Research News from 2014

32 news release for this year.

  • October 21, 2014
    Two-thirds of earth’s surface is covered in oceanic crust, but the deep plumbing that generates new crust remains poorly understood. New images from a chain of volcanoes beneath the Pacific Ocean show that magma may be erupting from a multi-layered magma chamber extending two miles or more beneath the seafloor, far deeper than originally thought.
  • October 07, 2014
    Gordon Jacoby Jr., a Columbia University researcher who hiked, flew, dove and paddled into some of the wildest corners on earth in search of trees that could reveal the planet’s workings, died on Oct. 1 at a hospital near his home in Raphine, Va. He was 80.
  • October 03, 2014

    A geophysicist who has spent much of his career studying Earth’s neighboring planets as well as the Earth itself, will receive the nation’s top scientific honor, the National Medal of Science. Sean Solomon, director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and principal investigator of NASA’s mission to Mercury, will receive the medal at a White House ceremony later this year.

  • September 30, 2014

    Max Cunningham, a graduate student at Lamont-Doherty, traveled to Costa Rica’s Mount Chirripó this past summer to test the idea that mountain glaciers carved the summit we see today. He and his colleagues hope to eventually pin down when Chirripó’s high-elevation valleys eroded into their current form. Check out a recap of their 2014 field season.

  • September 18, 2014

    Climate scientist William D’Andrea of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory asked young scientists attending a symposium last October, “What do you wish everyone knew about climate change?” He turned the responses into this video, which covers the topic pretty well.

  • September 17, 2014

    In a long running tradition known as Open House, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory opens its doors to the public. In talks and demonstrations, scientists share what they have been up to over the last year. Here is where to learn what makes some volcanoes more explosive than others; how deep ocean currents circulate the globe; what tree rings can tell us about climate change today and in times past. Researchers also share some of their tools for exploration, from unmanned robot submarines to portable seismometers to mass spectrometers that measure tiny bits of matter.

  • September 09, 2014

    A growing "dead zone" in the middle of the Arabian Sea has allowed plankton uniquely suited to low-oxygen water to take over the base of the food chain. Their rise to dominance over the last decade could be disastrous for the predator fish that sustain 120 million people living on the sea’s edge.

  • September 05, 2014

    A new study by researchers at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Stony Brook University shows how ‘brown tide’ algae thrive in waters that are murky and low in inorganic nutrients.

  • September 04, 2014
    Ten years ago, hydraulic fracturing barely existed. Today 45,000 fracked wells produce natural gas, providing energy for millions of homes and businesses, and nearly a quarter of the nation’s electricity. But scientists are far behind in understanding how this boom affects people near wells. Geochemists Beizhan Yan and James Ross of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are trying to fill in this gap in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, where thousands of fracking operations have taken over formerly quiet hilltops, farms and back roads.
  • September 03, 2014

    Kenneth Hunkins, an oceanographer who made many key 20th-century observations about the Arctic Ocean, often while camping for months on its frozen surface, died in his sleep at his home in Tappan, N.Y., on Sept. 2. He was 86. Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where he had spent his entire career, confirmed his death.

  • August 13, 2014

    Geochemists Alexander van Geen and Jacob Mey helped coauthor a recent paper in the leading journal Science showing that warming climate in the future may not degrade oxygen supplies in some parts of the oceans as previously thought.

  • August 06, 2014

    Death Valley is a land of extremes—among the hottest, driest and lowest points on earth. Why would anyone choose to spend spring break there?

    “It just sounds very exotic,” says Nicholas Christie-Blick, a geology professor and research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “It’s very far away from their personal experience.”

  • July 28, 2014

    Four years ago this month, archeologists monitoring the excavation of the former World Trade Center site uncovered a ghostly surprise: the bones of an ancient sailing ship. Tree-ring scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory were among those asked to analyze its remains for clues about its age and origins. In a study now out in the journal Tree Ring Research, the scientists say that an old growth forest in the Philadelphia area supplied the white oak used in the ship’s frame, and that the trees were probably cut in 1773 or so—a few years before the bloody war that established America’s independence from Britain.

  • June 23, 2014

    For decades, climate scientists have tried to explain why ice-age cycles became longer and more intense about 900,000 years ago, switching from 41,000-year cycles to 100,000-year cycles.  In a new study in the leading journal Science, researchers found that the deep ocean currents that move heat around the globe stalled or even stopped, possibly due to expanding ice cover in the north. The slowing currents increased carbon dioxide storage in the ocean, leaving less in the atmosphere, which kept temperatures cold and kicked the climate system into a new phase of colder but less frequent ice ages, they hypothesize.

  • June 12, 2014
    Beneath the barren whiteness of Greenland, a mysterious world has popped into view. Using ice-penetrating radar, researchers have discovered ragged blocks of ice as tall as city skyscrapers and as wide as the island of Manhattan at the very bottom of the ice sheet, apparently formed as water beneath the ice refreezes and warps the surrounding ice upwards.
     
    The newly revealed forms may help scientists understand more about how ice sheets behave and how they will respondto a warming climate. The results are published in the latest issue of Nature Geoscience.

     

  • June 06, 2014
    George Kukla, a climate scientist who was among the first to warn of the power of global climate change and inspire government study, died on May 31 at his home in Suffern, N.Y. The cause was an apparent heart attack; he was 84.

     

  • June 02, 2014
    Some 56 million years ago, a massive pulse of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere sent global temperatures soaring. In the oceans, carbonate sediments dissolved, some organisms went extinct and others evolved.
     

    Scientists have long suspected that ocean acidification caused the crisis—similar to today, as manmade CO2 combines with seawater to change its chemistry. Now, for the first time, scientists have quantified the extent of surface acidification from those ancient days, and the news is not good: the oceans are on track to acidify at least as much as they did then, only at a much faster rate.

     

  • May 12, 2014

    Tiny one-celled organisms called radiolaria are ubiquitous in the oceans, but various species prefer distinct habitats. Thus it aroused considerable intrigue in 2012 when protozoa specialist O. Roger Anderson and colleagues published a study showing that radiolaria normally found near the equator were suddenly floating around in arctic waters above Norway. Was this a sign that global climate change was bringing an invasion of warm-weather plankton?

  • May 06, 2014

    Geologist John Templeton recently spent a year on Norway’s west coast trying to understand how rocks now at the surface made an epic journey deep into Earth’s interior and back during the growth and subsequent collapse of the ancient Caledonian mountains.

  • April 30, 2014

    On a high ridge in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, paleontologist Paul Olsen sits on the fallen trunk of a 215-million-year-old tree, now turned to stone. The tree once loomed 70 or 80 feet above a riverine landscape teeming with fish, turtles, giant crocodilians and tiny, early species of dinosaurs. From here, Olsen can survey the remnants of this lost world: miles and miles of surreal badlands, where sediments built up over millions of years have eroded back down to expose endless cross sections of brightly colored rocks. The layers represent tectonic movements, natural climate cycles, the growth and disappearance of lakes, buildups of river deltas. The petrified trees scattered across the landscape are only the most obvious fossils; others are bleeding out by the ton. It is perhaps the world’s richest trove of rocks from the late Triassic, when dinosaurs, and early mammals, got their evolutionary start. The Triassic was also a hothouse world: a time of high atmospheric carbon dioxide, rapid climate shifts, and fast-moving extinctions. Olsen thinks there may be much to learn from it for our own time.

  • April 30, 2014

    Peter Kelemen, a geologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who studies rocks from the deep earth and, recently, their possible uses in battling climate change, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

  • March 31, 2014

    As dates in geologic history go, the formation of the slender land bridge that joins South America and North America is a red-letter one. More than once over the past 100 million years, the two great landmasses have been separated by deep ocean waters. The narrow section of Central America that now unites them–at its narrowest along the isthmus of Panama–changed not just the world map, but the circulation of oceans, the course of biologic evolution, and probably global climate. The tortured product of diverse forces, today’s version of the isthmus was probably fashioned by volcanism and movements of tectonic plates somewhere between 15 million and 3 million years ago.

  • March 31, 2014

    Increasing heat is expected to extend dry conditions to far more farmland and cities by the end of the century than changes in rainfall alone, says a new study. Much of the concern about future drought under global warming has focused on rainfall projections, but higher evaporation rates may also play an important role as warmer temperatures wring more moisture from the soil, even in some places where rainfall is forecasted to increase, say the researchers.

  • March 18, 2014

    Gerardo Iturrino, a longtime engineer and ocean explorer at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, passed away unexpectedly on March 12. A resident of nearby Nyack, he was 51; the cause was heart attack, said his family.

  • March 18, 2014

    In something as tiny as a speck of dust lies the potential to change earth’s climate. When winds blow iron-rich dust off the continents, they give the plant-like algae floating on the surface of the oceans added nutrients to grow faster. Large algal blooms can draw down carbon from the atmosphere, and in extreme cases, cool earth’s climate. Researchers are trying to understand to what extent dust, by providing extra food for algae, or phytoplankton, may have helped to tip the planet into a deep freeze starting about 30,000 years ago. From the onset of the last ice age to its peak, about 18,000 years ago, carbon dioxide levels fell by about 100 parts per million. As much as 25 percent of that drop can be attributed to the effect of dust.

  • March 07, 2014

    Researchers studying the rings of ancient trees in mountainous central Mongolia think they may have gotten at the mystery of how small bands of nomadic Mongol horsemen united to conquer much of the world within a span of decades, 800 years ago. The rise of the great leader Genghis Khan and the start of the largest contiguous empire in human history was propelled by a temporary run of nice weather.

  • March 04, 2014

    A climate scientist who has suggested how mountain building can lower Earth’s thermostat and why ice ages sometimes wax and wane at different speeds has been awarded one of geology’s oldest and most coveted prizes: the British Wollaston Medal. The first woman to win a Wollaston in the prize's183-year history, Maureen Raymo, a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, joins the company of Victorian giants Charles Darwin and Louis Agassiz, and major 20th-century figures including  climatologist Sir Nicholas Shackleton and James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia hypothesis. Raymo, 54, will receive the medal, cast in the platinum-like metal palladium discovered by Henry Wollaston in 1803, at the Geological Society of London’s annual meeting in June.

  • March 03, 2014

    On Feb. 20, Science published new research about the Pine Island Glacier on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that suggests the glacier’s recent and rapid thinning and melting may continue for decades or centuries to come. The British Antarctic Survey’s Joanne Johnson’s research, done in collaboration with scientists at Lamont-Doherty, might not have been possible without Lamont’s effort to promote women scientists, honoring another woman scientist who helped map the ocean floor.

  • February 25, 2014

    Earth Institute field researchers are studying the planet on every continent and ocean. Projects are aimed at understanding the fundamental dynamics of climate, geology, ecology, human history and more. Many deal with practical applications ranging from agriculture and water supplies to petroleum extraction, adapting to climate variability, and natural hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Here is a partial list of upcoming expeditions in rough chronological order, and resources to learn more. Work in and around New York City is listed separately toward bottom. Unless otherwise stated, projects originate with our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. For expedition blogs and images from the field, see our Features Archive. Whenever logistically feasible, journalists are invited to join expeditions, or otherwise cover the work; further images are available for many projects. This list will be updated through the year.

  • February 17, 2014

    Terry Plank got hooked on volcanoes when her professor at Dartmouth took the students to Costa Rica and let them have lunch on Arenal, a famous volcano that was in the process of erupting. “They gave us each a pineapple and a can of tunafish and we had to figure out how to eat this stuff with our Swiss Army knives while sitting on a lava flow…It just looked like black rock, but every once in awhile a boulder at the end would fall off and you’d see it was completely red inside. And it made all these cool sounds and you’d feel these little earthquakes… It was totally cool. How could you not like that?”

  • January 27, 2014

    In spring 2010, the research icebreaker Polarstern returned from the South Pacific with a scientific treasure—ocean sediments from a largely unexplored part of the vast, remote ocean that surrounds Antarctica—the Southern Ocean.

    What happens in the Southern Ocean can affect the carbon budget of the entire planet. The details of how exactly carbon flows into and out of the ocean, though, aren’t fully understood yet. These new sediment cores from the South Pacific allowed my colleagues from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and I to look at a million years of climate history from this key area of the planet. In our results, published this week in Science, we figured out how the amount of terrestrial dust that falls onto the ocean surface (and ends up at the bottom of the ocean, in our sediment cores) changed in sync with other climate parameters in these cores and from other parts of the southern hemisphere.
     

     

  • January 15, 2014

    Since 1949, scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have trekked to the far corners of the globe. Over oceans, continents and at both poles, Lamont-Doherty scientists have mapped large swaths of the planet to gain insight into its history and evolution. In honor of their accomplishments, many natural features bear their names, from faults on the seafloor to frozen islands off Antarctica.  Explore the map!

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