To those of us striving to improve the stewardship of our planet, the savage acts that lately fill world news reports are deeply disturbing. The tragedies in Dallas and Nice remind us that our species, for all its accomplishments, can commit natural disasters every bit as devastating as those we study in Lamont’s laboratories. We can hope that progress on understanding and mitigating the worst aspects of human behavior will proceed apace with progress on understanding and mitigating the changes to our planet that humans collectively have set in motion.
One week’s worth of progress on the latter front can be celebrated.
On Monday, Nature Geoscience published online a paper by Mike Steckler, Nano Seeber, Jonathan Gale, Michael Howe, and colleagues from CUNY, Dhaka University, and the Earth Observatory of Singapore documenting evidence for a locked megathrust plate boundary fault system beneath Bangladesh. The team utilized GPS observations from Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar to demonstrate that the identified fault system accommodates 13–17 mm/yr of oblique plate convergence. The plate boundary involves the subduction of thin continental or oceanic crust overlain by the thick sediments of the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta and has created an enormous accretionary prism that is subaerial for several hundred kilometers along strike. Mike and his team suggest that the fault system, which underlies one of the most densely populated regions in the world, has the potential for a great earthquake of magnitude 8.2–9.0. A Kevin Krajick release on the paper’s findings (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/giant-quake-may-lurk-under-bangladesh-and-beyond), accompanied by a video he created, was posted on our web site on Monday. CBS News (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/giant-quake-may-lurk-under-bangladesh-and-beyond) and other media carried the story.
Mike is also coauthor of a feature article in Eos posted Monday on coastal subsidence. Subsidence rates as much as one to two orders of magnitude higher than rates of sea level rise are seen in a number of coastal areas, particularly river deltas that globally are home to 500 million people. Human influences – including groundwater withdrawal and disruption of sedimentation by manmade structures – often dominate the contributions to subsidence rates in such regions. The authors outline monitoring, modeling, and mitigation strategies that are being implemented in a number of major delta systems.
Marco Tedesco participated Wednesday in a Press Round Table at the National Press Club on the record-breaking climate in the Arctic this year. The round table was organized by the Study of Arctic Change (https://www.arcus.org/search-program) and tied to Senate hearings earlier this week on the topic of climate change. A Chris Mooney story in The Washington Post yesterday (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/07/13/the-extraordinary-years-have-become-the-normal-years-scientists-survey-radical-melt-in-the-arctic/) summarized the round table discussion, including Marco’s contributions.
From Wednesday to Friday this week, the Interdisciplinary Earth Data Alliance – the Lamont-led geoinformatics facility funded through a cooperative agreement from the National Science Foundation – hosted a meeting of its Policy Committee, a community advisory committee (http://www.iedadata.org/governance/pcmembers). The committee received updates on IEDA activities and accomplishments and discussed plans for leveraging advances in cyberinfrastructure and a variety of other management and governance issues for the next phase of the facility.
In a special section of today’s issue of Science devoted to natural hazards is a paper by Adam Sobel, Suzana Camargo, Allison Wing, and colleagues from the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, IRI, and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies on the influence of global warming on the intensity of tropical cyclones. Adam and his team applied the theory of potential intensity to predict the maximum intensity achievable by a tropical cyclone in a given environment. Greenhouse-gas-driven warming increases potential intensity, but that affect has been largely cancelled over the historical record by the cooling effect of atmospheric aerosols, as well as an overprinting of natural variability. Adam and his colleagues conclude that increased greenhouse gas emissions, if unchecked, will dominate over aerosol forcing and that the largest tropical cyclones will increase in intensity. A Stacy Morford story on the paper was posted on our web site yesterday (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/tropical-cyclones-track-grow-more-intense-temperatures-rise).
Robin Bell and Nick Frearson are heading an effort to exploit virtual reality (VR) images as tools for education and outreach and for showcasing Lamont laboratories, fieldwork, and science to a broad audience. The Lamont VR team has begun collecting VR images from the field to build virtual expeditions, focused initially on the themes of climate and tectonics, for later delivery to classrooms. VR camera systems no larger than a cell phone have been deployed on bicycles and drones. Lamont VR loaner cameras are currently in the field in Greenland, Alaska, and Australia. The team’s goal is collect VR images of science in action in interesting places that are not accessible to most of the population. The VR team will present an update on the program and training on how to use the VR cameras on Wednesday next week. The session will be given in Oceanography 108 at a time to be announced.
Whether climate change is discernable at the midpoint of July in New York is at best debatable. Notwithstanding today’s heat advisory for the city, may you find a way to make progress on your science and provide comfort and support for your colleagues, friends, and neighbors.