Lamont Weekly Report, April 3, 2020

    This was the third week of remote work for most of us on the Lamont campus. It is beginning to feel normal to see and hear our colleagues only on laptops, to have no access to our laboratories and offices, and to wonder when fieldwork and in-person conferences and workshops will once again be possible. Even as we practice the now-familiar rules of social distancing and health safety and empathize with the overworked healthcare professionals on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, we continue with our scientific analyses and computer modeling, our instruction and mentoring, and our management of the Observatory’s broad array of activities in research and education. And, for another week, there is progress to report.

    The National Science Foundation this week announced the results of their latest Graduate Research Fellowship competition, and the list of award offers and honorable mentions includes Roger Creel and Theresa Sawi. Roger received an honorable mention, and Theresa will be receiving a fellowship for her proposal, entitled “Applications of unsupervised machine learning to understand fluid-mediated seismicity.” To both Theresa and Roger, congratulations!

    Lorenzo Polvani has coauthored three papers published by journals in the Nature group over the last two weeks. Last week’s issue of Nature included a paper of Lorenzo on the impact of the Montreal Protocol on atmospheric circulation in the southern hemisphere. The paper’s authors, led by Antara Banerjee of the University of Colorado and NOAA, showed that several late-twentieth-century trends in tropospheric circulation in the southern hemisphere – including a poleward shift in the mid-latitude jet, a positive trend in the Southern Annular Mode, and an expansion of the Hadley cell – paused or reversed slightly around the year 2000. From a pattern-based detection and attribution analysis, they showed that the pause in trends was the result of human activity and, in particular, the recovery of stratospheric ozone following the 1987 Montreal Protocol. They predicted that similar affects might be found in precipitation, ocean salinity, or other parts of the Earth system. A summary of the paper’s findings was posted to our web site on Monday.

    Two days earlier, Nature Communications published another of Lorenzo’s coauthored papers, this one on the North Atlantic warming hole, a mid-latitude region of the North Atlantic Ocean where increases in sea-surface temperature have been less than at higher and lower latitudes. That paper’s authors, led by Rei Chemke of the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, showed on the basis of climate models and observations that the warming hole is the result of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions. Associated with the warming hole is a decline in northward oceanic heat flux over the last several decades.

    Two weeks ago, a third paper of Lorenzo, on the response of tropical climate to loss of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, appeared in Nature Geoscience. With the use of climate models that include interactive sea-ice and ocean components, the group – led by Lorenzo’s former student, Mark England, now at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington – showed that Antarctic sea-ice loss, like Arctic sea-ice loss, has a strong influence on the tropics, largely through slowdown of the oceanic subtropical meridional circulation. Particular effects of Antarctic sea-ice loss include enhanced warming in the eastern equatorial Pacific and an equatorward intensification of the Intertropical Convergence Zone. Loss of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic will together account for 20 to 30 percent of tropical warming and precipitation changes projected for climate models under scenarios with continued high emissions of greenhouse gases. A web story on the paper’s findings was posted last month by the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

    On Monday, Lamont’s Education and Outreach Office announced the launch of a new online video series, entitled Earth Institute Live, to provide educational content to K-12 students and educators. The series, to begin next week, will consist of twice-weekly, 60-minute videos featuring experts from across the Earth Institute discussing and demonstrating aspects of their work. Among the planned videos are ones with Elizabeth Case, Genevieve Coffey, Sheean Haley, Jonny Kingslake, Cari Leland, and Laurel Zaima.

    On Wednesday, the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences published a paper led by Marco Tedesco on the exposure of U.S. real estate to flooding during Hurricane Florence in 2018. From satellite-based radar imaging and flood-extent information provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Marco and his coauthors ascertained the areas flooded in North and South Carolina during the storm. From county information on assessed value and year of construction, they assembled a data base of properties affected by the flooding and how those properties would have differed if the same flooding had occurred earlier. Marco and his colleagues found that Hurricane Florence flooded properties with a cumulative assessment of $52 billion (in 2018 dollars), but the same flooding in the first half of the twentieth century would have affected properties with a total assessment of $10 billion or less (also in 2018 dollars). Their study provides a new tool for evaluating the economic impact of future flooding by storm surges, rainfall, and sea-level rise, particularly in the face of continued urban development in coastal areas.

    Yesterday, Environmental Research Letters published a paper by Ruth Oliver, Natalie Boelman, and their collaborators on temporal shifts in the seasonal migration schedules of American robins in response to climate change. On the basis of overhead visual observations, census counts, and netting results collected at the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory in Alberta, Canada, Ruth and her coauthors determined that over the past quarter century the northward migration of robins to their Arctic-boreal breeding grounds occurred progressively earlier, on average, at a rate of 5 days per decade. By harnessing small Global Positioning System tracking devices to individual birds over three successive spring seasons, Ruth and her colleagues found that the arrival times and likelihood of stopovers and the arrival times at breeding grounds were influenced by snow conditions along migratory paths. Their work provides important clues to the mechanisms by which the robins are adapting to climate change. A Sarah Fecht story on the paper’s findings was posted on Wednesday.

    Also yesterday, the April issue of Lamont’s monthly newsletter was broadly circulated. Under the banner headline “COVID-19, Climate, and a Dedicated Scientific Community,” the issue included links to five stories on Lamont-led science from the month of March, a preview of Lamont’s Earth Month and Earth Day activities on social media planned for April, a summary of the EI Live videos to be released next week by Lamont’s Education and Outreach team, and links to 28 media stories from March about Lamont science or with commentary by Lamont scientists.

    Lamont is featured at several prominent spots in April’s “green” issue of Rivertown MagazineA Marie Aronsohn story about Piermont and its residents gives shout-outs to Robin Bell, Radley Horton, Terry Plank, and Mo Raymo and is accompanied by videos of each and a photo of Robin in the Antarctic. The facing story, on Riverkeeper, includes a photo of Andy Juhl and describes his multi-year measurements of Hudson River water quality. The magazine’s cover is a photo of Laurel Zaima taken outside Lamont’s Hudson River Field Station.

    Lamont scientists continue to appear in media stories on the impact of coronavirus-induced sheltering in place on the emission of greenhouse gases and other atmospheric pollutants, including a Communities Digital News article Tuesday that quoted Róisín Commane, an NBC News interview of Radley Horton the same day, and a Time Magazine story Wednesday that quoted Wade McGillis. John Mutter was interviewed for a story Wednesday in The Atlantic on the challenge of attributing fatalities to a natural disaster such as a pandemic. And a story by Columbia Journalism School alumna Anuradha Varanasi posted to our web site on Wednesday describes the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on scientific fieldwork, with examples from research projects of Laia Andreu-Hayles, Jacky Austermann, Nicole Davi, Jonny Kingslake, and Mo Raymo.

    May all of you make the most, even while sheltering in place, of the first weekend of April, and may you all, most importantly, remain healthy.