Upcoming Scientific Fieldwork: 2018 and Beyond

February 14, 2018

On every continent and every ocean, Lamont researchers are studying climate, geology, natural hazards, ecology and more. Below, a list of projects in rough chronological order. When logistically feasible, journalists are encouraged to cover expeditions. Work in the U.S. Northeast is listed separately toward bottom. For more information, contact senior science editor Kevin Krajick: kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu, 212-854-9729


DEEP-EARTH DESERT | Drilling, geologic fieldwork, Oman | JAN-MARCH 2018, DEC 2018-FEB 2019
In the desert nation of Oman, rocks from earth’s mantle, usually inaccessible to humans, have been thrust to the surface in the mountainous Samail Ophiolite. Among other unusual qualities, these rocks naturally take up vast amounts of atmospheric carbon and convert it to solid carbonate. In the first project of its kind, an international team is taking deep cores and performing experiments to assess the possibility of storing human CO2 emissions here and in similar formations across the world. The project will also explore natural processes in the deep earth. Geochemist Peter Kelemen is leading about 40 other researchers from some half-dozen nations as they drill roughly 1,200 feet down. Later in the year and early 2019, a moving tribe of hydrologists, geochemists, geobiologists and seismologists will conduct experiments in the new boreholes. In a related project, Kelemen and others in association with the DeBeers diamond company are working on harnessing tailings from diamond mines, also from the deep earth, to absorb carbon. Article on the diamond-ore project / Video, photo essay, story on the Oman project / Oman Drilling Project webpages

HURRICANE MARIA’S EFFECTS UNDERGROUND | Surveys of groundwater pollution, Puerto Rico | MARCH 2018-MARCH 2020
Puerto Rico is perhaps the nation’s most prolific toxic dumping ground, with dozens of dangerous Superfund sites polluting groundwater–and many people get their drinking water from nearby. Flooding caused by Hurricane Maria almost certainly spread poisons further, but no one has yet determined how much or how far. In a large citizen-science project, soil scientist Benjamin Bostick and colleagues will study water and soil around four notorious sites to determine what the storm has done to water supplies, and how people may be exposed. They will work with nonprofits and schools to train locals to sample over time for a variety of toxins, including lead, arsenic and volatile chemicals. Sites include a metal-recycling plant near Bayamon;  a battery-recycling facility near Arecibo; and the Atlantic Fleet Training Facility on Vieques, polluted from years of military munitions practice. Other sites may be added as the project moves along.  Interview with Bostick

RISING SEAS, RISING LAND? | Studies of changing sea levels, Barbados | MARCH 5-15, 2018
Climatologists Maureen Raymo and Jacqueline Austermann and colleagues will survey coral reefs and other geologic features to better understand changes in sea level during the last interglacial period, some 80,000 to 125,000 years ago—a time somewhat analogous to our own. Calculations of past levels are complicated, because it turns out that water level is only part of the equation; in many places, the land itself can sink or rise, due to changes in pressures in the deep earth and other forces. Barbados, currently rising about a foot every 1,000 years, is a prime study site for this; its shores are fringed with fossil coral reefs now well above current sea level. The researchers will extensively measure and sample the reefs for later lab analysis, and possibly look into coastal caves and other features. The results will inform not only estimates of past sea levels, but projections for the near future.  How High Could the Tide Go? (New York Times)

BLEACHED CORALS | Surveys of reefs, western Panama | MARCH 9-18, 2018
Oceanographer Braddock Linsley and geochemist Wade McGillis will dive onto reefs in Panama’s Gulf of Chiriqui to study corals that appear to be bleaching in response to global warming. Corals, like tree rings, preserve records of the past; by drilling out cores, they hope to document past bleaching events and rainfall patterns going back some 250 years. McGillis has also installed newly designed instruments that monitor the metabolisms of the corals in real time. These are designed to indicate how corals are reacting to changing sea temperatures, ocean acidity and pollutants. McGillis maintains instruments also in reefs off Florida, Puerto Rico, the Galapagos Islands and the Pacific atoll of Palmyra.

CLIMATE AND NORTHERN WILDLIFE | Tagging migratory birds, northern Alberta | APRIL 2018
North America’s boreal forests are warming fast, but little is known about effects on wildlife. A consortium of U.S. and Canadian researchers has started a 10-year campaign to put satellite trackers on animals including eagles, caribou, wolves and bears, and observe their behavior in relation to new trends in fires, insect populations and water availability. Ecologist Natalie Boelman is studying the common American robin, which appears to range as far as northern Alaska. In April, grad student Ruth Oliver will head to Slave Lake in northern Alberta to tag robins. Courtesy of a new app, the researchers, and elementary-school students, can watch in near real time where the birds go. Expedition Blog / Overall project website / Animals on the Move / Boelman’s tundra ecology work in Alaska  / NASA project blog

SEA ICE AND NATIVE CULTURE | Drone flights off northwest Alaska | APRIL-MAY 2018 and 2019
In the first project of its kind, geophysicist Chris Zappa and colleagues will study the decline of sea ice off northwest Alaska using a combination of high-tech drones and knowledge from local aboriginal people. Working out of the coastal Chukchi Sea community of Kotzebue, scientists will collaborate with residents to design the research, incorporating local knowledge of water currents, seasonal weather and wildlife. Instrument-equipped drones will then record sea-surface temperatures, ice topography and thickness, changes in algae biomass and other qualities during the spring. The project is expected to open new insights into how climate change is altering both the physical and biological properties of northern sea ice, and improve projections for the future.  Article on the project / Exploring earth in real time

‘GHOST’ FOREST REVEALED | Tree ring studies, La Perouse Glacier, southeastern Alaska | MAY 2018
Researchers including paleoclimatologist Benjamin Gaglioti have discovered several long-buried ancient forests that have been exposed as the La Perouse Glacier in Glacier National Park melts back. Many trees, covered by ice for hundreds or thousands of years, are still standing upright. The scientists were there last year, and will return in May to sample rings from them. They hope to glean information about how both glaciers and trees have responded to naturally shifting climates of the past. The project is urgent, as exposed wood, well preserved under the ice, is already starting to decay, and outwash of sediment from the glacier could rebury them at any time. The team will land by bush plane and camp on a remote beach.

CYCLONE THREAT TO MUMBAI | Climate, storm-surge modeling, infrastructure studies | JAN-JUNE 2018
The coastal megacity of Mumbai has not seen a major tropical cyclone for many decades—and in the meantime has seen booming construction to the water’s edge, sea-level rise, and destruction of floodplains that previously buffered inland areas. A team is studying the city’s vulnerability to storm surge, which appears to be very high. Led by Adam Sobel, head of Columbia’s Initiative on Extreme Weather, scientists are modeling the possibilities of future cyclones, studying the depth and shape of the nearby seafloor, and assessing possible effects on water, sanitation and health. The project is inspired in part by the unprecedented destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy to New York City, whose own history of coastal development greatly resembles that of Mumbai. A postdoc is in Mumbai through next June.  Article on the project

HIMALAYAN QUAKES | Geologic mapping, instrument installations, INDIA, BANGLADESH, MYANMAR | FEB-APRIL and JULY 2018; ONGOING THRU 2020
Recent work in densely populated northeast India, Bangladesh and Myanmar has revealed geologic stresses that could lead to huge earthquakes, tsunamis and sudden shifts in the courses of great rivers. This year, teams led by geophysicist Michael Steckler will fan out across the three nations to do geologic mapping, sample rocks and install seismometers and other instruments that will remain in place for the next two years. The effort is expected to refine understanding of the threat, and is connected to a vigorous public communication plan to warn populations how to protect themselves. Teams will visit seismic stations regularly over the study period.  Reuters article on project / Watch a documentary about the project / Project blog / Giant Earthquakes Threaten Bangladesh

MYSTERY OF THE MOAI | Lake coring, Easter Island | MAY 2018
Easter Island is one of the most isolated places on earth, probably not colonized by people until about 1,000 years ago. A now-lost civilization erected giant stone sculptures, or moai, but then quickly collapsed. The most popular hypothesis says the settlers committed “ecocide” through deforestation, introduction of invasive species and overuse of resources. But paleoclimatologist William D’Andrea believes climate swings may have played an unsuspected part. To find out, he and colleagues will plumb a deep volcanic crater lake for sediment cores probably spanning some 4,000 years, and analyze them with newly advanced techniques designed to tease out DNA traces and weather patterns of the past. This should help them better understand exactly when people arrived, and what happened to them. D’Andrea suspects the results may help rewrite the history of the island. Interview with D’Andrea: How Can Changing Climate Affect a Civilization?

EYE ON GREAT ALASKAN EARTHQUAKES | Sea/land seismometer deployments, Alaska Peninsula | MAY 2018 and 2019
The subduction zone along the lengthy Alaska Peninsula is capable of generating some of the world’s biggest earthquakes and tsunamis; and recent research suggests the threat may be even greater than previously thought. As part of a wide effort to study the region, seismologists including Spahr Webb will drop dozens of seismometers to the sea bottom during a May 8-28 cruise. On land, seismologist Donna Shillington and colleagues will install seismometers in remote places across Kodiak Island. The instruments will record modest quakes in great detail, to give a better picture of what forces are moving far beneath; they will be retrieved, along with their data, in 2019. Article on the project / Alaska Seafloor Images Suggest High Tsunami Danger

VIKING TIMES | Lake coring, archaeological work, Lofoten Islands, northern Norway | MAY or JUNE 2018
Paleoclimate scientists William D’Andrea and Nicholas Balascio are examining natural factors that may have influenced the growth of northern agriculture and rise of violent Viking chieftains ca. 500 BC to 1100 AD. The arctic Lofoten Islands, where some of the most significant Viking sites are found, were marginal for farming, so inhabitants were probably susceptible to small temperature swings, as well as changes in sea level. Powerful rulers left behind hundreds of dwellings, boathouses and other structures here. How did they influence the land, and vice versa? Why did Viking chiefdoms collapse? D’Andrea and Balascio will take cores from the bottoms of deep lakes surrounding one major chieftain’s domain, and analyze them for changes in vegetation, livestock and use of fire that might help answer such questions. In conjunction with Norwegian researchers, the team will also mine extensive untapped Norwegian archaeological archives from digs dating to the 1980s, and synthesize the information with the climate data. Story, video, slideshow on the project

ARCTIC WEATHER DRIVERS | Lake coring, Faroe Islands | MAY or JUNE 2018
The Faroe Islands, halfway between Iceland and Norway, are very sensitive to Arctic patterns that drive weather much further south. With the aim of understanding how cycles work and what the future might hold, a team including climate scientist William D’Andrea will collect cores of lake sediments going back 10,000 years. Analyses of remnants of algae and other living matter will allow the team to reconstruct the past, and, they hope, advance understanding of a cyclic seesaw change in air pressure between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes—the Arctic Oscillation—that can mean relatively mild, dry winters or colder, snowier ones in Europe and the eastern United States. This continues similar earlier work done in Norway’s far northerly Svalbard archipelago. Story on D’Andrea’s previous work in Svalbard

HIDDEN MINING DANGERS | Testing for lead pollution, Peru | MARCH and JULY/AUGUST 2018
In cooperation with Peru’s Center for Environmental Health Research, geochemist Alexander van Geen and grad student Franziska Landes will test soils for lead contamination in towns where heavy-metal mining and processing are taking place. These include the communities of Callao, La Oroya and Cerro de Pasco. Previous research suggests that this is a major problem in Peruvian mine towns. (La Oroya has the distinction of being named one of the world’s most polluted places.) Team members will work with local high schools to integrate lead-testing technology into their science classes as a way to collect more samples; university students will help. Center for Environmental Health website 

HIMALAYA  FORESTS AND CLIMATE | World Dendro Congress, Bhutan | JUNE 2-22, 2018
Dendrochronologist (tree-ring scientist) Edward Cook has been roaming the high-elevation forests of Bhutan for decades, collecting data on past climate patterns; his work here and in neighboring nations has greatly expanded our knowledge. This summer, along with colleagues from Bhutan and the UK, Cook is organizing the 10th World Dendro Conference, drawing scientists and students from around the world, with a special emphasis on developing nations. Bhutan is a telling location for the conference, as it is already visibly suffering from climate change. Altered weather patterns and accelerated melting of its many glaciers have created floods that endanger people and cultural heritage downstream, and compromised hydropower installations important to the economy. The conference begins with a field week in the fir and hemlock forests above the capital of Thimpu, and ends with field trips to other areas. World Dendro Conference website / Article on Earth Institute climate work in Bhutan

ABOUT TO BLOW? | Imaging Sinabung Volcano, North Sumatra | JUNE 3-JULY 8, 2018
Volcanoes can be gentle or explosive; some effuse lava slowly, giving people time to escape, while others suddenly blast out searing gases and solids, instantly killing anything around. Some volcanoes do both, and Indonesia’s Sinabung, erupting for most of the past four years, is one of those. Volcanologist Brett Carr and colleagues will spend three weeks closely observing slow buildups of lava on its flanks that periodically have blown up, creating deadly clouds. (25 people have been killed so far; some 10,000 are currently displaced.) They will chart changes in the shape and volume of lava by photographing it over time from many angles on the ground, and sending camera-equipped drones into areas too dangerous for people to approach. The aim is to predict what characteristics suggest that the lava is becoming overpressurized, and is in danger of exploding. The team also plans to visit Ijen Volcano, on Java. The observations can probably be applied to similar volcanoes in Japan, Mexico, the Caribbean and elsewhere. Done in conjunction with Indonesian researchers.  

SUSTAINABLE STEPPE? | Paleoclimate, archeological studies, northern Mongolia | MID-LATE JUNE 2018 and 2019
Mongolia is one of the last places on earth where nomadic herding is still alive and well, but climate change could threaten this. Tree-ring scientists Nicole Davi and Laia Andreu Hayles will join forces with archaeologists from Yale University and paleobotanists from the University of Alaska to study how human use of the land has changed in relation to past natural climate shifts, and how people might adapt in the future. They will work in the Teshig-Tarvagatai region of northern Mongolia, where the open grassland of the south begin to meld into the larch forests that dominate further north, in Siberia. Along with sampling tree rings, the team will core lake beds and examine archaeological sites dating back 1,000 years or more. Some of these sites may yield ancient building timbers that could extend the tree-ring record back further than still-standing trees might provide. How Climate Influenced the Mongol Empire

TUNDRA ON FIRE | Lake coring, vegetation studies, northern Alaska | JULY 2018
On the northern tundra, once-rare wildfires sparked by lightning are multiplying in response to hotter, drier summers. A team including paleoclimatologist Benjamin Gaglioti is investigating such fires and their effects on vegetation and underlying permafrost. Last year they traveled to remote camps on Alaska’s North Slope to core lake sediments thought to preserve signs of past fires in the foothills of the Brooks Range. This year, they will travel to study widespread sites of old and burns—a 500-kilometer overland journey.

DARK ICE, RED PLANET | Sampling ice ecosystems, Greenland | JULY 2018
Polar scientist Marco Tedesco and colleagues from the University of Montana are studying ecosystems made of soot, bacteria and algae building up on the melting Greenland ice sheet surface. They will sample cryoconites—organism-containing holes in the surface—to refine understanding of how the invaders are darkening the surface, decreasing its ability to reflect sunlight, and thus increasing melting. The work will also be applied to remote-sensing studies of eerily similar-looking holes in polar caps of Mars, and their potential to signal the presence of life, past or present. Chemists and microbiologists are also involved in the project. They will work near Ilulissat, in the southwestern part of the island. Greenland’s Ice Is Getting Darker

NORTHERN FORESTS AND CLIMATE | Tree ring collection, northern Alaska |  JULY/AUG 2018 and 2019
Researchers Laia Andreu Hayles and Benjamin Gaglioti will fly by bush plane to remote areas in northern Alaska to revisit and sample slow-growing trees first studied by Lamont scientists some 30 years ago. The study is aimed at discovering how trees have fared under the warming climate. In some places, forests are thought to be greening and growing faster, while in others, heat-induced stress may cause them to brown and die. Local and regional factors are thought to be at play. The work will take place along the Noatak River, near the western coast, this year, and in the jagged granite Arrigetch Peaks region of the Brooks Range next year. Principal investigator: Rosanne D’Arrigo.


EARLIEST HUMANITY | Archaeological digs, Kenya |  JULY 2018 and 2019
The remote desert region around northwest Kenya’s Lake Turkana is the source of many key early human fossils and artifacts. Paleoclimatologist Kevin Uno will join an excavation team led by archaeologist David Braun of George Washington University to the Koobi Fora formation, on the lake’s east side, where they expect to find abundant stone tools. Uno will help date these by analyzing adjoining plant remains. The dig will be repeated in 2019. Lamont-Doherty geologist and paleomagnetism expert Christopher Lepre also works around Turkana, and recently helped a separate team date what are currently the world’s oldest known tools, at 3.3 million years. In 2019, they may be joined by geochemist Sidney Hemming and students, who are working on using volcanic deposits to document the geologic evolution of this region, and to date extremely ancient artifacts and fossils. Story/video/photos of Turkana work


TREELINE VS. TUNDRA | Plant/soil/weather surveys, northern Alaska and Northwest Territories | JUNE/JULY 2018
Across the fast-warming Arctic and Subarctic, tree seedlings are now taking root in open tundra, where it was previously too cold and harsh for them. This may eventually advance the 13,400-kilometer-long circumpolar treeline northward, bringing huge changes in far northern ecology, and the carbon budget of the planet. Teams have placed suites of sophisticated instruments to measure physiological processes of trees at the very edge of their range, and are integrating real-time observations on the ground with remote-sensing data to measure how the landscape is changing, and to tease out what might happen in the future. Members include plant physiologist Kevin Griffin and ecologist Natalie Boelman, who have planted instruments along northern Alaska’s Dalton Highway, and near Inuvik, Northwest Territories. They will return here in June or July for further work. Story, video and slideshow on the project  /  Tundra ecology website

TEAM VOLE | Small-mammal studies, northern Alaska | JULY 2018, continuing through 2021
Researchers have been studying the effects of warming climate on tundra plants for nearly three decades, but very little is known about the small rodents that eat them, and their role in tundra ecosystems. Plant physiologist Kevin Griffin and ecologist Natalie Boelman will study rodents in relation to plant communities at plots near Nome, Alaska. Other plots under study are in the northern foothills of Alaska’s Brooks Range, the southerly Seward Peninsula and the northwestern coastal village of Barrow. The five-year project aims to make projections of small-mammal populations and plant growth over the next 50 to 100 years. Story, video and slideshow on related tree line project  / Tundra ecology website

SNOWFALL, ABRUPT CHANGE AND THE NORTHERN ICE | Sampling lakebeds, rock outcrops, southwest Greenland | AUG 2018
Greenland’s ice is declining, feeding sea-level rise. But some scientists argue that the ice sheet may remain fairly stable at least in the short term, because warming could soon produce more snowfall to offset melting. To help resolve this question, a team including glacial geologists Nicolás Young and Joerg Schaefer is studying how temperature and precipitation have combined to affect ice cover over the past 8,000 years. Working by helicopter and camping in the field near the Jakobshavn Glacier, they will sample rocks and lakebed sediments around the ice edges, and analyze them for signals of ice advances and retreats. Description of precipitation project  /  Description of abrupt change project  /  Ice-free Greenland study

MARS ON EARTH | Surveys of stromatolites, Wyoming | TBD 2018 or 2019
Stromatolites—masses of rock built up in shallow water by ancient photosynthetic bacteria—are among the most visible signs of ancient life. Southern Wyoming’s Green River region has some of the most spectacular formations, rising 30 to 60 feet above the deeply eroded landscape; these are thought to be 30 million to 50 million years old. Geochemist Sidney Hemming and colleagues will spend two weeks studying the formations to refine understanding of how and when they were laid down. Camped in the field, the team will map strata and take samples for lab analysis. The research may be used as an analog in the search for life in Mars’s Gale Crater, where, if life did exist in the past, the remains might resemble stromatolites. The work may also apply to oil exploration, since stromatolites can produce petroleum when buried below the surface.

EMIGMA ON AN ISLAND | Geologic sampling, mapping of unique rocks, Comoro Islands | SEPT 6-22, 2018
On the island of Anjouan, off southeast Africa, there is a hill made of rock that is not supposed to be there. Anjouan is a volcano, built by layer upon layer of dark basaltic lava that rose more than 10,000 feet from the seabed. Yet, set upon its flanks is a hill of pure white sandstone, apparently formed by a river on some unknown continent. How it got here is a mystery; conventional plate tectonic theory says continental rocks cannot exist on volcanic islands. There are hints of some out-of-place continental slivers far out to sea elsewhere, but this is the only known example of  such intact rocks in the world. With help from local residents, geologists Cornelia Class, Steve Goldstein and colleagues will dig deep into the formation and map it in detail. Later lab analyses will be aimed at revealing the age and origin of the rocks. Class worked on the island 26 years ago, and now is finally returning. 

IT’S INVADING THE OCEAN | Studies of harmful plankton, off Oman | 2018 and ONGOING
It’s part plant, part animal, and it’s taking over, with devastating effects. It’s Noctiluca scintillans, a floating organism that forms thick, slimy mats on the ocean, feeding on everything from sunlight to fish eggs. It is thriving in the Arabian Sea, where climate change has altered ocean circulations patterns, creating the right conditions. Oceanographer Joaquim Goes is leading a multi-institutional to study the organisms and how to deal with them. In Oman, Noctiluca are hurting the fishing and aquaculture industries, clogging the water intakes of vital coastal oil refineries and desalination plants, and hurting tourism. With another massive bloom probably now brewing for this year, Goes and colleagues are working at sea to understand the forces that drive the Noctiluca life cycle, and how Oman can adapt. The creatures are also spreading off parts of southeast Asia and India, and may eventually reach other areas.  Studying Bioluminescent Blooms in the Arabian Sea

RISE OF THE DINOSAURS | Geologic fieldwork, Arizona and China | TBD
Lamont paleontologist Paul Olsen is studying shifts in the climate some 180 million to 200 million years ago, when dinosaurs became dominant. This year, he will continue previous work in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, which is rich in pre-dinosaur fossils as well as the famous petrified trees. He and colleagues will study rock outcrops that hold clues to how conditions changed, and with it, the region’s flora and fauna. He also plans to work with Chinese colleagues in the Junggar Basin desert of northwest China. Previous finds there suggest that some early dinosaurs resisted freezing conditions that killed off competitors at one point—a possibility that might change some views of their evolution.  Story, video and photo gallery on Petrified Forest fieldwork

SOURCES OF EXPLOSIVE VOLCANISM | Lava sampling, Mexico | TBD 2018/19
Mexico is strung with potentially explosive volcanoes, but their magma sources are not fully understood. Geochemist Susanne Straub hopes to continue previous work there, ascending active high peaks to collect samples of lava and tephra for analysis. At elevations up to 4,400 meters, sites prospectively include Malinche, Pico de Orizaba and Sierra Negra volcanoes. The collections are aimed at testing the idea that the volcanoes are fueled when parts of earth’s crust sink and mix with material from the mantle, further down. This may shed light on how explosive magmas form, move upward, and how long it takes to build to an eruption.

‘BRAZILIAN ATLANTIS’ | Sea Bottom studies off Brazil | OCT-DEC 2018
In 2013, Brazilian scientists found igneous rocks far off the nation’s coast in south Atlantic that some speculated are the remains of a lost continent. The region contains a large ridge, and many seamounts. The remote area, called the Rio Grande Rise, is barely explored. A multi-institution team aboard the research vessel Atlantis, including geochemist Cornelia Class, will survey the area and dredge samples from the bottom. Class has previously investigated odd igneous rocks in Panama, Tanzania and many other nations.  Wikipedia entry on Rio Grande Rise

MELTING CONTINENT | Physical/biological oceanography, Antarctic Peninsula | JAN-FEB 2019
For nearly 40 years, scientists have monitored the effects of climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula, one of earth’s fastest-warming regions, as part of a global network of Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) stations. They have witnessed a sea-ice season now three months shorter, and dramatic shifts in wildlife populations, including major declines of penguins. Hugh Ducklow, a biogeochemist at Lamont-Doherty, is lead investigator of the LTER Project; he and colleagues will spend a month on the icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer cruising the peninsula’s west coast to study its creatures and collect physical data on ocean waters. Recently the program added a new team, studying Antarctic whales. Story on recent work on the peninsula / Team paper on ecological changes

1,000 YEARS OF SOUTH AMERICAN WEATHER | Tree-ring sampling, Peru, Bolivia |TBD 2018-20
As part of a five-year project to reconstruct weather patterns and extremes over the past millennium, Lamont scientists led by Laia Andreu-Hayles will sample rings from ancient trees in Peru and Bolivia. Work will extend from about 15,000 feet in the Andes into lower elevations of the western Amazon, in areas that have hardly been examined before. Data will be merged with separate new studies of cave formations and old tree trunks that have been washed into caves and preserved, to yield a long-term picture of climate variations in this region and as far away as North America. Among other places, the researchers will sample around Tacna in southern Peru, and in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park. The overall project is led out of the State University of New York at Albany.


WINTER COVER | Studies of snowpack, Catskill Mountains | FEB-MARCH 2018,  FALL/WINTER 2018/2019
Polar scientist Marco Tedesco is investigating the qualities of snow in the Catskill Mountains in a project with both local and global implications. A team working around Phoenicia, N.Y. is studying snowflake shapes, and measuring snow depth, density and temperature in different kinds of sites, and comparing this data with remote imagery. One aim is to understand conditions that affect snowpack and water supply in the local areas, the origin of much of New York City’s water supply. Secondly, the study will help scientists more accurately interpret satellite images of snow and ice in Greenland (where Tedesco usually works) and even imagery of Mars. Tedesco plans to expand the work into a long-term citizen-science project, in which people across the region will be recruited in future years to collect snow data in their own communities, using a few simple instruments and their cell phones.   NASA’s related SnowEx program

WATCHING THE WOODS | Wildlife camera deployments, northern Catskills | FEB-MARCH 2018
Camera traps are standard census tools for biologists, rigged to take a snapshot whenever an animal moves. But they are often thinly spread, and may miss a lot, especially when it comes to rare species. Wildlife biologist Scott LaPoint and a colleague from the University of Maryland plan to refine camera-trap methodology by setting out a high-density grid within the 2,000-acre Huyck Preserve, some 25 miles southwest of Albany, N.Y. The 64 cameras, arranged 30 feet apart, should help the researchers assess the accuracy of data from more conventional, widely spread setups. The forest is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including bears, deer, coyotes, foxes, and possibly the occasional mountain lion. Work involves setting up cameras and visits to maintain them and retrieve images.

NEUROSCIENCE AND VOLCANOES | Experiments with artificial lava in a biomedical lab | FEB-MARCH 2018
Lava is a complex combination of solids, liquids and gas bubbles. Successfully predicting an eruption, and whether it will ooze out slowly or produce a more sudden, deadly explosion has vexed modern scientists. Volcanologist Einat Lev is teaming with biomedical researcher Elizabeth Hillman to capture 3D images of the actions of artificial lavas in real time, using a microscopy system normally used to investigate the effects of blood flow on brain function. Creating “lavas” from oil, acetone, glass beads and silicon, they will investigate how different mixtures act under varying conditions, and when they are apt to blow up. By applying cutting-edge biomedical techniques to geology, the scientists hope to open a new window onto the dynamics of volcanoes. Multimedia: Lev’s study of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano

RE-CREATING GLACIERS | High-pressure lab experiments, New York City | FEB-MARCH 2018
Lamont geophysicist Christine McCarthy has teamed with geotechnical engineer Liming Li in a series of innovative experiments to re-create what happens when a mile of ice moves over bedrock. In the first experiments of their kind, they will operate a centrifuge loaded with material intended to duplicate the high-gravity forces at the base of a glacier. Experiments will be aimed at understanding what makes glaciers either stick in place or slide forward—a key, little understood issue at the heart of future projections of sea-level rise. The scientists are particularly interested in how water and subglacial debris may interact to abrade bedrock and form meltwater channels. The work is being done at Columbia Engineering School.

The 1,320-square-mile Long Island Sound is heavily crisscrossed by vessels on its surface, and by energy and communications lines on its bottom—yet existing charts predate modern technology. A team including marine geologist Frank Nitsche is mapping the seafloor and sub-seafloor in new detail, to improve both the safety of navigation and management of natural habitats. The researchers are using sonar pulses to create images of the bottom, as well as taking cores of sediment from below the bed. Cruises concentrating on the eastern sound are planned for April 2-6, April 9-13, potentially late May, and June 25-29. Long Island Sound Seafloor Mapping website

TINY PLASTIC POLLUTION | Sampling for microbeads, studies of aquatic organisms in Hudson River, New York coastal waters | SPRING 2018 and ONGOING
Microbeads, tiny plastic spheres commonly used in shampoos, soaps, cleaning supplies and cosmetics, are probably entering local waters in vast quantities, but no one knows how vast. Using a newly developed method, oceanographer Joaquim Goes and geochemist Beizhan Yan are sampling the Hudson River and nearby waters by small vessel to map microbead quantities. This will enable colleagues to undertake experiments to determine their potential effects on aquatic life. To this question, a local high-school teacher and her students are already using Lamont labs to study local fish and other organisms for the presence of absorbed plastics. Initial results show that many creatures are indeed absorbing the particles. Article on the project / Earth Institute article on microbeads


HUDSON RIVER SEWAGE | Water sampling by boat | SUMMER 2018
In cooperation with the environmental group Riverkeeper, biologists are mapping the sources and fates of sewage in the Hudson River with periodic sampling from the Riverkeeper vessel. Much of the work in overseen by biologist Andrew Juhl, who has sailed the river from Troy to the New York City harbor. Water quality has improved dramatically in recent decades, but human waste still sweeps in during heavy rains; and a recent study showed that pharmaceuticals routinely carried in treated sewage are spread in worrisome quantities at some sites. Tributaries with particular problems include outfalls at Kingston, Orangetown, New York City’s Newtown Creek, and the upstate the Sparkill, Roundout and Esopus creeks. Article on the project / Report on the project’s progress / Latest report on Hudson SewageArticle on antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Hudson River

RESURRECTED SPRINGS | Studies of 1800s spas, Northeast states | SPRING/SUMMER 2018
Many commercial warm springs popular in the 19th century have since been left to decay or been demolished; locations of some have even been lost altogether. Geologists Dallas Abbott and Bill Menke are searching out old sites throughout New England and New York state to study how subterranean conditions may be evolving. They will compare century-old temperature readings with new measurements to judge whether possible subtle rises could indicate whether climate change has affected underground waters. Second, brand-new geophysical maps of the deep earth under the region show that some parts of the crust and shallow mantle are hotter and more fractured than normal; this could result in volcanism, albeit not for millions of years. Could some of the hotter springs be tapping these depths? Abbott and Menke will work with local historians to locate some of the sites. Volcanoes Under the Northeast U.S.?

DEEP IN THE MUCK | Coring of bogs and wetlands, New York metro area and Catskill Mountains | ONGOING and SUMMER 2018
Paleoecologist Dorothy Peteet is studying the past, present and future of the New York region’s environment, using cores of sediment from lake bottoms, marshes and bogs. Her latest project focuses on wetlands around New York City: how they have been affected by urbanization, and how they may respond to the sea-level rise, higher temperatures and greater storm surges projected to accompany climate change. The cores contain old pollen, plant remains, charcoal and other information spanning the end of the last ice age to the present. Among other places, she and colleagues will be working in the Bronx and Queens at sites including Udall’s Cove and Pelham Bay. In June, they plan to drill to bedrock through an ancient bog near the high Catskills village of Maplecrest. Earth Institute article on Peteet’s work

POISONED GARDENS | Testing soil for lead, Brooklyn | SPRING/SUMMER 2018
Lead has long been banned from paint and other common products, but it still lurks in urban soils, presenting a danger in gardens and other spaces. Environmental science PhD candidate Franziska Landes has developed a fast-results test kit, which she and collaborators including Brian Mailloux of Barnard College are using to test backyards and parks around heavily industrialized Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and other areas. Local organizations are also participating. Soil test instructional video  NYC Urban Soils Institute

AIR SENSORS ON WHEELS | Real-time air monitoring via bikes, New York City | MARCH-NOV 2018 and continuing 2019
In a citizen science project, volunteer bikers are wearing sensors that measure soot, carbon monoxide and other pollutants as they ride, giving a detailed picture of what they are inhaling. Some will also wear heart-rate monitors and blood-pressure cuffs to measure short-term effects. In partnership with public radio station WNYC, the study is run by environmental health scientists Darby Jack of Mailman School for Public Health and Steven Chillrud of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The project began last year, and will pick up again this spring, employing scores of volunteers. What’s in the air as you cycle NYC? / NYC air quality phone app / Development of personal pollution monitors / Study on urban pollutants and asthma

DIARY OF A TREE | Real-time forest monitoring, Hudson Valley and New York City | ONGOING
In New York’s Hudson Valley, the extreme ranges of many southern trees rub against those of northern species, making the region a sentinel for how warming climate may affect North American forests. Some northern species such as sugar maples and beeches may already be getting edged out, while oaks and hickories move in. Plant physiologist Kevin Griffin is studying changes on long scales and short. In a new project, he has wired more than a dozen trees in the lower Hudson Valley’s Black Rock Forest with instruments that transmit daily changes in growth to his lab. The real-time network will soon expand to suburban Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and the main Columbia campus, in Manhattan. Griffin plans frequent field trips with students to examine forest ecology in both urban and natural settings. Black Rock Forest Real-Time Growth Page  /  How Climate Affects New York Plants and Animals Urban Trees of the Future

NEW YORK EARTHQUAKES | Seismometer installation, monitoring | ONGOING
From Central Park to the Canadian border, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory runs seismic instruments to monitor earthquakes in the U.S. Northeast. The region sees a surprising number of small quakes, and big ones are probably an underappreciated threat. The team monitors the network 24 hours a day, and travels frequently to repair and update instruments. New ones have been installed near Albany, N.Y., where recent unusual tremors have been felt, and in the Adirondack Mountains, where quakes have long been routine. Head of network: Won-Young KimLamont Cooperative Seismographic Network / Study on New York City earthquake risk / New York Times article on Albany tremors / Sonic booms mistaken for earthquakes

A BILLION OYSTERS | Restoring New York Harbor | ONGOING
Excellent oysters once populated New York Harbor, before waterways were overrun with pollution and shoreline construction. The Billion Oyster Project is a long-term initiative to involve young New Yorkers in restoring New York’s marine environment by growing 1 billion oysters. Working with middle-school teachers, Lamont-Doherty educators and scientist Bob Newton has designed protocols for monitoring oyster growth and marine conditions. At 32 shoreline sites, teachers and their students are now growing oysters on different kinds of substrates, and measuring oyster growth, along with water chemistry, wildlife health and weather conditions. Program is in conjunction with a wide consortium of institutions. Billion Oyster Project website / Video on the project


Seismologist Leonardo Seeber  and colleagues at the University of Rhode Island are looking into doing surveys of an earthquake-prone transform fault bordering southern Cuba. The project, still in discussion stages, would involve work both on land and at sea.

Climatologist Maureen Raymo will be chief scientist on a cruise to drill a half-dozen cores from the deep ocean bed between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula—so-called Iceberg Alley, where giant tabular icebergs peel off the frozen continent into the Southern Ocean. The cores will be examined for changes in iceberg discharge 16 million to 11 million years ago, as well as shifts in water circulation sea ice and dust drifting in from land. International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 382

Plant physiologist Kevin Griffin will head for Chile in April 2018 to investigate the effects of recent drastic wildfires on evergreen Araucaria forests. These huge, prehistoric-looking trees are preserved in a national forest south of Santiago. Griffin will also look at physiological characteristics of other species.

In March and April 2018, glacial geologist Mike Kaplan and a grad student will work in southern Chile, investigating how glaciers, climate and landscapes have changed since the end of the last ice age. Among other short field trips in southern Patagonia, they will collect rock samples in Tierra del Fuego.

Geochemist Sidney Hemming and grad student Daniel Babin also plan to work in Patagonia, in early December 2018. Along with a team of North American and Argentine scientists, they will look into the glacial history of the last 8 million years, in part by analyzing volcanic deposits that are interbedded with glacial deposits.

Geochemist Sidney Hemming and two grad students plan to do fieldwork also in Zambia and possibly other southeast African nations, to study the region’s climate variability over the last 5 million years. They will sample river sediments and characterize their composition, in order to build “fingerprints” that can be compared to sediments in the Indian Ocean drilled out last year by Hemming and colleagues during a cruise by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). They will also seek out sediments from old lakebeds and caves that can put this information into context. IODP Cruise 361

Volcanologist Einat Lev and colleagues will collect data on the active Stromboli volcano, off Sicily, May 10-18, 2018. Among other techniques, Lev uses drones to look into active craters too dangerous for humans to approach. In September or October 2018, she and colleagues hope to carry out a similar project in the Galapagos Islands. A larger project, still tentative, would deploy seismometers, tiltmeters, GPS instruments, drones and a variety of cameras near Nicaragua’s Masaya volcano; if funded, first deployment would be February 2019. Multimedia: Lev’s work at Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano

Polar scientist Jonathan Kingslake and a grad student will go in May 2018 to Alaska’s Juneau Ice Field to study snow density using radar. When snow lands on a glacier or ice sheet, it builds up and gradually gets denser over time, forming ice. Understanding how quickly it increases with depth and time is important for interpreting satellite images of melting glacial surfaces, and how the melting may affect future sea levels.

Atmospheric scientist Roisin Commane (newly arrived from Harvard) is a key player in a multiyear NASA project to sample the chemistry of the atmosphere in the remotest reaches of the planet. Each year, a team flies in an instrument-laden aircraft along rarely traveled routes over the Pacific, Atlantic, Southern and Arctic oceans. From near the surface to some 14,000 feet, they measure carbon dioxide, methane and other gases, along with soot and other pollutants that travel from land. Next leg begins May 2018. Commane’s Global Atmospheric Composition page

In summer 2018, the yearly Piermont Marsh Secondary School Programs will pick up again. It involves groups of high-school students working in marshland along the Hudson River at Piermont, N.Y., to collect data on carbon flux, nutrients, sediment accumulation, heavy metal contamination and wildlife, for a long-term study on the marsh’s health and evolution in the face of sea-level rise and other forces. Program head: Robert Newton.

Soil scientist Benjamin Bostick is working with Oglala Lakota high-school students at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation to test soils for mercury and other toxins produced by coal-burning power plants. The program is intended to draw students into the sciences, as well as produce useful data. Bostick himself grew up on Idaho’s Nez Perce reservation. He works with a similar program in Brooklyn, N.Y. that tests for lead, common in New York City soils.

Environmental health scientist Steven Chillrud is developing air sensors for several groups that are studying what triggers pediatric asthma. The sensors are designed to be worn by test subjects to measure real-time exposure to pollutants. Pilots will take place by summer in New York City, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. In conjunction with Matthew Perzanowski of Mailman School of Public Health.

Lamont scientists are helping Turkish colleagues map undersea faults that could cause great quakes near densely populated areas. In fall 2018, geophysicists Michael Steckler and Celine Grall will visit extensions of these faults on land, along with archaeological sites near the Gulf of Kusadasi, southwestern Turkey. Many famous ancient sites including the city of Ephesus and the great Temple of Apollo at Didyma were thrown down by quakes here. Project web page

Naturally occurring arsenic in groundwater is a major problem in wells across southeast Asia. Geochemists Alexander van Geen and Ben Bostick have been studying the causes and possible mitigation measures for years, working across Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and other countries. Van Geen will next be in Bangladesh May 16-30, to study how arsenic gets into the rice harvest. Their team has also studied wells in parts of the United States also vulnerable to this problem.  Videos and story on Asian geological and health studies  / Arsenic pollution near HanoiU.S. wells tainted by arsenic

Climate scientist William D’Andrea and colleagues plan to visit the far southern Indian Ocean’s windswept Kerguelen (aka Desolation) Islands in January-February 2019. Here, in one of the world’s most isolated human outposts, they will core sediments from lake beds and take samples of other ancient materials to better understand natural climate changes of the past, and how these may inform projections of coming changes.

In January 2019, geochemists Sidney Hemming and Stephen Cox hope to travel to the Lake Turkana region of northwest Kenya to study the evolution of the East African Rift, which has been slowly splitting apart the continent for the last 30 million years. This is a key area for early-human paleontology and archaeology; by dating old volcanic deposits, Hemming and Cox’s work should help with the analysis of the events that led up to the evolution of early humans and their precursors.   Lake Turkana and Early Humanity

In 2019 glacial geologist Aaron Putnam hopes to lead an expedition to the Altai Mountains of western Mongolia, where he has worked before. Here, landforms left by receding glaciers at the end of the last ice age are exceedingly well preserved. By mapping out past positions of glaciers, he and colleagues hope to add to the understanding of how natural changes in earth’s orbit and carbon dioxide levels influence climate.




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