News and Events

  • October 02, 2015

    Scientists working off west Africa in the Cape Verde Islands have found evidence that the sudden collapse of a volcano there tens of thousands of years ago generated an ocean tsunami that dwarfed anything ever seen by humans. The researchers say an 800-foot wave engulfed an island more than 30 miles away. The study could revive a simmering controversy over whether sudden giant collapses present a realistic hazard today around volcanic islands, or even along more distant continental coasts. The study appears today in the journal Science Advances.

  • September 29, 2015

    As Superstorm Sandy headed for New York City, Adam Sobel’s phone started ringing with calls from reporters, and it kept ringing as the subway tunnels filled with water, the storm passed, and the city started to clean up. The reporters wanted to understand the science behind the storm and what it meant for the future. Their questions and Sobel’s conversations with colleagues across Columbia University working on issues related to extreme weather inspired him to write “Storm Surge,” a 2014 book about Sandy that just won the American Meteorological Society’s Louis J. Battan Author’s Award.

  • September 29, 2015

    Most rainfall occurs in the tropics, where it is concentrated in a band circling the Earth near the equator (see Fig. 1). Understanding how this rain band and its local constituents, i.e. the monsoon systems over land and the intertropical convergence zone over the ocean, will respond to climate change is one of the most stubborn questions in climate science (Bony et al., 2015; Voigt and Shaw, 2015). It is also one that has important implications for climate adaption. For example, because the rain band is so localized, small changes in its position can lead to large local rainfall changes.

  • September 22, 2015

    Ancient pollen grains that were floating in the air when mammoths roamed Southern California are providing new insights into historic droughts in the region, including how a series of mega-droughts between about 27,500 and 25,500 years ago changed the ecological landscape. A new scientific paper tracks these changes and suggests that warm ocean conditions similar to what we see off Southern California today fueled that 2,000-year stretch of droughts.

  • September 16, 2015

    Over 40 years, the scientists of the internationally renowned Lamont Tree Ring Lab have hiked the continents in search of tree-ring records. They have documented droughts that stretched for hundreds of years, dated historic earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and found in trees around the world evidence of how the planet cooled and then started warming. The Lab has expanded dendrochronology’s capabilities and becme a global leader in research, training and technology.

  • September 15, 2015

    What makes someone a good mentor? Is it the way she is always available, even when 3,000 miles away? Or the way he gets to know his students as individuals who have lives outside the lab? We got some insight last night from two award-winning mentors and the students whose lives they have changed.

  • September 14, 2015

    Even the simplest research questions can lead to far-reaching public benefits. Consider Chris Small and Joel Cohen’s study of global population by altitude, being honored this week with a Golden Goose Award at the Library of Congress.

  • September 10, 2015

    “In the last 10 years, we were afraid that the Southern Ocean was going to quit giving us a break from climate change,” said coauthor Taro Takahashi of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “This study shows that it’s recovered its ability to take up carbon dioxide, and that’s good news.” Takahashi has been working for decades to understand the cycling of CO2 between air and oceans, and is regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject.

  • September 02, 2015

    Two solar farms will soon be powering 75 percent of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, whose high-tech laboratories are home to some of the world’s leading Earth and climate scientists. The new power sources are expected to cut the campus’s electricity bill by 20 percent and reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by half.

  • September 01, 2015

    The Amazon Rainforest sprawls across more than 2 million square miles of South America, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen as “the lungs of the planet.” When they’re healthy, the world’s tropical forests and vegetation absorb up to 30 percent of the CO2 produced by human activities, but during droughts, that capacity falls off. To understand what that will mean as global warming produces more intense and frequent droughts, we need to understand the water and carbon cycles of the Amazon and how those cycles interact.

  • August 24, 2015

    Geochemist Yaakov Weiss deals in diamonds. Not the brilliant jewelry-store kind, but the flawed, dirty-looking ones used more for industry than decoration. Gem-grade diamonds are generally pure crystallized carbon, but many lower-grade stones contain so-called inclusions–chemical intruders bottled up inside the crystal. Inclusions lower the stone’s value; but they contain worlds of information about the deep, inaccessible regions where diamonds come from. Their compositions speak to not only how diamonds form (and maybe how to find them), but other basic processes below. “They are the most pristine samples we can get from underlying depths,” says Weiss, who works at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “After a diamond captures something, from that moment until millions of years later in my lab, that material stays the same. We can look at diamonds as time capsules, as messengers from a place we have no other way of seeing.” Some of his recent studies are providing new insights to these regions.

  • August 24, 2015

    People have been finding loose diamonds across the United States and Canada since the early 1800s, but for the most part, no one knows where they came from. It was not until the 1990s that geologists tracked down the first commercial deposits, on the remote tundra of Canada’s Northwest Territories. Yaakov Weiss, a geochemist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is investigating the origins of these rich diamond mines. He also hopes to explore the mysteries of the much rarer loose stones found in places like the U.S. Rockies and rural Arkansas. Will prospectors ever make a big strike closer to civilization? Here, a brief pictorial look at the history and science of North American diamonds. It is based on the book Barren Lands: An Epic Search for Diamonds in the North American Arctic.

  • August 21, 2015

    Trees can record centuries of history in their rings – changes in rainfall and temperatures, even evidence of fires sweeping through a region or the climatic impacts of volcanic eruptions. Annual rings are common in trees that experience seasonal climate variability and dormancy, but in the tropics, these records are rare. Now, for the first time, scientists have documented consistent annual tree rings in a native species on Hawai’i. The history recorded in the ring widths could improve our understanding of the climate in the eastern tropical Pacific,  a region where much of the variability of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) originates.

  • August 20, 2015

    A new study says that global warming has measurably worsened the ongoing California drought. While scientists largely agree that natural weather variations have caused a lack of rain, an emerging consensus says that rising temperatures may be making things worse by driving moisture from plants and soil into the air. The new study is the first to estimate how much worse: as much as a quarter. The findings suggest that within a few decades, continually increasing temperatures and resulting moisture losses will push California into even more persistent aridity. The study appears this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

  • August 19, 2015

    The New Jersey shoreline that sea birds wandered during the last ice age is about 90 miles east of today’s beaches, tens of meters beneath the sea floor. As the ice melted, sea level gradually rose and flooded the coastal terrain, and sedimentation carried out its relentless burial of things past.

    This summer, a group of scientists spent several weeks aboard the R/V Marcus G. Langseth looking into that past. Using sound waves, they collected data that will be used to build 3D images of the sediment beneath the ocean floor. They hope to be able to peel back layers of the 3D images to see how coastal landscapes responded to rising sea levels and hurricanes through history.