The Earth has been much in the news during the first half of this summer season. Heat waves in India (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/13/world/asia/india-heat-wave-deaths.html) and Europe (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/climate/hottest-june-on-record.html) set new daily and monthly temperature records. A magnitude 7.1 earthquake last week in the eastern California shear zone, preceded one and a half days earlier by a magnitude 6.4 foreshock (https://www.usgs.gov/news/update-magnitude-71-earthquake-southern-california), was the largest earthquake to hit southern California in the last two decades. And tropical storm Barry in the Gulf of Mexico may achieve hurricane-force winds before making landfall and delivering heavy rainfall to Louisiana and neighboring states this weekend (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/12/us/tropical-storm-barry-louisiana.html). Chris Scholz was quoted in a Reuters story last week on the California earthquake sequence and the challenges to predicting earthquakes generally (https://www.reuters.com/article/california-quake-prediction/rpt-an-earthquakes-impact-can-be-predicted-but-only-after-it-hits-idUSL2N24901P).
I am pleased to report that Vicki Ferrini received a Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Award this week at the 2019 Esri User Conference in San Diego. The award recognizes work Vicki is leading to create and publicly share a global map of seafloor bathymetry, through both the Seabed 2030 project and the Global Multi-Resolution Topography project. Jack Dangermond, founder and president of Esri, announced at the meeting that Vicki’s project was one of a small number of outstanding projects that caught his attention, and that SAG awardees comprise only 0.01% of Esri user organizations.
On Monday, Science Advances published a paper by Weston Anderson, Richard Seager, Mark Cane, IRI’s Walter Baethgen, and Liangzhi You from the International Food Policy Research Institute and Huazhong Agricultural University on climate-forced variability in global crop production. The group quantified how specific modes of climate variability – the El Niño Southern Oscillation, the Indian Ocean Dipole, Tropical Atlantic Variability, and the North Atlantic Oscillation – contribute through changes in heat and precipitation patterns to variability in the global yield of several major crops. They showed that the climate variability modes for the period 1980–2010 together accounted for 18, 7, and 6% of globally aggregated yield variability for maize, soybean, and wheat, respectively. Each climate mode was found to be important for at least one major region studied, but of the modes considered only ENSO is capable of forcing globally synchronous crop failures, as it did in 1983. The team’s work provides a firm basis for predicting simultaneous crop failures in the future. An Elisabeth Gawthrop story summarizes the paper’s findings (https://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/how-much-do-climate-fluctuations-matter-global-crop-yields).
Also on Monday, Eos published a paper coauthored by Kim Kastens on challenges to improving geoscience education (https://eos.org/opinions/an-evolutionary-leap-in-how-we-teach-geosciences). The paper summarizes several example challenges taken from a community study, a year and a half in the making, of the highest-priority questions for undergraduate geoscience education research. The examples given included overcoming obstacles to learning about “high-stakes” science topics such as climate change, enabling confident approaches to solving complex problems that lack a single solution, and addressing the diversity of student backgrounds in encouraging and enhancing thoughtful learning habits.
A web story Tuesday by freelance write Renee Cho described a grant recently made by the Zegar Family Foundation to Park Williams, through the Center for Climate and Life, to develop a computer model that can simulate wildfire probability and vegetation response (https://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/harnessing-big-data-and-machine-learning-forecast-wildfires-western-us). Park’s approach will combine the assembly of large data sets on western U.S. climate, vegetation, and wildfires over the past three to four decades with machine learning algorithms to address the impact of wildfires on changes in vegetation and the time-dependent probability of future fires in the same areas.
Yesterday, Robin Bell testified before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology at their hearing on “Earth’s thermometers: Glacial and ice sheet melting in a changing climate” (https://science.house.gov/hearings/earths-thermometers-glacial-and-ice-sheet-melt-in-a-changing-climate). Other witnesses included Richard Alley from Penn State, Twila Moon from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Tad Pfeffer from the University of Colorado Boulder, and Gabriel Wolkon from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. A Marie Aronsohn story about Robin’s remarks and the full text of her testimony have been posted to our web site (https://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/robin-bell-goes-washington-testify-about-melting-ice-sheets), and stories about the hearing were carried by Climatewire (https://www.eenews.net/climatewire/2019/07/12/stories/1060727291) and Courthouse News (https://www.courthousenews.com/lawmakers-warned-of-brain-drain-in-climate-science/).
Also yesterday, our web site gained a new blog entry from Lamont’s team aboard the JOIDES Resolution now conducting International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 383 (https://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/after-long-wait-expedition-383-drills-its-first-seafloor-core). Written by Julia Gottschalk, the latest blog describes the recovery and initial analysis of the first of the expedition’s cores, acquired in the central South Pacific 1500 km from the southern tip of South America. The goal of working at that coring site is to document the variability in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the changing dynamics of deep circulation in the southern Pacific Ocean. Jenny Middleton and Gisela Winckler are also members of the shipboard science party.
Yesterday afternoon, Lamont hosted a ceremony and reception to celebrate the renovation of Lamont’s perennial garden (the former rose garden). The garden, along with much of the grounds of the Lamont estate, was designed in 1930 by the Olmsted Brothers Company of Brookline, Massachusetts, descendants of Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The Lamont garden was originally created as a perennial garden, but the two long beds were later re-planted with roses, which eventually succumbed to disease. Through the gift of an anonymous donor, and the considerable efforts of Mary Ann Brueckner and Lamont’s Buildings and Grounds crew, former Lamont horticulturist Tom Christopher was engaged to redesign the garden with the introduction of new perennial plants capable of withstanding the stresses of climate change, and landscaper Richard Rasmussen removed old plants and vines, weeded, planted, and mulched. Please visit the garden, if you’ve not yet done so, to see the magnificent results of this renovation.
In the news this week was a lengthy story Monday in The Antarctic Sun on Jennifer Lamp’s fieldwork last austral summer on erosion and rock weathering processes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica (https://antarcticsun.usap.gov/science/contentHandler.cfm?id=4401). And an article in the Daily Express on the contribution of Antarctic ice loss to rising sea level quoted Robin Bell (https://www.express.co.uk/news/science/1151568/antarctica-fears-new-york-brooklyn-manhattan-rising-sea-climate-change-spt).
This week also included Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, a traditional marker of the middle of the summer season. May all of you enjoy the second half of this season, before the fall and a new academic year are upon us.