Upcoming Scientific Fieldwork: 2019 and Beyond

January 24, 2019

By Kevin Krajick

 

Photo of the Fieldguide map

On every continent and every ocean, Earth Institute researchers are studying climate, geology, natural hazards and other dynamics of the planet. Below, a list of projects in rough chronological order. When logistically feasible, journalists are encouraged to cover expeditions. Work in the U.S. Northeast is listed separately toward bottom. Unless otherwise stated, projects originate with our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. More information: contact senior science editor Kevin Krajick: kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu, 212-854-9729.

U.S. AND INTERNATIONAL

SEA ICE AND NATIVE CULTURE | Drone flights off northwest Alaska | JANUARY and APRIL-MAY 2019
In the first project of its kind, geophysicist Chris Zappa and colleagues are studying the decline of sea ice off northwest Alaska, using a combination of high-tech drones and knowledge from local aboriginal people. Working out of the coastal Chukchi Sea community of Kotzebue, scientists are incorporating local knowledge of water currents, seasonal weather and wildlife into their research. Instrument-equipped drones are recording sea-surface temperatures, ice topography and thickness, changes in algae biomass and other qualities. This is expected to open new insights into how climate change is altering both physical and biological properties of northern sea ice.  Article on the project Exploring earth in real time

DEEP-EARTH DESERT | Geologic fieldwork, Oman | EARLY MARCH 2019
In the desert nation of Oman, rocks from earth’s mantle, usually inaccessible to humans, have been thrust to the surface in the mountainous Samail Ophiolite. Among other rare qualities, these rocks naturally take up vast amounts of atmospheric carbon and convert it to solid carbonate. In the first project of its kind, an international team has drilled out deep cores and is performing experiments in the drill holes to assess the possibility of injecting CO2 emissions. Geochemist Peter Kelemen leads some 40 researchers from many nations. His next trip to Oman will be early March, to measure fluxes of chemicals in the drill holes. Video, photo essay, story on the Oman project / Oman Drilling Project webpages

VOYAGE TO ICEBERG ALLEY | Ocean coring, Scotia Sea | March 20-May 20, 2019Climatologist Maureen Raymo will be co-chief scientist on a cruise to study how changing climate has affected Antarctica over long stretches of time. The vessel JOIDES Resolution will drill a half-dozen cores from the deep ocean bed in a rarely visited region between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula—so-called Iceberg Alley, where giant tabular icebergs peel off the frozen continent into the Southern Ocean. Cores will be examined for climate-related changes in iceberg discharge 16 million to 11 million years ago, and shifts in water circulation, sea ice and dust drifting in from land. The expedition will also gather data on past sea levels and waterborne nutrients. International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 382

SOUTHERN OCEAN DEEPS | Ocean coring, west of Drake Passage | MAY 20-JULY 20, 2019
Directly following the Scotia Sea cruise, the JOIDES Resolution will stop at Punta Arenas, Chile, then head west to take seven deep cores in the largely unexplored far southeast Pacific. Co-chief scientist will be geochemist Gisela Winckler. Researchers hope to understand how long-term climate shifts have affected winds and water movements within the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the Southern Ocean, which stores more human-produced heat and carbon dioxide than any other latitude. This fast-changing region has a powerful effect on planetary climate, but scientists still don’t understand many basic processes at work. International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 383

FERTILE WATERS | Studies of ocean nutrients, Atlantic Ocean off Georgia | MARCH 31-APRIL 12, 2019
Oceanographers led by Solange Duhamel will investigate the abundance and availability of various forms of phosphorus, a vital nutrient that controls photosynthesis in the ocean.  The investigators will perform experiments to determine how different phosphorus compounds affect the growth of microbes, and their ability to take in carbon from the air. The cruise is expected to advance knowledge of the activity and distribution of microbial species in the oceans, and their role in the climate system. Project web page

SOUNDS OF A CHANGING ARCTIC | Bioacoustic/camera wildlife studies, Alaska/Yukon | APRIL 2019, continuing to 2024
With Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge about to open to fossil-fuel exploration, ecologist Natalie Boelman and colleagues from several institutions will assess the effects of human intrusion on wildlife, from caribou to birds. Using bioacoustic sensors and camera traps at 90 locations, they will compare three areas: Alaska’s already heavily industrialized Prudhoe Bay region; the National Wildlife Refuge, which will probably see new intrusions soon; and Canada’s Ivvavik National Park, which is protected from development. Acoustic sensors will pick up everything from bird calls to mosquitoes buzzing, along with human-produced noise. Using artificial intelligence, sounds will be combined with camera images to analyze the abundance and activities of animals at each site. Project will run for 5 years.

HIDDEN MINING DANGERS | Testing for lead pollution, Peru | SPRING 2019
In cooperation with Peru’s Center for Environmental Health Research, geochemist Alexander van Geen and grad student Franziska Landes will aid with testing of soils for lead contamination in towns where heavy-metal mining and processing are taking place. Team members will work with local high school students to take samples, and will integrate lead-testing technology into science classes. Center for Environmental Health website 

TUNDRA ON FIRE | Lake coring, northern Alaska | SPRING 2019
On the tundra of Alaska’s North Slope, once-rare wildfires sparked by lightning are multiplying in response to hotter, drier summers. A team including paleoclimatologist Benjamin Gaglioti is investigating the fires and their effects on vegetation and underlying permafrost. This spring they will travel by snow machine from the Dalton Highway to remote Ahaliorak Lake to core sediments, which they hope will provide a 35,000-year record of tundra fires.

MAPPING UNDERWATER MOUNTAINS | Research cruise, northwest Pacific | APRIL 19-JUNE 21, 2019
The Hawaiian islands are only the most visible part of a 3,600-mile chain of mostly subsea volcanoes that span much of the Pacific. A two-month cruise heading northwest out of Hawaii will map many submerged mountains in unprecedented detail, using acoustics and other methods. The research applies to basic questions about how the chain formed, and also to natural hazards including faults that may cause earthquakes, and steep slopes on which submarine landslides may trigger tsunamis. Voyage will take place on the Lamont-Doherty operated research vessel Langseth. Chief scientist: Donna Shillington. Project web page

ABOUT TO BLOW? | Imaging Sinabung and Merapi volcanoes, Indonesia | MAY, JUNE OR JULY 2019
Some volcanoes effuse lava slowly, giving people time to escape eruptions; others suddenly explode, killing everything around. Indonesia’s Sinabung, on the island of North Sumatra, can do both, and that makes it unpredictably dangerous. Volcanologist Brett Carr and colleagues have been photographing it from many angles on the ground and with drones, to understand how lava domes grow, and when they may become unstable enough to collapse and explode. Carr will return this year to continue drone work. He also plans to visit the highly active Merapi volcano on the island of Java on a similar mission. The observations may be applied to similar volcanoes in Japan, Mexico, the Caribbean and elsewhere. Done in conjunction with Indonesian researchers

ANCIENT GREEKS AND EARTHQUAKES| Geologic fieldwork, southwest Turkey | JUNE 2019
The ancients who built the coastal city of Ephesus long before Christ struggled for centuries not only to endure earthquakes, but to fend off natural siltation filling up their prized harbor, at the mouth of the Meander River. Engineering projects probably only made things worse; Ephesus and other once-coastal cities in this area were long ago stranded far inland by silt, abandoned but exquisitely preserved. For seismologists, the silt is a treasure. Archaeology and ancient writings provide a record of the earthquakes, but it is incomplete. The silt, built year by year, has preserved a fine record of seismic activity, and the faults that drive it.  Geophysicist Michael Steckler and Turkish colleagues are investigating the stratigraphy of silt deposits in and around Ephesus, and up the river and the Bay of Kusadasi, in order to determine the area’s true earthquake history and future risk. Article on the region’s ruins 

VIKING TIMES | Lake coring, archaeological work, Lofoten Islands, northern Norway | SPRING or SUMMER 2019
Paleoclimate scientists William D’Andrea and Nicholas Balascio are examining natural factors that may have influenced the rise and falloff  the Vikings, ca. 500 BC to 1100 AD. The arctic Lofoten Islands, where many key Viking sites have been excavated, may hold clues. The islands were marginal for farming, so inhabitants were susceptible to small temperature swings, as well as changes in sea level. How did the Vikings influence the land, and vice versa? D’Andrea and Balascio have taken cores from the bottoms of deep lakes surrounding a major chieftain’s domain, and are analyzing them for changes in vegetation, livestock and use of fire. With Norwegian researchers, they are also mining previously untapped archaeological archives from digs dating to the 1980s. Story, video, slideshow on the project

THIN ICE | Glacier measurements, sampling, Glacier National Park, Montana | JULY or AUGUST 2019
Glaciologist Marco Tedesco and colleagues from the University of Montana will sample the waning ice of Glacier National Park, and measure the reflectance of ice surfaces. Part of the mission is to examine and sample cryoconites–concentrations of bacteria, algae and other organisms that darken the surface at spots and dramatically speed melting there. They may play a key role in the deterioration of glaciers here and elsewhere including Greenland, where Tedesco does similar work. If things proceed apace, the park’s could largely be gone within just 30 years. The team will camp at the park for about a week. Story, video, slideshow on Tedesco’s Greenland work

SINKING CONTINENT | Geologic fieldwork, central Australia | SUMMER 2019
In central Australia, geodynamicist Jacqueline Austermann and postdoc Mark Hoggard of Harvard will investigate a series of sedimentary basins that formed 850 million to 400 million years ago. The region is a prime example of cratonic basin–an ancient continental interior that for unknown reasons has sagged, then filled with sediment. These features cover more than 10 percent of the continents, including North America, and form major reservoirs of hydrocarbons, minerals and freshwater aquifers. The researchers will examine the thickness, age and other qualities of the basins, and use powerful computers to try and understand how they formed.  Results should have implications for resource exploration, and understanding of plate tectonics and variations in global sea levels.

FROZEN OCEAN | Geologic fieldwork, south Australia | SUMMER 2019
The period 720 million to 540 million years ago was marked by violent swings in climate, including ice ages that glaciated most or all of the planet, and marine evolution of the first complex organisms. Geologists Nicholas Christie-Blick and Sarah Giles will sample rocks and examine carbon isotopes in ancient sea bottoms from this time in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, to help chart the ocean’s hospitability to life. Rocks about 580 million years old in one formation may be key, as they contain deposits ranging from the onetime sea level to more than a kilometer below it, along with deposits of volcanic ash that may aid in telling precisely how old various layers are.

TEAM VOLE | Small-mammal studies, northern Alaska | JULY 2019, continuing through 2021
Researchers have been studying the effects of warming climate on tundra plants for nearly three decades, but little is known about small animals that eat them, and their role in tundra ecosystems. Plant physiologist Kevin Griffin and ecologist Natalie Boelman will study rodents in relation to plant communities at plots near Nome, Alaska, the northern foothills of Alaska’s Brooks Range, the southerly Seward Peninsula and the northwestern coastal village of Barrow. The five-year project aims to project small-mammal populations and plant growth over the next 50 to 100 years. Story, video and slideshow on related tree line project  / Tundra ecology website

EARLIEST HUMANITY | Archaeology, soil surveys, Kenya |  SUMMER 2019 and 2020
The remote desert region around northwest Kenya’s Lake Turkana is the source of many key early human fossils and artifacts. Geologist and paleomagnetism expert Christopher Lepre works regularly in this area. This year he will analyze soils 2.5 million to 3 million years old, when intense periodic glaciation took hold much farther north. Lepre will be looking for minerals that might indicate whether the onset of the ice age affected rainfall in the region. In the past, he helped date the oldest stone tools ever found. Story/video/photos of Turkana work

1,000 YEARS OF WEATHER | Tree-ring sampling |Peru, MAY 2019; Bolivia JUNE or JULY 2019. Continuing 2020
As part of a five-year project to reconstruct weather patterns and extremes over the past millennium, Lamont scientists led by Laia Andreu-Hayles will sample rings from ancient trees in Peru and Bolivia. Work will extend from 15,000 feet in the Andes into lower elevations of the western Amazon. Data will be merged with separate studies of cave formations and old tree trunks washed into caves and preserved, to yield a long-term picture of climate variations in this region. Among other places, the researchers will sample around Tacna in southern Peru, and in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park. Project is led out of the State University of New York, Albany.

NORTHERN FORESTS AND CLIMATE | Tree ring collection, northern Alaska |  JULY/AUG 2019 or 2020
Researchers Laia Andreu Hayles and Benjamin Gaglioti plan to fly by bush plane to remote areas in northern Alaska to revisit and sample slow-growing trees first studied by Lamont scientists some 30 years ago. The study is aimed at discovering how trees have fared under the warming climate. In some places, forests are thought to be greening and growing faster, while in others, heat stress may cause them to die. The work will take place in the jagged granite Arrigetch Peaks region of the Brooks Range. Principal investigator: Rosanne D’Arrigo.

TREES ON ICE | Tree physiology studies, La Perouse Glacier, southeastern Alaska | AUGUST 2019
The past couple of years, researchers including paleoclimatologist Benjamin Gaglioti have studied ancient “ghost forests” recently exposed by melting ice at Alaska’s La Perouse Glacier. They have now turned their attention to intact living forests adjacent to the glacier, whose growth they believe may have been slowed by the chilling effects of the nearby ice during times when the glacier was growing, and speeded when the ice waned. In addition to sampling tree rings from these forests, last year they deployed sensors to take the temperatures of some trees every two hours. In August, they will return to collect the sensors, and their data.  The team will land by bush plane and camp on a remote beach.

FIRED UP | Post-burn surveys of boreal forests, interior Alaska | AUGUST 2019
Largely due to warming climate, each summer in recent years, millions of acres of Alaska’s spruce-dominated boreal forests burn, often to be replaced by deciduous trees. This may eventually cause profound physical and ecological shifts regionally, and maybe continent-wide. Wildfire scientist Winslow Hansen will survey scores of post-fire plots to better understand how tree succession plays out, and whether transitions to deciduous trees are permanent. Among other things, he will census trees, measure canopy cover and examine soils. Study plots range from 15 to 75 years post-fire. The data will be used to improve interpretations of satellite imagery, and model what forests might look like 150 years after burning. 

 

SINKING INTO THE SEA | Studies of farmland, SOUTHWEST BANGLADESH | FEB 2019, FALL/WINTER 2019 and ONGOING thru 2020
In the 1960s and 1970s, large swaths of low-lying southwest Bangladesh were walled off with elaborate levees to prevent flooding and improve agriculture. Since then, sea levels have risen, and the land is sinking due to natural compaction of sediments. As a result, water is breaching embankments. Geophysicists Michael Steckler and Christopher Small and colleagues will study sediment cores and take ongoing measurements from GPS stations to precisely measure the levels of these areas, and project their positions 25, 50 and 100 years from now, in order to help design programs to build and maintain sustainable levees. In conjunction with a $400 million World Bank program to repair damaged embankments.  Watch a documentary  / Project blog

EYE ON GREAT ALASKAN EARTHQUAKES | Sea/land instrument deployments, Alaska Peninsula | AUGUST 2019
The subduction zone along the Alaska Peninsula is capable of generating some of the world’s biggest earthquakes and tsunamis, and recent research suggests the threat is greater than previously thought. Seismologists including Spahr Webb last year dropped dozens of seismometers to the sea bottom. On land, seismologist Donna Shillington and colleagues installed seismometers across Kodiak Island. This August, the team will retrieve the instruments, with their data. On the same cruise, electromagnetics expert Kerry Key and colleagues will map out the fluid content at the offshore tectonic plate boundary, which may influence how and when the boundary slips.  Alaska Seafloor Presents Tsunami Danger Article on the project / Alaska Seafloor Images Suggest High Tsunami Danger

PACIFIC STORM SIGNS | Aircraft flights, deployments of weather instruments, Costa Rica | AUG-SEPT 2019
In an effort to understand the atmospheric circulation patterns that bring heavy rains to the equatorial Pacific and southwestern Caribbean, meteorologists including Adam Sobel will conduct regular flights over this region, taking measurements and dropping parachute-equipped instruments along the way. They will also regularly send up weather balloons from the Colorado Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Costa Rica, among other places. This large-scale project will be conducted in cooperation with researchers on the ground in Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Project web page

AFRICAN SMOG | Air pollution monitoring, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo | SUMMER or FALL 2019
Many of Africa's fast-growing megacities suffer from drastic air pollution, often from sources not present in developed countries; as many as 700,000 people may die prematurely each year as a result. Few nations are able to even measure the pollution, much less come up with remedies. As a first step, atmospheric scientist Dan Westervelt will set up a network of 15-some monitoring devices in sprawling Kinshasa and neighboring Brazzaville. These will allow scientists and authorities to chart soot, ozone and other substances produced by a multiplicity of sources: residential burning of wood and charcoal for cooking; emissions from poorly maintained vehicles using low-quality fuel; diesel soot from private generators used during frequent power outages; and burning of garbage due to a lack of refuse collection. The project may expand to other cities.

OCEAN INVADERS| Studies of harmful plankton, Oman | FEB. 2019 and ONGOING
It’s part plant, part animal, and it’s taking over, with devastating effects. It’s Noctiluca scintillans, a floating organism that forms thick, slimy mats on the ocean, feeding on everything from sunlight to fish eggs. It is thriving in the Arabian Sea, where climate change has created the right conditions; in Oman, Noctiluca are hurting fishing and aquaculture, clogging water intakes of oil refineries and desalination plants, and hurting tourism. Oceanographer Joaquim Goes is leading a multi-institutional to study the organism and how to deal with it. He and colleagues are working at sea to understand the forces that drive its life cycle, and how Oman can adapt. The creatures are also spreading off southeast Asia and India, and may eventually reach other areas.  Studying Bioluminescent Blooms in the Arabian Sea

SLIDING INTO THE SEA | Geophysical measurements on and under Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica | FEB-MARCH 2019 and 2020
West Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier is wasting at a quickening pace, already contributing 4 percent of current global sea-level rise. In one of the biggest international Antarctic collaborations ever, some 100 scientists from seven countries will study every aspect of the glacier. Among them, geophysicist Jonathan Kingslakewill camp on the ice for a total of four months to collect data on the properties of rocks and sediments beneath the glacier, and how ice slides over them. At sea, oceanographer Frank Nitsche will be part of a team studying the ocean adjoining the glacier’s ice shelf, where warm water may be eating away ice. Story on the project / Project web page

WATCHING THE ROCKS ERODE | Geologic fieldwork, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica | NOV 2018-FEB 2019 and FALL 2019
Using innovative new instruments, geochemist Jennifer Lamp and colleagues are measuring erosion of rocks in Antarctica’s cold, windy McMurdo Dry Valleys, Earth’s best analog to Mars. It may take millions of years for visible erosion to take place, but the instruments pick up minute acoustic emissions that signal openings of tiny cracks; from these, scientists may be able to extrapolate erosion rates. The work is expected to open new vistas onto the evolution of the surfaces of both Earth and Mars. The researchers will leave their instruments behind during their initial trip, and return in fall 2019 to retrieve them, and the data they have collected.

MELTING CONTINENT | Physical/biological oceanography, Antarctic Peninsula | JAN-FEB 2020
For nearly 40 years, scientists have monitored the effects of climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula, one of earth’s fastest-warming regions, as part of a global network of Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) stations. They have documented major declines in sea ice, and dramatic shifts in wildlife populations, including penguins. Hugh Ducklow, a biogeochemist at Lamont-Doherty, is lead investigator. He and colleagues will spend a month on the icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer cruising the peninsula’s west coast to study its creatures and collect physical data on ocean waters. Recently the program added a new team, studying Antarctic whales. Story on recent work on the peninsula / Team paper on ecological changes

GONE GLACIERS | Geologic fieldwork,southern Chile | ONGOING thru 2021
Geologists Mike Kaplan and Joerg Schaefer, and colleagues at Chilean institutions are working in Patagonia to investigate how changing climate has affected glaciers in the past. There are strong indications that climate patterns in the southern hemisphere glaciers are out of step with those in the north; understanding why will help scientists project the effects of modern climate change. The work will involve mapping features carved by past glaciers, and collecting samples of rock left by retreating ice. Fieldwork will take place intermittently over coming years.

 

NEW YORK CITY/NORTHEAST U.S. REGION

SEASIDE FORESTS | Tree-ring sampling, coastal NY/NJ |SPRING/SUMMER 2019 and ONGOING
A few rare stands of old-growth forest have survived in coastal parklands in the New York metro area. Researchers including paleoclimatologist Nicole Davi are sampling rings from these trees, dating to the early 1800s, to see if they have recorded past climate events including large storms that would have battered the trees or inundated them with salt water. (Many were killed during Hurricane Sandy.) The project is aimed at teasing out the weather history of the coastal area, at a time when big Sandy-like storms are expected to increase and sea levels to rise. Work will take place at New Jersey’s Sandy Hook; Fire Island; and Montauk.

GOTHAM GREENHOUSE | Tracking New York City’s emissions | SPRING 2019 and ONGOING
New York has committed to radically cutting production of greenhouse gases. A first step: figuring out how much the city is already producing. Usually, such estimates are made “bottom-up,” by measuring or modeling emissions at the scale of individual sources such as roads, buildings and landfills, then extrapolating to larger scales.  Atmospheric scientist Roisin Commane and colleagues are developing a new “top down” approach, by building a network of sensors to directly measure concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane around the city. Data will be combined with maps of pollution sources and local wind dynamics, to form a comprehensive picture. Initial instruments will be set up in spring 2019, to be followed by others; measurements may also be taken from aircraft.  This is expected to be a long-term effort.

MERCURY IN THE SYSTEM | Forest monitoring, western Massachusetts 2019/ Costa Rica 2020
To the alarm of many, the federal government is moving to weaken controls on coal-burning power plants that emit mercury, a neurotoxin permeating the global environment. Recently, it was found that a major route for pollution comes when plants take up gaseous mercury from the air, then transfer it to soils when they die off or shed leaves; outwash then goes into rivers, lakes and oceans. Atmospheric scientist Roisin Commane and colleagues aim for the first time to directly measure and understand how  the process works in vegetation by placing instruments in western Massachusetts’ Harvard Forest above and below the canopy. Measurements will run through 2019. In 2020, the experiment will move to Soltis Research Center in Costa Rica. In collaboration with Harvard and Texas A&M universities.

RESURRECTED SPRINGS | Studies of 1800s spas, Northeast states | SPRING/SUMMER 2019
Many commercial warm springs popular in the 19th century have been left to decay or been demolished; locations of some have been lost altogether. Geologists Dallas Abbott and Bill Menke are searching out sites in New England and New York state to study how subterranean conditions may be evolving. They will compare century-old temperature readings with new ones to judge whether possible subtle rises could indicate if climate change has affected underground waters. Also, brand-new geophysical maps of the deep earth under the region show that some parts are hotter and more fractured than normal; this could signal coming volcanism (albeit millions of years off). Could some of the hotter springs be tapping these depths? Abbott and Menke will work with local historians to relocate some sites. Volcanoes Under the Northeast U.S.?

 

HUDSON SEWAGE | Water sampling by boat | SPRING-FALL 2019
In cooperation with the environmental group Riverkeeper, biologists are mapping the sources and fates of sewage in the Hudson River with periodic sampling by boat. Biologist Andrew Juhl has sailed from Troy to New York harbor. Water quality has improved  in recent decades, but human waste still sweeps in during heavy rains and may persist in sediments. Tributaries with particular problems include outfalls at Kingston, Orangetown, New York City’s Newtown Creek, and the upstate the Sparkill, Roundout and Esopus creeks. Article on the project / Article on bacteria in bottom sludge / Article on pharmaceuticals in the river

VANISHING MARSHES | Coring of wetlands, coastal Connecticut| SPRING-SUMMER 2019
Paleoecologist Dorothy Peteet is studying the East Coast environment, using cores of sediment from lake bottoms, marshes and bogs. Her latest project focuses on how human pressures are affecting the tidal marshes of Long Island Sound. This year, she and colleagues will drill into marshes around the Connecticut River to see how human alterations of  terrestrial and aquatic landscapes have changed the extent of marshes and their plant communities, and the nutrients and organic matter in surrounding waters. She also hopes to core marshes near historic Batsto Village in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and swamps near South Carolina’s Wateree River, to understand how early settlers affected wetlands. Article on Peteet’s work

AIR SENSORS ON WHEELS | Real-time air monitoring via bikes, New York City | MARCH-NOV 2019
In an ongoing citizen-science project, volunteer bikers are wearing sensors that measure soot, carbon monoxide and other pollutants as they ride, giving a real-time picture of what they are inhaling. Some will also wear heart-rate monitors and blood-pressure cuffs to measure short-term effects. In partnership with public radio station WNYC, the study is run by environmental health scientist Darby Jack and geochemist Steven Chillrud. This year, 60-plus bike commuters will wear instruments over a 2- to 3-week time period each. Results should be out by early 2020. What’s in the air fro cylcists? / NYC air quality phone app / New personal pollution monitors

TINY PLASTICS | Sampling for microbeads, studies of organisms in New York area waters| SPRING/SUMMER 2019 and ONGOING
Microbeads, tiny plastic spheres commonly used in shampoos, soaps, cleaning supplies and cosmetics, are entering New York area waters in vast quantities. Using a newly developed method, oceanographer Joaquim Goes and geochemists Beizhan Yan and Wade McGillis are sampling New York area waters to map microbead quantities. At the same time, a local high-school teacher and her students are using Lamont labs to study local fish and other organisms for the presence of absorbed plastics. This summer, McGillis will continue with sampling of the Hudson River. Yan may sample Van Cortlandt Lake in the Bronx or other urban lakes. Article on the project Earth Institute article on microbeads

RE-CREATING GLACIERS | High-pressure lab experiments, New York City | SPRING/SUMMER 2019
Lamont geophysicist Christine McCarthy has teamed with geotechnical engineer Liming Li in experiments to re-create what happens when a mile of ice moves over bedrock. In the first experiments of their kind, they will operate a centrifuge loaded with material intended to duplicate the extreme forces at the base of a glacier. Experiments are aimed at understanding what makes glaciers either stick in place or slide forward—a key but little understood issue at the heart of future projections of sea-level rise. The scientists are particularly interested in how water and subglacial debris may interact to abrade bedrock and form meltwater channels. The work is being done at Columbia Engineering School.

DIARY OF A TREE | Real-time forest monitoring, Hudson Valley and New York City | ONGOING
In New York’s Hudson Valley, the extreme ranges of many southern tree species intersect those of northern species. With warming climate, some northerners such as sugar maples and beeches may already be getting edged out, as oaks and hickories move in. In order to study the possible effects on forests, plant physiologist Kevin Griffin  has wired trees in the lower Hudson Valley’s Black Rock Forest with instruments that transmit daily changes in growth to his lab. The network may soon expand to suburban Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and the main Columbia campus, in Manhattan. Griffin plans frequent field trips with students to examine forest ecology in both urban and natural settings. Black Rock Forest Real-Time Growth Page  /  How Climate Affects New York Plants and Animals  /  Urban Trees of the Future

POISONED GARDENS | Testing soil for lead, Brooklyn, Pelham, N.Y. | ONGOING
Lead has long been banned from paint and other common products, but still lurks in urban soils, presenting a danger. PhD candidate Franziska Landes has developed a fast-results test kit, which she and collaborators including Brian Mailloux of Barnard College are using to test backyards, gardens and parkland around heavily industrialized Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and other areas. They are also working this summer with high-school students in suburban Pelham, N.Y., to test both soil and water for lead. Article on the project

NEUROSCIENCE AND VOLCANOES | Experiments with artificial lava in a biomedical lab | ONGOING
Lava is a complex combination of solids, liquids and gases. In part for this reason, predicting volcanic eruptions, and whether they will ooze harmlessly or explode lethally has vexed scientists. Volcanologist Einat Lev is teaming with biomedical researcher Elizabeth Hillman to capture 3D images of evolving artificial lavas in real time, using a microscopy system normally used to investigate blood flow in the brain. Creating “lavas” from oil, acetone, glass beads and silicon, they are investigating how different mixtures act under varying conditions. By applying cutting-edge biomedical techniques to geology, they hope to open a new window onto lava dynamics. Multimedia: Lev’s study of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano

NEW YORK EARTHQUAKES | Seismometer installation, monitoring | ONGOING
From Central Park to the Canadian border, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory runs seismic instruments to monitor earthquakes in the U.S. Northeast. The region sees a surprising number of small quakes, and recent research shows that the prospect of big ones are an underappreciated threat. The team monitors the network 24 hours a day, and travels off and on to repair and update instruments. New ones have been installed near Albany, N.Y., where recent unusual tremors have been felt, and in the Adirondack Mountains, where quakes have long been routine. Head of network: Won-Young KimLamont Cooperative Seismographic Network / Study on New York City earthquake risk /New York Times article on Albany tremors

CITIZEN SNOWFLAKE | Studies of snow, New York area | WINTER 2019-2020
Polar scientist Marco Tedesco is starting up X-Snow, a crowdsourced citizen-science project in which volunteers in the New York metro area and beyond will sample snowfall at many locations to contribute data on snowflake granularity, snowpack density and other parameters. In part, the project is aimed at understanding how climate may affect snowfall in the Northeast. On a wider scale, it is aimed at ground-truthing satellite imagery being used to study snow and ice over much bigger regions including the poles. Study participants will be equipped with simple devices that utilize their cell phones, and a bit of training. Public radio station WNYC will help recruit volunteers, starting with high-school students.  Story on the program | X-Snow website

    

 

MORE POTENTIAL RESEARCH: DETAILS WHEN AVAILABLE

Seismologists Leonardo Seeber  and Marie-Helene Cormier are looking into performing marine surveys of an earthquake-prone transform fault bordering southern Cuba–one of the most dramatic submarine scarps on the planet. The project, still in discussion stages, would involve work both on land and at sea with Cuban colleagues.

An interdisciplinary team of microbiologists and ecologists plans deep DNA sequencing of a core of permafrost from Alaska’s North Slope built up over the last 12,000 years. They hope to use new methods to understand how bacteria, viruses, fungi, plants and animals have changed in response to shifting environmental conditions. The Arctic is rapidly warming, causing acute changes to ecosystems; this study should shed light on how this might proceed in the near future. Members include Jeffrey Shaman, director of the Earth Institute’s Climate and Health Program; ecologist Jonathan Nichols ; and others.

In summer 2019, the yearly Piermont Marsh Secondary School Programs will pick up again. High-school students work in marshland along the Hudson River at Piermont, N.Y., to collect data on carbon flux, nutrients, sediment accumulation, heavy metal contamination and wildlife, for a long-term study on the marsh’s health and evolution in the face of sea-level rise and other forces. Program head: Robert Newton.

Environmental health scientist Steven Chillrud is developing air sensors for several groups studying pediatric asthma. The sensors are designed to be worn by test subjects to measure real-time exposure to pollutants. Pilots will take place this year in New York City, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. In conjunction with Matthew Perzanowski of Mailman School of Public Health.

Naturally occurring arsenic and fluoride in groundwater are major problems in wells across southeast Asia. Geochemists Alexander van Geen and Ben Bostick are studying the causes and possible mitigation measures, working across Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and other countries. Van Geen will next be in Bangladesh in March 2019, to study how arsenic gets into water. He is also working with a student to test wells in Madhya Pradesh, India. The team has also studied wells in the United States vulnerable to this problem.  Videos and story on Asian geological and health studies Arsenic pollution near Hanoi / U.S. wells tainted by arsenic

Soil scientist Benjamin Bostick is working with Oglala Lakota high-school students at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation to test soils for mercury and other toxins produced by coal-burning power plants. In summer 2019, Bostick hopes to bring New York City high-school students to work with their peers on the reservation.

Geochemists Sidney Hemming and Stephen Cox hope to travel to the Lake Turkana region of northwest Kenya to study the evolution of the East African Rift, which has been slowly splitting the continent for the last 30 million years. By dating old volcanic deposits in this key area for human evolution, they hope to help with analysis of the events that led up to early humans and their precursors.   Cox’s blog from Turkana

Biological oceanographer Ajit Subramaniam co-leads a cruise to investigate the impact on the marine food web of the huge plume of nutrients that flows from the Amazon River into the tropical Atlantic Ocean. At times, the plume extends more than 2,000 kilometers offshore and covers more than 1 million square kilometers. Cruise departs and returns to Barbados, June 12-July 8, 2019.

Geochemist Wade McGillis is watching coral reefs and marine grasses for the effects of global warming and pollution, using instruments that monitor the metabolisms of the organisms in real time. This year he plans to visit Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Corpus Christi Bay, Texas; and the Mediterranean island of Corsica. McGillis also works in reefs off Florida, Puerto Rico and the Galapagos Islands.

Researchers from eight institutions including glaciologist Marco Tedesco are planning a three- to four-year project to investigate the dynamics at the front of the Helheim Glacier, one of east Greenland’s largest, as it pushes out a fjord and into the ocean. From a ship, they will collect data on the atmosphere, land and water abutting the ice, subsurface drainage and iceberg calving. Scheduled to begin summer 2019.

Geochemist Peter Kelemen is looking into working with the DeBeers diamond company to use mine tailings in South Africa and Canada to lock up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Diamond ore, from the deep earth, readily combines with the greenhouse gas, a process that could possibly be hastened through engineering. The project could also extend to tailings of platinum, chromium and nickel mines in southern Africa, which have similar qualities. Article on the DeBeers project

 

Media Inquiries: 
Kevin Krajick
kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu
(212) 854-9729