News aggregator

Climate Change Is Fueling America’s Forest Fires - Huffington Post

Featured News - Thu, 10/20/2016 - 12:00
The wildfires that raged through the Western United States this year claimed lives, destroyed hundreds of homes and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. A new study from Columbia University's Park Williams has found that climate change has been exacerbating wildfires in the Western United States for decades.

This Antarctic Glacier May Be One of the Biggest Threats to Sea Level - Washington Post

Featured News - Thu, 10/20/2016 - 12:00
U.S. and British science agencies announced a multimillion-dollar research mission to study Antarctica's enormous Thwaites Glacier, which could hold the potential for major sea level rise this century. Getting “up close and personal” with the glacier will help researchers close critical data and knowledge gaps, said Lamont's Robin Bell.

The 11 Greatest Engineering Innovations of 2016 - Popular Science

Featured News - Wed, 10/19/2016 - 12:00
Lamont's carbon capture and storage project in Iceland that proved we could turn CO2 from a power plant to a solid mineral in a short period of time was listed among the greatest engineering innovations of 2016. The project was led by Juerg Matter and Martin Stute.

Heather Savage to Receive AGU Mineral and Rock Physics Early Career Award - Eos

Featured News - Tue, 10/18/2016 - 12:00
Lamont's Heather Savage will receive AGU's 2016 Mineral and Rock Physics Early Career Award at the 2016 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. The award is for promising young scientists in recognition of outstanding contributions achieved during their Ph.D. research.

The West Is Burning, and Climate Change Is Partly to Blame - FiveThirtyEight

Featured News - Tue, 10/18/2016 - 12:00
In a new study, Lamont's Park Williams estimates that human-caused climate change was responsible for nearly doubling the forest area that burned in the Western U.S. between 1984 and 2015. If the last few decades had been simply dry, instead of some of the hottest and driest on record, perhaps 10.4 million fewer acres would have burned, he says.

The Coming Great Quakes in India and Bangladesh?

Geohazards in Bangladesh - Tue, 10/18/2016 - 11:54

A new film takes viewers from the eastern highlands of India to the booming lowland metropolis of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh–and explores an ever-more detailed picture of catastrophic earthquake threat that scientists are discovering under the region.

Scientists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the University of Dhaka and other institutions have been working for more than a decade to understand deeply buried geologic structures that could produce earthquakes here, one of the most densely populated places on earth.  No one can predict when the next quake will strike, or how big it will be–but clearly there is potential for a very large one. “Some of this have long suspected this hazard, but we didn’t have the data and a model,” says Lamont-Doherty geophysicist Michael Steckler, leader of a recently published study outlining the threat.

Under Bangladesh, India and neighboring Myanmar, the scientists have found signs of a megathrust–the meeting of two gigantic moving tectonic plates, with one diving under the other. But the plates don’t seem to be moving right now; they are locked, and strain is building. The researchers say that when–not if–the plates do slip, destruction and casualties could be massive. Some 140 million people might be affected.

The hazard has been hard to assess up to now, because most of the region’s underlying geology is covered by the world’s largest river delta–miles-deep layers of sediment carried down from the Himalayas and built up over millennia. The team has deployed seismometers, GPS instruments, satellite imagery and other technology to draw up a picture of what is going on down below.

The region is unprepared. Not only are many people too poor to build earthquake-resistant structures. “From history, there’s been a lot of destructive earthquakes in this area, but there hasn’t been one in recent years, so people tend to forget,” said Lamont-Doherty geologist Leonardo Seeber. Geologist Humayun Akhter of the University of Dhaka, said, “Our cities are not built in a planned way, and this cannot be changed in a few years. So we have to work within this system, and teach our people how to cope.”

The movie was made by filmmakers Douglas Prose and Diane LaMacchia with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation. The NSF also funded the research.


Men Twice as Likely to Get Outstanding Letters of Recommendation - Huffington Post

Featured News - Mon, 10/17/2016 - 12:00
A new study of letters of recommendation written for post-doctoral scientists found that professors were twice as likely to write glowing letters of recommendation, as opposed to letters reflecting a merely good candidate, for men compared to women. The study was led by Lamont's Kuheli Dutt.

Like a Rolling Stone: A Talk With Peter Kelemen - Columbia Daily Spectator

Featured News - Mon, 10/17/2016 - 12:00
The Columbia Spectator talks with Lamont geologist Peter Kelemen about his career, climate change, and climbing.

Trek to a Giant Mongolian Glacier That Holds Secrets to Global Warming - Pacific Standard

Featured News - Mon, 10/17/2016 - 12:00
Deep in the Altai mountains, scientists are using drones and chemistry to study glacier-formed ridges that could help unlock the mysteries of abrupt climate change. Lamont's Adjunct Associate Research Professor Aaron Putnam and Lamont Research Professor Joerg Schaefer describe their work to Pacific Standard.

Greenland Is Melting - The New Yorker

Featured News - Mon, 10/17/2016 - 07:05
The shrinking of Greenland’s ice sheet is triggering feedback loops that accelerate the global crisis. Elizabeth Kolbert cites research by Lamont's Marco Tedesco.

Rockland County Placed Under 'Severe Drought' - Journal News

Featured News - Fri, 10/14/2016 - 12:00
The U.S. Drought Monitor has placed Rockland County under a "severe drought." Rockland’s water sources are also stressed by an ever increasing population and lack of available space for new places to store water, making the county more vulnerable to short periods of decreased rainfall, said Lamont's Nicholas Christie-Blick.

Lamont’s Robin Bell Chosen as AGU President-Elect

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - Thu, 10/13/2016 - 15:00
 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Robin Bell will serve as AGU president-elect for two years, then become AGU president in 2019. Photo: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) election results are in, and three Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory scientists will be taking key leadership roles in the internationally influential Earth and space sciences organization: polar explorer Robin Bell will become AGU president-elect, Kerstin Lehnert will join the Board of Directors, and Robert F. Anderson will become Ocean Sciences Section president-elect.

This is an exciting time for the Earth sciences as innovations in technology, expanding computational capacity, and global challenges open new avenues for research. It’s also an exciting time for the AGU. Bell will serve as president-elect for two years, then become president in 2019, the year the AGU celebrates its 100th anniversary.

The professional scientific organization has more than 60,000 members in 139 countries. Its Fall Meeting is the premier opportunity for scientists from across disciplines to share their latest research and develop new collaborations.

Robin Bell

Robin Bell

President-Elect Robin Bell

Bell credits AGU for helping build research connections in her own field, and she sees a greater role for AGU in communicating science and connecting scientists across the disciplines for innovative work.

“AGU is becoming increasingly relevant to major societal challenges, including hazards and climate change,” she said. “With growing breadth and relevance come opportunities and risks. AGU must continue to enable discovery, connection, and sharing ideas for our large, international, and diverse community through both our meetings and our publications.”

Bell, a Palisades Geophysical Institute/Lamont Research Professor, is one of the world’s leading experts in polar science. She directs research programs in Antarctica and Greenland; leads research on ice sheets, plate tectonics, and rivers; and leads the development of technology to monitor our changing planet. As chair of the National Academy of Sciences Polar Research Board, she was instrumental in launching International Polar Year 2007-2008, a major multinational push to study the polar regions.

As AGU president-elect, Bell will chair the AGU Council and serve as vice chair of the AGU Board for the next two years before moving into the president’s role as scientific leader for the AGU and its public spokesperson. Lamont’s founding director, Maurice “Doc” Ewing, and its current director, Sean Solomon, have both served as AGU president.

Kerstin Lehnert

Kerstin Lehnert

Director Kerstin Lehnert

Lehnert, a geochemist and Doherty Senior Research Scientist at Lamont, is director of the Lamont-based Interdisciplinary Earth Data Alliance (IEDA), which archives data from a wide range of geochemistry and marine geology sources and makes such data openly available with visualization and analysis tools for multidisciplinary work.

As a member of the AGU Board of Directors, Lehnert said she would like to see a greater AGU focus on developing programs and initiatives to promote interdisciplinary research and recognize the achievements of interdisciplinary researchers.

“There is an urgent need for AGU to implement change in its governance structure and programs to create new opportunities and incentives for cross-disciplinary science, fostering interdisciplinary exchange, and collaboration among researchers both within AGU and through partnerships with other societies,” she said.

Robert F. Anderson

Robert F. Anderson

Ocean Sciences President-Elect Robert Anderson

Anderson is a Ewing Lamont Research Professor and co-founder of GEOTRACES, an international program studying the marine biogeochemical cycles of trace elements and their isotopes.

Anderson said he plans to urge AGU to focus on its core mission in service of its membership. “Science is being squeezed by funding, politics and other forces so AGU members need to have a strong organization advocating on their behalf,” he said.

Bell, Lehnert, Anderson, and the other AGU leaders elected this week will start their new roles in January.

“AGU is the largest professional society in the Earth and space sciences in the world, and its members span every discipline across those fields,” Lamont Director Sean Solomon said. “It is fitting that Lamont, given our extraordinary breadth of expertise, should now be the home to three of AGU’s next leaders, including the scientist who will oversee the Union’s transition to its second century.”

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is Columbia University’s world-renowned home for Earth and environmental research.

Antarctic Long Term Ecological Research

Chasing Microbes in Antarctica - Thu, 10/13/2016 - 12:01

The Palmer and McMurdo Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) projects; separate but equal… at least in terms of interesting ecosystem dynamics if not in terms of biomass!

I’m very excited that our manuscript “Microbial community dynamics in two polar extremes: The lakes of the McMurdo Dry Valleys and the West Antarctic Peninsula Marine Ecosystem” has been published as an overview article in the journal BioScience.  The article belongs to a special issue comparing different ecological aspects of the two NSF-funded Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites in Antarctica.  I’m actually writing this post on my return trip from the first ever meeting of the International Long Term Ecological Research (ILTER) network at Kruger National Park in South Africa (an excellent place to ponder ecological questions).

This article had an odd genesis; the special issue was conceived by John Priscu, a PI with the McMurdo LTER project.  I was ensnared in the project along with Trista Vick-Majors, a graduate student with John Priscu (now a postdoctoral scholar at McGill University), shortly after starting my postdoc with Hugh Ducklow, PI on the Palmer LTER project.  The guidance we received was more or less “compare the McMurdo and Palmer LTERs”.  How exactly we should compare perennially ice-covered lakes in a polar desert to one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet was left up to us.  Fortunately, microbial ecology lends itself to highly reductionist thinking.   This isn’t always helpful, but we reasoned that on a basal level the two ecosystems must function more or less the same.  Despite dramatically different physical settings, both environments host communities of phytoplankton (sometimes even similar taxonomic groups).  These convert solar energy into chemical energy and CO2 into organic carbon, thereby supporting communities of heterotrophic bacteria and grazers.

To look at the details of this we stretched the bounds of what constitutes an “overview article” and aggregated nearly two decades of primary production and bacterial production data collected by the McMurdo LTER, and over a decade of the same from the Palmer LTER.  By looking at the ratio of bacterial production to primary production we assessed how much carbon the heterotrophic bacterial community takes up relative to how much the phytoplankton community produces.

Some stuff

Figure from Bowman et al., 2016, BioScience.  A) Depth-integrated bacterial (BP) and primary production (PP) for the Palmer LTER study area and several lakes in Taylor Valley.  B)  The region occupied by the mean and standard deviation for discrete points (too many points to show).  C) The distribution of BP:PP for each site.

Typical marine values for this ratio are 1:10.  At a value of around 1:5 the carbon demands of heterotrophic bacteria are probably not met by phytoplankton production (the majority of carbon taken up by bacteria is lost through respiration and is not accounted for in the bacterial production assay).  Most of the lakes hover around 1:5, with values above this fairly common.  Lake Fryxell however, an odd lake at the foot of Canada Glacier, has values that often exceed 1:1!  Consistent with previous work on the lakes such high rates of bacterial production (relative to primary production) can only be met by a large external carbon subsidy.

Where does this external carbon come from?  Each summer the McMurdo Dry Valleys warm up enough that the various glaciers at the valley peripheries begin to melt.  This meltwater fuels chemoautotrophic bacterial communities where the glacier meets rock (the subglacial environment), and microbial mats in various streams and melt ponds.  Like microbial communities everywhere these bleed a certain amount of dissolved carbon (and particulate; DOC and POC) into the surrounding water.  Some of this carbon ends up in the lakes where it enhances bacterial production.

But external carbon subsidies aren’t the only part of the story.  Nutrients, namely phosphate and nitrate, are washed into the lakes as well.  During big melt years (such as the summer of 2001-2002 when a major positive SAM coupled to an El Nino caused unusually high temperatures) the lakes receives big pulses of relatively labile carbon but also inorganic nutrients and silt.  This odd combination has the effect of suppressing primary production in the near term through lowered light levels (all that silt), enhancing it in the long term (all those nutrients), and giving heterotrophic bacteria some high quality external carbon to feed on during the period that primary production is suppressed.  Or at least that’s how we read it.

Not a lake person?  How do things work over in the Palmer LTER?  One of the biggest ecological differences between Palmer and McMurdo is that the former has grazers (e.g. copepods, salps, and krill) and the latter does not, or at least not so many to speak off.  Thus an argument can be made that carbon dynamics at Palmer are driven (at least partially) by top-down controls (i.e. grazers), while at McMurdo they are dependent almost exclusively on bottom-up (i.e. chemical and physical) controls.

At times the difference between bacterial production and primary production is pretty extreme at Palmer.  In the summer of 2006 for example, bacterial production was only 3 % of primary production (see Fig. 4 in the publication), and the rate of primary production that summer was pretty high.  The krill population was also pretty high that year; at the top of their 4-year abundance cycle (see Saba et al. 2014, Nature Communications).  This is speculative, but I posit that bacterial production was low in part because a large amount of carbon was being transferred via krill to the higher trophic levels and away from bacteria.  This is a complicated scenario because krill can be good for bacteria; sloppy feeding produces DOC and krill excrete large amounts of reduced nitrogen and DOC.  Krill also build biomass and respire however, and their large fecal pellets sink quickly, these could be significant losses of carbon from the photic zone.

Antarctica is changing fast and in ways that are difficult to predict.  Sea ice seems to be growing in the east Antarctic as it is lost from the west Antarctic, and anomalous years buck this trend in both regions.  A major motivation for this special issue was to explore how the changing environment might drive ecological change.  I have to say that after spending a good portion of the (boreal) summer and fall thinking about this, some of that time from the vantage point of Palmer Station, I have no idea.  All of the McMurdo Lakes react differently to anomalous years, and Palmer as a region seems to react differently to each of abnormal year.  I think the krill story is an important concept to keep in mind here; ecological responses are like superimposed waveforms.  Picture a regularly occurring phenomenon like the El-Nino Southern Oscillation imposing a periodicity on sea ice cover, which we know has a strong influence on biology.  Add a few more oscillating waves from other physical processes.  Now start to add biological oscillations like the four-year krill abundance cycle.  Can we deconvolute this mess to find a signal?  Can we forecast it forward?  Certainly not with 10 years of data at one site and 20 years at the other (and we’re so proud of these efforts!).  Check back next century… if NSF funds these sites that long…

Many thanks to my co-authors for going the distance on this paper, particularly the lake people for many stimulating arguments.  I think limnology and oceanography are, conceptually, much less similar than lakes and oceans.

23-Million-Year-Old Leaves Helped Solve an Antarctic Climate Mystery - Motherboard

Featured News - Wed, 10/12/2016 - 08:54
Using ancient leaves, Lamont's Tammo Reichgelt and Billy D'Andrea have found evidence of a CO2 spike at the time 23 million years ago when Antarctica's ice sheet began to melt.

Lamont's Robin Bell Elected AGU President-Elect - AGU

Featured News - Tue, 10/11/2016 - 18:03
The American Geophysical Union's 2016 election results are in. Among the incoming AGU leaders are Lamont's Robin Bell (president-elect), Kerstin Lehnert (director), and Robert F. Anderson (ocean sciences president-elect).

Forest Fire Area Has Doubled in West Due to Climate Change, Study Finds - Mercury News

Featured News - Mon, 10/10/2016 - 12:00
Climate change from human activity nearly doubled the area that burned in forest fires in the American West over the past 30 years, a major new scientific study by Lamont's Park Williams has found. Larger, more intense fires are all but guaranteed in the years ahead.

Climate Change Blamed for Half of Increased Forest Fire Danger - New York Times

Featured News - Mon, 10/10/2016 - 12:00
A study by Lamont's Park Williams found that anthropogenic climate change was responsible for just over half of the total observed increase in fuel dryness since 1979. In turn, this influence has added more than 16,000 square miles of forest fire area to the western United States since 1984, nearly doubling the area scientists might have expected without the influence of similar climate change.

Predicting Storm Intensity Remains a Big Challenge - Scientific American

Featured News - Sat, 10/08/2016 - 12:00
“Rapid intensification of large hurricanes is something that the forecasters have a lot of trouble with. The models don’t predict it very well," said Lamont's Adam Sobel. "Before reaching Haiti, it [Hurricane Matthew] went from tropical storm to category 5 in just a little more than a day. It may be the biggest rapid intensification of an Atlantic storm on record.”

The Subtleties of Hurricanes and Climate Change - Forbes

Featured News - Thu, 10/06/2016 - 12:00
Forbes talks with Lamont's Suzana Camargo about Hurricane Matthew and what we know today about the connections between climate change and extreme weather.

Damning with Faint Praise - Inside Higher Ed

Featured News - Thu, 10/06/2016 - 06:00
A new study led by Lamont's Kuheli Dutt suggests that the language that recommendation writers use to describe women may disadvantage them as job candidates, portraying them as less dynamic and excellent candidates than male counterparts.



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