News and Events

  • December 02, 2016

    The Arctic’s frozen ground contains large stores of organic carbon that have been locked in the permafrost for thousands of years. As global temperatures rise, that permafrost is starting to melt, raising concerns about the impact on the climate as organic carbon becomes exposed. A new study is shedding light on what that could mean for the future by providing the first direct physical evidence of a massive release of carbon from permafrost during a warming spike at the end of the last glacial period.

  • December 01, 2016

    A short metal tube packed with scientific instruments parachuted into the ice-cold waters of Antarctica’s Ross Sea on Tuesday, marking a new frontier in polar research. This ALAMO float and five others being deployed over the coming weeks are the first explorers of their kind to begin profiling the water adjacent to Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf and sending back data in real time. Their mission: find vulnerabilities where warmer (but still near freezing) water from the deep ocean may be seeping in under the ice shelf and melting it from below. That information, paired with aerial surveys currently mapping the ice shelf and the sea floor beneath it, will help scientists assess the stability of the Ross Ice Shelf as they seek to understand how quickly Antarctica will lose ice in a warming world and what that will mean for sea level rise globally. 

  • December 01, 2016

    Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms kill people and damage property every year, with the largest U.S. impacts resulting from tornado outbreaks, sequences of tornadoes that occur in close succession. Last spring a research team led by Michael Tippett, associate professor of applied physics and applied mathematics at Columbia University’s School of Engineering, published a study showing that the average number of tornadoes during outbreaks – large-scale weather events that can last one to three days and span huge regions – had risen since 1954. But they were not sure why.

  • November 16, 2016

    In the far north, climate is warming two to three times faster than the global average. As a result, both tundra and boreal forests are undergoing massive physical and biological shifts. Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and other institutions are engaged in a long-term project to sort out what allows trees to survive or not in this borderline environment.

  • November 15, 2016

    A new study has found heightened concentrations of some common substances in drinking water near sites where hydraulic fracturing has taken place. The substances are not at dangerous levels and their sources are unclear, but the researchers say the findings suggest underground disturbances that could be harbingers of eventual water-quality problems. The study may be the first of its kind to spot such broad trends.

  • November 14, 2016

    Scientists analyzing a volcanic eruption at a mid-ocean ridge under the Pacific have come up with a somewhat contrarian explanation for what initiated it. Many scientists say undersea volcanism is triggered mainly by upwelling magma that reaches a critical pressure and forces its way up. The new study says the dominant force, at least in this case, was the seafloor itself – basically that it ripped itself open, allowing the lava to spill out. The eruption took place on the East Pacific Rise, some 700 miles off Mexico.

  • November 07, 2016

    Researchers analyzing African elephant tusks seized by global law enforcement have confirmed what many suspect: the illegal ivory trade, now running in high gear, is being fueled almost exclusively by recently killed animals. In the first study of its kind, researchers showed that almost all tusks studied came from animals killed less than three years before the tusks were seized—many probably much more recently. The study bolsters evidence of widespread poaching, and undercuts the idea that many tusks are illegal recycled from older stockpiles.

  • November 01, 2016

    Figuring out how far sea level rose during past warm periods in Earth’s history starts with a walk on the beach, a keen eye for evidence of ancient shorelines, and a highly accurate GPS system. The math isn’t as simple as subtracting the distance from the old shoreline to the water’s edge, though. As massive ice sheets retreated during past ice ages, their weight on the land below lifted and the land rebounded. On longer time scales, circulation within the Earth’s mantle has changed the shape and height of the crust, as well.

  • October 24, 2016

    Earth has limits to the amount of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere before the environment as we know it starts to change. Too much CO2 absorbed by the oceans makes the water more acidic. Too much in the atmosphere warms the planet. With emissions from our carbon-based economies rising, scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are developing way to prevent CO2 produced by power plants and industries from ever entering the atmosphere, and they are exploring ways to take CO2 out of the environment.

  • October 19, 2016

    A new film takes viewers from the eastern highlands of India to the booming lowland metropolis of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh—and explores an ever-more detailed picture of catastrophic earthquake threat that scientists are discovering under the region.

  • October 13, 2016

    A special section in the October issue of BioScience examines the effects of a single season of intense melting on two Antarctic ecosystems, tracking impacts all the way from microbial food webs to shifting penguin populations.

  • October 12, 2016

    The American Geophysical Union (AGU) election results are in, and three Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory scientists will be taking key leadership roles in the internationally influential Earth and space sciences organization: polar explorer Robin Bell will become AGU president-elect, Kerstin Lehnert will join the Board of Directors, and Robert F. Anderson will become Ocean Sciences Section president-elect.

  • October 11, 2016

    Twenty-three million years ago, the Antarctic Ice Sheet began to shrink, going from an expanse larger than today’s to one about half its modern size. Computer models suggested a spike in carbon dioxide levels as the cause, but the evidence was elusive – until now. Ancient fossilized leaves retrieved from a lake bed in New Zealand now show for the first time that carbon dioxide levels increased dramatically over a relatively short period of time as the ice sheet began to deteriorate. The findings raise new questions about the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet today as atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise to levels never before experienced by humans.

  • October 10, 2016

    A new study says that human-induced climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires in the U.S. West over the last 30 years. According to the study, since 1984 heightened temperatures and resulting aridity have caused fires to spread across an additional 16,000 square miles than they otherwise would have—an area larger than the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. The authors warn that further warming will increase fire exponentially in coming decades.

  • October 10, 2016

    Thousands of visitors toured the labs and crowded around science demonstrations on Saturday at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Open House 2016, a day of hands-on experiments and conversations with some of the world’s leading scientists in the Earth, environmental, and climate sciences.

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