News from the Columbia Climate School

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A Guide to Upcoming Scientific Fieldwork

[Last updated: Dec. 13, 2012]

Journalists may join Earth Institute research field expeditions, which take place on every continent and every ocean. Below: selected projects, in rough chronological order. (Work in and around New York listed separately at bottom.) While in the field, researchers may be available by phone or email, depending on site. Some expeditions will produce blogs, carried on our State of the Planet pages. Unless otherwise stated, projects originate with our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Journalists or employers must pay travel to sites; further expenses are on a case-by-case basis. This list is not comprehensive, and some dates are only approximate. For more info on the feasiblity and logistics of joining, contact researchers through hyperlinks below; or Kevin Krajick 212-854-9729; or Kim Martineau 845-365-8708. This advisory is updated frequently.



Field work guide map, Earth Institute, Lamont-Doherrt Earth Observatory
Click to go to an interactive map of the Earth Institute’s scientific fieldwork around the world.



TURNING CO2 TO STONE Startup of Carbon-Sequestration Plant, Reykjavik, Iceland FEB-NOV 2012

After a couple years of testing, a unique underground carbon-sequestration project is running its first pilot tests. Many scientists are working on schemes to capture and store carbon-dioxide emissions underground, but most so far would leave it in liquid form, which critics fear could eventually leak. Seeking a foolproof method, the Earth Institute and cooperating institutions are running the CarbFix project, which aims to turn excess CO2 into solid mineral, using natural chemical reactions underground. At a geothermal power plant outside Reykjavik, the researchers are now pumping pure CO2 captured from Iceland industrial plants, mixed with water, into volcanic basalt formations. Starting in April, they will pump gases generated by the geothermal plant itself (which brings a mixture of gases from the earth in the process of generating energy) back down. Below, natural reactions with the basalt should turn the CO2 to a solid carbonate, similar to limestone. In conjunction with the University of Iceland and Reykjavik Energy, Lamont-Doherty geochemist Wallace Broecker is one of the originators; Lamont geochemists Juerg Matter and Martin Stute are helping run the operation.

CarbFix project website

Article on initial tests

Image gallery (pdf)

 LESSONS OF CYCLONE NARGIS  Travels through Myanmar  MAR 5-17, 2012

Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar in 2008, was one of the deadliest ever recorded, killing at least 140,000 people. And at the time, the authoritarian Myanmar governement stood accused by much of the world of bungling, and even hindering, emergency relief efforts. Four years later, with government strictures and foreign relations easing, Earth Institute professor John Mutter and economist Sonali Deraniyagala will travel the hard-hit southern delta region to research what really happened in the aftermath. Their contrarian hypothesis: emergency relief and recovery efforts in fact worked well. They say local government, religious, social and military institutions appear to have stepped in apart from, or despite, the central government; they may even have been strengthened by the crisis. Mutter and Deraniyagala have used some unconventional parameters to suggest that the effects of natural disasters elsewhere are not all bad. Among other things, Mutter has studied the response to Hurricane Katrina–after which, he says, the U.S. government may have not done much better than that of Myanmar.

Story on the team’s preliminary research

Cyclone Nargis

The Hurricane Katrina project


Seismology, Geology, Geophysics, Social Surveys MARCH 8-18, 2012 – ONGOING THRU 2015

In two major projects, teams from Columbia and Vanderbilt universities are assessing interrelated threats in Bangladesh, earth’s most crowded nation: great earthquakes, shifting land and rivers, and sea-level rise.

Bangladesh lies on the world’s biggest river delta, close to or below current sea level, and surrounded by major tectonic boundaries. There are signs that major quakes have occurred before; if repeated, they could drown wide swaths of land, as the mighty rivers that drain the Himalayas seem prone to suddenly shift course when perturbed. Lamont-Doherty seismologist Leonardo Seeber has been traveling with Bangladeshi and Indian geologists to survey surface geology. Lamont geophysicist Michael Steckler is installing and monitoring instruments recording natural sinkage and other movements of the surface. With the University of Dhaka’s Syed Humayun Akhter and colleagues, Lamont seismologist Won-Young Kim is expanding a network of seismometers designed to reveal the locations of faults buried by up to 12 miles of delta sand and mud. Steven Goodbred (Vanderbilt) and colleagues are hand-boring some 250 wells, to reveal past river movements. The 5-year program is now in its second year.

In a separate project, starting 2012, the scientists are trying to sort out ongoing sea-level rise from the natural sinking of land (which now may be greatly worsened by building of dams and pumping of groundwater). Some projections say that a fifth of Bangladesh will be inundated by a 3-foot rise in seas over the next century, displacing some 15 million people—but the earthquake project is already showing that much land may be sinking even faster than the sea is rising. Led by Vanderbilt, the team will try to determine to what degree affected people may adapt—by raising shrimp for instance, rather than farming—or be driven to migrate.

Next major trip is March 8-18, when Steckler, Kim and Goodbred lead students to field sites, and continue installing instruments and drilling wells. Among other things, Steckler will go by boat to the remote southerly Sundarbans swamps to install tidal gauges and other instruments designed to distinguish between sea-level rise and land subsidence. The team will also install instruments around the rapidly sinking capital of Dhaka, and in the northern foothills, where a major known fault lies.

Watch a documentary about the project

Project website

Science magazine article on the threat

Dhaka University seismology pages

ANCIENT REEFS UP CLOSE Student field trip, Barbados MARCH 8-18, 2012

Fossil coral reefs fringing the Caribbean island of Barbados represent a hinge point in modern climate science; it was here that scientists found the evidence from which they worked out how earth’s orbital cycles drive the waxing and waning of ice ages, and thus sea levels. Participants will study magnificent reefs both on dry land, and underwater, and consider how evolving knowledge of natural climate cycles plays a key role in understanding modern climate change. The area, being actively uplifted as the crust of the Atlantic Ocean is thrust under the Caribbean, is also a classic study in plate tectonics. The trip is led by geochemist Steven Goldstein, who has done extensive sampling of the reefs for ongoing studies. Spring break trips to other sites often go to other geologic locales, such as Mono Lake and Death Valley, Calif.

Web page on Barbados fieldwork

Volcanic danger discovered in Death Valley


CENTRAL AMERICA’S PAST/FUTURE RAIN Tree-ring studies, Guatemala highlands MARCH 11-17, 2012

In many parts of the world, Lamont-Doherty scientists use samples of tree rings as records of rainfall and temperature going back many centuries—information that has shed light on how climate has affected past societies, and useful for thinking about the future. But barely any samples come from anywhere between Mexico and Bolivia–and southern Central America, models predict that rainfall may decrease severely with warming climate, and threaten water supplies. In southwestern Guatemala, tree-ring researcher Kevin Anchukaitis will lead an expedition to Tajumulco Volcano (13,845 feet), the tallest peak in Central America. Here, he and colleagues hope to identify long-lived high-elevation conifer species from which records can be extracted; he will work with Guatemalan scientists and local Maya people to find and sample old trees surviving in remote locations. They hope to interpret climate’s possible role in regional historical events over the past several hundred years, and provide practical information on how rainfall may shift in the region in coming decades.

National Science Foundation Project Abstract

Reconstructing Asia’s Most Devastating Droughts

Documentary on Hunting Ancient Trees

VOLCANOES AND TSUNAMIS OF THE CARIBBEAN Seabed drilling off the Lesser Antilles  MAR 3-APRIL 17, 2012

The island arc forming the eastern boundary of the Caribbean is not only volcanically active; the steep, relatively young flanks of the islands are believed prone to huge underwater landslides of volcanic debris that could generate tsunamis. So far, our knowledge of these threats is confined mainly to studies on land. The Integrated Ocean Drilling Project (IODP) will drill into the seabed at various sites in this region to investigate the history of these events, and help assess the current hazard by generating data on marine deposits. The drilling should reveal both past eruptions and landslides. Among the islands in this region are Barbados, Grenada,Montserrat and St. Lucia. IODP involves a broad international cast of researchers. Lamont customarily collects geophysical data from drill holes; logging scientist on this cruise is Angela Slagle. Ship departs from San Juan, Puerto Rico and docks at Curacao, Dutch Antilles. Cruise webpages

MONITORING ANTARCTIC ICE SHELVES Research cruise, Weddell Sea MARCH 2-APRIL 18, 2012

In 2002, an ice shelf the size of Rhode Island collapsed into the Weddell Sea off the Antarctica Peninsula–a wake-up call that rising global temperatures are having profound effects on earth’s polar ice. Since 2007, the U.S. National Science Foundation has funded a multi-year, interdisciplinary investigation of the physical and ecosystem changes around the former Larsen B Ice Shelf–LARISSA,for LARsen Ice Shelf System, Antarctica. In March, Lamont-Doherty oceanographer Bruce Huber is co-leading his third LARISSA cruise aboard the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer. Scientists will measure ocean salinity, temperature and pressure; collect water samples;and leave moorings behind to gather additional data between now and 2013.

2012 blog: Impacts of the Larsen Ice Shelf System on the Weddell Sea

2010 blog: Antarctic Voyage: Uncovering Abrupt Climate Change


GREENLAND MELTING Surveying the Ice Sheet By Air MAR 12-MAY 25, 2012

The great ice sheet covering Greenland is undergoing rapid climate-induced melting, but exactly how this works and what happens next are great unknowns To estimate how Greenland may drive future sea-level rises, the NASA-led project Operation IceBridge is imaging the ice sheet in three dimensions over a six year period, using a big DC-8 aircraft flown at low levels. Along with scientists from other institutions, Lamont-Doherty researchers run instruments as the plane flies. Laser-rangers will map surface topography to track how much ice is lost, and ground-penetrating radar and magnetics will map the shapes of underlying bedrock. One of Lamont’s main pieces is running the gravity instruments that measure the space between floating tongues of ice at the seaward ends of glaciers, and their underlying beds—a key factor in determining how glaciers calve ice into the ocean. The crew works out of Thule, northern Greenland March 12-April 1; Kangerlussuaq, western Greenland April 5-May 4; and back to Thule May 5-25. Lamont crew members include Kirsty Tinto and Timothy Creyts. Principal investigator: Jim Cochran.

Lamont’s IceBridge website

NASA IceBridge mission pages and NASA IceBridge logistics pages

Expedition blog and 2010 expedition blog (Antarctica)


THE FATE OF ARCTIC SEA ICE Water Sampling, Northern Ocean APRIL 28-MAY 18, 2012

Arctic summer sea ice is declining rapidly—a trend with enormous implications for global weather and climate. The multiyear Arctic Switchyard project, done in conjunction with the University of Washington and other institutions, is tracking the ice-choked, largely unexplored Arctic seascape above the Canadian Archipelago and Greenland, trying to distinguish the effects of natural climate variability from those of human-induced climate change. Scientists flying from the Canadian military base at Alert, Ellesmere Island, land by helicopter or ski plane to drill holes in the outlying ice, deploy instruments and retrieve water samples. A major aim is to reveal how much fresh water is entering the system from melting ice. This region is called the “switchyard” because small changes here may have major impacts on the north Atlantic Ocean, where the water eventually goes. Lamont staff include William Smethie, Ronny Friedrich and Dale Chayes. Due to the remote location, logistics of getting in and out may be complex; advance planning is necessary.

Arctic Switchyard page

Expedition blog

HOW THE DINOSAURS ROSE Drilling ancient rocks, Pennsylvania, UK, Morocco SPRING 2012/ONGOING

200 million years ago, half the species on earth died off, at the boundary between the Triassic and Jurassic periods, when dinosaurs arose from the ashes to rule the planet. Many scientists blame giant volcanic eruptions that boosted CO2 in the air, causing massive warming. Lamont geologists Paul Olsen and Dennis Kent go further: they say the eruptions may have been worsened by a huge meteorite strike, similar to the one that later wiped out the dinosaurs. They are digging and analyzing fossils and chemical elements in layers from that time from the UK, Morocco and the northeastern United States. In the next phase, March or April, they drill one of the most visible examples of the T-J boundary, in Exeter, Pennsylvania, where layers from the extinction are visible in a suburban escarpment. Up top, in a homeowner’s yard, the team will drill down 100 to 150 feet to recover samples of rocks and ancient soils that should represent the complete sequence of events. Drilling should take about a week. (In earlier U.S. Northeast research, cores have linked dinosaur fossils and tracks found by Olsen with an elevated layer of iridium, an element found in meteorites. Other recent sampling has been taking place along sea cliffs of western Britain and Northern Ireland, and around Marrakesh, and the Oujda, Morocco. Timing of further trips TBD.

Paper on CO2 and the T-J Boundary in the U.S. Northeast

Paper on dinosaurs and iridium layer in the U.S. Northeast

Rutgers U. press release on the research

Nature article on the project

BBC visits the UK sites

TURKEY’S RAINFOREST Studies of abrupt climate shifts, northeast Turkey APRIL 12-17, 2012

Turkey is not normally thought of as hosting rainforest– but humid, highly diverse patches exist in the cool, mountainous northeast. Tree-ring scientists Neil Pederson and Dario Martin will join Nesibe Kose of the faculty of forestry, Istanbul University, to visit the region, which holds deciduous trees that may reach 400 years old. Reconnaissance and samples will lay groundwork for future studies testing the idea that rapid changes in past climate have shaped the composition of this and other forests worldwide; in this area, naturally alternating wet and dry periods caused by changes in the North Atlantic Ocean are thought to sweep this region periodically and cause mass tree die-offs. Other work by Pederson suggests that similar switches in climate may have taken place in the U.S. East in the 1600s and 1700s. Since climate change could again help induce such large-scale shifts, the work applies directly to modern times.

Brief description of northeast Turkey trees

Pederson’s ‘Broadleaf Papers’ blog



The tropical Andes hold some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. In the páramos, between treeline and glaciers, climate change threatens to destabilize these fragile areas and cause loss of biodiversity as well as water storage and other functions critically important to Andean societies. Scientists led by Daniel Ruiz Carrascal of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society are trying to understand near-term trends at an expanding number of sites. The next expedition, in April, is to northwest Bolivia—between Antiquilla (4,600 meters) and San Jose (520 meters) to install temperature/humidity loggers, and conduct botanical, entomological and ecological surveys in conjunction with Birdlife International and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Since 2004, Ruiz Carrascal’s group at Colombia’s Escuela de Ingeniería de Antioquia has worked in Los Nevados Natural Park, near Medellin, at 4,000-4,500 meters. There, clouds and humidity seem to be thinning, water bodies drying, and wildfires increasing; stressed-out plants and other biota may be moving toward summits. One-week trips there go out about every three months. Participants must acclimate to extreme elevations, and be ready to endure inclement weather. Future collaborations will help assess changes also in Ecuador’s El Angel Reserve and in Peru.

Watch a slideshow on the project

Los Nevados flora catalog, image gallery (Spanish)

Project blog post

THE FUTURE OF EL NINO Sediment coring, seismic surveys, central Pacific Ocean MAY 1-25, 2012
The alternating El Niño/La Niña weather patterns in the tropical Pacific influence weather across much of the globe; but if the planet gets hotter as projected, scientists still don’t know if El Niño will grow stronger, bringing more extreme floods and droughts to some regions, or slacken, creating more uniform weather. In May, scientists aboard the Lamont-Doherty research vessel R/V Langseth will cruise off the tiny Line Islands (some 1,000 miles south of Hawaii) to sample ancient sediments that they hope will provide a clearer picture. Their goal is to use the shells of temperature-sensitive foraminifera (plankton) that have settled on the bottom year by year to reconstruct sea-surface temperatures—and thus El Niños–of the past 10,000 years, when relatively stable CO2 levels may have helped make El Niño weaker than today. Co-led by Lamont paleoclimatologist Pratigya Polissar, the team will also peer farther back in time, when fluctuating greenhouse gas levels and changes in earth’s orbit probably shaped the relative strength of these weather patterns. The researchers will locate the best sites for collecting sediment layers by imaging of the sub-bottom using seismic instruments. Cores are taken using 20- to 30-foot tubes driven into the bottom; the cores will be opened aboard and studied microscopically. The scientists will also take large samples of water to test for modern temperatures and plankton that can be calibrated with ancient samples. The ship sails from Hawaii; crew will maintain a blog.

Cruise web pages

Expedition blog

SCOTLAND’S LAST ICE AGE Coring ancient bogs MAY 4-22, 2012

Some 12,000 years ago, much of the northern hemisphere underwent an abrupt climate reversal, in which a then generally warming world returned to a sort of mini-ice age. That included Scotland, where glaciers redeveloped–the so-called Loch Lomond Readvance. The extent of the ice is well mapped, but the causes and timing of this dramatic event are not well understood. (Some say it was connected to a temporary cessation of normal ocean currents that carry heat to the north). Geochemists Gordon Bromley and Aaron Putnam are trying to nail down Scotland’s glacial history, using cosmogenic isotopes in boulders, and organic matter preserved in ancient bogs that directly overlie glacial till. On this trip, they will take dozens of deep sediment cores from bogs, and later radiocarbon-date bottom layers to come up with departure dates for the ice. They start at Scotland’s largest bogland, the Rannnoch Moor, thought to be in the center of the last ice cap. Then they head to Fisherfield Forest, in the northwest highlands, where the periphery of the former icecap is thought to have lain, to investigate when the ice began receding.

Wikipedia article on Rannoch Moor

CLIMATE AND LIFE UNDER ARCTIC SEA ICE Coring, microbiology, Chukchi Sea off Barrow. Alaska  MAY 12-JUNE 12, 2012

Tiny specialized plants and grazing animals living under the northern sea ice form the base of the food web that feeds all arctic marine life, from fish and birds to seals, polar bears and whales. With an eye to what changing climate may mean, microbiologists Andrew Juhl and Craig Aumack are studying the basic processes at work here, including the formation of organic matter, and its sinkage through the water when the ice melts in spring. Using snowmobiles to traverse the frozen sea, they will remove 4- to 5-foot cores of ice with portable drills, inspect the ice underside with cameras and other instruments, and perform lab experiments on the cores. An overarching question: how will fast-warming northern climate and dissipating ice affect the availability of food in the arctic? In some areas, there are already signs that changes in the timing, speed and dynamics of the melt could have powerful effects on northern ecology, possibly hurting some common creatures that depend on nutrients to sink (such as certain ducks), and shifting the balance toward more southerly species (such as pollock). May 20-27, the team will host a high-school teacher; during this time, they plan to range far out on the ice, and also connect with local cultural and educational organizations. They will work out of an old naval base outside town.

See a movie showing the work


HOW THE WEST WAS STRETCHED Studies of volcanism and the mantle, California MAY 2012

Many parts of the American West have visible stretch marks on the surface, and are pocked with hundreds of small volcanoes; most are inactive right now, but are young, and could certainly erupt again. New images of the deep subsurface created by the U.S. EarthScope project suggest why the volcanoes cluster in certain places: earth’s mantle, some 60 kilometers down, is melting. Volcanologist Terry Plank and colleagues at Brown and Rice universities and have been collecting scoria (glasslike lava fragments) and xenoliths (intact rocks thrown from the depths) from various sites, including near the lip of the Grand Canyon. In conjunction with subsurface imagery, these are analyzed to show the temperature of the underlying mantle, and provide clues to why the mantle is melting in places; how the West is stretching; and by implication, the prospects for further volcanism. In May, the team will collect its final samples from near Big Pine, southeastern California.

EarthScope website


ITALY’S RING OF FIRE Field geology, Calabria   MID-LATE SUMMER 2012

Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes shake southern Italy frequently—the product of 12 million years of tectonic evolution that continues now at a rapid pace. Lamont-Doherty geologists Leonardo Seeber and Meg Reitz will traverse the spectacular steep landscapes of Calabria, the “toe” in the boot of southern Italy, as part of a project to understand the ongoing processes, and the hazards they create. Under tectonic pressure, mountains here are rising remarkably fast, exposing unusual, ancient rocks, created before the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, to the west, separated from the mainland. Part of the puzzle is where these rocks– quite unlike the sedimentary layers in other parts of Italy–came from originally. The researchers will travel on foot, mapping features of the uplift, and collecting geologic specimens. Pending scheduling, geophysicist Michael Steckler will also install GPS stations to measure the uplift in real time. Part of long-term Calabrian Arc project, aimed at understanding the wider geologic history of the region.

2010 field season blog

Calabrian arc web page

Regional earthquake study page

Corriere della Sera interview with Seeber (in Italian)

DEEP UNDER MT. ST. HELENS Seismic surveys, Washington state JUNE 2012 and ONGOING

A new multi-institutional project will examine the inner workings of Mt. St. Helens, and produce what may be the world’s most comprehensive look at a dangerously active volcano. St. Helens’ 1980 explosion was the most deadly and destructive such event in U.S. history, and it continues to rumble periodically. Teams from the University of Washington, Rice University and U.S. Geological Survey will study everything from chemistry of lavas to electromagnetism, earthquakes and shallow magma below the summit. In one segment, Lamont-Doherty seismologist Geoffrey Abers will lead an unprecedented investigation: the use of 75 broad-band seismometers placed in the surrounding area to make a full set of CAT-scan like images of the volcano’s ultimate magma sources, some 100 kilometers down, where subducting tectonic plates are thought to be grinding away. The entire project should produce new insights into volcanic hazards here and at volcanoes across the world, as well as basic knowledge about how magma is produced and transported, and the workings of subduction zones. In early to mid-June 2012, Abers will scout out sites within 50 kilometers of the summit; he and colleagues will install the seismometers in summer 2013 or 2014.

Rice University page on the project

USGS Mt. St. Helens page

GIANT PACIFIC NW QUAKES Seismic surveys on land/sea, Washington/Oregon JUNE 1-JULY 8, 2012

Off British Columbia, Washington and Oregon lies an undersea subduction zone that has created giant earthquakes and tsunamis similar to the one that recently hit Japan. The last was in 1700, and it will certainly go off again. This summer, scientists at sea and on land will produce images of the deep subsurface that will illuminate this grave hazard, and produce basic information about plate tectonics. Lamont’s research vessel, the R/V Langseth, will conduct the first-ever imaging of an entire subducting oceanic tectonic plate—the Juan de Fuca plate– from the ridge where it is growing, to the trench where it is diving under North America. Working from 20 to 600 kilometers offshore, the ship will send pulses of sound to the seabed and read the echoes, to produce CAT-scan images of the crust. A separate vessel run by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will place seismometers on the ocean floor to extend the readings down 20 kilometers or more. On land, Lamont scientists will place seismometers below Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula to pick up the ship’s signals. A major aim of the study is to understand how much water is being drawn down into the crust and underlying mantle. This is key because water pressure probably influences earthquakes. Water in the depths also is thought to be necessary for creating magmas of highly explosive volcanoes, such as Washington’s Mt. St. Helens. The Langseth (chief scientist Suzanne Carbotte) sails from Astoria, Ore., June 11-July 8; the Oceanus has a similar schedule. Land work, led by seismologist Geoffrey Abers, starts around June 1.

R/V Langseth information/schedule

Expedition blog

CLIMATE CHANGE IN ALASKA Plant, insect, bird, caribou, peat surveys JUNE – JULY, 2012

Ecologist Natalie Boelman is leading a five-year project in northern Alaska to study how warming climate may influence links among vegetation, insects and birds. As climate warms, shrubs are taking over tundra, potentially affecting plants, insects and the many migratory bird species that breed here. In early June, as things come alive and birds arrive, researchers working from Toolik Lake research station will study behavior, physiology and interactions. Boelman runs a network of automated microphones to record abundance of songbirds via their calls–what she calls a “bioacoustic network.” Pending funding, in June or July she will continue further south to the forested Seward Peninsula, where climate-driven increases in fire have scarred habitat; there, she and colleagues will study the effects on caribou.

In early July, paleoecologists Dorothy Peteet and Jon Nichols plan to pull up deep core samples of ancient tundra peat—the remains of millennia of plant growth. It contains pollen, seeds and isotopes that show the ecology of past environments, and how storage of carbon in the tundra has changed in relation to past climate (and suggest how current climate change may affect these factors). Last year, they recovered samples extending back 10,000 years, and they hope now to extend back to 15,000. Part of their work will be based out of Toolik. A second leg involves being dropped by aircraft and rough camping in the Etivluk River region, in the foothills south of the tundra, one of Alaska’s most remotest places. Pending funding, in a continuing Toolik study, plant physiologist Kevin Griffin will go in June or August to study different species’ response to CO2, temperature and soil nutrients, using experimental plots.

Project website

Q&A with Boelman

Boelman’s 2011 field blog

ADAPTING TO CLIMATE: ANDES GLACIERS AND WATER FLOW, ANCIENT AND MODERN Geology, hydrology, glaciology, archeology–southern Peru JUNE 20-JULY 31, 2012

Andean glaciers are the main source of water and hydropower for more than 30 million people, including the largest cities of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador–but now, much ice is melting fast, due to warming climate. To aid decisions on how to manage potentially erratic future water flow, an interdisciplinary team including Lamont-Doherty scientists Gordon Bromley and Gisela Winckler is studying how glaciers have responded to past climate shifts; how past Andean societies were influenced; what the glaciers are doing now; and what practical future adaptations might be. The geologists have been mapping and collecting rocks from moraines below the glaciated peaks of Coropuna and Allinccapac, in southern Peru to form a picture of past advances and retreats of those glaciers. Working alongside them is archeologist Kurt Rademaker (U of Maine), who has found what may be the oldest known human habitation in the Andes, at the base of Coropuna, going back some 12,000 years.. (One major question: what role did climate have in drawing people here, and have they at times been forced out?) This year, the team plans to start working also with the Arequipa-based Association for Sustainable Development (AEDES), which has been monitoring recession of Coropuna, local meteorology and water flow, and working to help farmers adapt to hydrological changes already underway, using terracing, improved irrigation, and storage facilities. The geology is done at about 15,000 feet, and involves extensive hiking; other work is at lower levels. Participants may have to deal with rough camping, inclement weather and effects of high elevation. (Future work may expand to field sites in Colombia, on the other side of the equator.)

Read the 2011 project blog

Current efforts to adapt to Coropuna’s changing water flow

Fortifying farms against melting of glaciers (in Spanish)

HOW HIGH DID SEAS GO? Sampling ancient shores JUNE-SEPT 2012 (South Africa, Kenya, Italy), SPRING 2013 (U.S. East Coast)

About 3 million years ago, during the Pliocene, earth was warmer than today and ice sheets collapsed, causing sea levels to rise. How high did the waters go? Lamont paleoclimatologist Maureen Raymo and a team from several institutions are undertaking expeditions to collect and precisely date shells and sediments from exposed mid-Pliocene shorelines around the globe. During June, Raymo and her team will collect samples from coastal regions in South Africa and Kenya. In the fall, the work continues on the U.S. East Coast, from North Carolina to Florida. (Past fieldwork has been done in Australia and India; other sites TBD.) After correcting for movement of shorelines due to tectonic activity and the loading and unloading of ancient ice sheets, they aim to pinpoint past sea level rises in Africa, the U.S. East Coast, Mediterranean, India, Australia and Madagascar. The key question driving their investigation: to what extent did melting from Greenland and Antarctica contribute to sea level rise during a period where temperatures averaged just 2 to 3 degrees Celsius warmer than today—a mark that many scientists think may be reached by 2100? How much ice melt and sea level rise should we expect in the centuries ahead?  

Pliocene Maximum Sea Level (PLIOMAX) web page

AFTER THE GULF OF MEXICO OIL SPILL Cruise to measure ecological effects JUNE 22-JULY 6, 2012

A consortium of scientists from 14 institutions continues to investigate the ecological effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill—much of it still unclear because so much of the oil leaked near the bottom. On this cruise aboard the R/V Endeavor, scientists from Lamont-Doherty and several other institutions will study how quickly microorganisms digest hydrocarbons flowing from the Gulf’s numerous natural oil and gas seeps, in order to understand natural processes at play in the recovery from the manmade spill. They will also measure oxygen levels and other water-quality indicators. Lamont oceanographer Ajit Subramaniam will lead the satellite imaging part of the project; Lamont microbiologist Andrew Juhl will lead the analysis of bacteria and planktonic “micrograzers” that eat oil, and Lamont geochemist Beizhan Yan will lead the chemical analyses of hydrocarbons.

Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG)

EARTHQUAKES, VOLCANOS AND RIFTING IN EAST AFRICA Seismic/geologic fieldwork, Malawi/Tanzania

JUNE – AUG, 2012; JUNE 2013; JAN 2014

In 2009, an unusual series of earthquakes shook northern Malawi, leaving thousands homeless—a reminder that the region sits atop the 4,000-kilometer-long East Africa Rift, where the continent is slowly tearing apart over millions of years, from the Red Sea down to this most southerly segment. This creates both earthquakes and volcanoes. Following an emergency effort to assess the recent quakes, an interdisciplinary team of Americans and Africans is studying the rift’s long-term evolution, and its real-time hazards. In June or July 2012 a team led by Lamont scientists Donna Shillington and Scott Nooner will deploy 15 GPS stations across northern Malawi and southern Tanzania to measure subtle spreading motion from both sides of the rift (thought to be 3.5 millimeters per year in this area). In August, geochemist Cornelia Class and Tanzanian colleagues will collect dozens of lava samples in southern Tanzania, to determine from how deep lavas have come, and how long ago. (There are multiple active volcanoes; the last recorded eruption was 1865, but much larger ones appear to have taken place in the past.) In June 2013, Shillington and James Gaherty will set out 60-some seismometers both on land and on the bed of Lake Malawi (which spans the two countries, in a basin created by the rift). These will record subtle tremors that may shed light on how the rifting is taking place, and paint a picture of potentially hazardous faults. In January 2014, the researchers will float in a refitted barge on Lake Malawi with equipment that will fire pulses of sound into the bottom and read the echoes—a procedure that produces a CAT scan-like picture of sediments, bedrock, faults and other features. The land seismology work will be mostly by vehicle; volcanic rock sampling may involve hiking in remote jungle areas to find suitable outcrops.

The researchers’ blog on assessing the 2009 quakes

DATING HUMANITY’S DISTANT PAST Geologic fieldwork, northern Kenya JULY-AUG 2012

Some of the most important fossils and artifacts related to human ancestry come from the dry, remote region around northern Kenya’s Lake Turkana, dug by the Leakey family and others . But accurate dating here—the key to understanding the remains—remains a continuing challenge. Lamont-Doherty geologists Dennis Kent and Christopher Lepre are working with paleontologists to date finds using advanced techniques that track periodic reversals in earth’s magnetic field recorded in rock layers. Lepre is working on the northern shores with a French team to collect and date sedimentary rocks related to ongoing excavations. Kent will concentrate further south, near the village of Loiyangalani, drilling out samples of volcanic rock, also related to excavations. Last year, Lepre and Kent successfully used paleomagnetism on area rocks to date the earliest sophisticated tools yet found—1.8 million years, 300,000 years earlier than previously thought. Now, they hope to probe the much deeper past—3.5 million to 4 million years ago, when the human precursor Australopithecus is thought to have lived. RemoteTurkana is inaccessible by road, and important for wildlife as well as paleontology. Fieldwork may involve hiking and camping.

Read about dating of the earliest tools

WHY GENGHIS KHAN ROSE Tracking grassland climate and history, central Mongolia JULY 26-AUG 14, 2012

In the 13th century the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan, and later Kublai Khan, built history’s largest empire, reaching from the Pacific Ocean to eastern Europe, and down into Persia and southeast Asia. How could nomadic horsemen from the cold, arid steppes of Mongolia do this? Conventional wisdom and climate records from elsewhere suggest they were driven by drought to seek new frontiers. But the 2010 discovery of a trove of long-dead ancient trees in a remote ancient lava field near the historic Orkhon Valley, seat of the empire, tells the opposite story. The researchers extracted tree rings going back to 658 AD—now the longest climate record for this part of the world–that suggest the Mongols actually rose during a time of unprecedented rain. This would have turned surrounding grasslands extraordinarily lush, enabling them to raise the vast numbers of horses and other livestock needed for outward expansion. An interdisciplinary team of Americans and Mongolians aims to test this idea with a variety of methods.

In late July, the discoverers of the trees, led by tree-ring scientists Neil Pederson (Lamont-Doherty) and Amy Hessl (West Virginia University), will return to lava fields to search for more and older specimens. The hunt is urgent, as remaining trees are threatened by increasing wildfires and booming eco-tourism that has increased demand for firewood. Later, collaborators hope to use resulting samples to model year by year how many animals and other resources the Mongols could have extracted from the landscape. The team will also collect preliminary sediment samples from lakes for determining signs of how many livestock existed at any one time, by how much dung they left behind. Eventually, a historical team will comb old manuscripts from China to Europe for evidence of climate at that time, and analyze the effects on military campaigns. This project is an outgrowth of earlier studies by Pederson and Hessl using old trees to study a current severe drought, and assess future climate change on the steppes. Lamont-Doherty tree-ring researchers have been working in Mongolia since 1995. The summer trip is co-led by Baatarbileg Nachin, head of National University of Mongolia’s Tree Ring Lab.

Genghis Khan project website

Mongolia wildfire project

Mongolian Climate, Ecology & Culture blog

Tree Ring Lab’s Mongolia pages

WILL KILAUEA EXPLODE? Lava sampling, Kilauea volcano, Hawaii AUG 13-27, 2012

Kilauea, one of the world’s largest and most active volcanoes, has often been thought of in modern times as essentially harmless—an “effusive” volcano that generally just oozes lava that doesn’t move too fast or far. But through examination of old lavas, there is increasing evidence that Kilauea may sometimes switch personalities, to become an explosive volcano—the kind that suddenly spews out giant spurts of hot material that would mow down living things in a wide radius around it in one giant cataclysm. Volcanologist Terry Plank and her collaborators will travel near the summits of the volcano to collect scoria—essentially, glass shards–from some apparently past explosive eruptions dating back hundreds of years. It is not clear whether explosive eruptions are driven by sudden rapid ascent of magma, or changes in the conditions in which suddenly depressurized gases emerge, or other factors. The scientists will analyze the samples for clues. The work is urgent, because of the large and growing population of visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

USGS Kilauea pages


AMAZONIA BURNING Fire, land use and climate studies, eastern lowland Peru AUG-SEPT. 2012

For millennia, people have set fires to clear land for cultivation, pastures or hunting; so-called slash and burn farming is common across much Africa, Asia and South America. It has been a useful strategy, but now it is becoming problematic as growing population, fragmentation of forests and warming climate lead to ever larger, more destructive escaped fires in many areas of the world. In the fast-developing Ucayali River region of the Peruvian Amazon, an interdisciplinary team is studying how fire is used, why some fires stay under control, and why others rage out of control. During the August-September “burning season,” they are chasing down fires in real time, using satellite images, local sources and reconnaissance into the back country. Once they find a fire, they measure its extent and qualities, map surrounding infrastructure and plant communities, and collect data from local farmers. This is the third year of a five-year project. Based at the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. Field team includes Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez; and Victor Guitierrez-Velez.

Watch a documentary on the project

Read about the global fire issue

Fires in Western Amazon website

ADAPTING TO RISING SEAS AT THE AMAZON MOUTH Studies of tides, weather, communities, Brazil  JULY, SEPT & DEC 2012, and ONGOING

Sea level at the mouth of the Amazon is rising 3 to 4 millimeters every year, and unexpected extreme high tides and other unusual weather events seem to be getting bigger and more frequent. In the face of this, some 5 million mostly poor, rural people in flood-prone areas are trying to adapt, in part by living part time on their land, and turning from farming to shrimping, fishing and forestry. A broad three-year interdisciplinary project led by the local Federal University of Pará in the city of Belém, Brazil, aims to document the tides, study human adaptations, and make them as successful as possible. Katia Fernandes of the the International Research Institute for Climate and Society will help collect data on local tides, and lead an effort to identify the drivers of unusually large ones (possibly tied to changes in Atlantic sea-surface temperatures, exacerbated by warming climate) and then to build a practical early-warning system. Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez of the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation will help organize locals to collect information on how communities are coping, and investigate the most effective strategies. Other groups will study the ecology of marine products, forests and crops. Fieldwork will involve interviews and visits to many communities, and monitoring of instruments.

HOW SALTY IS THE SEA? Research cruise, North Atlantic Ocean  Sept. 6-Oct. 9, 2012

Midway between the southeastern U.S. and northern Africa, oceanographer Arnold Gordon will oversee the gathering of salinity and temperature data from the top 400 meters of ocean, using floats, gliders, moorings and a robot-submarine. The subtropical North Atlantic, at the same latitude as the Sahara Desert, is one of the saltiest stretches of ocean on earth, the result of more freshwater evaporating from the sea surface than can be replenished by rainfall.  The subtropical oceans are expected to get saltier as the planet warms but the forecast could change if the processes that deliver freshwater to the subtropics—winds and large swirling eddies—also change. Gordon and his colleagues will examine these processes to learn how the warmer climate may also alter ocean circulation patterns which also in turn influence climate. The cruise will complement data coming from NASA’s Aquarius satellite, which last fall produced the first salt-level map of the seas; Future cruises are anticipated in the Atlantic Ocean, near the outflow of the Amazon River and in the Indian Ocean’s Bay of Bengal, another large source of freshwater to the oceans . Research vessel Knorr will depart Woods Hole, Mass., and dock in the Azores.

Cruise website

NASA Goes Below the Surface to Understand Salinity

New Salt Map of the Seas Gives Scientists a Taste of Discoveries Ahead

THREATS TO HIMALAYAN ICE AND RIVERS Hydrology, geology, tree rings – Bhutan OCT 2012-ONGOING

Many Himalayan glaciers are melting in the face of climate change, potentially endangering water supplies and hydropower for 1.3 billion people downstream. Closer to the icy peaks, big meltwater lakes are building behind leaky natural dams that sometimes burst with fatal results to those nearby. A new interdisciplinary project seeks to better predict future glacial dynamics and water flow, and to manage the results. A team led by geochemist Joerg Schaefer will study rocks and landforms around active glacial fronts to determine past climate conditions that have led to advances and retreats. This will be collated with nearby samples of tree rings taken by dendrochronologist Edward Cook and colleagues. Scientists at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society and Columbia Water Center hope to advise on safe ways to lower meltwater lake levels, and on future siting of hydropower stations and other facilities. Staff of the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions will study the sociological aspects of living in a glacier-influenced environment. Initial fieldwork will be around Raphstreng Glacier, in the country’s north. Access involves several days of high-elevation trekking and possible bad weather. The Earth Institute has been working for years with Bhutanese colleagues; last year they cosponsored a conference on Bhutan’s metric of Gross National Happiness.

Read an article about the project

Gross National Happiness conference


LOCKING CO2 INTO ROCK Geologic fieldwork – Oman JAN 2013 (NY workshop on possible drilling, Sept. 2012)

The desert nation of Oman is underlain by peridotite–normally a deep-earth rock that here has emerged at the surface. Because of its chemical nature, it reacts rapidly with water and CO2, forming solid carbonate minerals; as a result, the country is laced with spectacular carbonate formations visible at springs, road cuts, irrigation tunnels and other sites. Geochemists Peter Kelemen and Juerg Matter are examining how these natural processes work, and whether they may be artificially harnessed and speeded up—maybe a million times over—to pump industrial CO2 underground and store it there in solid form. They are taking rock and water samples from many sites, and lowering geophysical instruments into deep wells to measure the characteristics of rock below. Eventually, they hope to drill a series of deep experimental boreholes that may be used for pumping CO2. In September 2012, the scientists will hold a workshop at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to discuss the possible drilling, sponsored by the International Continental Drilling Program. In January, there is a proposed student field trip to sites of interest in Oman. The work is being done in cooperation with Petroleum Development of Oman.

Earth Institute article on the project

Living on Earth podcast with Juerg Matter

Mapping similar rocks in the U.S.

FEWER GLACIERS, MORE VOLCANOES? Lava sampling, southern Chile JAN 2013

Volcanologists have begun to think that glaciers may help keep eruptions in check by exerting pressure on the subsurface, and thus keeping magma down. There is some evidence that with the massive removal of ice following the last ice age some 18,000 years ago, eruptions have increased in places such as Iceland. To investigate this idea, volcanologist Dave Ferguson will travel to Puyuhuapi volcanoes of southern Chile to sample lavas from the last 20,000 years. In the lab, he will look at whether the chemistry of lavas suggest decompression on the earth’s surface, and will try to date eruptions to see if they became more frequent as ice was unloaded. (Some are even asking whether rapid deglaciation due to ongoing climate change could take pressure off volcanoes in some places.) The Chile volcanoes, comprising small cinder cones, are currently inactive, but lie along an active volcanic zone.  

Smithsonian Puyuhuapi volcano pages



The natural factors that drove the waxing and waning of past ice ages has direct bearing on our understanding of how human-influenced climate change may work. Studies of glaciers in the southern hemisphere are scant, but some scientists argue that they have moved out of sync with the north. To address how temperature and precipitation in the southern half of the planet have changed in the past, glacial geologist Michael Kaplan and colleagues are mapping and dating deposits of rocks left by retreating ice in Patagonia, the southernmost frontier of Andean glaciers. The researchers will collect rock samples from large boulders for later dating in the lab using cosmogenic isotopes. They will also core bog and lake-bottom sediments containing seeds, plant leaves and other organic matter, for use in carbon-14 dating. Sites span a stretch from the long-deglaciated Strait of Magellan to Puerto Natales, Chile, near the terminus of spectacular current-day glaciers. Involves some walking, but most field sites are fairly close to roads. Kaplan may make other forays to this general region to study dust generated by glaciation and related phenomena, some time in fall 2012 or spring 2013.

Related work in New Zealand


IN THE COMPANY OF PRIMATES Field studies of monkey behavior, western Kenya  JULY 2013 and ONGOING

Biologist Marina Cords has been studying monkey social behavior in western Kenya’s protected Kakamega Forest since 1979, returning for yearly field trips each summer. Her work has led to insights about how primates manage conflicts, mate and carry out other social functions closely related to human behavior. She has also learned much about forest conservation, and is involved in grassroots efforts at Kakamega. She, along with students and assistants, collect data on forest monkeys through direct observation and indirect sampling of the monkeys’ physiological functions, including through collection of feces. Kakamega is one of Kenya’s last remnants of the ancient rainforest that once spanned much of the center of Africa, and is currently under pressure from expanding human population.  One of Cords’s students was recently involved in the discovery of a new monkey species in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Q&A with Cords

Paper on forest conservation in the journal Nature

100 MILLION YEARS OF CRISES ON EARTH Deep Coring, Colorado Plateau Spring or Fall 2013

The Four Corners area of the American West is a paradise for geologists and paleontologists, with its spectacular rock formations, canyons (including the Grand Canyon), and rich fossil beds. However, many layers remain largely inaccessible on sheer cliffs or deeply buried. To assemble a more conclusive and continuous record of the region’s vast history, Lamont geologist Paul Olsen and colleagues propose to lead the Colorado Plateau Coring Project, to drill cores as much as 1.5 kilometers deep from a half-dozen sites. This is expected to provide the big picture from 250 million to 145 million years ago, representing key crises in earth’s history: the ascent of dinosaurs, origins of modern ecosystems, and repeated extinctions of much life on earth. Among other things, the cores should help scientists grasp possible links between climate changes, extinctions and major evolutionary events. Related field investigations will be done by experts from a wide variety of disciplines and institutions. The first site is in Petrified Forest National Park, Az. Olsen and others will also do extensive exploration by vehicle and on foot in the desert region to scope out the next drill site. The project will take five years, pending funding.

Project website

WHY ISN’T GEORGIA IN AFRICA? Imaging the deep earth, Georgia USA SUMMER 2013

Some 230 million years ago, much of the land on earth was clumped together in the supercontinent of Pangaea; then giant volcanic flows broke out, the crust stretched and rifted, and eventually the Atlantic Ocean opened up, separating out North America, Europe and Africa. The U.S. state of Georgia was pretty much in the center of the rifting action. Attached to what is now North America only by a weak suture joining two even more ancient landmasses, by all rights it should have broken off and ended up as part of modern-day Senegal or Mauritania. Instead, it stuck around; why? A field deep-earth imaging campaign employing explosives across the state hopes to answer that, and other questions. Led by seismologist Donna Shillington, researchers will set off underground charges in many sites and record the resulting waves with portable instruments, to create CAT-scan like pictures of the subsurface, up to 40 kilometers down. This will show what kinds of rocks lie below, how thick they are, and why the crust evolved here in the way that it did. It may also shed light on the great Triassic-Jurassic extinction, which brought the rise of dinosaurs, by revealing the extent of volcanism that may have killed off many species on earth. Finally, the project should help characterize rock layers that could be suitable for future underground storage of industrial carbon dioxide. Fieldwork will involve up to 60 students in Georgia, and a broad public outreach program of lectures and other events.

(Project website to come)


100 MILLION YEARS OF CRISES ON EARTH Deep Coring, Colorado Plateau Spring or Fall 2013

The Four Corners area of the American West is a paradise for geologists and paleontologists, with its spectacular rock formations, canyons (including the Grand Canyon), and rich fossil beds. However, many layers remain largely inaccessible on sheer cliffs or deeply buried. To assemble a more conclusive and continuous record of the region’s vast history, Lamont geologist Paul Olsen and colleagues propose to lead the Colorado Plateau Coring Project, to drill cores as much as 1.5 kilometers deep from a half-dozen sites. This is expected to provide the big picture from 250 million to 145 million years ago, representing key crises in earth’s history: the ascent of dinosaurs, origins of modern ecosystems, and repeated extinctions of much life on earth. Among other things, the cores should help scientists grasp possible links between climate changes, extinctions and major evolutionary events. Related field investigations will be done by experts from a wide variety of disciplines and institutions. The first site is in Petrified Forest National Park, Az. Olsen and others will also do extensive exploration by vehicle and on foot in the desert region to scope out the next drill site. The project will take five years, pending funding.

Project website


Tree Ring Sampling: Myanmar, India, Vietnam, Australia, other nations ONGOING

Scientists in many disciplines are studying whether climate change could alter the cycles that drive the Asian monsoon, the seasonal rains that feed half the world’s population. Past cycles are key to understanding the future; researchers at Lamont’s Tree Ring Lab are trying to unravel this via core samples of yearly growth rings from ancient trees. Led by Brendan Buckley (based part-time in Chiangmai, Thailand), they have tracked down specimens at scores of remote sites across Asia; founded new tree-ring labs at universities in several countries; and started the Greater Mekong Basin project, a five-year initiative to study the human effects of changing climate in Southeast Asia. In a new project, researchers from the Columbia Water Center and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society led by Andrew Robertson will analyze data to predict future stream flow in two other major basins: the Yangtze River of China, and the Bhakra Beas reservoir system of India. Among other activities: March 4-11, 2012, Buckley and Vietnamese colleague Nam Le Canh will visit the Annamite mountains of north-central Vietnam to core old conifers there. In August, Buckley and Chinese dendrochronologist Fan Zexin hope to sample old trees along the upper Mekong River, in southern China’s Yunan province. Other expeditions TBD.

Tree Ring Lab web pages

Audio slideshow on the work

The Asian drought atlas

Study on the fall of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat

Using log coffins to study an unknown civilization

MAPPING AFRICA’S SOILS Fieldwork to create digital information for agriculture ONGOING

Knowledge of soil conditions and trends is essential for sustainable agricultural development, but information for Africa is highly fragmented and dated. The Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS) is a large-scale project involving many African scientists and other partners to develop a soil-health service that will map soil conditions, set a baseline for monitoring changes, and provide options for improved soil and land management. Building on recent advances in digital mapping, remote sensing and other technologies, teams are currently engaged in soil sampling, field trials and surveys across the continent. Sampling is taking place in Uganda, Botswana and Angola; agronomic surveys in Tanzania and Malawi. AfSIS is based in Arusha, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya with state-of-the-art laboratories. Contact: Alison Rose. Project leader: Markus Walsh of the Tropical Agriculture Program, in cooperation with the Center for International Earth Science Information Network and International Center for Tropical Agriculture-Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute (lead partner).

Project description

Africa Soil Information Service website

Science magazine article on the project

HAITI REGENERATION INITIATIVE Agriculture, water, natural hazards, health, education ONGOING

Long before the 2010 earthquake, Haiti suffered environmental degradation and vulnerability to natural hazards due to deforestation, soil erosion, political instability and poverty. Programs begun by the UN, Earth Institute and Haitian organizations are trying to address problems in a holistic way. As part of an initiative for the southwestern coast, Earth Institute teams are working in the Port-a-Piment watershed, which includes the Port-a-Piment Millennium Village. Much work is led by political scientist Marc Levy of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). Among other things, researchers are monitoring weather trends for flood modeling and disaster risk reduction strategies. In March, Levy leads graduate students researching Haiti’s land-tenure system, whose fragmented nature presents challenges to sustainable development. In summer, staff will return to investigate how mobile technologies may be used to encourage banking, agriculture and small-business development. Initiatives to recruit community health workers (starting June 2012,) upgrade training of teachers, and expand school feeding programs are also underway. In later 2012, Columbia film students will team up with Haitian film students to create public-service announcements and narrative videos. Other centers involved: the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program; the Modi Research Group; Center for Sustainable Urban Development; and the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions.

Haiti Regeneration Initiative website

National Geographic piece on the initiative

Read blog posts on Haiti projects

INDIA’S WATER CRISIS Designing sustainable farming methods ONGOING

India’s northern breadbasket is running the world’s largest water-mining operation—one that cannot be sustained, as farmers pump out far more water than comes in through rainfall. In some areas, water tables have dropped hundreds of feet, and salt water is polluting aquifers. In partnership with the Punjab Agricultural University, the Columbia Water Center is promoting new approaches to more water-efficient irrigation, particularly for rice. So far, the most successful approach is an inexpensive tensiometer, a soil-moisture measuring device that allows farmers to reduce the amount of water they use. The project is in its third year, having scaled up to 5,000 farmers. Continuing outreach and training begins late spring 2012 and continues through early summer, and will involve numerous field visits to farmers by team members. In addition, in the first half of March farmers will come together for Punjab Water Day–an opportunity to talk to some of the most progressive farmers in India. CWC also continues a related project in Gujarat, involving a pilot subsidy incentive program (in partnership with the government of Gujarat) coupled with extension outreach and support of water-saving technologies including tensiometers, drip irrigation and mulching.

Punjab project description

White paper: Climate Variability and Water Stress in India

Article on related work in Gujarat

Photos of farmer training



TRAPPING CO2 UNDERGROUND Drilling, pilot tests, Palisades, NY SUMMER 2012 & ONGOING

A consortium of institutions is drilling into deep geologic formations under parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to see if they may eventually support permanent storage of industry-produced carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. The latest planned borehole is on the campus of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in Palisades, N.Y. (An earlier hole was drilled off exit 14 on the New York State Thruway last year.) Drilling will be in spring or summer, and take about two weeks. The work is aimed at studying the deep strata of the so-called “Newark Basin,” composed of layered sedimentary and volcanic rocks. Lamont scientists David Goldberg, Dennis Kent, Natalia Zakharova and Paul Olsen are participating. Lamont sits directly on a huge sill of volcanic rock, where researchers have already been using an existing borehole for pilot tests of how the chemistry and biology of the subsurface might react to carbon injection. This involves only small-scale pumping of soda water and tracer substances; no large-scale sequestration is planned for any of these boreholes. Visitors are welcome to visit drilling in progress and future experiments.

Lamont research into East Coast carbon storage

TriCarb website

Lamont Borehole Research Group

Popular Mechanics article on project

HUDSON RIVER SEWAGE POLLUTION Water/sediment sampling by boat APRIL-NOV 2011

In cooperation with the environmental group Riverkeeper, Lamont biological oceanographers are mapping the sources and fates of the surprising amount of sewage still entering the Hudson River. Sampling is done from a small vessel on a monthly basis, from above Albany to New York harbor; all parts of the river have been shown to have intermittent problems. The team has targeted tributaries with particular problems, including New York City’s Newtown Creek and Gowanus Cana; and further up, Saw Mill River, Sparkill Creek, Pocantico River, Roundout Creek, Esopus Creek and Catskill Creek. A key finding to date: many tributaries have more frequent problems than the main body of the river, and are therefore net sources of sewage to the Hudson. Investigators: Andrew Juhl, Greg O’Mullan

Article on the project

Report on the project’s progress

Report: Sewage in the Hudson 2006-10


The New York/New Jersey region may face water shortages if population keeps growing, and changing climate makes rainfall more erratic, as projections suggest. Paleoecologist Dorothy Peteet has already found evidence that natural variations in centuries past have already produced megadroughts much drier and longer than anything seen in modern times, including one lasting 850-1350 AD and turned the Hudson River brackish; such a drought today would threaten water supplies for millions of people. Peteet and postdoc Jon Nichols are continuing their studies of sediments taken from bogs and lakes that hold pollen, charcoal and other materials indicative of climates for the past millennium. In early February, they will sample the Shaker Swamp at Mt. Lebanon, N.Y. (near Albany). February-March, they will work at Tamarack Pond in the Hudson Valley’s Black Rock Forest (near West Point). May-June, they will move to New Jersey’s High Point State Park, which contains an extensive cedar swamp; and on to the tidal flats of New York City’s Jamaica Bay.

Peteet discusses Northeast megadroughts

Earth Institute article on Peteet’s work


With warming climate, it is projected that by 2100, the Hudson Valley’s climate could resemble that of the the Carolinas; ecosystems would change accordingly. Plant physiologist Kevin Griffin is trying to unravel various species’ response to changing CO2 levels, temperature, nutrients and pathogens. He and colleagues work in Black Rock Forest, about 50 miles north of New York City. The Hudson Valley is a good place to study climate, since it hosts many trees and plants growing at both the northern and southern extremes of their ranges. Historical data suggest that forest compositions may already be changing, with northern tree species moving out, and southern ones moving in. The work has involved measurements of plant physiology, tending of forest plots, and experiments in Lamont’s greenhouse. One current focus is on the possible effects of sudden oak death, a pathogen first recognized in the United States in 1995.

Griffin speaks on how climate may be changing our forests

Black Rock Forest website

NEW YORK’S EVOLVING GREEN SPACES Surveys of Forests, Parks and Wetlands SUMMER 2012

Lamont remote-sensing scientist Chris Small, who specializes in mapping human relationships with the natural landscape, has several long-term New York City projects. As part of a U.S.-wide program to study the ecology of cities, he and researchers from NY City Parks and the U.S. Forest Service are investigating changes in the city’s forests and other green spaces—whether they are growing or declining, and resulting impacts on the city’s ecology and weather. Includes visits to parks and neighborhoods in the five boroughs to ground-truth satellite imagery of land cover and temperature. Another team led by Gareth Russell of the New Jersey Institute of Technology will investigate ecological aspects. In a separate study, Small is mapping New York’s pervious surfaces—anything that has not been paved over—to help understand the flow of rainwater to the sewers, and how pervious surfaces may mitigate pressure on the system. As part of this, he and Parks researchers will visit wetlands to ground-truth new satellite data.

Read an article about related work nationwide  


NEW YORK EARTHQUAKES Seismometer Installation, Monitoring ONGOING

The New York area sees a surprising number of small earthquakes, and has potential for much larger ones. Scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory run the network of dozens of seismometers that record quakes in this region. One recent study found that the risk to New York City is greater than previously recognized; and recently, a series of small, mysterious tremors shook an area southwest of Albany, N.Y. The seismology team is continually upgrading and expanding the network, which ranges from Manhattan’s Central Park to the Adirondack Mountains. One proposed new station would be inside the memorial arch at Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. Visitors are welcome at Lamont, where the network is monitored 24 hours a day. There is also a new museum of historic seismic instruments used throughout the world to study earthquakes, nuclear-bomb tests and the interior of the earth. Head of network: Won-Young Kim.

Lamont Cooperative Seismographic Network web pages

Study on New York City earthquake risk

New York Times article on the Albany tremors

Fracking and Earthquakes

GREEN ROOFS IN NEW YORK CITY Cooling the urban ‘heat island’ ONGOING

New York City has some 40 square miles of rooftops—mostly dark surfaces that absorb heat and help make the city hotter in summer than rural areas—the so-called “heat island” effect. Recently, the idea of covering roofs with plants or reflective material has taken hold; it is thought that this would cool the city, improve air quality and reduce runoff into sewers. There is a growing number of experimental sites. Scientists Stuart Gaffin, Patricia Culligan and Wade McGillis have been making measurements on a half-dozen planted rooftops at Columbia, a Bronx school, and a Con Edison building in Queens. Earth Institute ecologist Matt Palmer has led a city parks project to plant 10 rooftops with native grasses designed to mimic native meadow habitat. In another study, student Melanie Smith has been collecting insects from the green roof on the US Postal Service’s 9th Avenue sorting facility, the city’s largest, to assess effects on biodiversity. Currently, Gaffin and colleagues are assessing a new city program to install reflective white roofs, using instruments to measure temperature, reflectivity and other parameters.

New York City Coolroofs website

Earth Institute article on green roofs


April 2012, Indonesia: Daniel Osgood and Pietro Ceccato of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) travel to Indramayu, Java, to work with farmers and local experts on using index insurance contracts to reduce risk of drought-related crop loss. They will also continue work in Central Kalimantan on using climate forecasts to help manage peat fires. (Audio slideshow on peat fires).

April 2012, Northern Ethiopia: Jessica Sharoff (IRI) and others visit villages to conduct experimental games that help researchers design index insurance contracts. (Photo essay on managing arid farmlands)

Cruise through Lamon Bay (east of Luzon, Philippines), to  Kaohsiung, Taiwan, to quantity circulation of ocean waters and their relationship to marine productivity and ecosystems, and investigate possible linkages to the north Pacific’s Kuroshio Current.  Led by physical oceanographer Arnold Gordon, the program includes weather obervations, instruments and plankton nets lowered into the water, and sea-floor sediment coring. April 24-May 12, 2012. This is the second in a a series of voyages, supplemented by moorings recording ocean currents and a land-based high frequency radio array, as well as satellite coverage of sea-surface temperatures, ocean color and altimetry.

June 2012: Paleomagnetics expert Dennis Kent travels to Xi’an, central China, to help paleontologists date habitation sites of early man. Some sites are said to be 1.8 million years old, but this is controversial. (Xi’an is also one of China’s oldest cities, and site of spectacular archeological finds from later periods, including the 2nd-century BC imperial Terracotta Army.)

June 2012. Utah: Tree-ring scientist Brendan Buckley visits the Wasatch mountains to collect samples and study physiology of conifers. Reconstructions of past climate will be used to inform urban planning in the watershed below.

June/July 2012: Investigators from many institutions work together in northern Greenland to refine methods of analyzing trace gases, dust and other elements found in ice cores to understand past climates. Lamont geochemist Alejandra Borunda will dig pits and sample for cosmic dust that has fallen in the past year, to help calibrate past rates. Project website (U of Oregon)

Late June-early July 2012: Paleontologist Paul Olsen heads to northwestern China, to investigate the workings of the solar system through deep time. Here lie some of the world’s oldest and most exquisite records or lake sediments and fossils, including feathered dinosaurs. He will look at layers up to 200 million years old for records of past periodic changes in precipitation that he believes are caused by changes in earth’s relationship with the sun–which are in turn influenced by the relative motions of other planetary bodies. Olsen and colleagues believe they may eventually plot the evolution of motion for all the solar system’s planets this way. Done in conjunction with Chinese researchers studying the continent’s oldest rocks.

August 2012: Seismologists Paul Richards and Won-Young Kim travel to Almaty, Kazakhstan, to continue a project to preserve and study long-neglected seismograms made by scientists of the former Soviet Union. These registered both natural earthquakes and underground nuclear tests; they are valuable both for refining understanding the characteristics of nuclear explosions and how to detect them, and for understanding earthquakes. The records currently exist only on paper, but are being digitially scanned in cooperation with Kazakh scientists. Richards and Kim specialize in seismic studies of nuclear explosions.

Summer 2012: Marine biologist Joaquim Goes studies the effects of disappearing sea ice in the Bering Sea on phytoplankton—the base of the food chain for all other northern seagoing creatures. Part of a larger-scale cruise to study the region’s changing environment. Project blog.

 Summer 2013: Climate scientist William D’Andrea and colleagues go by floatplane to the glaciated north-central Brooks Range of Alaska to core the bottoms of high-mountain lakes in front of glaciers, and sample rocks nearby. This will shed light on the history of the glaciers in the last 20,000 years. D’Andrea may also do similar work in Norway, TBD.

 Antarctica: Polar researchers Stan Jacobs, Douglas Martinson and others participate in yearly cruises to the Weddell Sea, along the Antarctic Peninsula and other regions, generally Dec-Jan. Antarctic Voyage blog; Antarctic Glaciers blog

 In conjunction with NASA, remote-sensing specialist Chris Small has a new project to map urban and suburban growth and land-cover change throughout North America over the last decades. Research will include travel to selected sites in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico t to ground-truth satellite imagery, in summer 2012 and/or 2013.

 Brazil is the world’s second-largest producer of biofuels (after the U.S.), mostly from sugar cane. In search of a more efficient fuel crop that can withstand a warming climate, scientists are investigating Panicum grass. Plant physiologist Kevin Griffin will organize field experiments to test the effects of increases in heat and CO2. Most work is Jan-Feb, in coming years. In conjunction with the University of Sao Paulo. Article on Brazilian biofuels

 Mali: A Columbia Water Center project in Tiby, Mali, run in partnership with the Millennium Villages, involves developing business models in conjunction with improved irrigation, to help local women farmers more efficiently use water to grow vegetables and increase family livelihoods. Photos

Miniature personal air-pollution samplers are being carried by New York city workers, students and others measure human exposure to secondhand smoke, steel dust and other pollutants in real time. Developed and deployed by Lamont-Doherty for a variety of ongoing studies. Project web pages.

A growing network of sensors in schools, parks and other sites in the New York area is monitoring atmospheric carbon dioxide in real time, for a variety of studies on urban climate, weather and ecology. Few such local networks exist in the world. Project web pages Contact: Wade McGillis.

Volcanologist Philipp Ruprecht makes periodic rock-collecting trips to the active Quizapu volcano (aka Cerro Azul) in central Chile—site of south America’s largest historical explosive eruption, in 1932—to understand what drives its magma recharge and thus its hazard potential. TBD

As part of a larger group, postdoctoral researcher Einat Lev is studying the characteristics of lava flow by creating and pouring molten rock at Syracuse University. Lava pourings using a special furnace and molten basalt rocks are done periodically, and visitors may watch. Some tests involve interactions with other materials including ice and sand.

 Seismologist Mikhail Kogan tends to telemetered arrays of instruments that measure subtle movements and buildups of strain in subducting tectonic plates—and thus the potential for large earthquakes–in the remote Kuril and Aleutian islands, Russia and USA. TBD

 Possible boat, foot and instrument survey of Lake Cheko, Siberia, and surrounding areas in search of elusive meteorite fragments from the gigantic 1909 Tunguska extraterrestrial impact. Scientists believe fragments may lie in the lakebed. Geologist Enrico Bonatti and Italian colleagues. TBD

 Oceanographers Arnold Gordon and Dwi Susanto periodically deploy and recover underwater instruments to measure water flow from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean through the straits and seas of the Indonesian archipelago; this flow probably exerts strong controls on climate cycles. The next cruise, on an Indonesian research vessel in 2012, will take researchers near the Spice Islands.  Indonesian Throughflow pages

 Braddock Linsley, director of the stable isotope lab, scuba-dives to sample ancient corals growing 30 to 60 feet below the surface off various Pacific Ocean islands; these record as much as 500 years’ worth of temperature, salinity and other climate-related parameters. Trips have gone to Tonga, Fiji, the Cook Islands and Samoa. TBD

Geochemist Peter Kelemen is investigating the potential for kimberlite—the ore from which diamonds are extracted—to be used in massive chemical reactions that would store atmospheric carbon dioxide. Could involve travel to diamond-mining areas in North America, Africa or elsewhere. TBD

Plant physiologist Kevin Griffin studies responses of trees and plants in Australia and New Zealand to changing climate. In Australia, this includes mountain ash, a eucalyptus rivaling California’s redwoods. Trips usually Nov-Jan. In March 2012, Griffin travels to Christchurch, NZ to set up future studies.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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11 years ago

[…] the map regularly as new projects come up. For a more detailed look at the projects, read the “Guide to Upcoming Scientific Fieldwork” on State of the […]