Lamont at the American Geophysical Union

December 12, 2008


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Kevin Krajick
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Lamont-Doherty scientists are presenting scores of talks at the world’s largest gathering of earth scientists, the fall 2008 meeting of the American Geophysical Union . Subjects include unseen natural hazards, changing climate, the fall of ancient civilizations, and how future mankind might turn atmospheric carbon to stone. The meeting is held Dec. 15-19, 2008, in San Francisco. Below, a few highlights. (Note: not all listings are in chronological order.)

Secrets of the East Pacific Rise
John Mutter ; Suzanne Carbotte

The newly launched Marcus G. Langseth, run by Lamont for the National Science Foundation, is the world’s most advanced academic seismic vessel. This summer it produced the most detailed 3D pictures of a midocean ridge yet, and carried out many other investigations over the East Pacific Rise, some 500 miles off Mexico. Researchers observed deep hydrothermal circulation, earthquakes, magma bodies and other hidden phenomena. They present initial findings.

Tuesday, Dec. 16, 8:00am-12pm. Hall D. Poster Session B21A
Related: Suzanne Carbotte gives the Birch Lecture, “Focusing in on Mid-Ocean Ridge Segmentation.” Wed. Dec. 17, 5pm. Room 3008. Session T34B

Ancient Trees, Ancient Cultures, Abrupt Climate Change
Edward Cook , Kevin Anchukaitis and others

Lamont’s Tree Ring Lab is unraveling the workings of the Asian monsoon, including the causes of sudden, devastating droughts. Searches across southeast Asia have revealed trees whose rings record temperature and precipitation for 1,000 years. They show droughts in the 15 th , 17 th and 18 th centuries, concurrent with big human shifts, including the fall of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat culture. Separate poster and talk, plus press conference on abrupt climate change.

POSTER: Tuesday, Dec. 16, 8:00am-12pm. Hall D. Poster PP21A-1403
PRESS CONFERENCE: Tuesday, Dec. 16. Room 3015
TALK: Tuesday, Dec. 16, 4:30pm. Room 3001. Session PP24A (Invited)

Harnessing Rocks to Soak Up CO2
Peter Kelemen and Juerg Matter

Kelemen and Matter work in the deserts of Oman, and say that peridotite, the dominant rock there, could be harnessed to absorb vast amounts of globe-warming CO2, and lock it underground. Peridotite is normally found in the mantle, but here, it pokes though the surface. The scientists say it reacts naturally with CO2 to produce solid minerals on a scale previously unsuspected—and that the process could be speeded a million times by simple drilling and injection of CO2-rich liquids. They think Oman alone might store more than 10% of annual human carbon output—and similar formations are spread from the Adriatic to the south Pacific. They hope to start a pilot project soon.

Monday, Dec. 15, 9:15am, Room 2002. Session H11J
More info:

Climate Change and Shifting Rains
Wallace Broecker

Broecker, a seminal figure in climate studies, earlier showed how oceans can interact powerfully with atmosphere. Now he is thinking about hydrology: how warming climate might pour rain onto the tropics, but make higher-latitude drylands ever more parched. The human consequences could be drastic. He says records from glacial times bear out the hypothesis.

Tuesday, Dec. 16, 11:40am. Moscone Room 3016. Session U22A (Invited)

Melting in the Antarctic?
Richard Cullather ; Stan Jacobs

Antarctic coastal waters are becoming less salty—an indication that more fresh water is entering. The authors say the evidence points to increasing attrition of continental ice, and fast-moving changes in the extent, movement and thickness of sea ice, as climate shifts.

Monday, Dec. 15, 10:50am. Room 2020. Session OS12A

Bangladesh’s Weak Underbelly
Scott Nooner ; Michael Steckler ;
S. Chowdhury

With the immense discharge of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, a third or more of Bangladesh is flooded during monsoon season. The authors say that the waters weigh so much, and the sediments composing the region are so weak, the land surface is depressed as much as 6 centimeters, as measured by satellite and GPS instruments. Only the Amazon sees more water movement—but it does not sink nearly as much. Bangladesh’s apparently weak underbelly may not only help spread flooding; it could heighten earthquake risk.

Monday, Dec. 15, 1:40pm-5:30pm. Hall D. Poster session T13B-1958

New York Tsunami: Did It Come From Space?
Dallas Abbott ; Frank Nitsche ; and others

Evidence is building that a great tsunami hit the New York City area some 2,300 years ago. The story is told in a layer of disturbed sediment up to half-meter thick, stretching from New Jersey into the Hudson River estuary. It holds spherules and shocked rock fragments characteristic of a comet or meteorite impact—possibly the tsunami’s cause. Given the huge population here now, it is important to understand this event. Two poster sessions.

Wednesday, Dec. 17, 8:00am-12:14pm. Poster P31A-1381
Friday, Dec. 19, 1:40-5:30pm. Hall D. Poster OS53B-1311

Virtual Ocean, and Other New Ways to Roam the Planet
William Ryan


Like Google Earth does on land, Virtual Ocean, a new 3D rotatable globe, now takes you below the oceans. One can zoom from planetary scale down to seafloor topography, earthquake data, sediment layers and even photos of living things and other small features. Still being refined, it is already being used by researchers, school teachers and the general public. Two sessions.

Thursday, Dec. 18, 1:40-5:30pm. Hall D, Poster session IN43A
Friday, Dec. 19, 11:20am. Room 3008. Session ED52A

Go to: .

Where the Carbon Hits the Water
Samar Khatiwala

The oceans absorb an estimated fifth to third of human-produced CO2, making them pivotal in climate; yet, we are still quite uncertain about the distribution and rate of uptake. Khatiwala has made the first observationally-based 3-dimensional reconstruction spanning industrial times. He confirms, as many suspect, that the Southern Ocean is the primary conduit—some 40% of the manmade carbon now in the oceans--but says its role has shifted significantly.

Thursday, Dec. 18, 1:55pm. Room 3016. Session U43D

Earthquake Ruptures: How Deep, How Dangerous?
Bruce Shaw

It is conventional wisdom that earthquake faults do not go much deeper than the depths at which we detect seismic waves from slippage. However: recent work suggests that large faults could silently propagate much deeper. If this is true, it bears on our basic understanding of earthquake mechanics—and could affect hazard estimates where large quakes are a danger.

Friday, Dec. 19, 8:00am. Room 3005. Session T51D. (Invited)