Upcoming Scientific Fieldwork: 2021 and Beyond

August 24, 2021

By Kevin Krajick

Photo of the Fieldguide map

Note: MANY EXPEDITIONS HAVE BEEN DELAYED OR CANCELED DUE TO THE PANDEMIC. THOSE MARKED *** ARE UNCERTAIN AT THIS TIME.

THIS LIST WAS LAST UPDATED AUG. 23, 2021.

Earth Institute researchers are studying the dynamics of the planet on every continent and every ocean. Below, a list of field projects. Journalists may be able to join and cover fieldwork in person, dependent on logistics and safety considerations, including shifting pandemic conditions. Where possible, projects are listed in rough chronological order. There are three sections: NEW YORK CITY/U.S. NORTHEAST; WIDER UNITED STATES; and INTERNATIONAL. Unless otherwise stated, projects originate with our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. This list will be updated as plans evolve. More information: senior science editor Kevin Krajick: kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu, 212-854-9729.

 

NEW YORK CITY/U.S. NORTHEAST

NEW YORK CITY’S MOST BRUTAL HOT SPOTS |Real-time summer heat mapping, resilience studies | Bronx, upper Manhattan | AUG-DEC 2021
Concrete- and asphalt-packed cities are “heat islands” amid surrounding countryside, and some neighborhoods—usually the poorest ones, lacking trees and other vegetation—tend to be the worst. This summer, dozens of volunteers led by geophysicist Christian Braneon and environmental scientist Liv Yoon carried sensors through the streets at different hours of the day in order to draw up detailed maps showing where people suffer the most. The data should help inform a related project led by epidemiologist Robbie Parks and urban researcher Jacqueline Klopp, working with community groups and the city to find ways to make neighborhoods less vulnerable to extreme heat. NYC Heat Mapping web page | Climate resilience project page

LYME TIME | Studies of human/tick interactions, Staten Island | SUMMER 2021
In the first such effort in an urban green space, researchers will carry out a multidisciplinary project to map where and how residents of Staten Island are being exposed to Lyme disease-carrying ticks. Researchers will track the movements of deer who potentially carry ticks, via radio tags; survey parks and private yards near parks for ticks; and characterize which landscape features most encourage their arrival and survival. A smartphone app will provide information on residents’ movements and risk. The goal is to develop optimum strategies to reduce infections. Led by epidemiologist Maria Diuk-Wasser and Earth Institute postdoc Maria del Pilar Fernandez. Project description | Project webpages

SEASIDE FORESTS | Tree-ring sampling, coastal NY/NJ | ONGOING
A few rare stands of old-growth forest have survived in coastal parklands in the New York metro area, but are under threat from rising sea levels and powerful storms whipped by climate change. Paleoclimatologist Nicole Davi is sampling rings from these trees, some dating to the early 1800s, to see if they have recorded past events including large storms that battered them with salt water. (Many died after Hurricane Sandy.) The project is aimed at teasing out the weather history of the region, and helping forecast the future. Work will take place at New Jersey’s Sandy Hook peninsula, Fire Island, and Montauk. Story and slideshow on Sandy Hook’s forest

GOTHAM GREENHOUSE | Tracking New York’s CO2 and methane emissions| ONGOING
New York has committed to cutting greenhouse gases and other pollution, but how much the city emits is only a rough estimate. Atmospheric scientist Roisin Commane and colleagues are developing a network of sensors to measure carbon dioxide and methane emissions around New York City, and wider sites around the metro area and New York state. They are measuring concentrations at ground level by driving an instrument-loaded portable lab, and higher up with instruments attached to aircraft. Traverses will cover the New York metro area, Albany and Rochester. Fixed sensors were recently set up at the City University of New York campus, and others are planned. Some New York City buses may eventually carry sensors. Article on the project | Commane group web pages

HUDSON SEWAGE | Water, sediment sampling | ONGOING
In cooperation with the environmental group Riverkeeper, biologists are mapping the sources and fates of sewage in the Hudson River with monthly water 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 Sparkill, Roundout and Esopus creeks. At various points along the river, Grad student Elise Myers is studying how fecal contaminants move between sediments and water, and the implications for environmental justice. Interview with Myers | Article on the Riverkeeper project / Article on bacteria in bottom sludge / Article on pharmaceuticals in the river

ANCIENT MARSHES | Wetland coring, New York, New Jersey Connecticut| ONGOING

Paleoecologist Dorothy Peteet studies the changing environment of the U.S. East Coast both in real time and extending back more than 10,000 years to the end of the last ice age. Analyzing cores of sediment as deep as 25 feet, drilled from lake bottoms, marshes and bogs, she is plotting shifting climate, sea levels, fire histories and more. Work this year is being done at a deep bog near the Catskill mountain town of Maplecrest, N.Y; Manitou Marsh, near the Bear Mountain over the Hudson River; Alley Marsh, in Queens; and Budd Lake, in northern New Jersey. Article on Peteet’s work

TINY PLASTICS | Sampling for microbeads, studies of organisms in New York area waters| SUMMER/FALL 2021 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 newly developed technology, oceanographer Joaquim Goes and geochemists Beizhan Yan and Wade McGillis are sampling waters to map their abundance. 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; they have found large amounts of the stuff inside many creatures. Article on the project / Earth Institute article on microbeads

***WATERSHED MOMENT | Studies of climate and access to clean water, Catskill Mountains and beyond | TBD
The New York/New Jersey watershed, comprising the region that drains into New York harbor, includes wide swaths of the Catskill Mountains, whose reservoirs serve 9 million people. As part of a wider investigation of the socio-economic factors that expose some populations to poor drinking water, paleoclimatologist William D’Andrea will take cores from lakes, ponds and bogs in the Catskills to study how past climate changes may have affected water flow over thousands of years. Concurrently, dendrochronologist Nicole Davi will take cores from old trees to study climate swings in greater detail over the past hundreds of years. Done in cooperation with a multidisciplinary team at New Jersey’s William Paterson College.

***TRIASSIC TRIP| Geologic mapping, Maryland, southern Pennsylvania
The 200-million-year-old Gettysburg sedimentary formation, spanning several counties of Pennsylvania and neighboring Maryland, was first mapped in 1929, when its dimensions and various layers could only be roughed out. Relatively new tools including LiDAR now make it possible to form a much finer picture of this complex basin of sandstones, conglomerates and shales. Geologist Paul Olsen and colleagues will remap the formation, working with a combination of remote sensing, paleomagnetism and old-fashioned foot travel. The project is expected to yield insights into natural planetary climate cycles. It may also help pinpoint deposits of valuable rare earths used in electronics, and flag areas vulnerable to natural groundwater contamination. Tracking Other Planets’ Effects on Earth’s Climate

ICE, EARTHLY AND EXTRATERRESTRIAL| High-pressure lab experiments, Palisades, N.Y. and New York City | ONGOING
Lamont geophysicist Christine McCarthy is doing lab experiments that recreate conditions under the earth’s glaciers, and the subsurfaces of the Solar System’s icy moons. This is aimed at understanding both the dynamics of our icy regions in a warming climate, and aiding eventual space exploration. In one set of experiments, McCarthy and colleagues use machinery to exert enormous pressures and low temperatures on ice and rock to see what happens when a mile of ice moves over bedrock, and what makes glaciers slide or stick in place. In another, she is testing the durability of fiber-optic tethers being designed to deliver data from landing craft that one day may burrow deep into the ice of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.

TURNING CO2 TO STONE| High-pressure lab experiments, Palisades, N.Y.| ONGOING
In her Lamont-Doherty lab, geophysicist Christine McCarthy and colleagues are performing high-pressure, high-temperature experiments as part of a project to inject excess CO2 underground and turn it into stone. These experiments are related to work in Oman by geologist Peter Kelemen (see below) that has documented natural processes that could be harnessed and greatly speeded up. Injecting CO2-rich liquid into samples of peridotite rock, McCarthy is trying to nail down the “sweet spot” combination of temperature and pressure that will result in the fastest possible sequestration of carbon. Video, photo essay, story on the Oman project

DIARY OF A TREE | Real-time forest monitoring, Hudson Valley, New York City | ONGOING
Biologist Kevin Griffin is assembling a far-flung network of advanced instruments in the New York suburbs to monitor the daily physiological functions of trees, and transmit the data in real time back to the lab. He has some 60 trees wired at various sites in the lower Hudson Valley, and Long Island. The instruments are revealing how trees respond to daily weather shifts, and suggest how they may respond in the long run to changing climate. Earth Institute article on the research / New Yorker article on the research / Guardian article on the research / Black Rock Forest Real-Time Growth Page

FOREST SOUNDSCAPE | Bioacoustic studies, Hudson Valley, New York | AUG-SEPT-NOV 2021
At the Hudson Valley’s Black Rock Forest, ecologist Shahid Naeem and colleagues have installed bioacoustic sensors in 12 plots that record the sounds of birds, insects and other organisms minute by minute, for two weeks at a time. The project is aimed at understanding how use of the forest changes on a daily and seasonal basis, as well as how this relates to the height and shape of the canopy, and whether individual trees are alive or dead. Each two-week campaign collects about 200,000 sound files; analyses will be carried out using artificial intelligence.

EYE ON THE FOREST | Forest instruments, webcam, Palisades N.Y. |ONGOING
Climate researcher Mukund Palat Rao and colleagues are studying the growth and photosynthetic activity of trees on the forested campus of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, on scale from the instantaneous to the seasonal. Trees have been rigged with instruments that record physiological functions continuously, and other sensors are measuring atmospheric CO2. A webcam on a campus rooftop takes a picture of the area canopy picture every 15 minutes—the newest addition to a global network of such cameras. The project is aimed at assessing how the daily and seasonal rhythms of trees and vegetation are responding to climate change. Among other things, the forest here may be turning colors later in the season; and in the long term, species composition of the forest may change. The webcam is viewable in real time. Article on the webcam | Project website | Camera livestream

***RESURRECTED SPRINGS | Studies of 1800s spas, Northeast states
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 subterranean conditions, and how they 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, recent geophysical maps of the deep earth show that some parts of the region are hotter and more fractured than normal; this could signal coming volcanism (albeit millions of years off). Abbott and Menke will work with local historians to locate some sites. Volcanoes Under the Northeast U.S.?

***CITIZEN SNOW | Studies of snowflakes and microplastics, New York area | ONGOING DURING WINTER
Polar scientist Marco Tedesco has started up X-Snow, a crowdsourced citizen-science project in which volunteers in the New York metro area and beyond will sample snow at many locations. Volunteers will contribute data on snowflake granularity, snowpack density and other parameters. The project is aimed at understanding how warming climate may affect the temperature and shape of snowflakes—factors that could affect regional water supplies. It will also help ground-truth satellite imagery used to study snow and ice over wider regions including the poles. Volunteers will also collect data on microplastics in snow. Story on the X-Snow program | Story on microplastics in snow | X-Snow website

WIDER UNITED STATES

WESTERN WATER, AND VOLCANOES | Geologic fieldwork, Mono Basin, California | ONGOING 2021
Focusing on the area around Mono Lake, one of the United States’ oldest, researcher Guleed Ali is investigating past water levels in California’s eastern Sierra Nevada. By studying geologic samples and comparing how lake levels responded to previous climate shifts, he hopes to inform projections of California’s water future. He is sampling volcanic ash layers interwoven with lake sediments, in an attempt to precisely date the sediments. Dating of the ash layers will also aid in judging the hazards of the nearby Mono Craters volcanic field, which is thought to have erupted frequently as recently as 600 years ago. Story/video on Mono Lake fieldwork

SEA ICE, ALGAE AND NATIVE CULTURE | Community-run microbial observatory, northwest Alaska | AUG-SEPT 2021 AND ONGOING
Scientists working in areas inhabited by indigenous peoples often fail to incorporate local knowledge and input. A new project led by biological oceanographer Ajit Subramaniam aims to change this paradigm in the coastal Chukchi Sea community of Kotzebue. Here, recent fast warming has led to declines in sea ice, and blooms of cyanobacteria that could harm ecosystems and the health of humans who depend on these waters for food. Kotzebue citizens, who helped design the program, will sample waters regularly by boat, and possibly autonomous underwater vehicles, to better understand the blooms and their implications. The program will serve as a template for projects in other parts of the world where scientists can work with indigenous people to address questions of local import. Article on previous Kotzebue work

WARNING SIGNS | Volcano monitoring, Aleutian Islands | SUMMERS 2021-2025
There are 80 to 90 volcanoes around the planet threatening to erupt at any one time, but scientists can almost never accurately predict what will happen, and when. Volcanologists Terry Plank and Einat Lev and colleagues are developing a standardized system of instruments and protocols that could monitor each volcano, at an affordable price. To start, they are placing unprecedented arrays of instruments on the Aleutian Islands’ highly active Cleveland and Okmok volcanoes. Using helicopters and drones, and hiking on foot, the team is deploying sensors to detect gas emissions; seismometers to detect shaking; GPS instruments to measure surface inflation or deflation; and infrasound detectors to detect rising lava. Data will be transmitted continuously via satellite. The team hopes to develop similar arrays worldwide. | Project web page

TEAM VOLE | Small-mammal studies, northern Alaska | DELAYED TO SUMMER 2022
Researchers have been studying the effects of warming climate on tundra plants for nearly three decades, but little is known about the 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 trends in 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

***FROM SINK TO SOURCE | Measuring natural greenhouse-gas emissions, southwest Alaska
The Arctic stores vast amounts of carbon in soil and permafrost—about twice as much as currently in the entire atmosphere. But rapid warming and thawing of the ground has reversed the equation; microorganisms are now releasing stored CO2 and methane back to the air, turning far northern lands from storehouse to greenhouse-gase source. Grad student Sarah Ludwig and colleagues are studying the flux in the Yukon-Kuskowim river delta of southwest Alaska, using measurements from instruments on the ground and in the air. The planned result is an improved map of what is happening at the atmospheric interfaces of tundra, wetlands and small ponds. The picture is complex, as the researchers find that there are hot spots not necessarily being spotted by remote imagery. Project web page

SOUNDS OF A CHANGING ARCTIC | Bioacoustic/camera wildlife studies, Alaska/Yukon | SUMMERS THRU 2024
With Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge possibly exposed to fossil fuel exploration, ecologist Natalie Boelman and colleagues 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 Wildlife Refuge, which could eventually see intrusions; and Canada’s Ivvavik National Park, which is protected. 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, and their reactions to disturbance. Boelman hopes to recruit volunteers to help count animals in the camera images.

ANCIENT SEAWATER VS. MODERN | Collection, culture of plankton, Santa Catalina Island, Calif. | JULY-AUG 2022 and 2023
Oceanographer Bärbel Hönisch has shown that fast-increasing CO2 content in the oceans is causing rapid changes that have little analog in the past. Knowledge of the past is based in part on comparisons between shell-building plankton recovered from ancient sediments and their modern cousins—but there are some uncertainties about how to gauge past conditions. To better resolve paleoclimate records, Hönisch and colleagues will conduct regular SCUBA dives and net drags to collect modern plankton. They will culture the plankton under varying chemical and temperature conditions at a lab on the island, in an attempt to duplicate ancient seawater qualities, and the effects on these creatures. Humans Are Fast Outpacing Ancient Volcanoes as a Carbon Source | Modern Ocean Acidification Is Exceeding Ancient Upheaval

***TROPICAL TREES AND CLIMATE | Forest surveys, Puerto Rico
Beyond devastating Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and killing people, Hurricane Maria destroyed or severely damaged a quarter for the island’s big trees. Forest ecologist Maria Uriarte has been working throughout the island to assess the damage and its prospective environmental effects. In the longer term, she and colleagues are characterizing how trees of different species may react to changing climate, and how this might affect the makeup of forests here and elsewhere in the subtropics. Story, video, slideshow on Uriarte’s work

UNDERGROUND POISON | Cleansing arsenic from wells | Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota | ONGOING 2021-2024
The Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Oglala Sioux, is one of the poorest places in the United States—and on top of that, many private wells there are plagued with high levels of naturally occurring arsenic, uranium and other dangerous contaminants. Led by biogeochemist Benjamin Bostick and with the cooperation with tribal authorities, a team will test new technology to cheaply and sustainably detect and remove these substances. The technology uses solar energy and photosynthetic bacteria to fuel chemical reactions that purify water. If it works out, the method would be an improvement over existing technologies, which can be difficult and expensive to maintain over the long term. The tests have wider uses; beyond the reservation, an estimated 3 million people in the United States are exposed to arsenic, and many millions more in other nations. Arsenic taints many U.S. wells

***FLUSH AND FORGET | Affordable wastewater services, rural Alabama, parts of Appalachia
In some rural U.S. communities, poverty, soil conditions and lack of local expertise mean that raw sewage ends up in groundwater; the result is rampant intestinal infections. The problem is particularly acute in central Alabama, where many residents who can’t afford septic systems simply run a sewage pipe to a nearby ditch or stream. A new Columbia World Project aims to build 15 modular small-scale wastewater systems, each serving about 20 households. Such systems are already used by the military, but have so far found only limited civilian use. If this pilot project is successful, such systems could be built to serve much wider areas elsewhere. Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center, will co-lead the project with environmental engineers from universities in Alabama and Georgia.

***CO2-HUNGRY ROCKS | Geologic fieldwork, California, Nevada, British Columbia
Geochemist Peter Kelemen plans to scope out sites where rocks may be naturally turning atmospheric carbon to solid minerals. The aim is to find sites to conduct experiments on methods to speed up the natural processes so they can be used to capture and store human CO2 emissions on a large scale. Some sites may lie near geothermal plants, similar to a plant in Iceland that is now capturing its emissions and pumping them underground to be turned into solid form. However, the rock type Kelemen is investigating is unlike the volcanic basalt used in Iceland; instead, it is peridotite, a rock formed in the deep earth and rarely seen at the surface. He is carrying out similar, more advanced work on peridotitic rocks in the Mideast nation of Oman. Video, photo essay, story on the Iceland project | Video, photo essay, story on the Oman project

INTERNATIONAL

1,000 YEARS OF WEATHER | Tree-ring sampling |Peru, Bolivia, AUGUST | SEPTEMBER 2021
As part of a five-year project to reconstruct weather patterns and extremes over the past millennium, 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. The team will merge the data with separate studies of cave formations and old tree trunks washed into caves, to yield a long-term picture of climate variations in this region. This year, researchers will sample near Abancay, southern Peru, and in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park. Abstract of the research

WARMING ANDES ECOSYSTEMS | Ecological surveys, Colombia | ONGOING
The páramos of the Andes, the unglaciated areas above tree line, harbor unique ecosystems and provide water to major cities. But climate change is thinning clouds, drying land and increasing wildfires there, stressing plants and other biota. Since 2004, scientists led by Daniel Ruiz Carrascal of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society have been regularly visiting a research site in Los Nevados National Park, on the El Ruiz-Tolima volcanic massif, in Colombia, to observe changes and download data from sensors that collect temperature and other data. Watch a slideshow on the project / 2010 story on the project / 2018 story on the project

HIGH-ALTITUDE FORESTS | Tree-ring collections, Colombian Andes| SUMMER 2022
Tree rings are essential to understanding the long-term response of ecosystems to climate change, but such studies in South America are lagging behind most other areas of the world. This is particularly true in Colombia, due to the nation’s long-running civil war and political unrest. Based out of Medellin, paleoclimatologist Nicole Davi will study and core Polylepsis and other high-altitude tree species. The data will also be used to study the effects of repeated ocean/atmosphere cycles including the El Nino Southern Oscillation, which greatly affects weather in this region. Davi will also work with Medellin graduate and undergraduate students in the laboratory.

***GONE GLACIERS | Geologic fieldwork, Chilean and Argentine Andes | OCT-NOV 2021 OR LATER
Geologist Michael Kaplan and colleagues at Chilean and Argentine institutions are working to investigate how changing climate and the fast tectonic uplift of the Andes have interacted to form the precipitous landscapes of today. The researchers will collect rocks and other debris left by former glaciers. The samples will later be analyzed in the lab. The ultimate goal is to understand long-term changes in climate, and their role in the evolution of these areas. Fieldwork will take place intermittently over coming years.

ERUPTION COMING? | Volcanology studies, Ecuador | DECEMBER 2021
Volcanologist Yves Moussallam hopes join an international team visiting Ecuador’s highly active Reventador volcano. Situated in a remote forested area of the western Amazon basin, the volcano has been throwing off ash, lava, incandescent blocks and poisonous gases almost continuously since 2008, but there has been no major eruption since 2002. Moussallam’s specialty is collecting and analyzing gases that not only present immediate dangers, but have potential effects on climate. Most sampling on the two-mile tall peak will probably be done using an experimental drone. Team members from other institutions will study other aspects of the volcano. Video from Moussallam’s work in Vanuatu | Smithsonian web pages on Reventador

ISLANDS RISING | Geologic fieldwork, northern Bahamas | NOV-DEC 2021 and TBD 2022
To improve forecasts of future sea level rise, scientists are turning to coastlines that have preserved geologic markers of sea levels during times when the planet warmed rapidly. A prime target: the last interglacial period, about 116,000 to 128,000 years ago, when temperatures rose slightly higher than they are today. But a major obstacle is the limited understanding of how the land itself may have risen or fallen in the interim, and thus confounded calculations. Geologist Maureen Raymo and geodynamicist Jacqueline Austermann will sample and measure formations along coastlines in the northern Bahamas in order to get at this question. Photo gallery of past Bahamas work | Story on related research in Barbados


AFRICAN SMOG | Air pollution monitoring, sub-Saharan Africa | ONGOING

Many of Africa’s fast-growing megacities suffer from drastic air pollution, linked largely to poverty. Dirty air may kill as many as 700,000 people a year. Most cities cannot even measure the pollution, much less address it. Atmospheric scientist Dan Westervelt is now working to set up networks of air-monitoring devices in seven cities to help chart soot, ozone and other substances produced by residential burning of wood and charcoal for cooking; emissions from poorly maintained vehicles using low-quality fuel; private diesel generators used during frequent power outages; and burning of garbage due to a lack of refuse collection. Work is being done in Accra, Ghana; Mombasa and Nairobi, Kenya; Lomé, Togo; Kigali, Rwanda; and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Stemming Air Pollution in the Global South | Bridging the Air-Pollution Data Gap in Sub-Saharan Africa

PLUNGING CANYONS | Geologic fieldwork, south Australia | APRIL 2022
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 evolution of the first complex organisms, during the Ediacaran Period. Geologists Nicholas Christie-Blick and Sarah Giles will sample rocks and examine carbon isotopes from this time in the dramatic deep canyons of the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. The canyons are thought to have formed underwater, and thus may hold evidence of how marine life evolved over long stretches of time. The researchers will also examine new evidence suggesting the canyons could have been cut by rivers during a brief but extreme drawdowns of sea levels. Expedition may involve strenuous hiking.

SINKING AND SHAKING | Studies of Bangladesh subsidence and earthquake risk| ONGOING 2021-2022
Across much of Bangladesh, sea levels have risen and the land is sinking, due to natural compaction of sediments. This not only threatens flooding, but pollution of fresh water aquifers. Furthermore, it has become clear that the region faces substantial earthquake risk. Geophysicists Michael Steckler, Kerry Key and colleagues are studying the forces at work with precise measurements of land levels and underlying geology. October-November 2021 will see drilling near the coast. December 2021-January 2022: mapping of fresh vs. saline subterranean water along two river transects by research vessel in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest remaining mangrove forest. March 2022: a student field trip to look at a variety of ongoing efforts. May-June 2022: another river survey to map thickness of the earth’s crust, and overlying sediments. Scientists Map Huge Undersea Fresh-Water Aquifer | Bangladesh earthquake risk | Watch a documentary / Project blog

OCEAN INVADERS| Studies of harmful plankton, Oman | ONGOING
It’s part plant, part animal, and it’s taking over. 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. Off 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 study of the organism and how to deal with it, working at sea to understand the forces that drive its life cycle, and how Oman can adapt. The creatures are now spreading off southeast Asia and India, and may eventually reach other areas. Studying Bioluminescent Blooms in the Arabian Sea

*** DEEP-EARTH DESERT | Geologic fieldwork, Oman | POSTPONED TO 2022
In the desert nation of Oman, rocks from earth’s mantle, usually inaccessible, have been thrust to the surface. These rocks naturally take up vast amounts of atmospheric carbon and convert it to solid carbonate. An international team led by Peter Kelemen has drilled into these formations to investigate ways that this process might be greatly speeded to sequester carbon from the air. This year, a commercial Oman company will perform the first experimental injections. Concurrently, experiments are underway t pin down the necessary pressure/temperature conditions, in the lab of geophysicist Christine McCarthy. (see above). Scientific American article / Video, photo essay, story on the Oman project / Oman Drilling Project webpages

***SUSTAINING PEACE | Field interviews/workshops, New Zealand, Costa Rica POSTPONED
While most research frames peace within the context of conflict and war, social psychologist Peter Coleman and colleagues from the Advanced Consortium on Conflict, Cooperation and Complexity are studying the factors that contribute to intergroup harmony in societies that are outstandingly peaceful. Fieldwork was recently completed in Mauritius. The researchers hope to move on to Costa Rica and New Zealand when conditions permit. Report on Mauritius | The Sustainable Peace Project | Researchers Study How Mauritius Achieves Peace

***BIRTH OF THE AMAZON | Seafloor drilling, Western Atlantic | POSTPONED
The International Ocean Discovery Program will investigate the tectonic and climate conditions offshore South America from before the Amazon River was born until today. Researchers will drill two deep boreholes in the sediment fan of the Amazon River to take samples dating back some 70 million years. Data should provide new information about how the Atlantic basin developed, give clues to how the neotropical rainforests of South America evolved, and outline the history of ocean conditions in the western equatorial Atlantic. Lamont petrophysicist Will Fortin will help analyze the cores. Ship departs from Barbados, docks at Fortaleza, Brazil. | IODP Expedition 387 web pages

NAVIGATING THE NEW ARCTIC | Mapping Greenland’s coastal waters | ONGOING
Sea levels in most of the world are rising, but paradoxically, levels in Greenland are dropping—in part because Greenland is losing so much ice, the land itself is rebounding, in some places as much as an inch a year. This threatens to literally strand many roadless coastal communities, which depend on already shallow waters for travel and fishing. In conjunction with local people, a group led by polar scientist Robin Bell will map coastal waters near four communities in detail, and install tide gauges and other instruments to understand in real time how they are changing, and might change in the future. Work will take place in the towns of Kullorsuaq, Aasiaat, Tasilaq, and the capital, Nuuk. Story on the project | Story, video, slideshow on the melting of Greenland

***FAR NORTH FOREST | Tree ring coring, microplastic sampling, southern Greenland | POSTPONED
Climate scientist Marco Tedesco will lead an expedition to Greenland’s only natural forest, in the remote Qinngua Valley. The forest, nestled in an unusual protected area, hosts slow-growing trees probably hundred of years old; tree rings may contain uniquely valuable information about how Greenland’s climate has changed, and the potential for trees and other vegetation to take over as Greenland continues to warm. The team plans to spend a few days coring living trees; they may also try to locate logs that have recently melted out of nearby glacial ice, which could potentially extend the tree-ring record back much farther. Greenland Once Had Lush Forests | How Climate Change May Green Greenland

***DYING ICE | Land, sea, air investigations of Helheim Glacier, eastern Greenland | SUMMERS 2022-2023
Studying a single glacier in fast-melting Greenland in unprecedented detail, researchers from eight institutions including glaciologist Marco Tedesco first embarked in 2019 on a four-year project to investigate all aspects of the Helheim Glacier, one of east Greenland’s largest. The glacier, which meets ocean waters in a fjord, has been shrinking rapidly since 2001. The team is using drones both above the glacier and underwater, as well seismometers and lasers to map movements of the ice, reactions between meltwater and marine waters, and other dynamics. The investigation should open windows onto processes at other glaciers, and the implications for 21st-century sea level rise. Account of the 2019 expedition | Article on the project

***METEORITE ON ICE | Drilling an impact crater, northern Greenland |POSTPONED
In 2018, scientists announced the discovery of an apparent 19-mile-wide meteorite crater under a kilometer of ice within northern Greenland’s Hiawatha Glacier—the first time such a feature has been spotted under an ice sheet. Much about it is still a mystery, as it has only been imaged by geophysical instruments. Pending funding, a team including geochemist Sidney Hemming hopes to drill through the ice and take geologic samples. Some think the crater could be as young as 12,000 years, and could be linked to a sudden climate shift that wiped out many species around that time. There is some evidence that it could be older. In any case, it appears to be one of the 25 biggest known impacts on the earth, and must have had consequences at least regionally, and possibly globally. Article on the impact discovery

END OF AN ICE SHEET? | Glacial geology, Baffin Island, Canada | POSTPONED TO JULY-AUG 2022
The Barnes Ice Cap, located on Canada’s Arctic Baffin Island, is one of the last remnants of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which once covered North America as far south as New York and New Jersey. It is receding, and recent modeling suggests it could disappear by 2200. But are the current small dimensions of the sheet unprecedented? Geologists and geochemists including Nicolás Young, Joerg Schafer and Gisela Winckler will travel to the edge of the ice cap to collect samples from bedrock that has emerged from under the ice in the last decade. The team will later measure rare cosmogenic nuclides that form in the rock only when it is exposed; the amount present will help determine if this apparent remnant of the last ice age has completely disappeared in the more recent geologic past. Abstract of the project

***OUT OF PHASE? | Glacial geology and tree-ring studies, New Zealand | JAN-FEB 2022
A team including glacial geologists Aaron Putnam and Joerg Schaefer, and tree-ring scientist Edward Cook will travel through New Zealand’s glaciated Southern Alps to explore what appears to be a disconnect between advances and retreats of glaciers in the southern hemisphere and those of the north. The geologists will trace changes in the ice over the last 10,000 years by sampling and analyzing radioisotopes in rocks near current glacier fronts. Forests are growing on nearby moraines; rings from trees there will be sampled to more finely date changes in temperature during more recent centuries. The team will also scour the landscape for ancient pieces of wood or other organic matter that may have been swallowed and later released by ice. The findings will be compared to the better studied dynamics of glaciers in the European Alps. Expedition involves strenuous hiking. Previous research on New Zealand glaciers

***STONE-AGE LIVESTOCK | Archaeology, geochemistry, central Turkey
Exactly how and when humans evolved from hunters to herders is a source of much ongoing work, especially at the Neolithic settlement of Aşıklı Höyük in central Turkey. Grad student Jordan Abell and colleagues have shown that the switch probably happened there rapidly about 10,000 years ago, using an unusual marker: the density of urine salts left in soils by people and animals. He will return to the site to work alongside geomorphologists, zooarchaeologists and archaeologists, sampling newly excavated hearths, floors, walls and alleyways for their chemistry, and trying to refine techniques of paleo-urine analysis. Switch From Hunting to Herding Recorded in Ancient Pee

DEEP BIOSPHERE | Seafloor drilling, South Atlantic Ocean | APRIL 7-JUNE 7, 2022
The International Ocean Discovery Program will collect subseafloor cores along the western flank of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, at sites where the crust is 7 million to 60 million years old. Scientists will investigate low-temperature hydrothermal interactions between the aging volcanic basalt that comprises the crust, and overlying sediments. These zones contain a largely unexplored world of microbial ecosystems; the drilling should bring new insights into this deep biosphere, as well as how the oceans have evolved during past intervals of rapid climate change. Ship will traverse from Montevideo, Uruguay, to Cape Town, South Africa. The crew will include Lamont researchers Michael Kaplan and Angela Slagle. | IODP Expedition 390 web pages

FIRE UNDER ICE | Geologic fieldwork, James Ross Island, Antarctica | DEC 2022-JAN 2023
Located near the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, James Ross Island hosts alternating layers of marine sediments, glacial debris and volcanic flows, laid down as sea levels and ice fronts surged back and forth in tandem with dramatic changes in climate over millions of years. The presence of the repeated volcanic flows—some of them erupted under ice—means that the the climate-driven changes to the landscape can be finely dated, using radiometric methods. In order to understand these changes, geochemists Sidney Hemming and Michael Kaplan will join with Argentine colleagues to investigate the period from 3.3 million to 1.7 million years ago, when the planet moved from the generally warmer Pliocene to the Pleistocene, when temperatures dropped and drove the planet’s most recent cycle of ice ages.

SLOW EROSION. VERY SLOW. | Geologic fieldwork, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica | POSTPONED TO DEC 2022-JAN 2023
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 here, but the instruments pick up minute acoustic emissions that signal openings of tiny cracks in rocks; from these, scientists hope to extrapolate erosion rates. The work is expected to open new vistas onto the evolution of the surfaces of both planets. Project blog

SLIDING INTO THE SEA | Geophysical measurements on, over and under Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica | POSTPONED UNTIL AUSTRAL SUMMER 2022/2023
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 are studying every aspect of the glacier. Among them, geophysicist Jonathan Kingslake will camp on the ice for a total of four months to collect data on the properties of rocks and sediments beneath the glacier. In the air, a team flying over the ice will be equipped with airborne radar, gravity, magnetics and LiDAR instruments, to collect data on ice thickness and sea-bed depth. Story on the project | Project web page

RESCUING SLAG AND CO2 | Steelworks recycling, northern China | ONGOING
Researchers from the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy are working with Baotou Steel in Inner Mongolia to run a revolutionary new plant designed to recycle slag and waste CO2 into raw materials used in paper, plastic, paint, plastic, cement, and the oil and gas industries. A pilot run has been completed; as researchers analyze the data, the team is moving forward with a phase-2 demonstration, which is near commercial scale. This project to create so-called “green ores” is led by Lenfest director Ah-Hyung (Alissa) Park. Article on the project

SOUNDS OR SILENCE? | Bioacoustic recording, central and south India | ONGOING
Project Dhvani (Sanskrit for “sound”) is placing recorders in the biodiverse dry tropical forests of central India, including the famous Kanha Tiger Reserve, and in the country’s mountainous, misty Western Ghats. Using newly developed algorithms, researchers will plot the abundance of a wide variety of creatures that communicate with sound, including insects, amphibians, birds and mammals. The aim is to study how human presence is affecting them, and how different approaches to restoring degraded landscapes affect wildlife. In some cases, sounds will be transmitted in real time, enabling researchers and to pick up signs of poaching or illegal logging. The team aims to engage the global public with sounds posted on an interactive website. Project overseen by Earth Institute professor Ruth DeFries. Project Dhvani website | Western Ghats site

***DANGEROUS WELLS | Testing for arsenic, fluoride, India, Southeast Asia| ONGOING
Naturally occurring arsenic and fluoride in groundwater are major problems in wells across much of Asia. Geochemists Alexander van Geen and Ben Bostick are studying the causes and possible mitigation measures for arsenic, working across Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and western China. Beneficial in small quantities in water supplies, fluoride is dangerous in greater ones, causing a range of health problems. In the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, researcher Radhika Iyengar of the Center for Sustainable Development, has recruited college students to sample wells on a regular basis and inform communities which are safe or unsafe. Testing for fluoride in India | Videos and story on Asian geological and health studies | Arsenic pollution near Hanoi | U.S. wells tainted by arsenic

***COFFEE TIME | Helping farmers adapt to climate, Colombia, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Vietnam, other countries
J. Nicolas Hernandez-Aguilera and Diego Pons of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society are working to help coffee growers deal with climate variability and change, with a focus on smallholders. In one project, they are developing a digital advisory tool. Another project aims to improve the design of index insurance, which pays farmers for losses based on adverse weather rather than documented losses. The researchers aim to put farmers at the center of data generation and insurance design. In Vietnam’s central highlands, Dannie Dinh and John Furlow will meet with farmers, agricultural extension workers and community leaders as part of an effort to provide medium-term climate forecasts tailored to the specific needs and geographical locations of growers. Part of a Columbia World Project, Adapting Agriculture to Climate Today, for Tomorrow (ACToday). ACToday website | The Future of Food Security in Vietnam | Q&A with Hernandez-Aguilera

 

MORE POTENTIAL RESEARCH: DETAILS WHEN AVAILABLE

Lead has long been banned from paint and other common products, but still lurks in urban soils. Geochemist Alexander van Geen and colleagues are using a fast-results test kit to test backyards, gardens and parkland around heavily industrialized Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and other areas. Article on the project

Paleoclimate scientist William D’Andrea hopes to join an expedition to northern Greenland’s Peary Land in the summers of 2022 and 2023. Because of its dry weather, this little-visited peninsula contains the most northerly ice-free region in the world. D’Andrea and colleagues would drill cores from the bottoms of lakes to determine climates of the distant past. Due to the unique conditions here, they may get data from much farther back than is available anywhere else in the Arctic. Story, video, slideshow on D’Andrea’s work in Arctic Norway

Oceanographer Joaquim Goes and colleagues are investigating the environmental health of the 1,300-square-mile Long Island Sound. Under intense pressure from surrounding populous areas, the Sound is periodically stressed by excess nutrients, algal blooms and low oxygen levels. Scientists and students will be taking water samples from a research vessel and collating these with satellite images, to help government agencies better manage the area. Article on the project

Paleoclimatologist Kevin Uno hopes to participate in archaeological digs and investigate the climate context for the emergence of early stone tools in Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge in January 2022. He will continue with fieldwork in Kenya’s Lake Turkana region February-July 2022. Further fieldwork in China’s Nihewan Basin is planned, but currently on hold.

Geologist Leonardo Seeber has long been working in his native Calabria with various colleagues to understand the long-term tectonic history of southern Italy and the surrounding region. Complex movements there have created seabeds, thrown up mountain ranges, fired volcanoes and shaken the land with great earthquakes. Evidence for much of this is exposed right at the surface in his study area. Blog of earlier explorations

Economist Belinda Archibong and colleagues are studying the effects of gas flaring on the health and cognitive development of children in North Dakota and in Archibong’s native Nigeria. Interview with Archibong

Geologist Paul Olsen and colleagues hope to do reconnaissance in the Four Corners area of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah in order to plan the next phase of the Colorado Plateau Coring Project, aimed at better understanding the planetary climate from about 200 million to 180 million years ago. A large part of the work will be looking at rock sequences in conjunction with the Navajo Nation. Related drilling project at Petrified Forest National Park

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