Geopoetry by Kat Allen

Malawi Earthquake Risk

Kat Allen, a researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, started writing poems about science as a graduate student, in part to make studying for qualifying exams less painfully serious. At Lamont, she sent out a poem with each week’s reminder about the geochemistry department’s coffee social hour. Her “Geopoetry” blog grew from there because, she says, “It was just too much fun to stop.” Kat is currently an instructor in Columbia's Frontiers of Science program.

 

Lords of the Past

Posted By: Katherine Allen on April 11, 2014
Paraceraurus trilobite, Ordovician, from the Volchow River, Russia. Photo: Vassil/Alias Collections.

Paraceraurus trilobite, Ordovician, from the Volchow River, Russia. Photo: Vassil/Alias Collections.

With life, legged and finned, Earth had been teeming,
Slitherers, predators, graceful trees tall …
Now, of these species, we are only dreaming:
Glossopteris, trilobites, eurypterids, all.

Creatures of intrigue, lords of the past!
How did they grow; their color, what hue?
Why did some perish, and why did some last?
In Earth’s litholibrary, sometimes a clue.

Catastrophe beautifully carved into stone,
Graveyards ‘neath graveyards, so deep do we ply,
Silent yet eloquent, shadows of bone,
The greatest extinction, the big one – but why?

Deserts and oceans spanned latitudes wide,
Lava erupted as oceans of fire,
What means of death? It’s hard to decide:
Heat, acid, darkness, a host of things dire.

Yet from these strange ashes (if ashes they be)
Life rose up gorgeously, brilliantly new!
From lucky survivors, a vast, branching tree;
Some tendrils persisted, and weird, wild things grew!

Time is the key to death and new life,
And time can lie hidden, awaiting fresh eyes.
A haze of uncertainty, cut with a knife –
From zircon in China, chronologies rise!

To stand at the Permo-Triassic, it seems,
One faces a shockingly sharp, razor brink;
Of rapid events, the Meishan bed screams …
The “Great Dying” flew by in a mere cosmic blink.

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 Further reading:

An extinction in the blink of an eye, MIT News, 2/10/14

High-precision timeline for Earth’s most severe extinction, PNAS, 2014

Earth’s Greatest Killer Finally Caught, LiveScience, 12/12/13

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. You can read more on Allen’s website.

Greenland Ice

Posted By: Katherine Allen on April 07, 2014
A Greenland ice core. Photo: Christian Morel (Nature)

A Greenland ice core. Photo: Christian Morel (Nature)

If you went to Greenland, almost 80 North,
And drilled your way down … a mile, then more,
You’d find some strange layers, a story’d come forth
A record of ice ages locked in a core.
You’d find glacial ice that is clearer, more soft
Than Eemian ice (long crystals, more rigid)
And clues that the ice height was higher aloft
Than thought for that time (with air temps less frigid).
A puzzle indeed, this view down a hole –
If NEEM endured warmth, whence the sea rise?
Some question the records, some look to South Pole …
In the decades that come, are we in for surprise?

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Further reading:

Greenland defied ancient warming / But Antarctic glaciers may be more vulnerable than thought, Nature (2013)

NEEM Community Members, Nature (2013)

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Greenland Ice” first appeared on Allen’s website on Jan. 25, 2013.

Keys to Success

Posted By: Katherine Allen on March 28, 2014

 

Jed Fuhrman, Nature 2013

Image: Jed Fuhrman, Nature 2013

 

Humans hate to catch the flu,

But here’s a fact that’s less well-known:

Bacteria get infections too

As many cultures have now shown.

In the ocean, P. ubique

(growing, growing everywhere)

Is plagued by viruses that seek

To hijack ubique’s gene hardware.

The key to beating strong predation:

Nutrients and conjugation!

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Further reading:

Abundant SAR11 viruses in the ocean, Zhao et al., Nature (2013)

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. First posted 2/15/13 on Allen’s website.

Sea Change

Posted By: Katherine Allen on March 21, 2014
Photo: www.argo.ucsd.edu

Photo: www.argo.ucsd.edu

Gliders and buoys and robots — oh my!

Over and through the ocean they fly.

Oodles of data from sensors galore,

Studied by many, far from the sea’s roar.

A real revolution, there seems little doubt,

But what of the crew who never sail out?

To peer in the great briny main without drinking …

How might that impact the next wave of thinking?

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Further reading:

A Sea Change for U.S. Oceanography, Science 2013

The New Generation of Sea Scientist, Science 2013 

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. First posted 3/1/13 on Allen’s website.

The Dawn of Plate Tectonics

Posted By: Katherine Allen on March 14, 2014
Image: Dr. Mark Reagan, Science Now

Image: Dr. Mark Reagan, Science Now

An ancient grain of zircon found

In Jack Hill sandstone north of Perth,

Inside its crystal lattice bound:

Secrets of our planet’s birth.

 

The oldest grain (we rock hounds swoon),

Tells of magma oceans past,

An early impact yields the moon;

And all of this occurred so fast!

 

The zircon’s old, which then implies

That solid rocks must be still older.

In Canada, a sequence lies,

With implications even bolder!

 

A pattern locked within old lava

Echoes patterns from the deep;

Mariana-like subduction …

To plate tectonics, take the leap!

 

Hadean times are cloaked in intrigue,

Eons distant, full of strife,

Yet it seems these rocks held promise,

Full of boron, primed for life!

 

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In the news:

New Record for Oldest Earth Rock, Sky and Telescope

Hadean age for a post-magma-ocean zircon confirmed by atom-probe tomography, Nature Geoscience

The Dawn of Plate Tectonics, Science Now

Heading down early on? Start of subduction on Earth, Geology

Cold Facts

Posted By: Katherine Allen on March 07, 2014
oil fields, North Dakota

Satellite view of oil fields at night in North Dakota. Photo: NASA/NPR

Satellites cast their wide gaze

At night, on the bright Bakken blaze;

Bright as a large, sparkly city,

Up close, it’s not quite as pretty.

What fate might this appetite bring?

In government halls, squabbles ring.

Key to the carbon debate

Is the last Termination’s change rate.

What’s our scenario worst?

Was warming or CO2 first?

New ice core studies profess

A 200-year lag — or less.

A puzzle to solve ere we burn:

The process of compacting firn.

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Further reading:

Synchronous Change of Atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic Temperature During the Last Deglacial Warming, Parrenin et al., Science 2013

Leads and Lags at the End of the Last Ice Age, Brooks, Science 2013

Study of Ice Age Bolsters Carbon and Warming Link, Gillis/NYT 2013

A Mysterious Patch Of Light Shows Up In The North Dakota Dark, Krulwich/NPR 2013

The New Oil Landscape, Dobb/National Geographic 2013

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. First posted 3/1/13 on Allen’s website.

Solar Heartbeat

Posted By: Katherine Allen on February 28, 2014
Image: from Charboneau and Smolarkiewicz, Science 2013

Image: from Charboneau and Smolarkiewicz, Science 2013

 

Upon our little spinning rock,
Cosmic rays and debris knock.
Through great fields and waves we race,
Not empty, our broad path through space!
We’re touched, long fingers from afar:
Energy from our bright star.
A fusing, roiling dynamo,
Magnetic fields induced by flow.
Eleven circuits round our wheel,
Her heartbeat’s pulses we can feel.
In search of answers, models run,
Probing rhythms of the sun.

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Further reading: Modeling the Solar Dynamo, Science 2013

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. First posted 4/5/13 on Allen’s website.

Shag, Before It Was Cool

Posted By: Katherine Allen on February 21, 2014
woolly rhino

Science, 2011

More cuddly than a dino,
The Zanda woolly rhino!
This pioneer of old
Grew shag before the cold.
The high Tibet plateau
Was higher then, you know!
And when the ice expanded,
(with you I will be candid):
They did some procreation
And made a woolly nation!
We still have some Tibetan yak …
But I want that rhino back!

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Further reading: Out of Tibet: Pliocene Woolly Rhino Suggests High-Plateau Origin of Ice Age Megaherbivores, Tao Deng et al., Science 2011

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. First posted 9/2/11 on Allen’s website.

Global weirding?

Posted By: Katherine Allen on February 14, 2014

F1.small

Mountains of snow line the street,

And some days I envy a beard.

Ask any shoveler you meet –

The weather this winter is weird!

 

How strange is it, really? Some wonder,

If sea-ice melt unleashed the Vortex.

Has warming torn systems asunder;

Should we invest big in Gore-Tex?

 

We’ve been gripped by deep-freeze before;

Sometimes it’s just wicked cold.

The overall trends worry more:

How will it be when we’re old?

 

Thermostat’s tending to heat;

We wait as the sea gently rises.

Our future we surely will meet,

And always, we’ll get some surprises.

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Photo Credit: Figure generated by Cameron Beccario (EARTH.NULLSCHOOL.NET); Results sourced from the NCEP/NOAA Global Forecast System

Further reading:

A letter in Science Magazine: “Global Warming and Winter Weather”

Maps of recent temperature anomalies: Climate Reanalyzer, University of Maine

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Visit Allen’s website for more.

 

Bioluminescence

Posted By: Katherine Allen on February 07, 2014
Photos: J. Cohen for the photograph of S. crassicornus; P. Herring, P. bifrons; and P. Batson (DeepSeaPhotography.com), C. faurei, from Science 2010

Photos: J. Cohen for the photograph of S. crassicornus; P. Herring, P. bifrons; and P. Batson (DeepSeaPhotography.com), C. faurei; from Science 2010

Out in the ocean, where strange things are growing
(Jellies and fishes and creepies unknown)
You might be surprised how many are GLOWING,
With Halloween faces that chill to the bone.
At twilight depths, where darkness meets light
Life’s a grim game of hide-and-go-seek,
A massive migration when day turns to night,
All eyes are peeled for a peek.
If you’ve got the right stuff (or bacterial friends):
Some luciferin and luciferase,
You can flash, you can glow from your eyes to your ends –
And put on a show to amaze!
“I’m not good to eat,” “I’d like to have sex,”
“You’re blind, now I’ll run away,”
“My belly’s the sky,” and subjects complex,
Such wonderful things you can say!

_________________________________________

Further reading: Bioluminescence in the Ocean: Origins of Biological, Chemical, and Ecological Diversity, E.A. Widder, Science 2010

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. First posted 5/14/10 at Allen’s website.

Latimeria Chalumnae

Posted By: Katherine Allen on January 30, 2014
The African coelacanth. Photo: Laurent Ballesta/andromede Oceanologie (Science)

The African coelacanth. Photo: Laurent Ballesta/andromede Oceanologie (Science)

Just imagine: one fine day, a fish revealed to you …
With proto-limbs, a monstrous face, all tinged with silver-blue!
Huge and strange and other-worldly, long thought to be lost,
In the flesh (starting to smell!) so many epochs crossed.
The coelacanth! Good Old Four Legs, to some, the “Living Fossil,”
The animal itself is big, its history colossal!
Ms. Latimer, she recognized its weirdness and allure;
Decades later, of its story some things were not sure.
But now we have its genome clear and plain for all to see,
Shedding light on autopods, immune systems, and pee!
More closely tied to humans than to tuna or to trout,
Holding secrets of the beasts who from the sea, climbed out.

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Further reading:

Living fossil genome unlocked, Nature News

African coelacanth genome provides insights into tetrapod evolution, Amemiya et al., Nature 2013

First posted 4/19/13 at Katherine Allen’s website.

The Noble Worm

Posted By: Katherine Allen on January 23, 2014
Image:  Caron et al., Nature 2013

Image: Caron et al., Nature 2013

Behold! New treasures from the Burgess Shale,

In black and silent strata long held firm.
From features soft, a bold ancestral tale …
Be proud, descendants of the noble worm!

Oh, glorious the hemichordate line,
Spartobranchus tenuis among them,
On slime and mud they heartily do dine;
History has surely under-sung them.

From which deep root, vertebral creatures grew?
A scarcity of fossils long obscured;
Into this question we can dive anew,
With gorgeous, detailed imprints that endured.

A wondrous time, the Cambrian Explosion …
Move over, Eve; my roots are in the ocean!

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Further reading:

First posted on 3/29/13 at Katherine Allen’s website.