Research News from 2012

41 news release for this year.

  • December 21, 2012

    Some 40 million people depend on the Colorado River Basin for water but warmer weather from rising greenhouse gas levels and a growing population may signal water shortages ahead. In a new study in Nature Climate Change, climate modelers at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory predict a 10 percent drop in the Colorado River’s flow in the next few decades, enough to disrupt longtime water-sharing agreements between farms and cities across the American Southwest.

  • December 11, 2012

    Scientists from Columbia University’s Earth Institute will present important new studies at the Dec. 3-7 meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. Below: a chronological guide. Most researchers are at our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO).More info: http://fallmeeting.agu.org/2012/ Reporters may contact scientists directly at any time, or call press officers:

  • December 11, 2012

    new study in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization shows how hot spots of lead contamination in soil can be pinpointed in order to safeguard children against drastic health effects. Researchers led by geochemist Alexander van Geen of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, studied soil around two Peruvian mining towns, and found high lead concentrations contained in discrete pockets in certain neighborhoods, while other spots were not so dangerous.

  • November 29, 2012

    Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, may hold at least 100 billion tons of ice in permanently shaded craters near its north pole, NASA scientists announced Thursday. Radar images had led scientists to suspect for decades that Mercury had water, but NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which began orbiting the planet in March 2011, is the first to confirm it.

  • November 27, 2012

    Scientists from Columbia University’s Earth Institute will present important new studies at the Dec. 3-7 meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. Below: a chronological guide. Most researchers are at our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO).More info: http://fallmeeting.agu.org/2012/ Reporters may contact scientists directly at any time, or call press officers:

  • November 19, 2012

    During Hurricane Sandy the seas rose a record 14-feet in lower Manhattan. Water flooded city streets, subways, tunnels and even sewage treatment plants. It is unclear how much sewage may have been released as plants lost power or were forced to divert untreated wastewater into the Hudson River.

  • November 07, 2012

    For years before Hurricane Sandy charged ashore on Monday, researchers from the Earth Institute knew what was coming. In a rapidly urbanizing world, where hundreds of millions of people now live in low-lying coastal areas, those scientists have been urging policymakers to appreciate the threats posed by such natural disasters and find ways to make our cities more resilient.

  • November 06, 2012

    For much of the last decade, Klaus Jacob warned of New York’s vulnerability to severe flooding in a major storm. Rising seas and more extreme weather from a warming climate could cripple the New York region, he told anyone willing to listen

  • November 02, 2012

    The evening view from across the East River tells a tale of two cities: downtown Manhattan mostly shut down, without power, subways and most services; uptown Manhattan brightly lit, subways running, businesses and neighborhoods climbing back to some kind of usual.

  • October 02, 2012

    This spring, a Swedish scientist sparked international concern with a journal article saying that radioactive particles detected in 2010 showed North Korea had set off at least two small nuclear blasts--possibly in experiments designed to boost the yields of much larger bombs. Shortly after, the pot was stirred with separate claims that some intelligence agencies suspected the detonations were done in cooperation with Iran. Now, a new paper says the tests likely never took place—or that if they did, they were too tiny to have any military significance. The new report, by seismologists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, will be published later this month in the journal Science & Global Security, where the earlier paper also appeared.

  • October 02, 2012

    A geochemist who studies the workings of the deep earth and their influence on some of the world’s most explosive volcanoes has been awarded a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship. Terry Plank, a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, joins novelist Junot Diaz, war correspondent David Finkel and filmmaker Natalia Almada in this year’s batch of MacArthur Fellows, who will receive $100,000 a year for five years, no strings attached. Maria Chudnovsky, a mathematician at Columbia’s Engineering School who studies the fundamentals of graph theory, also received a genius grant.

  • September 27, 2012

    Summers on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard are now warmer than at any other time in the last 1,800 years, including during medieval times when parts of the northern hemisphere were as hot as, or hotter, than today, according to a new study in the journal Geology.

  • September 10, 2012

    A city effort to clean up polluted Newtown Creek by aerating the water to boost oxygen levels is having an unintended effect: it is releasing sewage bacteria and other particles into the air above the site, researchers say in a new study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The researchers found bacteria types in the air consistent with the sewage and oil pollution in the creek. The study is one of the first to establish a link between water pollution and air-quality, raising new questions about the health risks posed by dirty water.

  • August 22, 2012

    Water is on the minds of Rockland residents this summer, and not just because of the record U.S. drought. Rockland County’s main water provider, United Water NY, wants to build a treatment plant on the Hudson River that would deliver more freshwater to Rockland taps. Some people are in favor of boosting supply to this growing suburban region, a short drive from the George Washington and Tappan Zee bridges. Others are opposed, citing the cost, in energy and dollars, plus the danger to fish and other wildlife. As the project awaits approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, a new debate on water consumption has emerged. Should people be encouraged, or even required, to use less? And if so, how?

  • August 21, 2012

    For six centuries, the ancient Maya flourished, with more than a hundred city-states scattered across what is now southern Mexico and northern Central America. Then, in A.D. 695, the collapse of several cities in present day Guatemala marked the start of the Classic Maya’s slow decline. Prolonged drought is thought to have played a role, but a study published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters adds a new twist: The Maya may have made the droughts worse by clearing away forests for cities and crops, making a naturally drying climate drier.

  • August 17, 2012

    Over the past 450 million years, life on earth has undergone at least five great extinctions, when biological activity nosedived and dominant groups of creatures disappeared. The final one (so far) was 65 million years ago, when it appears that a giant meteorite brought fires, shock waves and tsunamis, then drastically altered the climate. That killed off the dinosaurs, setting the stage for mammals–and eventually us–to evolve. 

  • August 03, 2012

    Human civilization arose during the relatively balmy climate of the last 10,000 years. Even so, evidence is accumulating that at least two cold spells gripped the northern hemisphere during this time, and that the cooling may have coincided with drought in the tropics. Emerging research on climate during this Holocene period suggests that temperature swings were more common than previously thought, and that climate changes happened on a broad, hemispheric scale.

  • July 24, 2012

    For the first time, scientists have identified tropical and subtropical species of marine protozoa living in the Arctic Ocean. Apparently, they traveled thousands of miles on Atlantic currents and ended up above Norway with an unusual—but naturally cyclic—pulse of warm water, not as a direct result of overall warming climate, say the researchers. On the other hand: arctic waters are warming rapidly, and such pulses are predicted to grow as global climate change causes shifts in long-distance currents. Thus, colleagues wonder if the exotic creatures offers a preview of climate-induced changes already overtaking the oceans and land, causing redistributions of species and shifts in ecology. The study, by a team from the United States, Norway and Russia, was just published in the British Journal of Micropalaeontology.

  • July 20, 2012

    During the last ice age, glaciers dominated New Zealand’s Southern Alps until warming temperatures some 20,000 years ago sent them into retreat. Scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, with their colleagues, are investigating the rocky remnants these glaciers left behind to learn precisely when the ice withdrew, and what glacier retreats globally can tell us about the climate system. A new video produced by the American Museum of Natural History describes the process of surface exposure dating used to extract this information from glacial moraines.

  • July 19, 2012

    Daehyun Kim, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, has been recognized for early-career achievement in the atmospheric sciences by the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest earth-sciences organization. Kim, 32, came to Lamont as a postdoctoral researcher in 2010, where he has focused on investigating the Madden-Julian Oscillation, a little-understood weather pattern that typically forms in the Indian Ocean and brings heavy rains and hurricanes to many parts of the globe.

  • July 13, 2012

    With their vast resources and raw materials, the world’s oceans are one of the cornerstones of the quality of human life. According to World Bank figures, 350 million jobs are estimated to be linked to the oceans globally, and 1 billion people in developing countries depend on fish for their primary source of protein.

  • June 29, 2012
     A mile or so of glacial ice covering much of North America and plowing down from the north once terminated in the New York metropolitan area, at a front stretching roughly from exit 13 on the New Jersey Turnpike (Rahway), on across southern Staten Island, the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, and northeastward through Long Island. But exactly when that ice started to seriously melt has long been an enigma.
  • June 15, 2012

    Much of the modern understanding of climate change is underpinned by pioneering studies done at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Starting in the 1950s and continuing today, researchers at sea, on land and in the lab have worked in disciplines including oceanography, atmospheric physics, magnetism, geochemistry, glacial geology, paleontology, tree-ring studies and more.

  • June 12, 2012

    Steep mountains produce some of the biggest landslides on earth but in such rugged terrain who’s around to notice? These monster backcountry slides are now gaining attention from far-away scientists, aided by a global network of seismic stations, earth-orbiting satellites and the crowd-sourcing power of the internet.

  • June 07, 2012
    An important piece of earthquake-science history popped up a few weeks ago on Jeopardy: “The Press-Ewing was an early seismograph, recording waves from these events.
     
    If you didn’t know a Press-Ewing from a French press, you were in luck. For $200, all you needed to know to formulate the question is what a seismograph measures.
     
    What is an Earthquake?
  • May 16, 2012

    A 500-foot rock face came crashing down from the Palisades cliffs along the Hudson River in Alpine, N.J. on Saturday night, shaking the ground for more than half a minute and dumping a fresh layer of boulders over a 100-yard strip of parkland below State Line Lookout. The shaking was strong enough to be registered by a seismic station a mile and a half away, at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, but no one was injured.

  • May 07, 2012

    Dendrochronologist Brendan Buckley’s usual occupation is drilling straw-like cores from old trees and extracting information about past climates by studying their rings. To extend the record beyond the time of living trees, he sometimes takes samples from long-dead trees, or even from timbers in ancient buildings. In 2010, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory scientist was part of a team that traveled into the remote Cardamom Mountains of southern Cambodia to investigate human burials contained in coffins carved from entire logs.

  • May 01, 2012

    In an effort to understand how plants around the world will act in a warming climate, researchers have relied increasingly on experiments that measure how they respond to artificial warming. But a new study says that such experiments are underestimating potential advances in the timing of flowering and leafing four to eightfold, when compared with natural observations. As a result, species could change far more quickly than the experiments suggest, with major implications for water supplies, pollination of crops and ecosystems. The comparison, done by an interdisciplinary team from some 20 institutions in North America and Europe, appears this week in the leading journal Nature.

  • April 24, 2012

    City streets can be mean, but somewhere near Brooklyn, a tree grows far better than its country cousins, due to chronically elevated city heat levels, says a new study. The study, just published in the journal Tree Physiology, shows that common native red oak seedlings grow as much as eight times faster in New York’s Central Park than in more rural, cooler settings in the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains. Red oaks and their close relatives dominate areas ranging from northern Virginia to southern New England, so the study may have wide implications for changing climate and forest composition over a wide region.

  • April 22, 2012

    As human ancestors rose on two feet in Africa and began their migrations across the world, the climate around them got warmer, and colder, wetter and drier. The plants and animals they competed with and relied upon for food changed. Did the shifting climate play a direct role in human evolution?

  • April 18, 2012

    Dennis Kent, a leading expert in the history of earth’s magnetic field, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Other members of the 2012 class include U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, playwright Neil Simon, Hollywood director Clint Eastwood and Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos.

  • April 03, 2012

    Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger and Provost John Coatsworth have named Sean C. Solomon, a leading geophysicist whose research has combined studies of the deep earth with missions to the moon and the solar system’s inner planets, to be director of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

  • March 29, 2012

    According to a new study, neighborhood differences in rates of childhood asthma may be explained by local levels of soot produced by trucks and residential oil burners. The study, by public-health and air-pollution scientists at Columbia University, appears

    online in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.

  • March 14, 2012

    The seas are creeping higher as the planet warms, but scientists have not yet reached a consensus about how high they may go. Projections for the year 2100 range from inches to several feet, or more. The sub-tropical islands of Bermuda and the Bahamas contain important sites where researchers have gone looking for answers. By pinpointing where shorelines stood on cliffs and reefs there during an extremely warm period 400,000 years ago, they hope to narrow the range of global sea-level projections for the future.

  • March 01, 2012

    The world’s oceans may be turning acidic faster today from human carbon emissions than they did during four major extinctions in the last 300 million years, when natural pulses of carbon sent global temperatures soaring, says a new study in Science. The study is the first of its kind to survey the geologic record for evidence of ocean acidification over this vast time period.

  • February 29, 2012
    What does the earth look like beneath Mount St. Helens? Did a meteorite clear the ecological landscape for the dinosaurs? How did climate help Genghis Khan and his successors create the world’s largest empire? Just how high did the water rise the last time the ice sheets melted?
     
    In the field this year, scientists from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and other centers of the Earth Institute will try to answer these and many other puzzles. They’ll ski-plane onto sea ice, climb mountains, hike through jungle, bore into rock and dive into the sea, exploring on every continent and in every ocean.

     

     

  • February 21, 2012

    Climate scientists at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science this week were elated to hear that the United States and five other countries had agreed to work toward cutting pollutants other than carbon dioxide thought to cause about a third of current human-influenced global warming. After all, many of them had done the work that led directly to the pact, by showing the effects of such substances, and how emissions might be reduced.

     

  • February 10, 2012

    Russian scientists this week finished penetrating more than two miles through the Antarctic ice sheet to Lake Vostok, a huge freshwater lake that has been buried under the ice for millions of years. The feat has taken two decades to accomplish, but the scientists won’t know what they’ve found until next year — the team quickly exited the research station, located in the middle of the continent 800 miles from the South Pole, to avoid increasingly harsh polar conditions.

  • January 23, 2012

    In California’s Death Valley, death is looking just a bit closer. Geologists have determined that the half-mile-wide Ubehebe Crater, formed by a prehistoric volcanic explosion, was created far more recently than previously thought—and that conditions for a sequel may exist today.

     

  • January 19, 2012

    Meteorologists can see a busy hurricane season brewing months ahead, but until now there has been no such crystal ball for tornadoes, which are much smaller and more volatile. This information gap took on new urgency after tornadoes in 2011 killed more than 550 people, more than in the previous 10 years combined, including a devastating outbreak in April that racked up $5 billion in insured losses..

  • January 06, 2012

    Earthquakes that have shaken an area just outside Youngstown, Ohio in the last nine months—including a substantial one on New Year’s Eve—are likely linked to a disposal well for injecting wastewater used in the hydraulic fracturing process, say seismologists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who were called in to study the quakes.

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