Geopoetry

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Kat Allen, a researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, started writing poems about science as a graduate student, in part to make studying for qualifying exams less painfully serious. At Lamont, she sent out a poem with each week’s reminder about the geochemistry department’s coffee social hour. Her “Geopoetry” blog grew from there because, she says, “It was just too much fun to stop.” Kat is currently an instructor in Columbia’s Frontiers of Science program.
Updated: 1 min 24 sec ago

Ancestors

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 09:00
These lithic artifacts were discovered at almost 4,500 meters elevation in the Peruvian Andes, at the highest-altitude Pleistocene archaeological site yet identified in the world. Figure by E. Cooper, in Rademaker et al. (2014) Science.

These lithic artifacts were discovered at almost 4,500 meters elevation in the Peruvian Andes, at the highest-altitude Pleistocene archaeological site yet identified in the world. Figure by E. Cooper, in Rademaker et al. (2014) Science.

 

We are high mountain people, hunters and artists,

Our view from this base camp is brilliant and clear.

Cold, thin air sweeps the rocky plateau;

You need a strong heart to live here.

 

Vicuña, guanaco, taruka our prey,

With razor-sharp points, upon them we close,

Then blaze up a fire, take rest, and prepare:

These creatures we skin to the toes.

 

Out of the ice age and up from the valley,

Testing the limits of body and spirit.

Descendants: a challenge before you stands tall;

Will you adapt, surmount it, or fear it?

 

Our tale has been weathered; you’re straining to see us

In smudges of smoke, in scattered remains,

Discarded tools, a wide, ancient landscape,

And one piece yet living: our blood in your veins.

 

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Further reading:

Oldest High-Altitude Human Settlement Discovered in Andes, LiveScience

Paleoindian settlement of the high-altitude Peruvian Andes, Rademaker et al. (2014) 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 Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

 

 

Sun-gazing

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 10:00
 De Pontieu et al., Science 2014

Dopplergrams from the NASA’s space telescope IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph) revealing detailed evidence of “twist” between the sun’s surface and outer atmosphere. These phenomena may play a role in driving the temperature difference between the sun’s surface (~6000 K) and the sun’s outer atmosphere (millions of degrees). The reason for this enormous temperature gradient is not fully understood (a puzzle known as the “coronal heating problem”). Image: De Pontieu et al., Science 2014

 

By Galileo’s careful hand, sunspot details are exquisite,

Through eye of forehead, eye of mind beholds what body can not visit.

If only he could see the sights now rendered from Earth’s outer space,

Ultraviolet sunscapes – Oh, to see his raptured face!

High above Earth’s atmosphere, IRIS probes the edges of our star,

A telescope in orbit, through its lenses, we see far.

Six thousand Kelvin screams the surface, roiling plasma, like hellish seas,

Hotter still, the sun’s corona: millions of degrees!

Mysterious, this source of heat that drives the solar wind our way …

High-speed jets, coronal loops and nanoflares may be at play.

What a thrill to gaze through space with spectrographic eyes,

Fueled by human wonder and a zeal to probe the skies.

 

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Further reading:

Eyeing the Sun, Science Magazine

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 Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Chemical silence

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 08:26

 Elkhorn coral colony near Akumal, Mexico. John Bruno (Science).

Photo: Elkhorn coral colony near Akumal, Mexico. John Bruno (Science).

 

What if you couldn’t smell smoke?

Or detect flirty signs from a bloke?

Imagine the cost

Of faculties lost,

Of signals that deafness would cloak …

On reefs, it’s chemical cues

That life-forms will commonly use;

With acid on rise,

A fatal surprise:

What senses might reef-critters lose?

 

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Further reading:

Ocean acidification foils chemical signals, 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 Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

 

Aureococcus

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 09:00

 

Aerial view of a brown tide caused by Aureococcus anophagefferens. Long Island. Photo by Chris Gobler.

Aerial view of a brown tide caused by Aureococcus anophagefferens. Photo by Chris Gobler.

 

On skin, it’s barely a freckle I’d make,

But baby, en masse, we turn seas opaque!

Come darkness, come famine, come poison or flood,

My kind can flourish in any old crud.

I may be a tiny and brainless brown cell,

But my tactics are brilliant; I’m doing quite well.

So, “higher” life-forms, with deep-furrowed brow,

I’ve made my move … what will you do now?

 

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Further reading (on what humans are doing now …):

Like Weeds of the Sea, ‘Brown Tide’ Algae Exploit Nutrient-Rich Coastlines, Earth Institute

De novo assembly of Aureococcus anophagefferens transcriptomes reveals diverse responses to the low nutrient and low light conditions present during blooms, Frischkorn et al., Frontiers in Microbiology

 

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 Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Graceful, Tiny, Toothy Ancestors

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 09:00
An artist's illustration of the tree-dwelling mammal Xianshou songae (by Zhao Chuang). The discovery of three new Jurassic species suggests that mammals evolved earlier and diversified more rapidly thank previously thought.

An artist’s illustration of the tree-dwelling mammal Xianshou songae (illustration by Zhao Chuang). The discovery of three new Jurassic species suggests that mammals evolved earlier and diversified more rapidly than previously thought.

 

With body spry, tail curly,

This mammal showed up early.

Did Xianshou squeak?

If bones could speak …

These might say “I’m squirrely!”

 

 

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Further reading:

Chisel-toothed beasts push back origin of mammals, National Geographic

Three new Jurassic euharamiyidan species reinforce early divergence of mammals, 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 Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

 

 

Dreadnoughtus

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 07:00
 Jennifer Hall

An artist’s vision of how Dreadnoughtus schrani would have appeared. Credit: Jennifer Hall

 

If you, like me, are something of a paleo-romantic,

Swooning over dinosaurs both fearsome and gigantic,

Come feast your eyes on new reports the bone-hunters have brought us:

“Fearing nothing” means its name – the mighty beast Dreadnoughtus!

Seven times as heavy as Tyrannosaurus rex,

This gentle vegan creature boasted tons of muscle flex.

Patagonian earth under its massive feet would quake,

What a silhouette at dawn a family would make!

Even ‘mongst Titanosaurids, this one breaks the ceiling,

A shoulder blade as tall as I am – God, it sets me reeling.

On top of that, when this one died, it wasn’t yet mature …

How much more would it have grown? We can not be quite sure.

3D-scanning, high-tech models try to help us see one,

But why were creatures bigger then? What was it like to be one?

Children are the best at this, working on all fours,

Today, I think I’ll try it too: fear nothing, shake the floors!

 

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Further reading:

Giant dinosaur unearthed in Argentina, Science SHOT

A Gigantic, Exceptionally Complete Titanosaurian Sauropod Dinosaur from Southern Patagonia, Argentina, Nature

New “Dreadnought” Dinosaur Most Complete Specimen of a Giant, Scientific American

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 Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Erosion, Then Explosion

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 09:00
 Peters & Gaines, Nature, 2012

Illustration: Peters & Gaines, Nature, 2012

When viewing The Great Unconformity,
The result of a vast denudation,
One feels a new sense of enormity …
And above it lie critters crustacean!
Life during this wild explosion,
For armor, developed affinity.
Whence the new ions? Erosion!
Gooey life — meet alkalinity!

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Further reading:

Formation of the “Great Unconformity” as a trigger for the Cambrian explosion, Shanan E. Peters & Robert R. Gaines, Nature, 2012

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 Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Faint Young Sun

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 09:31
  Science online, J.F. Kasting

Image: Science online, J.F. Kasting

 

Through an ancient looking-glass,
Perhaps you’d see more H2 gas,
And if with denser gas collided,
Greater greenhouse warmth provided.
With faint young sun, would this suffice
To maintain water and not ice?
And when methanogens arrive?
This old debate is much alive.

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Further reading:

Hydrogen-Nitrogen Greenhouse Warming in Earth’s Early Atmosphere, Wordsworth and Pierrehumbert, Science, 2013

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 Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University

Bottom Feeders

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 09:28
 Yuki Morono

Microscopic images: Yuki Morono

Graduate students, microbe goo …
What is it that links the two?
It seems that both life forms are found
Where electron donors (food) abound!
Sed rates, organic stuff control
Cell distribution on the whole.
New techniques birth a new notion:
Sub-seafloor mass, the same as ocean.

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Further reading:

Downsizing the Deep Biosphere, Perspective, Science 2012

Global distribution of microbial abundance and biomass in subseafloor sediment, Kallmeyer et. al., PNAS 2012

Katherine Allen is a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Bird Brain

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 09:17
Science 2012

Science 2012

A pigeon’s got cells in its brain
That link up with its inner ear.
Despite any wind, fog, or rain,
These talented birds, they can steer!
The magnetic field is their guide
(At bygone reversals: a rumpus?)
A field vector’s measured inside
A bird-brain equipped with a compass!

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Further reading:

Neural Correlates of a Magnetic Sense, Wu & Dickman, Science, 2012

Katherine Allen is a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Deep Sea Plough

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 09:00
 2011room5mgk.wikispaces.com

Photo: 2011room5mgk.wikispaces.com

Giant fleets the oceans trawl,
Gasping fish they skywards haul.
Not just critters do they move,
But sediments they push and groove …
Ten times greater their extent
Than the land that farmers dent!
What will come of shelf slopes now,
Underneath the deep-sea plough?

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Further reading:

Ploughing the deep sea floor, Puig et al., Nature 2012

Katherine Allen is a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

When North Itself Wanders

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 08:00

 

 NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Earth’s magnetic field lines are almost vertical near the poles. The dancing lights of the aurora borealis are the result of interactions between Earth’s magnetic field, atmosphere, and energetic particles from the sun. Image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

 

I love thinking about why my compass points north.

The deep, molten-metal motions, rising

And falling … gargantuan currents of iron

Conceiving vast magnetic fields, revealed

In my hand, by a tiny, quivering red needle.

Even more deliciously disturbing:

The field has been changing; the north pole is wan-der-ing

Towards Siberia, of all places – like a fading,

Frost-bitten explorer, staggering wide curves through the snow.

 

 

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Further reading:

Satellites show magnetic field in decline, Nature

Earth’s magnetic field is fading, National Geographic

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 Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University

Tale of a Carbon Atom

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 09:00

carbon fossil history

I am a wild carbon atom,
To others I’ve sometimes been bound,
Not locked in some hard, rocky stratum,
I’m telling you: I get around!

As carbon dioxide I spewed
Forth during floods of basalt
The P-T, some folks have been rude:
They say that it’s partly my fault!

About 50 million years passed;
The air got too crowded for me.
My buddies and I then in-gassed
Down into the salty sea.

There, we broke up some water
Stole an H and an O.
The leftover H found C fodder,
It was hot, reefs struggled to grow.

Oh baby, the early Cretaceous,
Now that was a happenin’ time.
Plankton were rife and bodacious;
I left the party with lime.

On the seafloor I rested, just chillin’,
Then my neighbors and I were dissolved!
They’re still on the hunt for the villain;
Some say methane was involved.

I’ll tell you, if you want to learn
Of acidifications now past:
For sea bugs to feel that harsh burn,
The pH change has to be fast.

If acid’s more rapid than base
(if it beats out the weathering flux)
Then carbonate shells lose the race …
For some critters, that really sucks.

So what? pH’s varied since life began;
Many things drop it or spike it.
I’ve seen crazy things, but this modern world, Man …
I’ve never seen anything like it!

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Further reading:

The Geological Record of Ocean Acidification, Science, 2012

Katherine Allen is a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Iron Fingerprints

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 00:20
Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC (reposted from Nature.com)

Saharan dust in the wind. Photo: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC (reposted from Nature.com)

 

Metals galore in deep Earth,

But at the sea surface, a dearth.

Iron is key

For greening the sea …

To planktic cells, gold has less worth.

 

Whence this precious resource?

Isotopes hint at the source.

Dust takes the lead,

While vents slowly bleed,

Could inputs affect climate’s course?

 

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Further reading:

Ocean chemistry: Fingerprints of a trace nutrient, Resing and Barrett, Nature 2014

Quantification of dissolved iron sources to the North Atlantic Ocean, Conway and John, Nature 2014

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

Australopithecene Dental Calculus

Fri, 06/27/2014 - 09:36
 AG Henry, Nature, 2012.

Phytoliths — mineral particles formed by plants — found in the teeth of one of our ancient ancestors. Photo: AG Henry, Nature, 2012.

Across a mixed landscape, Au. sediba plods
Sometimes on two feet, and sometimes on four,
Munching on fruits and leguminous pods,
Nuts and some seeds … C3 foods galore!
They did have a choice (so coprolites hint);
Lush grasses, fat grazers were also around,
But in these old ancestors (destined for flint?)
New clues, new stories have just now been found.
With lasers and microscopes, old dental plaque –
Tiny, stuck phytoliths show a rich diet!
Scratched-up enamel, it all brings us back
To lives of these creatures that have long been quiet.
What wonders are learned from plaque and from feces,
History bound in compounds beneath!
So, we should say to that wonderful species:
Thanks for not brushing your teeth!

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Further reading:

Palaeoanthropology: The ancestral dinner table, Nature, 2012

The diet of Australopithecus sediba, Amanda G. Henry et al., Nature, 2012

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Dancing in the Darkness

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 08:59
Hatchet fish, approximately 3 cm long (photo taken by Adelaide Rhodes and Jarrod Scott)

Hatchet fish, approximately 3 cm long (photo taken by Adelaide Rhodes and Jarrod Scott)

 

In deep darkness, cunning lights are softly luring prey,

Drawing closer to the glow, only some will flee …

Subtle bodies, clear as glass, with organs on display,

Exquisite dances only certain piercing eyes can see.

Worm-like creatures undulate, jaws hang wide and gaping,

Iridescent, jeweled young ‘tween lurking hunters skitter.

The deadly art of eating faces that of death escaping,

From afar, a dazzling show, a many-legged glitter.

Armored, silver-plated, soft as jello, far from shore,

Seeking wonder, terror, treasure, out here I will be.

Stranger than the strangest film on aliens at war:

The scintillating, gorgeous sight of plankton in the sea.

 

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Further reading:

UNOLS Chief Scientist Training Cruise, “See Monsters Here”

UNOLS Chief Scientist Training Cruise, “Microscopic Zoo”

This poem was inspired by time spent on a UNOLS Chief Scientist Training Cruise (Barbados to Bermuda, June 2014).

 

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Apophis

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 07:57
 BBC World Service

Images of Apophis from BBC World Service

You may have heard the recent cries:
An asteroid towards us flies!
Apophis, a rocky mass,
Some years from now will closely pass,
Into the “keyhole,” if she falls,
The president will get some calls.
Chances that this fate arrive?
0.000005

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Further reading:

Apophis asteroid: Large space rock flies past Earth, BBC News, Jan. 9, 2013

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Lake Goo Clue” first appeared on Allen’s website on Jan. 11, 2013.

Lake Goo Clue

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 11:53
Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania

Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania. Photo: K. Allen

The lands of Africa’s Horn,
Great Valleys sliced by a Rift,
By drought and famine are torn …
What drives such a large rainfall shift?
Detectives of lake muck and goo,
Through models and efforts terrific,
Put forth a paleo-clue
From the Indian, not the Pacific.

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Further reading:

Multidecadal variability in East African hydroclimate controlled by the Indian Ocean, Tierney et al. Nature 2013

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Lake Goo Clue” first appeared on Allen’s website on Jan. 18, 2013.

Some Do Not Like It Hot

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 13:35
 Sun et al. 2012, Science

Image: Sun et al. 2012, Science

The Great Dying, The Big One — The Permo-Triassic!
(In a time machine, not sure if that’s where I’d aim …)
As extinctions go, this one’s a blockbuster classic,
When most of Earth’s species dropped out of the game.
Conodont fossils reveal massive changes
In sea surface temperatures (and CO2?).
Terrestrial critters reduced their lat ranges;
Low-oxygen regions in deep ocean grew.
Peat swamps disappeared (a great gap in coal),
And at the equator, most fish would fry.
At times like these, seems wise to head for the pole!
In a hot-steamy world … adapt, move, or die.

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Further reading:

Lethally Hot Temperatures During the Early Triassic Greenhouse, Yadong Sun et al., Science, 2012

Life in the Early Triassic Ocean, David J. Bottjer, Science, 2012

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Some Do Not Like It Hot” first appeared on Allen’s website on Oct. 19, 2012.

Unexpected Sisters

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 08:42
 BBC Photo Library.

An artist’s rendering of the extinct Elephant bird (Aepyornis maximus), which lived in Madagascar. Aepyornis stood over 3 meters tall. Image source: BBC Photo Library.

 

An ancient island’s trove of treasure: Madagascan fauna
Tenrec, fossa, lemur, hippo, dugong, bat, iguana.
A giant bird – O, wondrous beast! – a half a ton, and tall,
Laid foot-long eggs, had beefy legs, and did not fly at all.
Another ratite, far away within the South Pacific,
The kiwi! Shy, with furry feathers, appetite terrific.
Among the old-jawed birds, you wouldn’t guess that they’re close kin,
But DNA reveals a link from deep, deep down within.
If the kiwi’s closest kin is not its moa neighbor,
Drawing up the family tree might seem a puzzling labor.
The simplest answer blows the mind – it seems that they all flew
With wings they spread across the globe, and filled in niches new.
Dinos gone (darn asteroid) left lots of open spaces,
Birds came in, diversified, flew on an as-need basis.
From this, it seems that flightlessness evolved six separate times!
The song of life, though improvised, with patterns clear it chimes.

 

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Further reading:

Ancient DNA reveals elephant birds and kiwi are sister taxa and clarifies ratite bird evolution, Mitchell et al., 2014, Science.

Little kiwi, huge extinct elephant bird were birds of a feather, Reuters

The Surprising Closest Relative of the Huge Elephant Birds, National Geographic

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.