Geopoetry

Syndicate content
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: 6 min 34 sec ago

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.

 

_________________________________________________________

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.

Mysterious Demise of an Australian Thunder Bird

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 08:00
 Ann Musser @ Australian Museum.

Genyornis newtoni, one of the great “thunder birds” of Australia, went extinct about 50 thousand years ago, for reasons that are still not clear. Image: Ann Musser @ Australian Museum.

 

Here, mankind and death coincide,

But everyone’s still mystified …

Geologists find

This thunder bird’s kind

Were lost as Australia dried.

 

_________________________________________________________

Further reading:

Hydrological transformation coincided with megafaunal extinction in central Australia, Cohen et al. (2015) Geology

Drying lakes linked to extinctions, 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.

Birth of a Desert

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 10:47

 

 apdesign)

About 10 thousand years ago, North Africa’s Sahara Desert was a wide, green landscape. (photo credit: apdesign)

 

North Africa once was quite green,

From ancient lakes, clues we can glean:

Earth’s orbit has changed,

And rains rearranged …

Creating a vast, desert scene.

 

__________________________________________________________

Further reading:

End of the African Humid Period, News & Views by Peter deMenocal (2015) Nature Geoscience

The time-transgressive termination of the African Humid Period, Shanahan et al. (2015) Nature Geoscience

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.

Lobsters of the Land

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 08:00
 Science Magazine, O_LUKYANOV/ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

The eyes of crustaceans like mantis shrimp (left) and insects like horseflies (right) may have a common origin in the ancestral group “Pancrustacea.” Photo: Science Magazine, O_LUKYANOV/ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

 

Life arose from the sea, so they say,

And Earth’s family tree is still branching today.

Our view of the old structure way down below:

Mysterious, shrouded, a faded tableau.

A mandible here, a common gene there,

From shards of the past, a crusty forebear!

Butterflies, beetles, scorpions, fleas

Have much more in common with life in the seas

Than with other critters that you might expect,

Like spiders and millipedes, things kids collect.

The closer we look, the weirder it gets,

But it also makes sense – the twin silhouettes,

Those strange compound eyes, a similar brain …

Meet Pancrustacea, the base of the chain!

Crustaceans and insects, shrimp and lacewing,

Peas in a pod that sometimes will sting.

Cockroaches, grasshoppers, flies all a-flutter,

Think on them as you eat lobster with butter!

 

__________________________________________________________

Further reading:

All in the (Bigger) Family, Pennisi (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.

Celestial Music

Fri, 01/02/2015 - 17:51
 G. Perez, IAC, SMM

The field of astroseismology provides new insight into stars’ structure. Image: G. Perez, IAC, SMM

 

Did you ever watch stars, and hear distant singing?

New telescopes see that the galaxy’s ringing!

Listen now carefully, open your ears

To Johannes Kepler’s great “music of spheres.”

 

Celestial music, slight changes in brightness,

Give star-gazers feelings of joy and of lightness,

But even more thrilling is what we are learning,

Like what the deep cores of red giants are burning!

 

Formation of elements, galaxy nascence …

There’s no doubt about it:  we’ve got good vibrations!

 

 

__________________________________________________________

Further reading:

Kepler’s Surprise: The Sounds of the Stars, Cowen, Nature 2012

The Sun and the Stars: Giving Light to Dark Matter, Casanellas and Lopes, Modern Physics Letters A, 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 and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University. “Celestial Music” was first published on the author’s website in 2012.

 

Mysterious Mineral

Fri, 12/05/2014 - 08:30
Bridgmanite was identified in a shock-melt vein within the Tenham meteorite. Photograph by Chi Ma, Caltech

Bridgmanite was identified in a shock-melt vein within the Tenham meteorite. The mineral was named in honor of Percy Bridgman, who pioneered the diamond anvil cell for high-pressure research. Photograph by Chi Ma, Caltech

 

So common, yet far out of sight,

Mineralogists longed for a bite.

Formed deep inside,

Or when rocks collide,

At long last, a name: bridgmanite!

 

__________________________________________________________

Further reading:

Discovery of bridgmanite, the most abundant mineral in Earth, in a shocked meteorite, Tschauner et al. (2014) Science

Earth’s Most Abundant Mineral Finally Gets a Name, National Geographic

Space Rock Sheds Light on Mysterious Mineral on Earth, LiveScience

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.

 

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.

 

__________________________________________________________

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.

 

__________________________________________________________

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?

 

__________________________________________________________

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?

 

________________________________

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!”

 

 

________________________________

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!

 

____________________________________________

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!

______________________________

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.

_____________________________

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.

_______________________________

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!

_____________________________

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?

___________________________

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.

 

 

_________________________________

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!

__________________________________________

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?

 

_________________________________

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.