,

Ridged, freshly healed like the seams of a scar.

Through salt-spattered sky, a gray-winged gull sails;

Steam gently rises, the island exhales.

 

A power plant rests on porous basalt,

In spaces beneath, a dark final vault.

Carbon is cached with a strong crystal lock,

Ashes to ashes, rock back to rock.

 

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Further reading:

In a First, Iceland Power Plant Turns Carbon Emissions to Stone, K. Krajick, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Rapid carbon mineralization for permanent disposal of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, Matter et al., Science

Scientists Turn Carbon Dioxide Emissions into Stone, Magill, Climate Central

This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the School of Earth & Climate Sciences at the University of Maine.

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Habitat

Fri, 09/11/2015 - 12:00
The Island of Manhattan. Image from the Wildlife Conservation Society

Images representing the past and present Island of Manhattan. Credit: Wildlife Conservation Society

 

People are sometimes startled

By falcons perched on balconies, raccoons slinking through the park,

Bluefish blitzing herring up the river, coyotes tracing train tracks.

Isn’t it amazing, or isn’t it disturbing, we say,

A creature’s daring foray into our hard-paved empire.

I prefer the long view – that of Manhattan Schist, let’s say,

Having been buried in mile-thick ice,

Thoroughly sculpted and scoured,

Recolonized by green things and red-blooded things

Over and over again, with each ephemeral ice age.

From that vantage, it is we who are the curious invaders, an encrusting colony

Of organisms with a stunning talent for creating habitat for ourselves.

Diggers of ditches, un-earthers of bones, surveyors of history

All tell a tale of an earlier island of Eden,

Teeming with silver-backed, feather-tipped, vibrant-green life

Not so long ago.

The Schist, sparkling darkly in the park, is not surprised

By ‘coons and hawks, toothed and clawed neighbors,

Nor by the eels, pipers, moths, terrapins, raptors, seals, spiders,

By great trees ripping upwards through pavement.

You might think that I am about to lament all the changes we have wreaked

On this landscape, but I refuse to despise my own species.

I refuse to accept the conservationist’s guilt,

To draw boxes around wildness and around civilization,

And ignore the reality that these two can never truly be separated.

Instead, I am in awe of the spectacular forces that shape my world,

From grinding ice sheet to pulverizing jackhammer,

From rising skyscraper to ascending oak.

I live my animal life deliberately,

Knowing that we can never extract ourselves from Nature,

And that the boundaries we draw are not real.

 

This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the School of Earth & Climate Sciences at the University of Maine.

Tiny Architects

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 11:00
 Kelly Strzepek.

Foraminifera are tiny plankton that typically build elaborate shells of calcium carbonate. Their kind have lived in the ocean for millions of years. Photo: Kelly Strzepek.

 

Heaved upwards from your deep and watery grave,

From the quiet murk onto a chaotic, brine-encrusted ship deck,

You’re ever so carefully washed free from the mud,

From all the rinsings of continents that settled out of the sea with you

Like snow, softly entombing your remains.

Now through my looking glass, you lie scattered

Like discarded Christmas ornaments,

Lying in broken glory, shards of a former world;

Tiny fossils, utterly bewitching.

Some people say there must be a knowing architect behind all this design;

Looking at your tiny turrets, buttresses, embellishments,

I understand the sentiment.

How is it, and why is it, that you craft such castles

Smaller than a grain of sand?

I know it is your work, not that of some artful watchmaker;

I’ve watched your live descendants raise their miniscule arches,

Lay down their mortar and stone, precisely and perfectly.

Still, it’s hard to believe my eyes. I am desperate to ask you,

Clever protist with no brain, to tell me all your secrets.

I wonder if some life-form, eons hence,

Will ever find my ancient bones,

Marvel at their beauty,

And imagine the life of the mysterious being that grew them.

 

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This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Finding Pluto

Fri, 06/26/2015 - 11:00
 JHUAPL/SwRI

This summer, a space probe that has been traveling for 9 years will finally reach Pluto. Image: JHUAPL/SwRI

 

Far away, a beloved dot

Arcs through cold and shrouded spaces,

Not lonely, as we had once thought,

But circled by more rocky faces:

Charon, Nix, and Hydra found,

Classified as “dwarf” or pseudo,

And though such bodies now abound,

None sparks wonder quite like Pluto.

On the hunt for Planet X,

Tombaugh found a ball of light,

Among a crowd of tiny specks;

Imaginations soon took flight.

Elusive is this outerworld;

Nine years ago we took a dare –

To deepest space, a scouter hurled

… and soon it will be there!

 

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Further reading:

Pluto-bound probe faces its toughest challenge: finding Pluto, Witze (2015) Nature

NASA Mission: New Horizons to Pluto

This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

 

‘Faux pause’

Fri, 06/12/2015 - 10:30
 Maintenance workers on an ocean buoy, NOAA.

The global ocean buoy network has been expanding in recent years. Accounting for small, consistent offsets between temperatures measured by buoys and by ships reveals a greater global warming trend than previously calculated for the past 15 years. Image: Maintenance workers on an ocean buoy, NOAA.

 

New data support the conclusion

The “hiatus” was mostly illusion.

They say that the keys

Are the poles and the seas …

The next job: reduce the confusion.

 

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Further reading:

Global warming “hiatus” never happened, study says, Wendel (2015) EOS

Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus, Karl et al. (2015) Science

This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

MESSENGER

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 12:19

 

MESSENGER's last image of Mercury. (NASA)

MESSENGER’s last image of Mercury. (NASA)

 

Alien orbits you plied,

While we vicariously spied

A distant globe …

Oh, tough little probe!

It’s been a wonderful ride.

 

 

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Further reading:

MESSENGER’s last image

This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

An Earth Epic

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 10:30
 Ricardo Ramalho

Photo: Ricardo Ramalho

I hear that the Archean Earth

Spewed lava and was hot,

(While much later, “Snowball Earth,”

Apparently was not),

Some have said that life sprung out of

Spreading-ridge-type stew,

Photosynthesis seems likely

Based on carbon records, too.

Crust was forming, oceans warming,

Stromatolites came later,

(We have to wait a long, long time

for T-Rexes, Fish, and Gators)

The Prot’rozoic was really wild,

Stromatolites went crazy,

Our atmosphere gained oxygen,

The rest is a bit hazy.

Super-duper continents

and Banded-Iron formed;

Glacial stuff beneath cap carbs

Say Earth cooled and warmed.

Half a billion years ago

Is when it gets exciting …

Suddenly, life took a leap!

All living, breeding, fighting.

Brachs and Crinoids, Bryozoans,

Weirdo shells galore,

Nautiloids (like giant dunce caps)

Roamed the ocean floor.

Then disaster strikes them down,

(This happens four more times)

And we soon approach some names

That are difficult to rhyme.

Gondwana drifts to the South Pole,

and glaciers spread like malls,

The world was likely colder,

and sea level took a fall.

So ends the years of trilobites

(and the Ordovician)

But soon we get new forms of life,

And we can all go fishin’!

Finally the land joins in,

And starts to grow green stuff,

(are you still enjoying this,

or have you had enough?)

More death, more life, more death again,

While giant mountains grow,

(we think this lowered CO2,

but no one really knows).

The Carboniferous was lush,

(that’s where our coal is from!)

Amazing bugs and dinosaurs,

(though some say they were dumb).

Gymnosperms and vertebrates,

Then the grimmest death so far,

Then Triassic life recovered,

with reptiles big as cars.

We leave aragonitic seas behind

And move towards today,

Though continents were not in place,

(that great Tethys seaway).

About 100 million years ago

Deep sea carbonates abound,

So now the ocean’s buffered well,

(and planktics can be found!)

And THEN Earth has a real bad day,

An asteroid hits hard,

Fire-balls and darkened skies,

Life is burned and charred.

(Holy cow, this is quite long,

let’s finish it already!) …

Cenozoic history

was anything but steady.

It started hot, they also say

that CO2 was high;

Wimpy mammals take the lead,

(I hear that bats could fly).

Himalayas cause a ruckus,

Gateways open/close,

We start to get some glaciers,

And cold, deep water flows.

From the Greenhouse to the Icehouse

Now we’re really getting chilly,

Then humans come along (that’s us)

and everything gets silly!

So there you have it, Earth through time,

History deep and long,

I surely skipped a lot of stuff,

And may have got some wrong.

I hope if you’re still reading

that your brain is not too vexed,

Now it’s time to face the future,

…. I wonder what is next!

 

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Further reading:

See the geologic record.

This poem was first published on the author’s website on May 22, 2009.

This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Buzz Kill

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 11:40
 Dave Goulson (SCIENCE)

Recent studies indicate that bees are increasingly stressed by toxins, pathogens, and lack of food. Image: Dave Goulson (Science)

 

To feed our own species, we race,

Wild herbage, corn rows replace,

The Earth’s shrinking bower:

To insects, that flower

Is not just a beautiful face.

 

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Further reading:

Bee declines driven by combined stress from parasites, pesticides, and lack of flowers, Goulson et al. 2015 Science

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Abyssal Rhythm

Fri, 03/13/2015 - 11:00
 ADAPTED BY P. HUEY/SCIENCE

When sea level drops, pressure at mid-ocean ridges decreases, which may influence the production of ocean crust. A new study suggests that the pattern of hills on the sea floor reflects the timing of sea-level change during ice age cycles. Illustration: adapted by P. Huey/Science

 

Since the dawn of mankind, I imagine we’ve gazed

In wonder and awe at the sky’s starry crown;

More recently, we have been deeply amazed

By the long-obscured, staggering view looking down

To the depths of the sea, through crust, and below

Where rock moves like taffy, dark forge of the Earth,

Great molten sculptures and stark chasms grow;

A womb steeped in intrigue, the mantle gives birth

To breath-taking mountains, and wide rolling hills,

We humans gaze down from our ships, our sea cruises

We probe this vast landscape with sound waves and drills;

From ridges of awesome proportions, crust oozes

With a rhythm, it seems, that’s tied to the sun!

Our planet’s history, scrawled on ripped pages

Of rock and of sediments, piled by the ton

Rippled and riddled with tales of ice ages;

From ridges revealed, a pattern discovered

Orbital rhythms in a seafloor slice,

The pulse of the planet, a sculpture uncovered,

Does the deep earth exhale in concert with ice?

 

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Further reading:

How climate influences sea floor topography, Conrad 2015 Science

Glacial cycles drive variations in the production of ocean crust, Crowley et al. 2015 Science

Mid-ocean ridge eruptions as a climate valve, Tolstoy 2015 Geophysical Research Letters

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

 

The Most Astonishing Thing

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 09:00
A super-massive black hole, roughly 12 billion times as massive as our sun, has been discovered at the center of a bright quasar. The light reaching us now from that distant location has been traveling for billions of years, and thus offers a glimpse into the earliest stages of the universe.

A super-massive black hole, roughly 12 billion times as massive as our sun, has been discovered at the center of a bright quasar. The light reaching us now from that distant location has been traveling for billions of years, and thus offers a glimpse into the earliest stages of the universe. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

The most astonishing thing about the universe, in my eyes,

Is not merely its gargantuan, unfathomable size,

But the way its vastness ferries gorgeous, primordial light,

So that as we look up into the night,

The farther afield our gaze penetrates, the higher we climb,

The farther we can see back in time.

Like ancient missives carefully tucked into a bottle,

Flashes of history race towards us full-throttle,

At the speed of light traversing a fabric expanding,

These waves touch our shores, and fuel our understanding

Of quasars and black holes, the light and the dark,

The Very Beginning, the bright cosmic spark

From which all this sprang – upon us, the story rains:

Of how we arose with star stuff in our veins.

 

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Further reading:

Gigantic Black Hole Discovered from the Dawn of Time, National Geographic

An ultraluminous quasar with a twelve-billion-solar-mass black hole at redshift 6.30, Wu et al. (2015) Nature

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.