Research News All

  • August 05, 2015

    It is only recently that scientists learned of the existence of glacial earthquakes–measurable seismic rumblings produced as massive chunks fall off the fronts of advancing glaciers into the ocean. In Greenland, these quakes have grown sevenfold over the last two decades and they are advancing northward, suggesting that ice loss is increasing as climate warms. But exactly what drives the quakes has been poorly understood. Now, a new study elucidating the quakes’ mechanics may give scientists a way to measure ice loss remotely, and thus refine predictions of future sea-level rise. The study appears this week in the early online edition of the leading journal Science.

  • July 17, 2015

    The climate over the tropical Pacific is in an extreme state at the moment. That explains some of the extreme anomalies affecting the United States right now. It also gives us a window through which we can glimpse how even more dramatic and long-term climates of the distant past might have worked, and – in the most radical scenarios, unlikely but impossible to rule out entirely – how much more extreme future climate changes could occur.

  • July 16, 2015

    People living in areas of Pennsylvania where hydraulic fracturing is booming are suffering increasing rates of hospitalization, a new study says. The study is one of a small but growing number suggesting that the practice could be affecting human health. It appears this week in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

  • July 13, 2015

    International health experts have called it the largest mass poisoning in history, and it is still underway. Some 100 million people in southeast Asia have been drinking from shallow wells originally drilled to provide germ-free water; but many turned out to be contaminated with naturally occurring arsenic.

  • July 01, 2015

    Stephen Sparks, one of the world’s foremost experts on volcanoes, received the Vetlesen Prize for his groundbreaking scientific work at a ceremony held June 24 at Columbia University. Two-hundred-fifty people attended the formal gathering in the Low Library Rotunda.

  • June 11, 2015

    A new study of tree rings from Mongolia dating back more than 1,000 years confirms that recent warming in central Asia has no parallel in any known record. In recent decades, temperatures have been ascending more rapidly here than in much of the world, but scientists have lacked much evidence to put the trend into a long-term context. The study does not explicitly raise the issue of human-induced warming, but is sure to be seen as one more piece of evidence that it is at work. The study appears in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

  • June 11, 2015

    Climate change has become fertile ground for both scientists and artists, with its potential to reshape landscapes as well as human civilization itself.

    Two women investigating climate change from different perspectives—Christine McCarthy, a geophysicist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and Denise Iris, a multimedia artist from Brooklyn—had a chance to spend several days together recently. In the Rock Mechanics Lab at Lamont, where McCarthy works, and a nearby “cold room” chilled to the climate of an industrial freezer, they exchanged notes on two ways of looking at ice.

  • May 26, 2015

    H. James Simpson, a geochemist who pioneered important studies of water pollutants in the Hudson River and abroad, died May 10. He had been affiliated with Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory for 50 years. The cause was Parkinson’s disease, said his family; he was 72.

  • May 20, 2015

    Scientists working in the desert badlands of northwestern Kenya have found stone tools dating back 3.3 million years, long before the advent of modern humans, and by far the oldest such artifacts yet discovered. The tools, whose makers may or may not have been some sort of human ancestor, push the known date of such tools back by 700,000 years; they also may challenge the notion that our own most direct ancestors were the first to bang two rocks together to create a new technology.

  • May 20, 2015

    Since the late 1990s, global warming has stabilized, even as greenhouse gases have risen. That defies simple models that say the temperature should keep going up. Many scientists think the so-called “hiatus” is taking place in part because much of the heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases is being soaked up and stored by the oceans–at least for now. The Pacific is believed to play an especially powerful role, with winds in its eastern regions sweeping heat into its depths, like dirt getting swept under the rug. The problem is, scientists checking under the rug by measuring subsurface temperatures have not necessarily found the predicted increases in heat. This has come to be known as the riddle of the “missing heat.” A team of oceanographers now says they know where it went: It has been exported from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. Their study, out this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, finds that this movement may account for more than 70 percent of all heat absorbed by the entire upper world ocean in the past decade.

  • May 18, 2015

    Any researcher can attest to the fact that a scientific figure is worth more than a thousand words. A single figure can encompass years of work: arduous treks across the open ocean or to the far corners of the earth, hours toiling in the lab, more hours fussing in front of Adobe Illustrator. Those figures are the backbones of scientific publications, they’re projected on big screens at conferences and dissected at journal clubs, but rarely do we take a step back to consider the inherent artistry in the figures created to convey the science.

     

     

  • May 14, 2015

    Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for every living organism, well known for its role in fueling everything from the human body to farm fields. But up to now, surprisingly little has been known about how the element cycles through the oceans. A new study has broken through some of this mystery, by showing the hidden role that the oceans’ tiniest creatures play. The study appears this week in the leading journal Science.

  • May 12, 2015

    A new study shows that ozone pollution in the western United States can be increased by La Niña, a natural weather cycle at the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Scientists have come to recognize that La Niña and its opposite phase, El Niño, affect various kinds of weather around the world; the ozone finding is first to show that it also directly affects pollution. The study appears in the current issue of the journal Nature Communications.

  • April 27, 2015

    Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has signed a $35 million, five-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to manage scientific support services for U.S. scientists studying the world’s ocean floors. Lamont will use the award to manage U.S. scientific support services for the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), a 26-nation collaboration that explores earth’s geologic history and dynamics via the seafloors. The award, the result of a national competition conducted by NSF, was announced today at a press conference by Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland counties), and top Lamont staff.

  • April 14, 2015

    Tiny Iceland is a prime exemplar of the complexities wrought by warming climate. It is 11 percent covered by ice, but it is basically also one very large, very active volcanic system. The island has seen fast-increasing temperatures since the 1970s, and glaciers–a big source of tourism and runoff for hydropower–are visibly receding. This cuts various ways. Iceland gets almost all its electricity and heat from hydropower and geothermal wells. Increased glacial runoff means increased generation potential; on the other hand, in 50 or 100 years, Iceland may be mostly land and very little ice, and the runoff could dry up.

  • March 06, 2015
    A Toronto-based company has been convicted of selling illegal ivory in the first case to use a technique for dating ivory developed by a scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in collaboration with other colleagues.
     
  • February 12, 2015

    During the second half of the 21st century, the U.S. Southwest and Great Plains will face persistent drought worse than anything seen in times ancient or modern, with the drying conditions “driven primarily” by human-induced global warming, a new study predicts.

  • February 05, 2015

    Vast ranges of volcanoes hidden under the oceans are presumed by scientists to be the gentle giants of the planet, oozing lava at slow, steady rates along mid-ocean ridges. But a new study shows that they flare up on strikingly regular cycles, ranging from two weeks to 100,000 years—and, that they erupt almost exclusively during the first six months of each year. The pulses—apparently tied to short- and long-term changes in earth’s orbit, and to sea levels--may help trigger natural climate swings. Scientists have already speculated that volcanic cycles on land emitting large amounts of carbon dioxide might influence climate; but up to now there was no evidence from submarine volcanoes. The findings suggest that models of earth’s natural climate dynamics, and by extension human-influenced climate change, may have to be adjusted. The study appears this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

  • January 30, 2015

    Naturally occurring arsenic in private wells threatens people in many U.S. states and parts of Canada, according to a package of a dozen scientific papers to be published next week. The studies, focused mainly on New England but applicable elsewhere, say private wells present continuing risks due to almost nonexistent regulation in most states, homeowner inaction and inadequate mitigation measures. The reports also shed new light on the geologic mechanisms behind the contamination. The studies come amid new evidence that even low doses of arsenic may reduce IQ in children, in addition to well documented risks of heart disease, cancer and reduced lung function. The reports comprise a special section in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

  • January 28, 2015

    Ice ages come and go. So do pulses of volcanic eruptions on land and at sea, maybe, on roughly the same time scale. Could the two be related? A recent two-week oceanographic expedition aimed to find out. The overarching hypothesis: As water accumulates on land in the form of massive ice sheets, the pressure of the overlying ice puts a lid on volcanoes. A corresponding drop in sea level allows volcanic vents on the seafloor to let loose. Then, when the planet warms, causing ice to melt and sea levels to rise, hydrothermal venting is suppressed, while volcanoes on land become more active.

  • January 20, 2015

    Volcanoes can have multiple personalities, peaceful one minute, explosive the next. A geologist who has untangled these complicated states on land and at sea, improving our ability to see deadly eruptions coming, will receive the 2015 Vetlesen Prize. Stephen Sparks, a volcanologist at the University of Bristol, will be awarded a medal and $250,000 at a ceremony in New York in June.

  • December 16, 2014

    In Portuguese, fogo means fire, and for hundreds of years, Fogo volcano in the Cape Verde islands off Senegal has lived up to its name. It has spouted off every 20 years or so, at least as far back as 1460 when the Portuguese settled here. Nearly 20 years after its last eruption, in 1995, Fogo awoke on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Within a week, it had buried two villages high in Fogo’s caldera – Portela and Bangaeira – under lava, leaving 1,200 people homeless.

  • November 18, 2014

    Time ravages mountains, as it does people. Sharp features soften, and bodies grow shorter and rounder. But under the right conditions, some mountains refuse to age. In a new study, scientists explain why the ice-covered Gamburtsev Mountains in the middle of Antarctica looks as young as they do.

  • November 07, 2014
    A team of scientists has published the most comprehensive picture yet of how acidity levels vary across the world’s oceans, providing a benchmark for years to come as enormous amounts of human-caused carbon emissions continue to wind up at sea.
     
  • October 30, 2014
    New York State will acquire a conservation easement for the Black Rock Forest, protecting the 3,800-acre preserve 50 miles north of New York City for both public use and scientific research.
     

    No land is changing hands, and the area has essentially been protected since 1929, when owner Dr. Ernest G. Stillman established it as a research forest. Stillman left the land to Harvard University in 1949. Now the forest is maintained by the Black Rock Forest Consortium, comprising two dozen educational and cultural institutions, including Columbia University.

  • October 23, 2014

    Once a year, Piermont Pier becomes a field station, and local students, a team of environmental investigators. On Tuesday, scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory led students through a series of field experiments designed to teach them more about the Hudson River. The students took water chemistry measurements and compared them to the Hudson’s tidal cycles. They cored sediments from the river bottom and pictured their stretch of the Hudson covered in glaciers. They mapped out how high the river may rise under several CO2-emissions scenarios.

  • 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!

  • December 12, 2013
    Guleed Ali pauses to study his notebook, standing on a steep slope covered in gray volcanic ash and desert brush, high above the present-day shore of Mono Lake in eastern California. He looks across the slope to where, a few hundred yards away, a gash of lighter gray sediment cuts across the hill, then disappears. The exposed sediment is history: A record of deposits left by Mono Lake when it stood far higher than today.

     

  • December 05, 2013

    The jury is still out on how tropical storms will change as climate warms, but rising sea levels will almost certainly place more coastal property at risk of flooding, says a team of scientists writing in the journal Nature.

  • December 02, 2013

    The public is bombarded by information about Earth’s changing climate almost daily, but the people studying the climate system are rarely seen. The Climate Models wall calendar, which provides a unique look behind the science, intends to change that in 2014.

  • November 25, 2013

    Two longtime oceanographers at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Arnold Gordon and Walter Pitman, have been elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and will be formally recognized at the association’s annual meeting in Chicago in February.

  • November 18, 2013

    U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) received the Science Coalition’s Champion of Science Award on Monday in recognition of her commitment to funding the basic research that keeps the United States and New York at the forefront of innovation in science, medicine and technology.  The award was presented jointly by officials from three Science Coalition universities, Columbia, NYU, and Pace, at an event at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York.

  • November 11, 2013

    Tourists flock to Italy to see Michelangelo’s David and other iconic hunks of Renaissance stone, but in a trip over spring break, a group of Columbia students got to visit rocks that have shaped the world in even more profound ways. In the limestone outcrops of Italy’s Apennine Mountains, geologist Walter Alvarez collected some of the earliest evidence that a massive fireball falling from space some 66 million years ago was responsible for killing off the dinosaurs. Geologists have trekked to the region since then to study that catastrophic event as well as others imprinted in these rocks.

     

  • November 08, 2013

    The Sahara wasn’t always a desert. Trees and grasslands dominated the landscape from roughly 10,000 years ago to 5,000 years ago. Then, abruptly, the climate changed, and north Africa began to dry out.

    Previous research has suggested that the end of the African Humid Period came gradually, over thousands of years, but a study published last month in Science says it took just a few hundred. The shift was initially triggered by more sunlight falling on Earth’s northern hemisphere, as Earth’s cyclic orientation toward the sun changed. But how that orbital change caused North Africa to dry out so fast–in 100 to 200 years, says the study–is a matter of debate.

  • November 07, 2013

    Most earthquakes erupt suddenly from faults near Earth’s surface, and the big ones can topple cities. But miles below, rocks heated to the consistency of wax moving over thousands to millions of years may be the driving force behind some of these events.

  • October 28, 2013

    A recent slowdown in global warming has led some skeptics to renew their claims that industrial carbon emissions are not causing a century-long rise in Earth’s surface temperatures. But rather than letting humans off the hook, a new study in the leading journal Science adds support to the idea that the oceans are taking up some of the excess heat, at least for the moment. In a reconstruction of Pacific Ocean temperatures in the last 10,000 years, researchers have found that its middle depths have warmed 15 times faster in the last 60 years than they did during apparent natural warming cycles in the previous 10,000. 

  • October 11, 2013

    The small town of Barrow, Alaska is perched on a point of land 320 miles above the Arctic Circle, where stark, flat tundra stretches in one direction and a vast expanse of Arctic Ocean extends to the horizon in the other. For most of the year a thick layer of sea ice covers this entire ocean. Even during the height of summer, a partial covering of ice remains, and the ocean temperature doesn’t rise above 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite these seemingly inhospitable conditions, tiny marine organisms thrive in this frigid environment.

  • September 23, 2013

    As humans continue to heat the planet, a northward shift of Earth’s wind and rain belts could make a broad swath of regions drier, including the Middle East, American West and Amazonia, while making Monsoon Asia and equatorial Africa wetter, says a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

     

     

  • September 11, 2013

    Naturally occurring arsenic pollutes wells across the world, especially in south and southeast Asia, where an estimated 100 million people are exposed to levels that can cause heart, liver and kidney problems, diabetes and cancer. Now, scientists working in Vietnam have shown that massive pumping of groundwater from a clean aquifer is slowly but surely drawing the poison into the water. The study, done near the capital city of Hanoi, confirms suspicions that booming water usage there and elsewhere could eventually threaten millions more people. The study appears in the current issue of the leading journal Nature

     

     

  • September 10, 2013

    A massive landslide in Alaska’s snowy Wrangell-St. Elias mountain range in July may have been caused by a summer heat wave making some slopes more vulnerable to collapse, says the scientist who first discovered the avalanche.

  • August 08, 2013

    In the northern hemisphere, ice sheets ebb and flow in 100,000-year cycles, driven by varying amounts of sunlight falling on Earth’s surface as its orbit and orientation toward the sun changes. But astronomical variations alone cannot explain why ice ages develop gradually but end quickly, in a few thousand years. Though the last ice age saw several peak-periods of sunlight, it was the last one—about 10,000 years ago—that caused the ice to withdraw from much of Europe and North America.

  • August 06, 2013

    The global treaty that headed off destruction of earth’s protective ozone layer has also prevented major disruption of global rainfall patterns, even though that was not a motivation for the treaty, according to a new study in the Journal of Climate.

  • July 31, 2013

    If some volcanoes operate on geologic timescales, Costa Rica’s Irazú had something of a short fuse. In a new study in the journal Nature, scientists suggest that the 1960s eruption of Costa Rica’s largest stratovolcano was triggered by magma rising from the mantle over a few short months, rather than thousands of years or more, as many scientists have thought. The study is the latest to suggest that deep, hot magma can set off an eruption fairly quickly, potentially providing an extra tool for detecting an oncoming volcanic disaster.

     

     

  • July 22, 2013
    The East Antarctic Ice Sheet repeatedly melted back several hundred miles inland during several warming periods 3 million to 5 million years ago in the Pliocene Epoch, according to a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience.
     
  • July 17, 2013

    The risk of catching some nasty germ in the Hudson River just started looking nastier.  Disease-causing microbes have long been found swimming there, but now researchers have documented antibiotic-resistant strains in specific spots, from the Tappan Zee Bridge to lower Manhattan. The microbes identified are resistant to ampicillin and tetracycline, drugs commonly used to treat ear infections, pneumonia, salmonella and other ailments. The study is published in the current issue of the Journal of Water and Health.

     

  • July 11, 2013

    Large earthquakes from distant parts of the globe are setting off tremors around waste-fluid injection wells in the central United States, says a new study. Furthermore, such triggering of minor quakes by distant events could be precursors to larger events at sites where pressure from waste injection has pushed faults close to failure, say researchers.

  • July 10, 2013

    The desert sultanate of Oman is home to some of the weirdest—and possibly most useful—rocks on earth. The stark Hajar mountains, near the border with Saudi Arabia, contain a chunk of earth’s mantle—a zone that makes up most of earth’s mass, but normally lies inaccessible to humans, far below the surface. Here, though, a sliver of mantle has made its way up to where we can see and touch it. The outcrop has drawn scientists looking for clues to the dynamics of the deep earth; the origins of life; and, most recently, ways to fight climate change.

  • July 09, 2013

    A new study in the journal Nature provides fresh insight into deep-earth processes driving apart huge sections of the earth’s crust. The process, called rifting, mostly takes place on seabeds, but can be seen in a few places on land—nowhere more visibly than in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia. (See the slideshow below.) Here, earthquakes and volcanoes have rent the surface over some 30 million years, forming part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. What causes this, and does it resemble the processes on the seafloor, as many geologists think?

     

     

  • July 01, 2013

    Nearly 25 years after an international ban was placed on ivory, African elephants are being slaughtered at a rate that could bring about their extinction this century. By allowing the trade of ivory acquired before 1989 to continue, the ban put the burden on law enforcement to distinguish between legal ivory and poached. Now, a new method for dating elephant tusks, described in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), could make it easier to enforce the ivory ban and save the African elephant from extermination say researchers. The method might also be applied to endangered rhinoceroses and other wildlife.

  • June 11, 2013

    Smaller than a speck of dust, Emiliania huxleyi plays an outsized role in the world’s seas. Ranging from the polar oceans to the tropics, these free-floating photosynthetic algae remove carbon dioxide from the air, help supply the oxygen that we breathe, and form the base of marine food chains. When they proliferate, their massive turquoise blooms are visible from space.

    Now scientists have discovered one of the keys to E. huxleyi’s success. A seven-year effort by 75 researchers from 12 countries to map its genome has revealed a set of core genes that mix and match with a set of variable genes that likely allows E. huxleyi, orEhux, to adapt to different environments. Their results are described in the latest issue of Nature.

     

     

  • June 06, 2013

    Twice humans have witnessed the wasting of snow and ice from Peru’s tallest volcano, Nevado Coropuna—In the waning of the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago, and today, as industrial carbon dioxide in the air raises temperatures again. As in the past, Coropuna’s retreating glaciers figure prominently in the lives of people below.

     

  • May 29, 2013

    During the last ice age, when thick ice covered the Arctic, many scientists assumed that the deep currents below that feed the North Atlantic Ocean and help drive global ocean currents slowed or even stopped.  But in a new study in Nature, researchers show that the deep Arctic Ocean has been churning briskly for the last 35,000 years, through the chill of the last ice age and warmth of modern times, suggesting that at least one arm of the system of global ocean currents that move heat around the planet has behaved similarly under vastly different climates.

  • May 13, 2013

    Eight hundred years ago, relatively small armies of mounted warriors suddenly exploded outward from the cold, arid high-elevation grasslands of Mongolia, and conquered the largest contiguous empire in history. Led by Genghis Khan and his sons and grandsons, the Mongols briefly ruled most of modern-day Russia, China, Korea, southeast Asia, Persia, India, the Middle East and eastern Europe. They reshaped world geography, culture and history in ways that still resound today. How did they do it? Among the forces at work: the Mongols’ fast horses and brilliant cavalry tactics; their openness to new technologies; and the political genius of Genghis himself. Now, a research group is looking into a possible other factor: climate change. The idea may have implications not only for our understanding of history, but for modern Mongolia and the wider world.

  • May 07, 2013

    After John Diebold, an enormously popular and influential marine scientist, died suddenly in summer 2010, friends and family resolved to erect a memorial to him.

    During a long career at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Diebold had spent seven or so of his 66 years at sea on all the world’s oceans, and many more preparing for cruises and writing up results. Those who cared about him settled on a handmade bench, made of red oak carved to look like driftwood, joined with salvaged nautical-looking pieces of iron, all weighing about a ton.

  • May 01, 2013

    Mark Cane, an expert on the El Niño climate pattern, and Terry Plank, an authority on explosive volcanoes—both scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory--have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Membership in the National Academy, given for excellence in original scientific work, is one of the highest honors awarded to engineers and scientists in the United States.

  • April 22, 2013
    Fueled by industrial greenhouse gas emissions, Earth’s climate warmed more between 1971 and 2000 than during any other three-decade interval in the last 1,400 years, according new regional temperature reconstructions covering all seven continents.  This period of manmade global warming, which continues today, reversed a natural cooling trend that lasted several hundred years, according to results published in the journal Nature Geoscience by more than 80 scientists from 24 nations analyzing climate data from tree rings, pollen, cave formations, ice cores, lake and ocean sediments, and historical records from around the world.
  • March 26, 2013

    A new study in the journal Geology is the latest to tie a string of unusual earthquakes, in this case, in central Oklahoma, to the injection of wastewater deep underground. Researchers now say that the magnitude 5.7 earthquake near Prague, Okla., on Nov. 6, 2011, may also be the largest ever linked to wastewater injection. Felt as far away as Milwaukee, more than 800 miles away, the quake—the biggest ever recorded in Oklahoma--destroyed 14 homes, buckled a federal highway and left two people injured. Small earthquakes continue to be recorded in the area.

  • March 20, 2013

    Scientists examining evidence across the world from New Jersey to North Africa say they have linked the abrupt disappearance of half of earth’s species 200 million years ago to a precisely dated set of gigantic volcanic eruptions. The eruptions may have caused climate changes so sudden that many creatures were unable to adapt—possibly on a pace similar to that of human-influenced climate warming today. The extinction opened the way for dinosaurs to evolve and dominate the planet for the next 135 million years, before they, too, were wiped out in a later planetary cataclysm.

  • March 11, 2013

    A delay in the summer monsoon rains that fall over the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico is expected in the coming decades according to a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research.  The North American monsoon delivers as much as 70 percent of the region’s annual rainfall, watering crops and rangelands for an estimated 20 million people.

  • February 27, 2013

    Earth Institute research expeditions investigating the dynamics of the planet on all levels take place on every continent and every ocean. Below: selected projects in rough chronological order, and resources to learn more about them. Work in and around New York City is listed separately at bottom. Unless otherwise stated, projects originate with our main research center,  Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and are often run in collaboration with other institutions. For expedition blogs written from the field, see our Features archive.

  • February 12, 2013

    A nuclear test explosion set off last night by North Korea was far larger—perhaps by three or four times—than the country’s last known blast, say seismologists who have examined seismic waves coming from the site. The estimate suggests that the North Koreans are making steady progress toward building more forceful weapons.

  • January 31, 2013

    An oceanographer who has painstakingly collected measurements from each of the world’s oceans to understand how the oceans move heat and freshwater around the planet to influence climate is the winner of the 2013 Prince Albert 1 Medal for outstanding contributions to oceanography, given by the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean (IAPSO).

  • January 16, 2013

    Louise Rosen, a senior manager in Columbia University’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations, has been named director of a new office at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory that will oversee fundraising, communications, education and strategic initiatives. She will start the new position on Feb. 11.

  • January 14, 2013
    An American atmospheric chemist who led efforts to identify the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole and a French geochemist who extracted the longest-yet climate record from polar ice cores have won the prestigious Vetlesen Prize. Susan Solomon and Jean Jouzel will share the $250,000 award, considered to be the earth sciences’ equivalent of a Nobel.
     
  • January 09, 2013

    As earth’s climate warms, scientists have tried to understand why the poles are heating up two to three times faster than the rest of the planet. Airborne dust, it turns out, may play a key role.

    In a new study in Nature Climate Change, researchers show that at the peak of the last ice age, some 21,000 years ago, the poles were 10 times dustier than today, while areas closer to the equator had twice as much dust. During this time of extreme cold, New York City was under two miles of ice and up to 12 degrees F colder than today while Greenland was about 45 degrees F colder. The study’s authors suggest that higher atmospheric dust concentrations at the poles during the last ice age helped to cool earth’s surface and prevent snow and sea ice from melting during summer.
  • 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.

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