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Tree-Ring Data Chronicles Historic Climate Conditions - Archaeology Magazine

Featured News - Tue, 11/10/2015 - 07:00
Tree ring chronologies from across Europe and the Mediterranean have been used to create a drought atlas of the Old World that reaches back more than 2,000 years. The atlas, led by Lamont's Ed Cook, is the third providing insights into the Northern Hemisphere, joining the North American Drought Atlas and Monsoon Asia Drought Atlas.

The Gould, a gale, and a bit more on SAM

Chasing Microbes in Antarctica - Mon, 11/09/2015 - 08:38

The Laurence M. Gould departed for Punta Arenas last night, taking Colleen with it and leaving Jamie and I on our own until reinforcements arrive in two weeks (you can check out Jamie’s blog here for more on what we’re up to this season).  That should work out fine although we’ll be very busy on sampling days – when and if we get sampling days.  We were supposed to get out today but the weather isn’t cooperating.

A small crowd gathers to send of the Gould. Colleen's enroute back to WHOI, leaving Jamie and I to handle things until reinforcements arrive in about two weeks.

A small crowd gathers to send off the Gould. Colleen’s now enroute back to WHOI, leaving Jamie and I to handle all the measurements until reinforcements arrive in about two weeks.

The ice is, or was, pretty thick in Arthur Harbor. 45 minutes after the Gould departed they'd made it this far. Eventually they cleared the harbor and made it to more open water.

The ice is, or was, pretty thick in Arthur Harbor. 45 minutes after the Gould departed they’d made it this far (you can see the same islet just behind the Gould in the previous picture). Eventually they cleared the harbor and made it to more open water.

Shortly after the Gould departed the wind started to increase.  Right now the Gould is getting 50 kt winds at the southern edge of the Drake Passage (sorry Colleen!), we’re getting a steady 35 kt wind the blew all night and should last through today.  I’m nervous about what that will do to our sampling plan.  So far the land fast ice where our ice station is has held together; it’s a nearly a meter thick and pretty well anchored to the land.  Sometime this season it’s going to give out though, and I’m hoping that we can sample from it a couple more times before that happens.

The flip side is that when the ice goes away we’ll be able to start using the zodiacs to sample at our regular stations, at least until the ice blows back in.  The worst case scenario is being in the awkward position of too much ice for the zodiacs, but no solid land fast ice from which to sample.  To get an idea of how fast things can change compare the ice conditions in the following pictures to the conditions when the Gould departed:

Four hours after the Gould departed open water is starting to appear in Arthur Harbor. The edge of the land fast ice is to the right in this image, the water is opening between the (hopefully!) stable land fast ice and the mobile pack ice.

Four hours after the Gould departed open water is starting to appear in Arthur Harbor. The edge of the land fast ice is to the right in this image, the water is opening between the (hopefully!) stable land fast ice and the mobile pack ice.  The little peninsula of ice at center-left in this image is an additional piece of land fast ice anchored to the east shore of Arthur Harbor.

And here's what it looks like this morning. The ice is pushed even further out (not that you can see very far!).

And here’s what it looks like this morning. The pack ice (beyond the ice peninsula) is pushed even further out (not that you can see very far!).

The fast departure of the ice underscores an important ecological concept that is central to this region.  The timing of the switch from ice covered to open water conditions has a major impact on the strength and timing of the spring phytoplankton bloom; the annual ecological event from which everything else derives (think of it like a burst of new green grass in the Serengeti).

Thanks to Jamie Collins for this light profile from our ice station earlier in the week. The grey line indicates the depth of the ice. The ice blocks nearly 95 % of the light that impacts the surface, the remainder is quickly extinguished in the water column.

Thanks to Jamie Collins for this light profile from our ice station earlier in the week. The grey line indicates the depth of the ice. The ice blocks about 94 % of the light that impacts the surface, the remainder is quickly extinguished in the water column.

In the springtime Antarctic phytoplankton are limited in growth only by the absence of light.  Nutrients have been replenishing all winter, there are no grazers around (yet), and the phytoplankton are relatively indifferent to temperature.  Right now at Palmer Station we have nearly 18 hours of daylight, what keeps the phytoplankton bloom from exploding right now is the ice.  Only 6 % of the light that hits the surface of the fast ice in Arthur Harbor is making its way down into the water.  That’s enough to support the growth of specialized ice algae and low-light adapted phytoplankton just below the ice, but not a major bloom deeper in the water column.  At just 10 m depth only about 0.01 % of the light that hits the surface remains; it is essentially totally dark.

So as soon as the ice departs the phytoplankton are primed to start growing.  In Arthur Harbor the wind is driving the ice away, does this mean a bloom is about to start?  Not necessarily.  For phytoplankton, what the wind gives it also takes away.  A strong wind induces strong vertical mixing in the water column.  This impact of vertical mixing on phytoplankton has been studied in places like the North Atlantic for a very long time.  Some phytoplankton can swim, but none can swim fast enough to outpace vertical mixing.  Under a stiff, sustained wind phytoplankton in the surface are mixed deep into the water column.  If they don’t go too deep that’s fine.  Below a certain point they can’t photosynthesize enough to meet their metabolic demands (we usually take this to be the 1 % light level), but like all organisms they have energy stores and can wait to get mixed back above this depth.  Pushed deep enough however, at what we call the critical depth a phytoplankton cell has insufficient energy stores to make it back to the surface.  Under these conditions, although phytoplankton may be growing at the surface, the formation of the bloom will be suppressed.

These two figures, from Ducklow et al. 2006, show the link between SAM, the sea ice anomaly, and primary production.

These two figures, from Ducklow et al. 2006, show the link between SAM, the sea ice anomaly, and primary production.

So what does this have to do with timing?  It’s no surprise that the strongest storms happen in the winter.  In low sea ice years, with less land fast ice and an earlier retreat of both land fast and pack ice, the surface of the Antarctic ocean is exposed to late winter storms and strong mixing.  Phytoplankton that have been overwintering safely in the stable water column below the ice start to grow, but are constantly mixed down below the critical depth.  Eventually this stock of phytoplankton is depleted (or much reduced), leaving insufficient numbers to initiate the bloom when conditions finally calm down.  This idea has been explored in a number of studies, including this great 1998 paper led by Kevin Arrigo at Stanford and this 2006 study led by Hugh Ducklow at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.  This latter study is particularly interesting because it implicates the Southern Annual Mode (SAM) in determining the strength of the spring bloom.  As the plot at right shows it’s clear that SAM isn’t the only thing that determines ice duration, extent, and the strength of the bloom, but it has a clear and logical role.

More recent studies have extended the link between sea ice and SAM to higher trophic levels, including krill.  One of my favorite Palmer LTER papers is this 2013 paper by Grace Saba et al., which does a great job of illustrating the link and exploring the idea in the context of climate change.  A negative phase in the SAM during the winter and springs leads to low wind and high ice conditions (a double bonus for phytoplanton).  These conditions set the stage for a strong bloom and good krill recruitment (a large number of juvenille krill being “recruited” to the sexually mature, adult size class).  A positive SAM during the winter and spring leads to low ice, high wind, and a taxonomically different and overall smaller phytoplankon bloom.  This leads to fewer krill with a direct negative impact on penguins, seals, seabirds, and whales.

Taken from Saba et al. 2013. A negative SAM leads to low wind and high ice conditions. Good for phytoplankton and by extension good for krill. A positive SAM does the opposite, suppressing the spring bloom and reducing the food available for krill.

Taken from Saba et al. 2013. A negative SAM leads to low wind and high ice conditions. Good for phytoplankton and by extension good for krill. A positive SAM does the opposite, suppressing the spring bloom and reducing the food available for krill.

This post is getting long (this is what happens when a sampling day gets weathered out) so I want to end by wrapping it back around to the current season.  As I described in a previous post things are a little different this year.  The SAM index has generally been positive with some dips into the negative.  Only for the month of October was the mean SAM negative, and not very.  Despite this there is a definite positive sea ice anomaly.  This seems to be driven by the strong, persistent El Niño in the equatorial Pacific that shows no sign of abating any time soon.  Regardless of SAM, ice conditions are good this year, in a few weeks we’ll see what that means for the spring bloom when the ice clears out for good!

//www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/precip/CWlink/daily_ao_index/aao/monthly.aao.index.b79.current.ascii.table. The current sea ice conditions have defied the SAM index, underscoring the complexity of the relationship between climate, physical conditions, and the ecosystem.

Monthly mean SAM index for 2015. Taken from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center at http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/precip/CWlink/daily_ao_index/aao/monthly.aao.index.b79.current.ascii.table. The current sea ice conditions have defied the SAM index, underscoring the complexity of the relationship between climate, physical conditions on the ground, and the ecosystem.

What Do Trees Tell Us about Climate Change? - Christian Science Monitor

Featured News - Sun, 11/08/2015 - 12:00
The new Old World Drought Atlas uses tree-rings to map droughts and periods of extreme rain through 2,000 years of European history. The project, led by Lamont's Ed Cook and involving dendrochronologists across Europe, joins drought atlases for North America and Asia to create a view of the Northern Hemisphere.

A New Drought Atlas Tracks Europe's Extreme Weather Through History - Smithsonian Magazine

Featured News - Fri, 11/06/2015 - 15:44
The Old World Drought Atlas, led by Lamont-Doherty's Ed Cook and based on thousands of tree ring samples, fills in details about past events and could help improve climate modeling for the future.

New Atlas Shows Europe's Catastrophic Droughts - Der Spiegel

Featured News - Fri, 11/06/2015 - 12:00
A new atlas based on tree ring research and led by Lamont-Doherty's Ed Cook of the Tree Ring Lab documents the reach of Europe's historic droughts in detail.

Things are looking up as the snow comes down…

Chasing Microbes in Antarctica - Thu, 11/05/2015 - 20:23

After a tough couple of weeks things are starting to look up.  I’ve got the flow cytometer up and running, and Colleen’s instrument received a complete makeover (thanks to the über instrument tech at Palmer) and is producing good data.  The big question is whether I can gain enough proficiency over the next two days to keep it going after Colleen leaves on Sunday.

The operational instrument status comes just in time; yesterday we went back to the sea ice station that we established on Tuesday to do some science.  In addition to collecting some pretty novel data it was a good chance to practice the measurements we’ll be making all season for the Palmer LTER.  It felt good to get out but hopefully for most of the season it will be a little warmer, however.  That it would be cold in early spring in Antarctica is kind of a no-brainer, but that didn’t keep it from surprising me yesterday.  And the downside to doing fieldwork cold is that it takes longer, so you end up getting colder, and things take even longer…

Jamie, Nicole, and I get escorted off the ice by a lone adélie penguin. The adélie seemed pretty interested in what we were up to at the ice station and followed us the whole way back. Thanks to Rebecca Shoop, the Palmer Station manager, for the photo.

Jamie, Nicole, and I get escorted off the ice by a lone adélie  penguin. The adélie seemed pretty interested in what we were up to at the ice station and followed us the whole way back. Thanks to Rebecca Shoop, the Palmer Station manager, for the photo.

In addition to making all the core LTER measurements (see the end for descriptions); chlorophyll a, nutrients (inorganic nitrogen and phosphorous), primary production, bacterial production, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic carbon, bacterial abundance, photosynthetically active radiation, and UV, we took multiple RNA and DNA samples (my main focus for this trip), large amounts of water for lipidomics (Jamie’s project) and samples to measure hydrogen peroxide.  This last measurement was a consolation prize since we couldn’t measure superoxide – the two species have some similarities – and it gives us some indication of what to expect now that Colleen’s instrument is up and running.

So what did we find?  It’s early in the season, and there isn’t that much happening yet below the ice.  Everything is driven by light, and it’s pretty dark under there.  But things are starting to happen, and all the action is near the ice.  We measured only two depths in the water column (and that still took us over three hours), just below the ice and 2 meters further down.  Even over that short distance there was a big difference in what’s going on.  The concentration of hydrogen peroxide – a byproduct of photosynthesis – was much higher near the ice, and there were about four times as many bacteria just beneath the ice than 2 meters below it.

Hopefully, if the weather’s good we’ll get a chance to go back out on Monday.  If the ice holds together for just a couple more weeks we’ll be able to document the transition from an ice-covered to an ice-free state, and get the data to test some hypotheses about how bacteria and phytoplankton respond to this transition.  In the meantime yesterday’s bitterly cold wind has given way to calm conditions and outside the snow is falling.  The woodstove in the Palmer Station galley is putting out a nice glow and the stress of fieldwork is dissipating for a moment…

As promised here’s a quick description of the core LTER measurements:

Chlorophyll a: The principal (but certainly not only) photosynthetic pigment in phytoplankton.  Oceanographers having been measuring the concentration of chlorophyll a in the water for a long time as a measure of phytoplankton biomass, and as an estimate of how much primary production is happening.

Primary production: The amount of carbon dioxide that is being taken up by phytoplankton and converted into organic carbon.  The whole food web depends on primary production, and much of our work is focused on what aspects of the ecosystem control the amount that happens.

Bacterial production: Sort of the inverse of primary production, this is the amount of organic carbon taken up by bacteria.  We can’t measure this directly so we estimate it from the uptake of certain carbon compounds that we can track.

Dissolved organic carbon: One of the most mysterious types of carbon out there (see this article for some indication why).  This is organic carbon in pieces small enough for bacteria to take them up.

Particulate organic carbon: Phytoplankton die, they become particulate organic carbon.  It’s sad.

Bacterial abundance: The number of bacteria in the water, measured on our now operational flow cytometer.

Nutrients: Nutrients in the ocean are operationally divided into macro and micro categories, depending on their biologically relevant concentrations.  We measure nitrogen and phosphorous, the principal macronutrients.

Photosynthetically active radiation (PAR): In addition to nutrients phytoplankton need light to grow.  PAR is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that can actually be used in photosynthesis.  Too little PAR (like under thick, snow covered ice) and you get very little photosynthesis.  Too much PAR (like at the surface of the ocean during the Antarctic summer) also produces very little photosynthesis!

Scientists Warned the President about Global Warming 50 Years Ago Today - Guardian

Featured News - Thu, 11/05/2015 - 17:00
On Nov. 5, 1965, climate scientists summarized the risks associated with rising carbon pollution in a report for Lyndon Johnson. Lamont's Wally Broecker was among them.

What Is Attribution When It Comes to Climate Change? - Green TV

Featured News - Thu, 11/05/2015 - 12:00
In this short video, Lamont's Jason Smerdon explains connections between climate change and extreme weather.

Antarctic Journal: Packing for the End of the World - Nature

Featured News - Thu, 11/05/2015 - 10:19
Nature follows an expedition to study the fate of Antarctica's ice. The ROSETTA-Ice expedition includes the IcePod team led by Lamont-Doherty's Robin Bell.

El Niño: Meet the Man Who Tries to Predict the Unpredictable - SciDev

Featured News - Wed, 11/04/2015 - 15:00
In 1985, El Niño research pioneers Mark Cane and Steve Zebiak came up with the first computer model that successfully predicted the periodic Pacific Ocean warming event the following year. Thirty years later, models have improved, but El Niño remains elusive, says Lamont-Doherty's Cane.

Robin Bell: Science Is Like Running a Small Business, Where the Currency Is Ideas - Forecast Podcast

Featured News - Wed, 11/04/2015 - 14:40
Science is like running a small business, where the currency is ideas, Lamont-Doherty's Robin Bell tells Michael White, Nature’s editor for climate science.

Did Climate Change Jump-Start Human Evolution in East Africa? - New Scientist

Featured News - Wed, 11/04/2015 - 12:05
“The drying is coincident with a lot of major events in human evolution,” Lamont's Peter deMenocal said. It coincides with the appearance in the fossil record of the first members of the Homo genus, along with Paranthropus. Australopithecus disappeared around the same time.

Rough Start but Smooth Ice

Chasing Microbes in Antarctica - Tue, 11/03/2015 - 20:12

We’re off to a rough start this season!  Two of our instruments are down, including our flow cytometer – annoying, but we can deal with it – and Colleen’s instrument for measuring superoxide.  That’s a real problem.  Colleen is only with us for five more days.  When she leaves the instrument stays, but we will no longer have a skilled operator!  Measuring superoxide is not trivial and I was supposed to spend a good chunk of this week learning how to do it.  That’s going to be tricky with no instrument.  Fortunately the instrument tech at Palmer this season is handy with a soldering iron and seems to have some ideas.  We’ll see how that plays out tomorrow.

The one piece of good news this week is that the big storm last Sunday didn’t do much damage to the land-fast sea ice near Palmer Station.  At least for now we can do a little science on the ice.  This afternoon Jamie Collins, Nicole Couto, and I went out with the SAR team to establish a sea ice sample site near the station.  Hopefully we can get a couple weeks of sampling at this site before the sea ice deteriorates.

Jamie measures ice thickness. Right about 70 cm in this case; nice thick ice that will hopefully stick around for a while.

Jamie measures ice thickness. Right about 70 cm in this case; nice thick ice that will hopefully stick around for a while.

Being able to do some science on the sea ice at Palmer Station is actually a pretty big deal and an unexpected bonus for this season.  In some ways this is a very logical place to study ice.  Palmer Station is the United States’ premier polar marine research station, and you can find dozens of papers describing the ecological importance of sea ice in this region.  It’s been years however, since anyone was able to routinely access sea ice from the station.  Considering the amount of ecological research that takes place here this actually seems a little silly; the single most important feature is virtually ignored for practical reasons.  Working on ephemeral, dynamic sea ice requires a set of skills, equipment, and intrepidness that simply doesn’t exist in this day and age within the US Antarctic Program.

The bottom piece of an ice core collected today. It's early in the season and there isn't much happening yet. If you squint though, you can see the faintest green in the ice, a hint of the algal bloom to come.

The bottom piece of an ice core collected today. It’s early in the season and there isn’t much happening yet. If you squint though you can see the faintest green in the ice, a hint of the algal bloom to come.

Our very small adventure today (on relatively thick, static ice) is reason to hope that that might eventually change.  There isn’t a lot of institutional knowledge about sea ice at Palmer Station, but Station staff and management are open minded and seem eager to learn.  As a further indication the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab recently provided new recommendations for sea ice operations at McMurdo Station, a major step toward a rational, data-based policy for traveling and working on ice (which I’ll link it I can find, too tired to search now… must fix flow cytometer…).

Hopefully we can get some good science done on the sea ice this season.  In the Arctic large, under ice phytoplankton blooms are a major source of new carbon to the ecosystem.  In the Antarctic blooms of algae at the ice-water interface are an essential food source for juvenile krill – adult krill being the major food source for virtually everything else down here.  Getting some indication of when, where, and how often these events occur along the West Antarctic Peninsula will tell us a lot about how these ecosystems function, and what will happen to them as the ice season and range continues to decline.

In case you ever have to track a penguin, this is what penguin tracks look like.

And in case you ever have to track a penguin, this is what penguin tracks look like.

A Tale of Two Cities Meeting the Challenges of Sea Level Rise - Yale Environment 360

Featured News - Tue, 11/03/2015 - 12:00
For centuries, Rotterdam and Hamburg have had to contend with the threat of storm surges and floods. Now, as sea levels rise, planners are looking at innovative ways to make these cities more resilient. Quotes Lamont-Doherty's Klaus Jacob.

Punta Arenas to Palmer Station

Chasing Microbes in Antarctica - Sun, 11/01/2015 - 14:35

We arrived at Palmer Station last Thursday morning after a particularly long trip down from Punta Arenas. Depending on the weather the trip across the Drake Passage and down the Peninsula to Anvers Island typically takes about four days. This time however, the Laurence M. Gould had science to do and a NOAA field camp to put in at Cape Shirreff on Livingston Island. This was a particularly welcome event as it gave us an opportunity to get off the boat and get a little exercise unloading 5 months of supplies for the NOAA science team.

Since arriving at Palmer Station the activity has been nonstop. In addition to lab orientations and water safety training there is the seemingly never-ending job of setting up our lab and getting instruments up and running. Yesterday evening following the weekly station meeting we did manage to go for a short ski on the glacier out behind the station. I’m glad we did because today the weather took a real turn for the worse; winds are gusting to 55 knots and strengthening. This is a real concern for us because wind strength and direction are the primary determinant of the presence and condition of sea ice in this area. As I wrote in my previous post we are hoping for sea ice to be either very solid, so we can sample from it or clear out completely, so we can get the zodiacs in the water. We’ll have to wait until the storm passes to see what conditions are like but very likely it will be neither!

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A derelict steel-hulled sailing vessel beached outside of Punta Arenas (taken in 2013 on my last trip to Antarctica). Before the Panama Canal opened Punta Arenas, located on the Strait of Magellan, was an important stopping point for ships sailing between the Atlantic and Pacific. Today the city is best known as the jumping off point for cruise ships (and research vessels) heading to Antarctica, and as an access point to Chile’s Torres del Paine.

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A moderate swell breaking on the side of the Gould as we leave Tierra del Fuego behind. Overall it was an extremely mild crossing of the Drake Passage, which didn’t prevent me from getting sick (as per SOP).

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As we crossed the Antarctic Polar Front the weather got noticeably colder. Here, sea spray freezes on one of the Gould’s spotlights.

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A welcome diversion was the NOAA field camp put-in at Cape Shireff. This included such antics as raising (sans crane) a four-wheeler from a bobbing zodiac onto a six-foot high snow berm. Don’t ask me how it was done; I was there and I’m still not sure. In this photo you can see the Laurence M. Gould in the background and a zodiac bringing in another load of supplies.

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The Gould picks its way towards the pack ice. I’ve only been on two ships in sea ice and the experiences couldn’t have been more different. Back in 2009 I sailed in the Arctic onboard Oden, a powerful Swedish icebreaker. We smashed ice a meter thick and more day and “night” (it was summer) for six weeks straight. The Gould is a different sort of animal. It isn’t a true icebreaker and, if winds and currents conspired against it, could become trapped in rafting ice. Moving the Gould into even thin ice is a a delicate process.

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Science in action! There were two science parties conducting research on the way down. One is studying the distribution of krill in the Drake Passage. The other is studying the response of deep water corals to ocean warming. Here graduate student Caitlin Cleaver from the University of Maine washes corals freshly collected from 700 meters deep. The corals were transported live to Palmer Station for further experiments.

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Yesterday morning the Laurence M. Gould raised its gangplank and departed Palmer Station.

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Jamie and Colleen take a break from lab setup for a hike on the glacier behind Palmer Station (seen in the background).

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Today started calm with grey skies, conditions deteriorated with astonishing speed after lunch. Within just a few minutes winds went from a study 20 knots to gusting to 55 knots (63 mph).

How Are U.S. Cities Preparing for Next Superstorm Sandy? - Christian Science Monitor

Featured News - Fri, 10/30/2015 - 12:00
“We have to fundamentally rethink what it means to be a coastal city, and it depends on the geography of each city what then the possible solutions are,” Lamont's Klaus Jacob told the Christian Science Monitor.

Scientists Detect Giant Yukon Avalanche - The Weather Network

Featured News - Thu, 10/29/2015 - 12:00
Lamont scientists Colin Stark and Goram Ekstrom have detected a massive avalanche on one of Canada's highest mountains, a landslide that otherwise would have gone completely unnoticed in a remote part of northwestern Canada.

El Nino Could Push CO2 Permanently Above Milestone - Climate Central

Featured News - Wed, 10/28/2015 - 11:12
El Nino could cause a boost in atmospheric CO2 levels, leaving them permanently above the 400 ppm mark, Climate Central writes. Quotes Lamont-Doherty's Jason Smerdon.

Safety Necessitates a Retreat From the Waterfront - New York Times

Featured News - Wed, 10/28/2015 - 09:44
On the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Lamont-Doherty's Klaus Jacob writes about the risk coastal communities face from sea level rise and the need to develop fair and equitable procedures to relocate flood-threatened communities to higher elevations.

Superstorm Sandy Expert Says Adaptation Critical in Atlantic Canada - IBC Atlantic

Featured News - Tue, 10/27/2015 - 12:00
Lamont-Doherty's Adam Sobel, head of the Columbia Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate, led a lecture series in Canada about the risks of extreme weather and the enormous impact severe weather events are having on communities.

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