Research News from 2011

51 news release for this year.

  • December 21, 2011

    In many ways, the tiny, landlocked eastern Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan sits apart from the modern world; its rugged landscapes cradle swift-flowing rivers, expansive old-growth forests and hundreds of glaciers. Combining selective modernization with ancient traditions, it is the only country that uses Gross National Happiness as a metric for success. But the world is intruding. Rapid climate change is melting glaciers across the Himalayas, creating deadly flash-flood hazards and threatening a water system that feeds agriculture and hydropower here and for more than a billion people in the plains below.

  • December 02, 2011

    Scientists at Columbia University’s Earth Institute will present important new studies at the Dec. 5-9 meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. Below: a chronological guide (Pacific Standard Time).

  • November 16, 2011

    In the first statewide climate change outlook for New York, scientists say that the state may suffer disproportionate effects in coming decades compared with other regions, due to its geography and geology. The report paints a harsh picture, including possible extreme temperature and sea-level rises, downpours, droughts and floods. The changes are projected to affect nearly every region and facet of the economy by the 2080s, from ski resorts and dairy farms to New York City’s subways, streets and businesses.

  • November 16, 2011

    Buried below more than a mile of ice, Antarctica’s Gamburtsev Mountains have baffled scientists since their discovery in 1958. How did the mountains get there, and what role did they play in the spread of glaciers over the continent 30 million years ago? In the latest study on the mountains, scientists this week in the journal Nature say they have pieced together the puzzle of the origins and evolution of this mysterious mountain chain.

  • November 11, 2011

    “I was deeply saddened by the loss of one of our most beautiful trees on campus during the last storm. It had perfect symmetry and such a beautiful color display late in the fall,” wrote geochemist Martin Stute, after a highly unusual heavy October snow felled a 22-year-old Bradford pear at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where he works. The tree had stood since 1989 in front of the Seismology/Marine Biology building–for many, a shady regular lunch spot, and stately natural contrast to the squat, corrugated-metal architecture of the human structure behind it. Stute emailed Lamont colleagues his brief eulogy, with an attached picture of the tree in happier days. Dozens replied.

  • November 10, 2011
    Evergreen trees at the edge of Alaska’s tundra are growing faster, suggesting that at least some forests may be adapting to a rapidly warming climate, says a new study.
     
  • October 26, 2011

    The retreat of Antarctica’s fast-flowing Thwaites Glacier is expected to speed up within 20 years, once the glacier detaches from an underwater ridge that is currently holding it back, says a new study in Geophysical Research Letters.

    Thwaites Glacier, which drains into west Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea, is being closely watched for its potential to raise global sea levels as the planet warms. Neighboring glaciers in the Amundsen region are also thinning rapidly, including Pine Island Glacier and the much larger Getz Ice Shelf. The study is the latest to confirm the importance of seafloor topography in predicting how these glaciers will behave in the near future.


  • October 24, 2011
    Modern society is awash in data. By one estimate, as much information today is created in 48 hours as was produced in the last 30,000 years. The challenge now is making all those megabytes public.
     
     
  • October 18, 2011

    A major new international prize for public communication on climate-change issues has been awarded to Gavin Schmidt of the Earth Institute-affiliated NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

  • October 10, 2011

    Study has shown that deep sediments can grab the arsenic and take it out of circulation—a finding that may help to keep wells safe elsewhere, including in the United States. The study, led by researchers at Columbia University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, appears in the current online edition of the journal.

  • October 07, 2011

    The Hudson River that explorer Henry Hudson sailed some 400 years ago had no power plants on its shores. No trains, bridges, factories or houses. Those innovations changed the river, leaving a legacy of PCBs, sewage and other pollutants. But pollution is just one way that humans have transformed the river. A small way, it turns out.

  • October 03, 2011

    After less than a month in operation, a new NASA satellite has produced the first map showing how saltiness varies across the surface of the world’s oceans. Until now, salt measurements came only from ships, moorings and buoys floating at sea; NASA says its Aquarius satellite will capture in three years as much data as those earlier methods did in 125 years.

  • September 27, 2011

    As it moves across the Indian Ocean, the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) can bring torrential rains to California and add power to hurricanes forming in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet after 30 years of studying this cyclical weather pattern scientists are no closer to understanding how it works.

  • September 15, 2011

    The seas are rising, as they have during past periods of warming in earth’s history. Estimates of how high they will go in the next few thousand years range from five meters, putting greater Miami underwater, to 40 meters, wiping most of Florida off the map. “The range of estimates is huge to the point of meaninglessness,” says

    Maureen “Mo” Raymo

    , a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

  • September 14, 2011

    Readers can follow a New York Times blog from the arctic as the U.S. flagship vessel for charting geology under the seabed sails the Chukchi Sea, north of Alaska and Siberia. By sending sound pulses to the seabed and reading the echoes, scientists conducting the Chukchi Edges project aboard the Marcus G. Langseth hope to understand the structure and history of the continental shelves running underwater off Asia and North America, and the Chukchi Borderland, an adjoing region of dramatic deep-sea plateaus and ridges some 800 miles from the North Pole.

  • September 13, 2011

    The frigid seabottom off Antarctica holds a surprising riot of life: colorful carpets of sponges, starfish, sea cucumbers and many other soft, bottom-dwelling animals,shown on images from robotic submarines. Now, it appears that many such communities could fast disappear, due to warming climate.

  • September 12, 2011

    Under the shopping malls and highways of suburbia, there might one day be a partial fix for global warming. Since August, engineers have been drilling just west of the Tappan Zee Bridge to collect samples of rock from the Newark Basin, an ancient rock formation stretching beneath New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

  • August 31, 2011

    A new study suggests that Homo erectus, a precursor to modern humans, was using advanced tool-making methods in East Africa 1.8 million years ago, at least 300,000 years earlier than previously thought. The study, published this week in Nature, raises new questions about where these tall and slender early humans originated and how they developed sophisticated tool-making technology.

  • August 29, 2011

    Lamont-Doherty scientist Timothy Crone is at sea off the Northwest U.S. coast, dropping sensors into the deep ocean as part of a major initiative to better understand oceans, climate and plate tectonics. You can watch a live video feed from the robotic vehicle ROPOS and see it deploy instruments and take samples from 4500 feet down on the seafloor.

  • August 25, 2011

    In the first study of its kind, researchers have linked a natural global climate cycle to periodic increases in warfare. The arrival of El Niño, which every three to seven years boosts temperatures and cuts rainfall, doubles the risk of civil wars across 90 affected tropical countries, and may help account for a fifth of worldwide conflicts during the past half-century, say the authors. The paper, written by an interdisciplinary team at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, appears in the current issue of the leading scientific journal Nature.

  • August 24, 2011

    The magnitude 5.8 earthquake that shook central Virginia on Tuesday afternoon is one of the biggest earthquakes to hit the East Coast since 1897, and was comparable in strength to a quake on the New York-Canadian border in 1944, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was centered near Mineral, Va., about 38 miles northwest of Richmond, and in an area known for frequent though lesser quakes. 

  • August 12, 2011

    Two scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have been recognized for early-career achievement in the atmospheric sciences by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the world’s largest earth-sciences organization.

  • August 11, 2011

    People are swimming in the Hudson again, and while clumps of sewage rarely float by anymore, the water is not reliably clean, says a report released this week from the environmental group Riverkeeper.

  • August 09, 2011

    Researchers returning from a cruise some 250 miles off the coast of Oregon have reported seeing a volcanic eruption on the seafloor that they accurately forecast five years ago—the first successful prediction of an undersea eruption. The event took place at Axial Seamount, one of the most active and intensely studied undersea peaks in the world.

  • July 21, 2011
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    For all of its violent destruction, the earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, hardly scratched the surface of the island. But scientists now say they have found some of the best clues to understanding the quake under water.

  • July 13, 2011

    After the recent great quakes that have swept away entire coastlines and cities in Japan, Haiti and Sumatra, scientists are now looking hard at the nation that may suffer the gravest threat of all: Bangladesh. A new documentary from the Earth Institute follows seismologists as they trace signs of deeply buried active faults, past movements of the earth, and sudden, catastrophic river-course changes.

  • July 12, 2011
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    A team led by Kevin Anchukaitis of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Tree Ring Lab is currently in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, studying the effects of changing climate on trees. Ferried in by a bush pilot who landed on the tundra to drop them off, they are practically at treeline–the place where it is too far north for trees to grow. But there are still some spindly white spruces here, and they are taking cores from these, which can be used to measure weather of the past.

  • July 01, 2011

    This spring, Columbia University Professor and Lamont-Doherty researcher Nicholas Christie-Blick, along with graduate teaching assistant Elizabeth Pierce, led 19 first- and second-year undergraduates on an eight-day expedition to investigate the dynamic processes that formed Death Valley’s exquisite natural beauty.

  • June 24, 2011
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    Stronger ocean currents beneath West Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier Ice Shelf are eroding the ice from below, speeding the melting of the glacier as a whole, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience. A growing cavity beneath the ice shelf has allowed more warm water to melt the ice, the researchers say—a process that feeds back into the ongoing rise in global sea levels. The glacier is currently sliding into the sea at a clip of four kilometers (2.5 miles) a year, while its ice shelf is melting at about 80 cubic kilometers a year - 50 percent faster than it was in the early 1990s - the paper estimates.

  • June 08, 2011
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    Starting today, armchair explorers will be able to view parts of the deep ocean floors in far greater detail than ever before, thanks to a new synthesis of seafloor topography released through Google Earth. Developed by oceanographers at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory from scientific data collected on research cruises, the new feature tightens resolution in covered areas from the former 1-kilometer grids to just 100 meters.

  • June 03, 2011
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    During the last ice age, the Rhone Glacier was the dominant glacier in the Alps, covering a significant part of Switzerland. Over the next 11,500 years or so, the glacier, which forms the headwaters of the Rhone River, has been shrinking and growing again in response to shifts in climate.

  • May 26, 2011
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    El Niño and La Niña, the periodic shifts in Pacific Ocean temperatures, affect weather around the globe, and many scientists have speculated that a warming planet will make those fluctuations more volatile, bringing more intense drought or extreme rainfall to various regions.

  • May 20, 2011
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    A flock of young researchers from New York City, Singapore and the Netherlands are testing their skills in the field near Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory this weekend -- canoeing on Sparkill Creek to take water samples, counting forest species in Tallman Mountain State Park and analyzing soil chemistry.

  • May 06, 2011
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    Vintners in the Burgundy region of France have been tracking their harvests since the 14th century, and they know as well as anyone the importance of picking their grapes at just the right moment to produce the best possible glass of Pinot noir.

  • April 28, 2011

    The recent earthquake in Japan shifted the earth’s axis by half a foot. You may be wondering if that’s enough to change earth’s weather. No, not really, says Jerry McManus, a climate scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

  • April 25, 2011
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    The hole in the Earth’s ozone layer over the South Pole has affected atmospheric circulation in the Southern Hemisphere all the way to the equator, and a new study says this has led to increased rainfall in the subtropics. The study, which appears in the April 21 issue of the leading journal Science, is the first time that ozone depletion has been linked to climate change over such a wide area.

  • April 21, 2011
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    Two scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are among 60 nationwide named this year as fellows of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest earth-sciences society. Edward Cook, director of the observatory’s Tree Ring Lab, and Robin Bell, a leader in polar studies, received the honors, announced in the April 19 edition of the AGU newspaper EOS. The union has chosen a select group to honor each year since 1962, limiting the number to no more than 0.1 percent of the group’s membership.

  • April 06, 2011
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    The eruption of the Laki volcano in Iceland in 1783-84 set off a cascade of catastrophe, spewing sulfuric clouds into Europe and eventually around the world.

  • March 30, 2011
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    The largest recorded earthquake in Japan's history has triggered a series of events that have killed thousands, crushed and submerged cities, and left a financial toll from which it will take years for an already struggling economy to recover.

  • March 23, 2011
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    Scientists examining rings from old trees spanning the last 400 years say they show that the U.S. East Coast has suffered droughts longer and more frequent than anything recorded in modern times.

  • March 02, 2011
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    Scientists working in the remotest part of Antarctica have discovered that liquid water locked deep under the continent’s coat of ice regularly thaws and refreezes to the bottom, creating as much as half the thickness of the ice in places, and actively modifying its structure.

  • February 23, 2011
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    We may think of the Pacific Northwest as rain-drenched, but new research led by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh shows that the region could be in for longer dry seasons, and is unlikely to see a period as wet as the 20th century any time soon.

  • February 22, 2011
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    Scientists using underwater sensors to explore Lake Rotomahana in New Zealand have uncovered remnants of the Pink Terraces,” once considered the eighth natural wonder of the world.

  • February 18, 2011
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    Northern New Jersey, southern Connecticut and environs are not necessarily where one would expect to explore the onetime extinction of much life on earth, and subsequent rise of dinosaurs. But it turns out to be a pretty good place to start. Underlying the exurbs are geological formations left by three giant episodes of volcanism starting around 200 million years ago, and intervening layers of sediments that built up in the interims between massive lava flows.

  • February 09, 2011
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    Researchers from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Earth Institute work on every continent and every ocean; journalists are welcome to cover projects in the field or otherwise contact scientists.  Below: selected expeditions worldwide, in rough chronological order. (New York/Hudson Valley is listed separately.)  Journalists or employers must pay travel expenses. Photos, blogs and phone/email from field sites will be available in many cases.  Blogs are accessible from the Lamont-Doherty home page and the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet pages. An updated version of this list is kept on our Media Advisory page. Unless otherwise stated, projects originate with our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

  • February 01, 2011
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    Columbia University is joining a growing movement among universities and research institutions to make scholarly research available free to the public online. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is the first program at the university to adopt an open access resolution, which calls for faculty and other researchers to post their scientific papers in online repositories such as Columbia’s Academic Commons.

  • January 31, 2011
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    Columbia scientists have played a pioneering role in understanding climate change, from its potential effect on critical resources such as water and energy to finding ways vulnerable communities can better adapt.

    Columbia University's the Record devotes its January 31, 2011 issue to climate matters, and Lamont-Doherty researchers feature prominently. 

  • January 21, 2011
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    Lamont-Doherty scientists Wallace S. Broecker and Peter Schlosser have been elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and they will be recognized for their contributions to science Feb. 19 at the annual meeting of AAAS in Washington, D.C.

  • January 20, 2011
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    Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory director G. Michael Purdy has been named Columbia University’s executive vice president for research. Taking over as interim director of the observatory is associate director Arthur Lerner-Lam.  The moves, effective Feb. 1, were announced by Columbia president Lee Bollinger and Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs in emails to staff  Jan. 19.

  • January 10, 2011
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    A mobile application released this week provides users with simplified access to vast libraries of images and information that up until now were tapped mainly by earth and environmental scientists.

  • January 05, 2011
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    Dr. John Ertle “Jack” Oliver, a geophysicist whose research helped revolutionize our understanding of the basic forces shaping the planet, died peacefully at his home in Ithaca, N.Y., on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011. He was 87.

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