Key Talks at the American Geophysical Union, Dec. 5-9

December 2, 2011


Scientists at Columbia University’s Earth Institute will present important new studies at the Dec. 5-9 meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. Below: a chronological guide (Pacific Standard Time).

Journalists not attending the meeting are welcome to call scientists. PRESS CONFERENCES can be viewed via live webstreaming at: . Remote viewers can ask questions during press conferences by registering at the bottom of this webstreaming page, and sending in their queries via chat.
Most of the Earth Institute researchers are at our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO).
More info on the meeting:
More info on Earth Institute presentations: Kevin Krajick, 917-361-7766 or Kim Martineau 646-717-0134
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Warning Signs Under the Dead Sea
A team drilling deep into the bed of the Dead Sea has recovered the Mideast’s longest record of past environmental changes—one suggesting climate change could rock this already volatile region. Projections say the Mideast will become more arid in coming decades, and today, the Dead Sea’s level is already dropping fast as nations compete for its inflow. The new cores suggest the sea actually disappeared during previous warm times, without human intervention—a possible warning for future decades. They also provide an unparalleled record of earthquakes and other natural phenomena relevant to hazard risk, or even Biblical events. The deepest layers precede ancient civilizations, and thus may speak to climate’s effects on human evolution.
Mon., Dec. 5, 9:00-9:15am. Room 2005. PP11C-05. This talk is the subject of a PRESS CONFERENCE: Mon., Dec. 5, 10am. Room 3000.
Mapping Climate’s Effects on Food Security
Cynthia Rosenzweig (Center for Climate Systems Research)
Rosenzweig discusses progress of a new global project to forecast the potential effects of changing climate on world food security. The Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) involves trade and scientific organizations around the world. It is combining historical data, climate models and pilot studies of many crops to project how future weather might affect farming, and how societies may adapt on global, regional and local scales.
Mon., Dec. 5, 10:35-10:50am. Room 3005. GC12A-02 (Invited)
Unexpected Effects of Natural Disasters
John Mutter (Earth Institute faculty)
Natural disasters can have complex, sometimes unexpected, socioeconomic effects. The field of disaster studies, still in its infancy, has already shown that poor nations suffer more than rich ones from disasters of the same magnitude. Survivors may lose key assets such as livestock; see reduced life expectancy and greater subsequent child mortality; and widening of existing economic inequality. Disasters often affect women more than men, killing more of them outright or reducing their life expectancy. Sometimes, though, poor countries actually benefit, as donors fund productive new infrastructure. Mutter, a geophysicist, led an earlier project to document the causes of death from Hurricane Katrina.
Mon., Dec. 5, 1:40-6pm. Poster Halls A-C. PA13B-1761
(Related: “Why Don’t People Evacuate When Nature Threatens?” Katherine Thompson, Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. Mon. 1:40-6pm, Halls A-C. NH13B-1380)
Ultra-Deep Rocks Emerge in Papua New Guinea
In a few places on earth, masses of high-pressure rock studded with microdiamonds have risen to the surface from depths of 100 kilometers or more. In seismically active eastern Papua New Guinea–where the youngest known such rocks are found–this mysterious process is still underway, and scientists are trying to understand how it works. Abers and colleagues recently placed 39 seismometers on land and sea bottoms; by recording frequent small tremors, they have imaged relevant geologic structures far below the surface. Abers discusses what they have learned so far, and what aspects remain enigmatic. The study also applies to the potentially substantial earthquake risk in this region.
Tues., Dec. 6, 4-4:15pm. Room 2012. T24A-01 (Invited)
Did the Maya and Conquistadors Change Their Own Climate?
Benjamin Cook (Goddard Institute for Space Studies)
Some researchers think drought brought down the Maya; Cook goes further, saying the Maya may actually have helped bring drought on themselves. Using high-resolution climate models and new reconstructions of past landscapes, he shows that extensive conversion of forests to cropland by large pre-Columbian populations in Central America may have reduced evapotranspiration and thus rainfall, magnifying natural drought. When the Spanish arrived, much of the land was still cleared–but the conquest quickly led to massive depopulation. Thus forests—and wetter weather—partially returned to the region.
Tues., Dec. 6, 5-5:15pm. Room 2020. H24E-05 (Invited). This talk is part of a PRESS CONFERENCE, “Drought vs. Civilization,’ Mon., Dec. 5, 11am. Room 3000.
Paleoclimate Implications for Human-Induced Change
James Hansen (Goddard Institute for Space Studies)
Hansen, director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says that the earth is approaching the warmest temperature it has seen for the last million years–and in the face of further human-induced warming, the poles are poised to amplify our effects on climate. Thus current goals to limit human-made warming to 2 degrees are not only insufficient, but potentially disastrous. He argues that fossil fuel emissions must be reduced rapidly if we are to preserve a climate resembling the one in which civilization developed.
Wed., Dec. 7, 12:05-12:20pm. Room 2005. PP32A-08 (Invited)
Bangladesh: Threat of Giant Earthquakes and Shifting Rivers
A five-year international project has been launched to understand the risk of earthquakes and possibly related huge river-course changes in Bangladesh, the world’s most populous nation. With a growing recognition that Bangladesh is underlain by numerous dangerous faults, the team will build a chronology of earthquakes, and improve hazard maps. They have already shown that rainy-season flooding here, on the world’s largest river delta, can push the underlying crust down by as much as 6 centimeters, and possibly perturb faults. There is also evidence that tectonics have caused rivers to shift course suddenly and dramatically, presumably drowning all in their path. ( See a slideshow on the project.)
Wed., Dec. 7, 1:40-6pm. Poster Halls A-C. G33B-0993
(Related: “Northeastern India’s Dauki Fault.” Eleanor Ferguson, LDEO. Thurs., Dec. 8, 1:40-6pm. Poster Halls A-C. T43D-2401.)
Ocean Acidification: The Geological Record
The oceans are becoming more acidic due to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and this could cause drastic shifts in marine ecosystems. Has ocean acidity risen during past warm periods, and if so, what does this imply for the future? Up to now, past episodes have only been inferred from observations of biotic changes—not directly measured. Now, Hönisch has directly measured acidification during the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum, some 56 million years ago, a time closely analogous to worst-case scenarios for future human-induced warming. Boron isotopes record the acidification, and show it was associated with ecological shifts.
Thurs., Dec. 8, 8-8:15am. Room 3007. OS41C-01 (Invited)
Revived Arctic Studies Aboard U.S. Navy Submarines
Studies of the Arctic Ocean aboard Navy subs in the 1990s produced much valuable data, including measurements of waning ice thickness that suggested the effects of warming on the Arctic. Now, the U.S. Navy Submarine Arctic Science Program (SCICEX) will again study the effects of climate change. This spring, the military began testing data collection and water sampling methods aboard newer classes of subs and from an ice camp in the Beaufort Sea. Samples analyzed at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Scottish Association for Marine Science show that the vessels can collect reliable and important information on water temperature, chemistry, biology, ice draft and other phenomena.
Thurs., Dec. 8, 8am-12:20pm. Poster Halls A-C. C41D-0439
Global Warming Is Already Changing Rainfall
Climate models predict that warming climate will cause earth’s subtropical dry zones to become drier and larger, while the tropics, mid-latitudes and subpolar regions will get wetter. Seager, a leading climate modeler, says it is already happening. He and colleagues used many methods including instrumental observations and models to separate natural variability from the effects of increasing global temperature, and they see the signal of human-induced effects coming through. Seager says huge natural variability is still the larger factor for short- and medium-term forecasts; it remains to be seen how global warming may affect these natural variations.
Thurs., Dec. 8, 10:35-10:50am. Room 2018. H42G-02 (Invited)
(Related: “Does Global Warming Cause Intensified Hydroclimate Variability in the Americas?” Richard Seager (LDEO). Tues., Dec. 6, 2:40-2:52pm. Room 3005. GC23D-05
Climate Is Affecting the Farthest-North Trees
Researchers have traveled by aircraft to sample tree rings in remote northeastern Alaska, where some of the world’s farthest-north trees grow. Analyses spanning nearly a millennium show that these trees are now registering the highest temperatures of the last 900 years. Some species further south in boreal and temperate forests are doing poorly in the face of climate change—but these far-north ones seem to be increasing their productivity. The effects of climate on tree growth, and possible advances of the treeline into the tundra may have strong implications for the global carbon cycle and the ecology of the far north.
Thurs. Dec. 8, 10:35-10:50am. Room 2003. PP42B-02
Related: Climatic Change in the Himalayas Through Tree-Ring Records.” Edward Cook (LDEO). Thurs., Dec 8, 4-4:30pm. Room 3009. C44A-01 (Invited)
Underground Carbon Storage in Metro New York?
Projects are underway in several sites across the United States to study the feasibility of pumping excess carbon dioxide into underground reservoirs. In the northern suburbs of New York City, researchers are drilling deep into sedimentary and igneous layers in an attempt to see if formations there can safely store carbon. Among the considerations: whether there are impermeable layers that may hold the carbon in, or fractures that might let it out. No carbon injection is planned at this time; the holes are exploratory.
Thurs. Dec. 8, 5:45-6pm. Room 3001. GC44A-08
(Related: “Biogeochemical Reactions in Response to CO2 Leakage in a Test Well in Newark Basin.” Qiang Yang. Fri., Dec. 9, 8am-12:20pm, Poster Halls A-C. GC51A-0938)
Does Megadrought Stalk the U.S. Northeast?
Dorothy Peteet (LDEO/Goddard Inst. for Space Studies)
Recent reconstructions of past climate show that the densely populated U.S. Northeast could eventually be in for a drought far worse than seen in recorded history. Records from tree rings, and pollen and charcoal in marshes and lakebeds show that the 20 th century was unusually wet, and that the region has suffered numerous droughts over the past 1,000 years from Virginia to Maine, the severity and duration of which have never been seen by modern society. The authors examine the mechanisms of such droughts, and their implications for near-future climate warming.
Fri., Dec. 9, 8am-12:20pm. Poster Halls A-C. PP51A-1828. This talk is part of a PRESS CONFERENCE, “Drought vs. Civilization,” Mon., Dec. 5, 11am. Room 3000.
Climate, Global Markets and Civil Wars
Kyle Meng (Earth Institute Sustainable Development PhD)
Meng and colleagues recently showed that civil wars in tropical countries double when El Niño climate cycles bring higher temperatures and less rainfall—possibly due in part to declining agricultural yields at those times. They have now extended the work to show that isolated changes in local weather alone do not spark violence—only the big El Niño shifts, which affect much wider areas. That suggests that today’s global economy can take up the slack in food supply during local bad weather—but not when something more widespread hits. Because global warming is projected to potentially damage yields over vast areas permanently, this could be interpreted as a warning sign of conflicts to come.
Fri., Dec 9, 1:40-6pm. Poster Halls A-C. U53C-0063
Related: “Civil Conflicts Are Associated With Global Climate.” Solomon Hsiang. Fri., 1:40-6pm. Poster Halls A-C. U53C-0062
Remote Sensing, Climate and Public Health
Pietro Ceccato (International Research Institute for Climate and Society), Steven Kempler (NASA) ,
Satellites are providing a vast and growing amount of data on climatic factors that affect the spread of diseases. Observations of rainfall, heat, soil moisture, dust and surface water are opening doors to understanding the dynamics of ailments like malaria and meningitis, and to making outbreak predictions that can help governments take precautions. The work also extends into other fields, including detection and prevention of potential locust plagues.
Fri., Dec 9, 1:40-6pm. Poster Halls A-C. H53D-1443



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