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Flags, Flags, and More Flags - Locating the sites for 1200 instruments

Sugar - Sat, 03/15/2014 - 23:14
Many of the SUGAR field team arrived in Americus, GA on Wednesday to start helping with the massive charge of deploying 1200 seismic instruments along the SUGAR seismic line.  The seismic line spans 200 miles from northwest Georgia to just past the Georgia-Florida border; a 4+ hour car drive from end to end!  Everyone gathered early Thursday morning on the idyllic Georgia Southwestern State campus to meet with the chief scientists and learn about the proper techniques for identifying installation sites for the seismographs (just the first step in installing the instruments).  With neon orange safety jackets, numerous maps, GPS devices, packets of official permitting documents, and heads full of safety precautions the field team split into seven two-person pairs each equipped with their own squeaky clean rental car (though they didn’t stay clean for very long!).  
The fleet of SUGAR rental cars looking clean and shiny before being driven
into the field where they undoubtedly got a little mud on their tires.
Each pair of field assistants was given a segment of the seismic line to drive and flag locations for instrument installation deemed safe both from the seismograph (i.e. dry, firm soil) and the install team (i.e. a safe distance from the road).  Given the shear distance of the seismic line, teams found themselves amid diverse backdrops from rolling farmland with overly friendly cows to buzzing residential neighborhoods to sandy stretches flanked by towering groves of Ponderosa Pine trees. 
Antonio placing a flag and using a GPS device to note the location where a
seismograph will be installed amid the sandy surroundings of a Ponderosa Pine farm.
Every team was able to flag all their sites within just two days leaving us the luxury of a sunny Saturday morning free for exploring more of our beautiful Georgia surroundings.  Next up is the actual task of installing the 1200 seismographs which will involve twice the people, six more (temporarily clean) vehicles, and of course countless exciting adventures from the field.  Happy (almost) St. Patrick’s Day from Americus!
A picturesque county road near Jasper, FL along which instruments will be deployed.
-- Natalie Accardo, LDEO

A day with the seismic source team in photos

Sugar - Fri, 03/14/2014 - 23:43
The source of sound waves for the SUGAR experiment will be a series of controlled blasts along the profile.  For each of these, we drill a 60-100 ft deep hole, place emulsion explosives with boosters and caps at the base of the hole, and fill in the rest of the hole with dirt and gravel.  Each seismic source location requires a substantial amount of work by drillers and the UTEP seismic source team.  Below, Adrian Gutierrez shows a day in the life of the source team with pictures (Donna Shillington, 13 March 2014)

Adrian Gutierrez, 13 March 14
7:30 am: Leave Georgia Southwestern State University, where we are staying, and head to the site8:20 am: Arrive at site 8:30 am: Start drilling and take geological samples every 5 ft.

9:00 am: Dyno Nobel truck arrives; load emulsion into cut PVC pipe sections that serve as a holders for emulsion.
9:30 am: Surprise visit from other scientists on the project9.50 am: Setting up the booster in the emulsion.11.20 am: Loading the explosives into the drill hole12.00 pm: Drill crew starts removing their equipment12.45 pm: Tagging the charges and plugging the hole3.15 pm: Move onto the next drill site.Nighttime: Finally back to the dorm.

Arrival of the seismic equipment!

Sugar - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 19:57
Boxes with seismographs and other equipment
During this project, we will deploy 1200 small seismographs along a 200-mile-long (300-km-long) profile across Georgia.  All of these seismographs were shipped to Georgia from Socorro, New Mexico. This is the headquarters of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) Program for Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere (PASSCAL), a facility that provides seismic instrumentation to US researchers.  It takes a lot of boxes to hold all 1200 seismographs and the associated equipment and tools.  There are 15 seismographs per box, so that's 80 boxes alone without counting boxes for geophones, etc. 

Fortunately, we have a lot of space! Our field headquarters is located in a historic gym on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, GA.  Faculty and staff at GSW have been extraordinarily generous with their time and expertise. They are allowing us to use the Florrie Chappel gym as our base of operations, and they have helped us enormously with Georgia geology and logistics coordination, handling our huge shipment of equipment and supplies, housing on the campus (many of us are staying in one of the dorms!), setting up the gym with internet access, power, and tables, and much, much more. Today, they moved all of the boxes with our seismic equipment from the shipping warehouse to our field headquarters in the gym. I can sense that all of our seismic instruments are itching to be deployed....
Pallets waiting outside the Florrie Chappell gym
Donna Shillington
11 March 2014

More preparations: mini seismic experiments

Sugar - Mon, 03/10/2014 - 11:31
A geophone in grass, awaiting sound waves.

To prepare for our big seismic experiment, we have collected a couple of miniature seismic datasets.  The shallow geology varies substantially along our profile and is very important for planning the depth of drilling and size of our seismic sources. In particular, we need to determine the depth to a limestone layer in a few places.   The same seismic method that we will use to understand the deep geological structures beneath Georgia can also be used at a smaller scale to examine layering in the upper ~100 ft (~30 m) beneath the surface. We recorded the data on 24 geophones attached to a 230-ft-long (70-m-long) cable.  The source was a modified shot gun that looks like a pogo stick.  We drilled small holes in the ground, loaded the gun and stuck it in the hole. To limit the kickback, we weighted the gun down with a metal plate topped by two heavy jugs filled with sand. Hit the plate with a mallet and – BANG – a seismic source! Not a bad way to spend a sunny Sunday!

Check out Dan firing the seismic source...

Donna Shillington
9 March 14

Laying the groundwork

Sugar - Wed, 03/05/2014 - 22:56

We have just arrived in sunny Americus, GA from the cold north to ramp up for the SUGAR project. The peaceful, pastoral landscapes of southern Georgia mask geological structures created by a series of dramatic events that were central to the formation of the North American continent.  During SUGAR, we will use sound waves to image these geological structures.   Less than 2 weeks from now, we’ll deploy 1200 small seismographs along a 200-mile-long line that extends from north of Columbus to south of Valdosta with the help of a cadre of students from across Georgia and beyond. These instruments will record sound waves generated by a series of controlled blasts in deep drill holes.

Spanish moss lined trees along our transect south of Valdosta
Collecting these data will involve a week of intense work by >30 people. However, just laying the groundwork for this effort has already required a long list of (sometimes novel) tasks.  When we conceived of this project, we drew a couple of straight lines on a map that would enable us to capture the geological features that we wish to study: the South Georgia Basin, the Suwanne Suture, and frozen magmas from the huge Central Atlantic Magmatic Province.  In reality, we must create this line by knitting together a patchwork of roads.  During a couple of planning trips, we bumped along on dirt roads, cruised county lanes, and zoomed down state highways mapping out the best route. 

Dan and Steve scouting our route. Our seismometers will line county and state roads across southwestern Georgia, and both seismometers and seismic sources will cross private properties. Identifying private landowners to request permission has transformed us into detectives. In most cases, the name and address of the owner are easily found on the tax assessor's website for each county.  But actually getting in touch with people is not so easy! We mailed letters. We put flyers directly into people’s mailboxes. We searched for phone numbers online and left messages (sometimes multiple messages…). We found websites and email addresses for companies, and sometimes wrote to people about our project through website forms (including those for a bank, a dentist's office and a website selling organic beef!).  Happily, once we made contact, individuals and companies have been very welcoming and graciously granted us permission – southern hospitality in action!  A litany of other preparations have already been completed or are currently underway. Drilling of the holes for seismic sources has just begun, and the seismometers will arrive very soon. We are definitely ready for the transition from preparing to doing....
Donna Shillington
5 March 2014

Explore the Arctic Ocean With ‘IceTracker’

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - Tue, 12/10/2013 - 19:46

pfirman icetrackerBy Stephanie Pfirman

This week, we are launching a test of “IceTracker”—a tool that allows users to see the trajectories of Arctic sea ice forward or backward from any day between 1981 and 2012, as well as other data including sea-ice speed, air temperature, water depth and the age of the sea ice along the track. We think IceTracker will be useful not only for Arctic research and policy, but for bringing the Arctic sea ice alive for students and the general public.

Researchers interested in climate and arctic dynamics will be able to assess the origin and melt location of sea ice, and seasonal and year-to-year variations in drift trajectories from specific locations. They will also be able to look into the transport of sediment or contaminants on or in the ice; this might for instance shed light on potential trajectories of oil spilled in ice-covered waters, or habitat changes that might affect the foraging patterns of polar bears or other creatures.

The IceTracker might eventually be used to consider future management options in the Arctic. Among these: projecting where declining sea ice is likely to persist, providing future potential refuge for threatened arctic creatures (an idea that got a lot of attention at AGU in 2010). It can even be used to recreate historical events; we used it to figure out where Fridtjof Nansen and his crew would have drifted had they frozen their ship into the ice today, rather than during their famous 1893-1896 trans-Arctic drift.

IceTracker is an excellent inquiry-driven research environment for any student with access to a computer. Teachers can use the IceTracker in guided exercises, or let students work on their own to learn about ice dynamics, interannual variability and climate change. For instance, we have set up team competitions where students can vie to be the first to reach the North Pole by drifting with the ice, or to make it out alive through Fram Strait. By exploring the Arctic in this way, the IceTracker lets students do their own sampling of a real-world non-linear system. They can see how diminished ice cover has changed ice speed, and demonstrate for themselves how initial conditions can affect ice movements much farther down the line.

Others might use IceTracker to consider historical conditions in planning adventure expeditions, or to visualize changing conditions for Arctic wildlife.

We will present IceTracker at AGU on Friday, Dec. 13, at the Moscone South poster hall (look for abstract number C15A-0490). You can also try running trajectories yourself at our beta testing web site: We would appreciate ideas on how to make it better. Send feedback to:

The project has received funding from the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Some further resources:

Fowler, C. and M. Tschudi. 2003. Polar Pathfinder Daily 25 km EASE-Grid Sea Ice Motion

Vectors. Boulder, Colorado USA: NASA DAAC at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Pfirman, S., G.G.Campbell,B. Tremblay, R. Newton, W. Meier. New IceTracker Tool Depicts Forward and Backward Arctic Sea Ice Trajectories AGU San Francisco, December 2013. C51A-0490.

Pfirman, S., C. Fowler, B. Tremblay, R. Newton, 2009a. The Last Arctic Sea Ice Refuge. The Circle, 4:6-8.

Pfirman, S., B. Tremblay, C. Fowler, 2009b. Going with the Floe: An analysis of the epic expeditions of Fridtjof Nansen and Sir Ernest Shackleton. American Scientist, 97: 484-493.

Stephanie Pfirman is Hirschorn professor of environmental science at Barnard College, and an adjunct senior scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Explore the Arctic Ocean With ‘IceTracker’

pfirman icetrackerThis week, we are launching a test of “IceTracker”—a tool that allows users to see the trajectories of Arctic sea ice forward or backward from any day between 1981 and 2012, as well as sea-ice speed, air temperature, water depth and the age of the sea ice.

AGU 2013: Social Science Perspectives on Natural Hazards

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - Mon, 12/09/2013 - 14:16

Courtesy Erik


Are you attending the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting this week in San Francisco? Are you interested in hearing from social scientists about Natural Hazards? The Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) will be there to answer your questions. Below is a schedule of sessions that CRED researchers are speaking at or convening.

We hope to see you there. If you can’t be at AGU in person we encourage you to livestream the sessions here. 


Katherine Thompson, CRED PhD candidate, “The Problem with Probability: Why rare hazards feel even rarer”

Thompson_bioTuesday December 10, 1:55-2:10 PM PST, 2000 (Moscone West)
Session: Why Should We Talk About What We Don’t Know? Implications of Communicating Scientific Uncertainty II
How is probability of natural hazards events actually used by decision makers? The presentation will make recommendations on presenting probabilistic information to best take advantage of people’s tendencies to either amplify risk or ignore it, as well as recent findings that may shed light on ways that the negative effects of uncertainty can be mitigated.



David H. Krantz, CRED co-director, “Coordination of Individual and Organizational Planning for Natural Hazards”
krantz_bioThursday December 12, 1:40-1:55 PM PST, 3002 (Moscone West)
Session: Climate Change Effects on Natural Hazards: Science, Communication and Policy I
Dave Krantz will explore the four different kinds of decision aids needed to improve natural hazard planning: mechanisms that support horizontal dissemination of plans, mechanisms that support vertical dissemination, mechanisms for examining goal conflicts and reducing these through plans that take others’ goals into account, and mechanisms for examining belief conflicts.


Poster session, “Climate Change Effects on Natural Hazards: Science, Communication and Policy II Posters 
8:00 AM – 12:20 PM PST; Hall A-C (Moscone South)
Convener(s): Kelly Klima (Carnegie Mellon University) and Courtney St John (CRED, Columbia Earth Institute)

AGU 2013: Social Science Perspectives on Natural Hazards

// about improving communication of and planning for natural hazards from a social science perspective at AGU2013.

The R/V Marcus G. Langseth: Ocean Explorer

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - Mon, 12/09/2013 - 11:41
R/V Marcus G. Langseth

Lamont-Doherty’s research vessel, the Marcus G. Langseth, in San Francisco bay.

The Marcus G. Langseth, a research vessel operated by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, traverses the world’s oceans conducting marine seismic studies that contribute to new understanding of Earth systems. The ship typically spends half the year or more on research expeditions led by Lamont-Doherty scientists and colleagues from other research institutes.

Mentions of cruises may conjure up images of mammoth floating hotels and lounge chairs, but the cruises undertaken by earth scientists involve neither of those. Researchers who examine the seismic activity taking place beneath the sea can spend many weeks each year aboard ships deploying instruments and collecting data; these cruises often involve long days working in all manner of sea conditions.

At the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting, now taking place in San Francisco, scientists and students who use the Langseth for research expeditions, the ship’s operators and administers from Lamont-Doherty and the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), and National Science Foundation program managers, met on Dec. 8 for the Marcus Langseth Science Oversight Committee annual community meeting.

At AGU, the oversight committee’s goal was to review results of the ship’s recent expeditions and discuss future research cruises. This year, for the first time, the meeting included a young career scientists workshop, where graduate students and early career investigators who have worked aboard the Langseth gave short talks about their research. Lamont-Doherty presenters included graduate students Natalie Accardo, James Gibson and Shuoshuo Han; postdoctoral researcher Nathan Miller; associate research scientist Angela Slagle; and alum Danielle Sumy (Ph.D. ’11).

Paleoclimatologist Pratigya Polissar with sediment cores collected during his May 2012 Line Islands research cruise.

Paleoclimatologist Pratigya Polissar with sediment cores collected during his May 2012 Line Islands research cruise.

Their talks were followed by presentations by scientists on the Langseth’s recent and upcoming cruise activities. Highlights included a talk by paleoclimatologist Pratigya Polissar, who discussed his May 2012 cruise near the Line Islands in the central equatorial Pacific. Scientists on this cruise collected nearly 500 feet of sediment cores, which are being analyzed and used to gain new insight into the alternating El Niño and La Niña weather patterns that affect much of the globe. The oldest core recovered on Polissar’s expedition dates back more than 400,000 years, covering the last three glacial cycles.

Marine geophysicist Fernando Martinez (Ph.D. ’88) from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa reported on a cruise that he led to the Reykjanes Ridge in the North Atlantic Ocean in August 2013. The goal of the month-long cruise was to collect multibeam, magnetics and gravity data that will inform understanding of the evolution of the Reykjanes Ridge, a segment of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge just south of Iceland. This data will be used to test competing theories about what’s happening in this geologically fascinating area, with important implications for our understanding of geodynamic processes in the Earth.

Marine geophysicist Donna Shillington described a new research initiative that will use the Langseth to acquire large geophysical datasets in Atlantic waters as part of the Geodynamic Processes at Rifting and Subducting Margins (GeoPRISMS) project. The ultimate goal of GeoPRIMS is to investigate the coupled geodynamics, earth surface processes and climate interactions that build and modify continental margins over a wide range of timescales. The data Shillington and her group obtain during an upcoming cruise aboard the Langseth will be made available to the scientific community for various studies of the deep structure of the Eastern North Atlantic Margin. The project is also unique in that it features a large education and outreach component, which will train students and early career scientists to acquire and analyze seismic data.

The Langseth is scheduled to undergo maintenance in early 2014 before spending the remainder of the year on expeditions in the North Atlantic, including the GeoPRISMS cruise.

Visit the Marine Operations section of the Lamont-Doherty website to learn more about the R/V Langseth and the Observatory’s long history of seagoing exploration and discovery.

The R/V Marcus G. Langseth: Ocean Explorer

R/V Marcus G. LangsethThe Marcus G. Langseth, a research vessel operated by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, traverses the world’s oceans conducting marine seismic studies that contribute to new understanding of Earth systems. The ship typically spends half the year or more on research expeditions led by Lamont-Doherty scientists and colleagues from other research institutes. Mentions of cruises may conjure up [...]

AGU 2013: Key Events From the Earth Institute

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - Fri, 12/06/2013 - 12:11

(Updated Dec. 10, 2013. James Hansen’s Frontiers of Geophysics talk has been RESCHEDULED to Wednesday, Dec. 11)

Scientists from Columbia University’s Earth Institute will present important research results and special events at the Dec. 9-13 San Francisco meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. Here is a guide in rough chronological order. Unless otherwise stated, presenters are at our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Abstracts of talks and posters are on the AGU meeting program.  Reporters may contact scientists directly, or press officers: Kevin Krajick, 917-361-7766 or Kim Martineau, 646-717-0134

# # # # #

The $5,000 ‘Dark Data’ Contest Award

Kerstin Lehnert, lehnert@ldeo.columbia.eduLeslie Hsu

As part of an initiative to save data in danger of dying within old floppy disks, tape drives or paper archives, judges will award a trophy and $5,000 to the team that has done the best job of finding and preserving such “dark data.” The International Data Rescue Competition is sponsored by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s Integrated Earth Data Applications project (which works to preserve dark data), and scientific publisher Elsevier. Sixteen teams from across the world have submitted entries. One group of seismologists has digitized Soviet magnetic recordings of Cold War nuclear tests in hopes of improving modern test-verification procedures. Another is a volunteer group that is digitizing handwritten weather observations from ship logs dating back hundreds of years.

Dark Data Talk: Monday, Dec. 9, 10:50-11:05 a.m., 2020 Moscone West. IN12A-03.

Award Ceremony: Monday, Dec. 9, 7-8:30 p.m., Twin Peaks Room, Intercontinental Hotel, 888 Howard St.

Read more about the contest

International Data Rescue Competition website and submissions

Integrated Earth Data Applications website 



The Dead Sea.

Drying of the Mediterranean and Mideast

Richard Seager

Nations surrounding the Mediterranean have been getting drier in the last decades, bringing record droughts to some places. Seager, a climate modeler, links drying in North Africa and Europe mainly to natural variability—but says there is evidence that drying of the Mideast is linked to overall climate warming. Further, based on changes in atmospheric circulation over the Mediterranean, he projects that the entire region from Spain through the Mideast may suffer increasing aridity in coming decades. This could happen not only during the usually dry summer, but during the crucial wintertime, when most rains now come in many places.

Monday, Dec. 9, 11:50 a.m.-12:05 p.m., 3003 Moscone West. GC12A-06 (Invited)


Climate Change: Spark of the Syrian Civil War?

Colin Kelley

From 2005-2010, Syria suffered its worst drought on record. Kelley and four colleagues say that natural weather variability played a role, but the root cause was probably a long-term shift in rainfall and heat caused by human greenhouse gas emissions. They say long-term atmospheric circulation changes increased the likelihood of drought in 2011 eight times over—and that increased warmth itself has directly caused drying of soils. While the causes of the war itself are complex, the drought brought food shortages, unemployment and disruption of rural social structures, driving some 1.5 million refugees from the countryside to the peripheries of cities, where discontent exploded into the ongoing bloodbath.

Monday, Dec. 9, 1:40-6 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. GC13A-1047


Global Farm Yields, Future Climate, and Conflict

James Rising, Mark Cane

More researchers are exploring the potential for swings in weather and climate to drive armed conflicts, often through crop failures that lead to violence. Looking at data from 1961-2008, Rising and Cane find that during times of high crop yields, conflicts have been less likely to break out. They plan to use this baseline information, along with data on crop varieties that grow in varying conditions, future climate scenarios, and economic and political conditions, to project future conflicts in different parts of the globe.  

Monday, Dec. 9, 1:40-6 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. GC13B-1069

(Related: Growing Susceptibility of the Global Food-Trade Network to Climate. Michael Puma, Monday, Dec. 9, 8 a.m.-12:20 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. GC11D-1038)


Scientists, Activism and the Impacts of Climate Change


James Hansen

James Hansen

James Hansen, the outspoken former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, now leads a new policy-oriented climate-change program at the Earth Institute. Known for his efforts to turn science into action, he and colleagues recently made headlines with a study contending that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has vastly underestimated how quickly CO2 emissions must be slowed. Hansen will give three high-profile talks. On Tuesday, he presents the Union Frontiers of Geophysics lecture. On Thursday, he will speak on “Minimizing Irreversible Impacts of Human-Made Climate Change.” On Friday, his talk challenges the research community on “Communicating the Need to Avoid Dangerous Climate Change.” Among other things, he will discuss his past, present and planned efforts to get information to the public and to the highest levels of government.

RESCHEDULED TO: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Hall E 134-135 Moscone North. U22C (Union Lecture)

Thursday, Dec. 12, 5:30-6 p.m., 104 Moscone South. GC44A-06 (Invited)

Friday, Dec. 13, 11:35 a.m.-12:05 p.m., 102 Moscone South. U52A-04

Earth Institute Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions


CLimate Models Calendar clipClimate Models! The Pinup Calendar

Co-creators: Rebecca Fowler

Francesco Fiondella (International Research Institute for Climate and Society)

Now you no longer have to dig through boring journal papers to learn all about your favorite climate scientists; just feast your eyes on the new 2014 Climate Models Calendar. Eye-popping portraits of 13 top Columbia University climate researchers in full regalia amid their natural habitat were conceived by bestselling photographer Jordan Matter (Dancers Among Us) and shot by fashion portraitist Charlie Naebeck. Calendar includes tasty inside info on the researcher of the month, such as favorite dataset or climate phenomenon. Individual dates are marked with famous climate/weather events, scientific meetings and other useful items. (There are 13 models because January 2015 comes as a bonus.) Models will be on hand to autograph calendars. (On sale through the Climate Models Calendar website, and at the Columbia M.A. in Climate and Society Program booth, no. 1329 in the Exhibit Hall.

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 1:40-6 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. ED23B-0725

Climate Models Calendar website


Did a 6th Century Comet Bring Global Famine?

Dallas Abbott,

Evidence from tree rings and ice cores suggest that parts of Europe, Asia and North America saw protracted cooling in the 530s, which has been linked to drought and famine. Some scientists hypothesize that Halley’s Comet may have caused this, by leaving a dust trail that the Earth later intercepted during its orbit. Dust in the air could have blocked the sun’s rays. Abbott finds evidence in ice cores drilled from Greenland: as much as 10 times more dust is found in the layer corresponding to 533 A.D. than at other intervals, she says. This dust is rich in markers of extraterrestrial origins such as nickel and iron oxide spherules. She finds that neither volcanism nor solar cycles can fully explain the cooling seen in various records during this decade. Furthermore, spikes of the ice-core dust appear to match the timing of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, known to be triggered by Halley. 

Wednesday, Dec. 11, 8 a.m.-12:20 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. PP31B-1869


Burying CO2 in the Newark Basin:  Are There Earthquake Risks?

Natalia Zakharova

 In 2011, a consortium drilled a 1.5-mile deep hole off the New York State Thruway to study the rocks of the Newark Basin, which underlie parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Their goal: to understand the potential to store industrial carbon emissions, and the possible stresses on earthquake faults. Scientists are now analyzing data from this, and a second hole drilled this summer on the campus of nearby Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Zakharova presents early results from the Thruway borehole; these suggest that shallow reservoirs contain critically stressed faults and are not good for injection; injecting fluids 1.2 kilometers or below may be safer.

Wednesday, Dec. 11, 1:40-6 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. S33D-2472


dsc_0040 BangladeshBangladesh: Shaking and Sinking

Michael Steckler

For the past four years, a team from several universities has been studying the intertwined natural hazards of earthquakes, sea-level rise and sudden changes in river courses in Bangladesh, earth’s most densely populated nation. Now, detailed portraits of the forces driving these hazards are emerging. Principal investigator Michael Steckler gives an overview of how yearly loads of Himalayan sediment and water are interacting with rising sea level and a maze of underlying tectonic boundaries to create a system of dangers that could be set off by any number of triggers. Posters in a separate session paint a picture of hidden active faults around the capital of Dhaka, and how the delta on which Bangladesh sits is being twisted and squeezed by moving watery sediments and tectonic boundaries. 

Wednesday, Dec. 11, 1:40-1:55 p.m., 2005 Moscone West. EP33D-01 (Invited)

Related posters: Monday, Dec. 9, 1:40-6 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. T13D-2565 & T13D-2567

Short film on the project


Megadroughts: Signposts of the Past

Benjamin Cook

Edward Cook

Dendrochronologist Edward Cook has documented drought history in North America, monsoon Asia, and parts of Europe, North Africa and the Mideast. Tree rings going back many centuries before instrumental records reveal megadroughts covering vast regions and sometimes lasting more than 100 years—greater than anything seen in modern times. Such droughts were more common in the naturally warm period 600 to 1,000 years ago, he says. This suggests that greater warmth can push large climate systems into long-term aridity, raising the specter of megadroughts in the near future as climate warms. In a related talk, climate modeler Benjamin Cook (Edward’s son) delves into North America, starting with the devastating pan-continental drought of 2012. Similar to his father, he finds that droughts like this are rare, but not unprecedented, and occur most commonly during warmer times.  

Ben Cook: Monday, Dec. 9, 8 a.m.-12:20 p.m., Posters A-C, Moscone South. GC11A-0956

Ed Cook: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 4:45-5:05 p.m., 102 Moscone South. U34A-03


Turning CO2 to Stone

Juerg Matter

Some scientists say human-induced climate change could be mitigated by pumping industrial carbon dioxide underground; however, the fear of leaks is a major stumbling block. Matter’s group has been working on ways to turn pumped-down CO2 into a harmless limestone-like solid by harnessing natural chemical reactions underground. In the first field results from a pilot injection outside Reykjavik, Iceland, they have shown that the process can indeed work. The CarbFix project is dissolving CO2 in water and pumping it 500 to 800 meters down into a formation of basalt. Chemical monitoring shows that 85% of the CO2 reacts with the basalt within a year—a rate well beyond initial expectations. Scientists continue to monitor the storage reservoir.

Thursday, Dec. 12, 8 a.m.-12:20 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. V41A-2753

CarbFix website

AGU 2013: Key Events From the Earth Institute

dsc_0040 BangladeshScientists from Columbia University’s Earth Institute will present important research results and special events at the Dec. 9-13 San Francisco meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. Here is a guide in rough chronological order.

IRI@AGU: Schedule of Events + Q&As

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - Fri, 12/06/2013 - 11:11


Four scientists and one PhD student from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) are attending the 2013 American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting. Below are links to Q&As with each of the presenters and the schedule of their posters and presentations. For additional information about the scientists’ work, search the conference program for their names here.

The IRI is a research center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute dedicated to enhancing society’s capability to understand, anticipate and manage the impacts of climate in order to improve human welfare and the environment, especially in developing countries.

Pietro Ceccato Q&A

Poster: Development and Implementation of Flood Risk Mapping, Water Bodies Monitoring and Climate Information for Human Health (EP53A-0754)
Session: Earth and Planetary Surface Processes General Contributions Posters
Friday, Dec. 13
1:40 – 6 p.m.
Hall A-C (Moscone South)

Paula Gonzalez Q&A

Poster: Long-lead ENSO Predictability from CMIP5 Decadal Hindcasts (GC43D-1090)
Session: How Reliable and Accurate are CMIP5 Climate Simulations?
Thursday, Dec. 12
1:40 – 6 p.m.
Hall A-C (Moscone South)

Arthur Greene Q&A

Presentation: Climate scenarios for driving AgMIP models (GC31D-06)
Session: Improving the Understanding of climate Variability and Change in Agriculture: AgMIP, Tropical Farm Adaptation and Related Research
Wednesday, Dec. 11
9:15 – 9:30 a.m.
3001 Moscone West

Catherine Pomposi Q&A

Poster: Sahel rainfall variability as simulated by the CAM4 model and its associated atmospheric dynamics (A11G-0136)
Session: West African Monsoon and Its Modeling
Monday, Dec. 9
8 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.
Hall A-C (Moscone South)

Presentation: Experiences in the New York Academy of Sciences STEM Mentoring Program (PA42A-08)
Session: Communicating the Relationship Between Policy Sciences, Natural Hazards, and Global Environmental Change
Thursday, Dec. 12
12:05 – 12:20 p.m.
2020 (Moscone West)

Andrew Robertson Q&A

Session (convener): Subseasonal to Seasonal Prediction: Bridging the Gap Between Weather and Climate
Monday, Dec. 9
8 – 10 a.m.
3010 (Moscone West)

Poster: Diagnostics of Interannual-to-Interdecadal Climate and Streamflow Variability: Applications to Reservoir Management over NW India (GC11A-0960)
Session: Paleoclimate, Observations, and Models: Water Resource Management Under Climate Variability and Change
Monday, Dec. 9
8 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.
Hall A-C (Moscone South)

Poster: Evaluation of Sub-monthly Forecast Skill from Global Ensemble Prediction Systems (A13E-0259)
Session: Subseasonal to Seasonal Prediction: Bridging the Gap Between Weather and Climate II Posters
Monday, Dec. 9
1:40 – 6 p.m.
Hall A-C (Moscone South)

IRI@AGU: Schedule of Events + Q&As

IRIatAGUFour scientists and one PhD student from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society are attending the 2013 American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting. Below are links to Q&As with each of the presenters and the schedule of their posters and presentations.

Seismology as Performance Art

Jim Gaherty installs a seismic station in Masoko as a crowd looks on

Jim Gaherty installs a seismic station in Masoko as a crowd looks on

Ideally, seismic stations are sited in remote, quiet locations away from any possible cultural noise, especially people, who are very noisy (even if they are not New Yorkers). But other considerations besides peace and quiet are important for a good station, particularly security. As a result, we placed most of our stations in towns near schools, hospitals or town halls, where people could keep an eye on them.

We often attract crowds while installing our exotic seismic gear. Field work with an audience has pros and cons. It’s certainly somewhat distracting to labor and sweat under the sun, tinkering with wires and programming equipment with a big crowd in attendance. Some of the sites are in relatively tight spots, so the curious onlookers occupied much of our working space, making for very close quarters. Several days ago, we installed a station next to the village hall in Ndalisi as a small crowd looked on and an animated town meeting took place next door. Loud passionate speeches inside were matched by loud banging outside as we mounted a solar panel for our station on the roof.


Students from the Ilindi elementary school watch from a distance

But there are very big upsides. People from the villages where we deployed stations have provided an enormous amount of help with building our sites. We have also had abundant opportunities to tell people what we hope to learn about the active tectonic environment where they live. Continental rifting here gives rise to geohazards such as earthquakes and volcanoes. Because we have tried to locate many of our sites near schools, we particularly hope to communicate our science to students and teachers. At the Matema Beach High School, students peppered us with questions as we installed our gear. Their school is just a stone’s throw from the Livingstone Mountains, the surface expression of a major rift fault that has caused large earthquakes. But our seismic installations admittedly may not be entirely positive; today at Kifule Secondary School, students took a long math exam inside while we were making a racket outside. But hopefully the pros out weigh the cons… Even at Kifule, students burst out of classroom after the test all smiles, so apparently we were not too disruptive.

Surface Views of the Southern East Africa Rift Inspire a Look Underground


Kiejo volcano in the Rungwe Volcanic Province with a cinder cone

Driving around the Rungwe volcanic province in the southern East Africa Rift installing seismometers, we have the chance to observe first hand how geological processes in action create the most dramatic forms at Earth’s surface. Looming volcanoes flanked by cinder cones lie along the rift valley, often very close to rift faults. The Livingstone Mountains, the surface expression of a major fault system that bounds the rift to the east in this area, soar over 1.5 km over the valley below, including Lake Malawi (Nyasa).


The Livingstone Mountains, which are the surface expression of a major rift fault

The remarkable geological structures evident above ground motivate us to look deeper in the earth. We see volcanoes in particular places at the surface, but where are magmas located at depth below the volcanoes and the rift? Likewise, we see dramatic faults that are helping to thin and break the crust at the surface, but how do they relate to stretching of the entire crust and lithosphere beneath this part of the East Africa rift? And how are the magmas and faults related to one another? These are the core scientific questions motivating our study of the rift around northern Lake Malawi (Nyasa). We hope to use data collected during this program, including the 15 seismic stations that we are deploying now around the Rungwe province, to answer these big questions.

Imaging beneath the southernmost volcanoes in the East Africa Rift

The last time we visited the southern part of the East Africa Rift, we were responding to an unusual series of earthquakes in December 2009 that shook northern Malawi. The faults responsible for these events had not produced any earthquakes historically, and thus caught everyone by surprise. The unexpected occurrence of earthquakes on these faults highlights our poor overall understanding of how the African continent is slowly stretching and breaking apart.

This time, we return to this part of the rift system as a part of a more comprehensive effort to understand the underpinnings of this continental rift using a spectrum of geological and geophysical tools and involving a big international team of scientists from the U.S., Tanzania and Malawi. In the coming three weeks, we plan to deploy ~15 seismometers in southwest Tanzania around the Rungwe volcanic province, the southernmost volcanism in the East Africa Rift system. These stations will record small local earthquakes associated with active shifting of faults and moving of magmas at depth. They will also record distant earthquakes that can be used to create images of structures beneath Earth’s surface and map the faults and magmas.

Rungwe seismic deployment

Map showing elevation and lake depth, locations of volcanoes (red triangles, from Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program), major faults (black lines) with planned locations for seismometers. We plan to deploy 15 stations (light blue circles) in the next three weeks around the Rungwe volcanic province. Dark blue circles show tentative locations of stations to be deployed in the summer of 2014.


The Langseth cruise is winding down!

Mapping the Galicia Rift off Spain - Thu, 08/01/2013 - 10:32

The Langseth Galicia 3D seismic cruise is winding down. By tomorrow we will be back at the dock in Vigo. Like most seagoing science, we will miss the ship experience, we will miss the new colleagues we have met, we will look forward to getting back on shore, and for many of us the awesome multi-year task of processing, interpreting, and publishing the boatload of data we have acquired.

This is an example of the data we have collected. Right is to the East and left is to the West. This is a cross section of the Earth about 65 km long. The blue is water. The water depth here is about 5 km. The red and gray colors are a cross section of the rocks below the water. The flat layers are sedimentary rocks. The lumpy bumps (that is a technical term!) consist of blocks of continental crust and of the mantle.

We thank the Langseth’s Captain and crew for making this possible! These are men and women who live on the sea, and who share their ocean world with us for a month or two. Every now and then, when you can walk 100 meters in a straight line, ask yourself, “Where is the Langseth now, and who is steering the ship, or keeping the engines running, or keeping the deck ship-shape, or providing good food, or every other important task on the ship?” Under your breath say thank you for the experience you had on Langseth.

We thank Robert and his technical team. They worked tirelessly to assemble the 24 km of hydrophone streamer that hears the reflections from the Earth, the 40 or so airguns that make the booms, and all the rigging it takes to tow them spread out behind the ship over 600 meters wide and 7000 meters long. That was just the start. Then they operated the electronic equipment that received the seismic data and recorded it for the scientists. Without them we could not do the science we love.

Thank you to the Science Party. We had a total of 20 scientists, including undergraduate students, graduate students, post-docs, researchers, and professors. On Leg 1 we had 14 scientists and on Leg 2 we had 10 scientists. Four scientists weathered both legs. Six joined us for Leg 2. I am very grateful for all your efforts on behalf of the Galicia 3D science. I hope that you learned a lot, had a good time, and met other scientists for the first time. I suspect that we will meet one another many times in the future.I look forward to that!

This is the Technical team and the Science team for Langseth Leg 2.
I want to thank the Protected Species Observers for sailing with us. They spent countless hours in the observing tower, high above any other part of the ship. They have sighted hundreds of whales, but most did not come close to the ship. It is windy and cold up there, but their role is important for making sure that collecting our scientific data does not interfere with the creatures who call the ocean home.

Thank you for sending your loved ones off on the Langseth. I can certify that they now know how to do their own laundry and to clean up their cabin before they leave the ship. During the weekly emergency drill, they run quickly up to the muster station on deck and put on safety gear. I recommend that you continue to enforce these behaviors ruthlessly! They will forget them if you let them slack-off. On the other hand, they did not have to cook their own food, or wash and dry their dishes. You will still have to work on these behaviors!

As I write this from the Langseth, we should remember that the Galicia 3D experiment goes on. Our colleagues from GEOMAR and University of Southampton will be on the FS Poseidon from 25 August to 10 September. They will be recovering the 78 Ocean Bottom Seismometers that are still on the bottom (on purpose!). They have been recording approximately 150,000 airgun array shots fired by the Langseth. I know what you are thinking. “How many total recordings of shots are recorded in all the OBS’s?” That would be about 11.7 million shot recordings. This will keep the OBS scientists busy for a while!

I particularly want to thank James Gibson for creating this blog. It has reached out to our friends and to strangers. We plan to keep the blog alive. This project will continue for years.

Best regards,
Dale Sawyer
Rice University

Behind the scenes of the ship

Mapping the Galicia Rift off Spain - Wed, 07/31/2013 - 13:26

This week we have been exploring all the parts of the ship we have not yet discovered and were lucky enough to get shown around the engine room and the bridge. It is evident that each area of a ship (bridge, engines, science etc.) has a group of people doing those specific jobs and that the combination of everyone doing their part keeps everything running smoothly; like cogs in a massive machine. 

The engine room control panel. With that many buttons no wonder it takes so much training to work in the engine room!
The engine room is located in the hull of the ship and is the biggest room on board by far, taking up about 2/3rds of the bottom deck. This is obviously a very important part of the ship because without it we would not be moving anywhere! The Langseth has 2 engines leading to 2 propellers and also 1 bow-thruster. There are so many different bits of machinery down there that it can take 4 years of studying to be qualified to work in the engine room. It is very loud and warm but surprisingly clean and tidy. There are also 2 compressors which are used to pressurise the air for the air guns that we tow. 

One of the very noisy compressors. It is hard to portray the size of these in a photo, they are huge!
The heat from the engines is used to produce all the hot water for the ship and the engine room also has machines for desalinising our water. Fuel usage is constantly monitored and fuel moved between all the many tanks spread around the ship to ensure even weight distribution. Even though we only travel at about 4 knots whilst acquiring data we burn between 5000-6000 Gallons of fuel a day due to the massive load of the equipment we are towing behind us.

One of the two engines
The bridge sits at the front of the ship on top of the main living quarters. From here it seems as if practically everything can be controlled. They drive the ship when we are not driving from the main science lab during acquisition, control the speed, can manage the safety aspects including all alarms and watertight doors and keep a look out for anything floating past that might get caught up in our seismic gear (so far buoys and pallets have been sighted). One very important job of the bridge is to communicate with other nearby vessels. Nobody would expect us to be towing 6km of streamers so we have to make sure we let other ships know with enough time to arrange safe passing, therefore avoiding collisions.

This is the main control panel in the bridge. There are screens for  navigation and
radar as well as all the speed controls. There are two smaller control panels
on the port and starboard sides of the bridge for work that
involves careful maneuvering e.g. picking up OBS's. 
The last seismic line is just being finished right now and then we can get ready to begin equipment recovery. It is about 40 hours until we are back on dry land again! 

Tessa Gregory
University of Southampton  



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