Upcoming Scientific Fieldwork: A Guide

by |February 27, 2013

Photo of the Fieldguide map

(Last updated: Monday, Oct. 22, 2013)

Earth Institute research expeditions investigate the dynamics of the planet on every continent and every ocean. Above: a map of locations (drag map to see more areas; click on locations for thumbnail descriptions.) Below: full project descriptions in rough chronological order, and resources to learn more. Work in and around New York City is listed separately at bottom. Unless otherwise stated, projects originate with our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, often in collaboration with other institutions. For expedition blogs written from the field, see our Features archive.



GLACIER HISTORY  Rock sampling, south New Zealand FEB 1-MAR 3, 2013

Past advances and retreats of glaciers contain vital clues about the workings of the global climate system. In the partially glaciated mountains of southern New Zealand, a team is collecting rock samples and drawing maps that show past positions of ice there in great detail over the past 13,000 years. Team members including Joerg Schaefer and Aaron Putnam will travel by foot and helicopter from base camps in the Ben Ohau range to collect samples for surface-exposure dating, from boulders left by moving ice. Among other things, their studies show that advances and retreats closely track the atmospheric concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide—but wind patterns and other factors may affect the system, causing some regions to react faster or slower than others. Expedition involves rough trekking at high elevations.

Watch a movie on the team’s exploits

Recent Nature study on New Zealand glaciers


TURNING CO2 TO STONE  Underground carbon storage, Reykjavik, Iceland LATE MAY-EARLY JUNE 2013

Volcanically active Iceland is so rich in geothermal energy, it has more electricity than its citizens can use, and it is considering expanding electric production for import to Europe via cable. The energy is not free, though; pumping heat from the ground brings up gases including large amounts of carbon dioxide—the very same greenhouse gas produced by fossil-fuel-burning plants. In an effort to put the CO2 back in the ground, the Earth Institute and cooperating institutions are running the CarbFix project, which aims to recycle the CO2 into a solid mineral, using natural chemical reactions in the basalt formations below. Test recycling of the gases began in January, and will continue through the middle of the year. Researchers are monitoring the results with chemical and geophysical tests via deep boreholes at the plant. The project is being done in conjunction with the University of Iceland and Reykjavik Energy. Geochemist Wallace Broecker is one of the originators; geochemists Juerg Matter and Martin Stute are helping run the operation.

CarbFix project website

Article on initial tests

Image gallery (pdf)


HAZARDOUS BANGLADESH  Studies of geology, seismology FEB-MARCH 2013/ONGOING THRU 2015

Teams from Columbia and Vanderbilt universities are assessing interrelated threats in Bangladesh, earth’s most crowded nation: earthquakes, shifting rivers, and sea-level rise. Not only is most of Bangladesh close to sea level; it is hemmed in by active tectonic boundaries. Major quakes could cause mighty rivers to shift course suddenly—something that new work suggests may have occurred previously. Seismologist Leonardo Seeber has been traveling with colleagues to survey surface geology in the north. In the remote southerly swamplands and the densely packed capital of Dhaka, Lamont geophysicist Michael Steckler is monitoring instruments recording natural sinkage and other movements of the surface. Seismologist Won-Young Kim has helped Bangladeshi colleagues to radically expand the network of seismometers covering the country, while colleagues at Vanderbilt are boring into some 250 sites where sediments should reveal past movements of rivers. In a related project, scientists are trying determine to what degree affected people may be able to adapt to rising sea levels and shifting land.

Watch a documentary about the project

Project website

Project blog

Science magazine article on the threat


WANDERING RIVERS  Surveys of bed physics, Shimanto River, Shikoku, Japan MARCH 1-31, 2013

Rivers meander through diverse environments, from Greenland to the Amazonian flood plains. What accounts for their wandering tendency? Scientists are studying one of world’s finest examples of a meandering river—the Shimanto, on the sparsely populated island of Shikoku. It cuts through relatively soft bedrock on a beautifully sinuous course. With few dams or other human influences, the Shimanto is a perfect place to study natural erosion patterns and how rivers change shape through time. In the second year of a three-year project, Lamont scientist Colin Stark  will study erosion of the bottom and sides during floods, landslides and other events. With 3-D photography and precise topographic maps gleaned from airborne laser data, he and colleagues will bring their observations into the lab to test their ideas about the process.

Previous study of river erosion in Taiwan


OUT OF ICE  Glacial geology, Baffin Island, Canada  MARCH 15-30, 2013

Using newly sophisticated techniques, geochemists can pinpoint when a glacier melted back and deposited boulders they were carrying; these in turn can be used to construct the climatic conditions that drove past glacier advances and retreats. As part of a larger effort to reconstruct the events that led earth out of the last ice age into the relatively stable modern climate, postdoctoral researcher Nicolas Young and University of Buffalo researcher Jason Briner will travel to arctic Canada’s Baffin Island to sample moraines in the Ayr Lake valley region. Once entirely covered by ice, the region currently hosts high-elevation ice caps whose small outlet glaciers extend downward toward dramatic fjords. The researchers will work from Clyde River, an Inuit community. A key question: was the “Little Ice Age” from 1350-1850, expressed strongly here, and were there similar cold periods earlier?


DINOSAURS’ DEMISE  Geology field trip, Italy, March 18-22, 2013

Outcrops in the Apennine foothills of Italy helped prove the theory that a fireball from space wiped out dinosaurs 65 million years ago. In exposed marine sediments geologist Walter Alvarez and colleagues showed that rock layers from this time had high levels of iridium, a metal rare in earth’s crust but common in comets and asteroids. In the 1990s, a student of Alvarez’s established Osservatorio Geologico di Coldigioco, a home base for visiting students and scientists studying the boundary and other mass extinction events. From here, a group of students on spring break will study the outcrops, along with classic sedimentary and structural geology features. Many of the sites are described in Alvarez’s recent book, The Mountains of St. Francis. Led by researchers David Barbeau, Steven Goldstein and Sidney Hemming. Spring break trips in other years have include key geologic locales such as Mono Lake and Death Valley, Calif., and the coral reefs of Barbados.

Watch a video and slide show about the 2013 trip


SMOG UP CLOSE  Monitoring air and health, Beijing MARCH 26-31, 2013

Beijing’s air pollution is severe not just on the street, but inside many homes. Geochemists Beizhan Yan and Steven Chillrud are helping officials with a pilot study of effects on asthmatic children. For the last 18 months, 8- to 12-year-old subjects have worn vests with instruments that measure their exposure to soot and small particulates wherever they are—similar to personal pollution monitors Chillrud has pioneered and deployed in studies of New York streets, homes and subways. Chillrud and Beizhan Yan will meet with collaborators to discuss results, and ways to expand the study. They expect to see exposure levels varying substantially according to building ventilation conditions and whether children are exposed to second-hand smoke or smoky cooking at home.

Article on Chillrud’s study of air in NY City subways

Article on Chillrud’s research into NY City asthma


REDUCING ARSENIC   Well testing, northeast India MARCH 2013

Naturally occurring arsenic-tainted groundwater across South Asia is responsible for health problems including brain damage in children. In a series of projects across Bangladesh, India, and elsewhere, geochemist Alexander van Geen and colleagues are developing innovative ways to address this. His latest focus: expanded well testing. Most people are within walking distance of a low-arsenic drinking water well, yet few avail themselves because they may not know that their household well is polluted, because few of the tens of millions of wells in the region have been tested. New evidence suggests that if villagers are informed of the risks, they will be willing to pay for testing. In Bihar, India, bordering Nepal, van Geen found that villagers would be willing to pay 20 rupees (about 40 cents) to have their household well tested, enough to support an employee dedicated to this task. He will travel to Bihar this spring to begin  a market-based program which, if successful, could be expanded.

Article on van Geen’s work in southeast Asia

Related U.S. Superfund research on arsenic 


NEW TOOLS TO SURVEY POLAR ICE  Test flights, upstate New York MARCH 18-22; Greenland APRIL 10-29/JULY 2013; Antarctica DEC 2013

In recent years, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory scientists and engineers have played key roles in dedicated aerial geophysical survey flights to create 3D maps of changes in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Now, they have designed a suite of instruments that can be flown on routine supply flights to polar bases, greatly expanding chances to collect data. The so-called IcePod fits on a turboprop LC-130, workhorse of the Air National Guard fleet that supplies bases. It contains radars that measure the tops of ice sheets, their deep interiors and water lubricating their beds. Lasers measure surface elevations and snow textures, as well as reflectivity and temperature. IcePod receives initial tests out of Schenectady, N.Y., in January-February-March. They continue over land and sea out of Kangerlussuaq, southwest Greenland in April; possibly again in July; and in Antarctica later this year. Contact: Margie Turrin.

IcePod website

Story on IcePod

Tests over upstate New York


MONITORING ANTARCTIC ICE SHELVES  Research cruise, Weddell Sea  APRIL 11-MAY11, 2013

In 2002, an ice shelf the size of Rhode Island collapsed into the Weddell Sea off the Antarctic Peninsula–a wake-up call that rising global temperatures are having profound effects on earth’s poles. 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. Lamont-Doherty oceanographer Bruce Huber will help lead this final cruise aboard the Korean icebreaker Araon.

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

2010 blog: Antarctic Voyage: Uncovering Abrupt Climate Change


THE FATE OF SEA ICE Arctic Ocean Measurements  APRIL 23-MAY 23, 2013

With Arctic summer sea ice declining rapidly, the multiyear Arctic Switchyard project is tracking the remote 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. The region is called the “switchyard” because fresh water of various origins flows in and then out by different pathways to the North Atlantic. It is thought that small changes here may be magnified into major impacts on ocean circulation and climate further south. In conjunction with the University of Washington and other institutions, Staff includes William Smethie, Ronny Friedrich and Dale Chayes.

Arctic Switchyard page

Expedition blog


PATAGONIA GLACIER HISTORY  Geology by land and sea, southern Chile  APRIL 2013

An interdisciplinary team from several institutions will travel remote terrain by land and sea to study the movements of glaciers since the last ice age in southernmost South America. On the island of Tierra del Fuego, glacial geologists Michael Kaplan and Aaron Putnam will initially drive across open steppe to sample rocks left by ice sheets of the past. The team will then visit roadless coastal areas in a 70-foot vessel, motoring up fjords in an inflatable craft to study features at the base of the Cordillera Darwin, a coastal range surmounted by an icefield. Within sight of the ice, they will sample rocks take cores of lake sediments, and collect bits of trees or other organic matter recently melted out of the ice. (Glaciers here have receded rapidly in recent years, exposing new ground.) The mountains themselves are so inaccessible, their first crossing was recorded only in 2011, by a French military team. This expedition is led by University of Maine’s Brenda Hall.


PLUMBING DEEP CURRENTS  North Atlantic cruise, MAY 26-JUNE 5, 2013

Scientists have an intense interest in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, a circular current that transports heat north from the equator and helps control climate. This cruise is part of the 10-year Line W project, which studies the warm surface water as it dives deep and flows back toward the equator. Researchers from several institutions including geochemist William Smethie will sail along the continental slope south of Cape Cod across the Gulf Stream and the deep western boundary current, to recover data from moorings that take daily vertical profiles of temperature and salinity; they will also stop to take samples for other parameters including small amounts of manmade chemicals that act as tracers of where water masses originated. Chief scientist is John Toole of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; cruise departs from the University of Rhode Island aboard URI’s R/V Endeavor.

Line W website


WATER IN A DRY LAND   Dam management study,  Chile  APRIL 2013

In the mountainous, drought-prone Coquimbo region of Chile, nearly all precipitation falls as snow between June and August, collecting in the mountains to make its way seaward when weather warms. This arrestingly beautiful landscape is a harsh one for cities, agriculture and mining. Staff from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society will travel there to evaluate the progress of a project that incorporates seasonal and longer-term climate forecasts into strategies for the Puclaro Dam, on the Elqui River. Seasonal information is designed to help authorities anticipate droughts and make decisions on how to allocate water. Longer term scenarios of 5-20 years are helping authorities decide how much water to retain in the dam, and whether to build a new one along the river. A goal of this trip is to produce a video about the project, so IRI staff will be meeting with and interviewing scientists, water managers, farmers and others. Contact: Francesco Fiondella


LIFE UNDER SEA ICE Ecology studies, off Barrow, Alaska  MAY 7-JUNE 3, 2013

Tiny specialized plants and grazing animals living in and under sea ice underlie 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 basic processes, including 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 cores of ice with portable drills, inspect the ice underside with cameras and other instruments, and perform lab experiments on cores. An overarching question: How will fast-warming climate and resulting dissipation of ice affect the food web? In some areas, there are already signs that changes in the timing, speed and dynamics of the seasonal melt could deeply affect northern ecology, shifting the balance toward more southerly species. The researchers  will also connect with local culture and education organizations.

See a movie of the work

Read the project blog


HIGH IMPACT  Search for meteorite craters, Russia MAY 8-22, 2013
This spring’s destructive meteor explosion over Russia was a wake-up call that large extraterrestrial impacts are an infrequent, but real, occurrence. Only about 170 meteorite craters have been positively identified on earth, but due to the difficulty of finding them, some scientists believe such impacts may come far more often than generally recognized. Geophysicist/geologist Dallas Abbott travels the world looking for hidden craters; in May she will go with Russian colleagues near the city of Nizhny Novogorod to several unusually deep elliptical lakes with raised rims identified as possible candidates. The team will survey topography, comb ground with metal detectors and take soil samples, in search of possible fragments of a meteorite or other signs of what could have created the lakes.

Atlantic article on Abbott’s work

NY Times article on Abbott’s research off east Africa


MOUNTAINS AND SEA  Seafloor drilling, Alaska MAY 29-JULY 29, 2013
The St. Elias Mountains of the Yukon and southern Alaska are the world’s tallest coastal range, making the adjacent Gulf of Alaska, where eroding sediments wind up, an ideal lab to study interactions between climate and the evolution of mountains. On a cruise by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, scientists from many institutions will collect seafloor sediments spanning the last 3 million years. About 1 million years ago, temperatures dropped, and glaciers severely eroded the landscape. The scientists seek to understand links between global climate, sedimentation, and tectonic response by studying the material and logging geophysical data in the boreholes. Lamont scientist Angela Slagle will direct logging operations. The IODP ship JOIDES Resolution departs Victoria, B.C. and ends at Valdez, Alaska.
Cruise webpage

Schedule of other IODP cruises off Korea, Philippines, Japan


HUNTING FOR PROFIT Studies of ‘bush meat’ harvesters  ONGOING

Hunting has long been an important source of food for people in tropical forests of Asia, Africa and Latin America. But in recent years, “bush meat” has increasingly become a commodity for sale, leading to unsustainable levels of harvesting. This in turn may be affecting forest ecosystems, from animal populations to vegetation and seed dispersal. Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez of the Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability is the scientific coordinator for a global team exploring how communities hunt and use bush meat in the Amazon, Congo and Mekong River basins. The project, under the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), gets underway this year in the Amazon. Pinedo-Vasquez will also travel to Africa this spring to begin lining up contacts there. The multi-year program aims to develop management tools to improve the sustainability of harvesting.

CIFOR information on bushmeat



TUNDRA CLIMATE CHANGE  Ecology surveys, north Alaska  MAY-JULY 2013

Ecologist Natalie Boelman is leading a five-year project to study how warming climate may influence life on the tundra. As climate warms, shrubs are taking over, potentially affecting existing vegetation and the life cycles of insects and migrant birds that breed here. Starting mid-May, as snow is melting, researchers working from Toolik Lake research station will set up to study the behavior, physiology and interactions of various species. Boelman’s part is a network of microphones that record abundance of songbirds via their calls. Also, in a related project, researchers will bring a land-based LIDAR (Light detection and ranging) system to the tundra for the first time, enabling them to measure subtle changes in plant cover undetectable in satellite images. Plant physiologist Kevin Griffin will help coordinate this. Griffin will return in mid-July to perform a 3-week experiment to measure the carbon-dioxide flux from a small plot of vegetation with instruments—part of his long-term research at Toolik to study plant responses to CO2, temperature and soil nutrients.

Project website

Q&A with Boelman

Boelman’s 2011 field blog

Griffin speaks on how climate may be changing trees and plants


THE ATLANTIC SEAFLOOR  IN 3-D  Cruise off Spain  June 1-July 15, 2013

Scientists aboard Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s research vessel Langseth will make 3-D images of a swath of unusual sub-seafloor off the west coast of Spain, in an effort to understand its evolution. Some 200 million years ago, the supercontinent Pangaea began splitting apart, forming the Atlantic Ocean.  Here, the breakup brought mantle rocks to the seafloor hat were once 30 kilometers below—a rare geological process that remains poorly understood.  The team will use sound waves to image an area of about 15 by 45 miles, including the mantle rocks and faults that may have delivered them to the surface. Dale Sawyer, a marine geophysicist at Rice University, will lead the cruise. Marine geophysicist Donna Shillington and a large group of European collaborators will participate.

Rice U page on Galicia margin

R/V Langseth pages



fijiIn the start of a planned 5-year project, marine ecologist Joshua Drew of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology and his students will study the abundance, ecology and evolution of coral-reef fish in the south Pacific island nation of Fiji. Reefs here are rich, with more than 700 known fish species, many of them endemic to Fiji or nearby islands,and they probably contain species yet to be described. Specifically, Drew aims to assess the effectiveness of local community programs to close certain fisheries for conservation purposes, and understand how conservation of larger target species may affect the abundance of smaller prey.  Staying in one or more villages, the team will collect fish samples using nets, spears and visits to local markets. Using this data, they will build phylogenetic trees of some fish, and search for new species.

Drew lab website


AFTER THE GULF OIL SPILL Measuring ecological effects JUNE-JULY 2013

A consortium of scientists from 14 institutions continues to investigate the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. On one of several cruises, a team will study how quickly microorganisms digest hydrocarbons naturally flowing from the Gulf’s numerous oil and gas seeps, as an analog to the spill. They will also measure oxygen levels and other water-quality indicators in the wake of the spill. Microbiologists Andrew Juhl and Nigel D’Souza will lead the analysis of bacteria and planktonic “micrograzers” that eat oil.

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


EAST AFRICA RIFTING Seismology, geology: Malawi, Tanzania, Botswana

JUNE 2013; LATE JULY-MID AUGUST 2013; OCT 9-NOV 5, 2013; MARCH 2014; JUNE-JULY 2014

In 2009, a series of earthquakes shook northern Malawi, leaving thousands homeless—a reminder that the region sits atop the 2,400-mile long East Africa Rift, along which the continent has been tearing apart for 25 million years. The process is slow, but the buildup of strain and upwelling of magma associated with it has created a string of volcanoes and quake zones that threaten millions of people. An interdisciplinary team of Americans and Africans is studying the rift’s long-term evolution, and its real-time hazards. Last year a team led by Lamont scientists Donna Shillington and Scott Nooner deployed GPS instruments across northern Malawi and neighboring southern Tanzania to measure the subtle spreading motion, while geochemist Cornelia Class and Tanzanian colleagues collected lava samples. The region has few seismometers of its own; this year Shillington and seismologist James Gaherty set out a network of 15 in southwest Tanzania, to record subtle tremors that may shed light on the mechanics. Working with the national geologic surveys and universities, they are also training Malawian and Tanzanian scientists and technicians, and working to increase public education in villages. Team member Kate Selway and a US Geological Survey colleague go to Tanzania in October to collect seismic data and to perform electrical and magnetic measurements that will image geologic structures far below the surface. In March 2014, team members will revisit instrument sites and download data. A larger deployment of some 40 seismometers and other research is planned for June 2014, in both Malawi and Tanzania; this will involve multiple teams of researchers. In a separate project in June 2013, geophysicist Roger Buck will participate in a study of the rift system’s southwest terminus, in Botswana’s Okavango Delta region. There, researchers from several institutions hope to shed light on oil and water resources as well as natural hazards which all appear to be influenced by the rifting. That group is led by University of Oklahoma professor Estella Atekwana.

Researchers’ blog from Malawi


JURASSIC SHIFT   Geomagnetism fieldwork, northern Italy  JULY 2013

Based on evidence found recently in diamond-ore like deposits in Canada, paleomagnetics expert Dennis Kent thinks the planet may have experienced a massive, rapid shift in its magnetic field 150 million years ago, during the time of dinosaurs. It would have been big enough to literally move the planet, changing its shape by bulging it out in the middle, and rattling ecosystems over a period of 10 million years or more. He hopes to investigate this idea in Italy’s Alps, north of Milan, where he and Giovanni Muttoni of the University of Milan will sample a large formation of chert thought to have come from right around this time. Work will involve hand drilling of rock samples and mapping of formations.





ANCIENT SEAS AND CO2  Diving, labwork  Catalina Isl., Calif. JULY 1-AUG 31, 2013

The seas play a key role in regulating earth’s climate by taking up or giving off carbon dioxide; and, due to manmade emissions, their chemistry is now changing rapidly. Off Catalina Island near Los Angeles, geochemist Bärbel Hönisch will dive for single-cell plankton, and in a lab on the island, grow her catch in seawater manipulated to mimic past times marked by rapid global heating, acidification of the seas and mass extinctions, which may be analogous to today. Her measurements of how the plankton shells respond will be applied to ancient microfossils in ocean sediment cores, to help understand the present. Hönisch’s ongoing studies have shown that today’s rate of acidification may exceed anything in the known past. She will be joined by a Columbia Bridge-to-PhD student Caroline Baptist and two high school students from the New York Harbor School.


PRIMATE SOCIETY Monkey behavior studies, 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 field trips each summer. Her work has led to insights about how primates manage conflicts, mate and carry out other social functions that are closely related to human behavior. 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 ancient rainforest, and is now under pressure from expanding human population. Cords is involved in grassroots efforts to conserve it. In another region, one of her students was recently involved in the discovery of a new monkey species.

Q&A with Cords

Paper on forest conservation in the journal Nature


GENGHIS KHAN’S RISE  Climate studies,  Mongolia JULY 16- AUG 1, 2013

In the 13th century the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan and his descendants built history’s largest empire, reaching from the Pacific Ocean to eastern Europe. How did nomadic horsemen from a cold, arid steppe do this? The 2010 discovery of long-dead ancient trees near the empire’s seat suggests a partial reason. Tree rings going back to around 300 AD—now the longest climate record for this part of the world–suggest the Mongols rose amid unprecedented rain and warmth that turned grasslands lush, enabling them to raise the vast numbers of horses and other livestock needed for expansion. In a project now in its second year, an interdisciplinary team of Americans and Mongolians is testing this idea. Tree-ring scientists Neil Pederson (Lamont-Doherty) and Amy Hessl (W. Va. University) will search for more and older specimens. University of Washington’s Avery Shinneman will collect sediment samples from lakes to look for signs of past livestock populations. This year’s fieldwork will be preceded by a workshop in the capital city of Ulan Bataar with Mongolian scientists.

Video, photo gallery and story on the project

Mongolian Climate, Ecology & Culture blog

Science magazine article on the project

Economist  article on the project


EURASIAN RAINFOREST Tree-ring collections, Turkey, Georgia MID JULY-EARLY AUG 2013

Unique remnants of old-growth temperate rainforest persist in the mountainous Artvin region of northeast Turkey, and possibly southern Georgia. Tree-ring scientists Neil Pederson and Dario Martin-Benito will join dendrochronologist Nesibe Kose of Istanbul University, to sample rings from beeches and oaks that may reach 400 years. They provide the chance to reconstruct past climate in a moist area surrounded by much larger dry lands and deserts, where very few records so far exist. The team hopes to test the idea that rapid shifts between wet and dry periods in this region are caused by changes in the North Atlantic Ocean. Other work by Pederson suggests that similar switches in climate took place in the U.S. East in the 1600s and 1700s. Climate change could perturb this system anew. The team hopes to hike off the road into remote mountain areas where the oldest trees may survive.

Brief description of northeast Turkey trees

Pederson’s ‘Broadleaf Papers’ blog


ARCTIC WEATHER DRIVERS  Lake coring, Norway, July 16-Aug. 9, 2013

The high-Arctic Svalbard islands of Norway hold long-term records of cyclic atmospheric patterns that drive weather much further south. With the aim of understanding how the cycles work and what the future might hold, a team will collect cores of lake sediments going back 10,000 years on the remote island of Bjornoya. A cyclic seesaw change in air pressure between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes—the Arctic Oscillation–can mean relatively mild, dry winters in Europe and the eastern U.S., or, when the switch flips, colder, snowier ones. Analyses of molecular remnants of algae and other living matter will allow the team to reconstruct the past, and advance understanding of what throws the switch. Anne Hormes of the University Centre in Svalbard will lead, joined by climate scientist William D’Andrea and others. In a related project, they will also sample rocks from nearby glacial moraines to understand how ice in the area collapsed at the end of the last ice age.

Story on D’Andrea’s previous work in Svalbard

Background on the Arctic Oscillation


EARTH’S OLDEST SEAFLOOR?  Rock sampling, Greenland SUMMER 2013

Geologist Kristoffer Szilas will spend several weeks investigating outcrops of some of the planet’s most ancient known rocks—bare, polished outcrops as old as 3.8 billion years in remote areas at the edge of southwest Greenland’s ice sheet. Because of their great age, the rocks are greatly altered, and their origins are as yet uncertain. Szilas will investigate whether they are one of the few surviving remnants of mantle rocks from an extremely ancient seafloor, formed during processes similar to those going on at mid-ocean ridges today. If his idea is correct, it would upset a reigning theory that plate tectonics did not get going on earth until some 2.5 billion years ago, when the planet cooled down enough for such processes to take place. Szilas will be dropped by helicopter at a series of points along the so-called Isua supracrustal belt to map and sample rocks on foot. Labwork to analyze the rocks will follow.

Article on Isua supracrustal belt

TURKEY’S NEXT GREAT QUAKE?   Imaging faults, Marmara Sea SPRING 2013

In 1999, an earthquake along the North Anatolian fault killed some 30,000 people in western Turkey—possible precursor to a much worse event that could hit densely populated Istanbul. In recent years, scientists have been studying the fault where it runs under the Marmara Sea, near Istanbul–the only part of the 1,500-kilometer-long structure that has not ruptured in the 20th century, and thus considered likely next. A 12-day cruise on the Turkish research vessel Piri Reis will collect the latest round of data on the less studied southern shelf of the sea. The team images sediments overlying the fault, and the fault itself, by sending sound signals through the bottom and reading the echoes. Team includes Leonardo Seeber, Michael Steckler, Donna Shillington, and Turkish colleagues.

Project web page

Background from US Geological Survey


DATING HUMANITY’S DISTANT PAST Geologic fieldwork, northern Kenya JULY/AUG 2013

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. In 2011, Lepre and Kent used paleomagnetism 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 deeper past—3.5 million to 4 million years ago, when the human precursor Australopithecus is thought to have lived. The Turkana region, inaccessible by road, is important for wildlife as well as paleontology.

Read about dating of the earliest tools


UNTANGLING NORTH PACIFIC WEATHER CYCLES  Tree-ring collections, Russian far east  LATE AUGUST 2013/2014

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation, an apparent cycle every few decades that suddenly changes sea-surface temperatures from Japan and Russia across to Alaska and Canada, deeply affects fisheries and other human endeavors; but its causes are a cipher. In an effort to understand its drivers, tree-ring researchers will make a collecting trip to Sakhalin Island, off the coast of Siberia, where they hope to extract weather records going back 1,000 years. Combined with existing tree-ring chronologies from Alaska, the records should shed light on how consistent the cycle is, and whether it is connected to other known cycles, including more short-lived shifts caused by the El Nino-Southern Oscillation of the tropics. Future trips are aimed at other rarely visited areas including the Sikhote-Alin mountains of the far eastern Russian mainland, and the Kuril Islands, north of Japan. Tree-ring scientist Rosanne D’Arrigo along with Olga Solomina of the Russian Academy of Sciences will lead.

Web page on the Pacific Decadal Oscillation


ICY ARCTIC MOUNTAINS  Sediment/rock sampling, Brooks Range MID-LATE AUGUST 2013

The ice-covered Brooks Range in northern Alaska is one of the few places in the Arctic where mountain glaciers have left moraines and other physical evidence of previous advances and retreats. Flying in by float plane, scientists will core sediments from the bottoms of frozen lakes and chisel samples of rock from moraines to reconstruct climate over the past 20,000 years. Previous research suggests that the Brooks may be more closely in sync with climate changes south of the equator than with those in Greenland and the North Atlantic, making it a key piece in the global climate system puzzle. Team member William D’Andrea will analyze the molecular remnants of algae and plants in lake sediments to reconstruct summer temperatures. State University of New York Buffalo scientist Jason Briner will analyze the moraines to reconstruct glacier movements. Scientists will also meet with the Inupiaq Eskimo community of Anaktuvuk Pass to explain their climate research.

National Science Foundation project summary 

Story on D’Andrea’s related work in Svalbard  


THREATS TO HIMALAYAN ICE AND RIVERS Hydrology, geology, tree rings, Bhutan LATE SUMMER/EARLY FALL 2013

Many Himalayan glaciers are melting, 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 and kill people downstream. A new interdisciplinary project seeks to better predict future glacial dynamics and water flow, and to manage the results. A team including Summer Rupper of the University of Utah is studying dynamics of the glaciers. A team led by Lamont geochemist Joerg Schaefer will study rocks and landforms around glaciers to determine past climate conditions that have led to advances and retreats. This will be collated with samples of tree rings taken by Lamont dendrochronologist Edward Cook and colleagues at lower elevations. Scientists at the Columbia Water Center hope to advise on safe ways to lower meltwater lake levels, and on future siting of hydropower stations and other facilities. Initial fieldwork in 2012 around Raphstreng Glacier included placing of stakes on the ice to measure melt or growth. Participants should expect difficult conditions; access involves a week or more of high-elevation trekking each way, and probable bad weather.

New York Times blog from the 2012 expedition

Read an article about the project

Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness conference


BLACK SMOKERS UP CLOSE  Seafloor surveys  AUG 30-SEPT 23, 2013

Heated by magma, water and chemicals jet from so-called black smokers along tectonic boundaries on the seafloor, building mineral deposits and supporting exotic life forms. Aboard the R/V Atlantis, scientists will travel to the Juan de Fuca Ridge, about 280 miles off the Oregon coast. First objective is to test instruments bound for a large-scale observatory on the Juan de Fuca plate, part of the Ocean Observatory Initiative. This will help scientists study earthquakes, and the chemical and biological processes in such systems in real time. The second objective is to measure heat flow near Axial Seamount, a submarine volcano, and to learn about formation of new crust in the area. The deep-diving submersible Alvin will carry out instrument testing by day; by night, the autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry will collect heat measurements. Geophysicist Timothy Crone will lead the expedition. An underwater camera designed by Crone to measure how fast fluids are spewing from black smokers over an extended period of time will also be tested on the cruise. Departing from Astoria, Oregon, returning to San Francisco.

Story on previous Axial Seamount cruise

Video of lava sampling at Axial Seamount


AMAZONIA BURNING Land use studies, eastern Peru AUG-SEPT. 2013

For millennia, people across much of Africa, Asia and South America have set fires to clear land for cultivation, pastures or hunting. This common practice is becoming problematic as growing population, fragmentation of forests and warming climate lead to ever larger, more destructive escaped fires. In the fast-developing Ucayali River region of the Peruvian Amazon, an interdisciplinary team is studying how fire is used, and how it is contained or not.  During August-September “burning season,” they have been chasing down fires in real time using satellite images, local sources and reconnaissance into the back country. They have measured fires’ extent and qualities, mapped surrounding infrastructure and plant communities, and collected data from local farmers. This is the fourth year of a five-year project; it has entered the data-analysis phase, but field visits may still be possible. Based at the Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability. Team is led by Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez.

Watch a documentary on the project

Read about the global fire issue

Fires in Western Amazon website


PAST AND FUTURE U.S. WEST  RAIN  Geologic sampling & mapping, Mono Lake, Calif.  MAY, JULY-AUG/OCT-NOV 2013; and 2014

Mono Lake, a saltwater body in rural California, is famous for its endemic species, migratory birds and unearthly vistas. And because it has no outlet, the lake—whose basin is an important water source for Los Angeles–is a keystone site for scientists trying to understand how temperature affects rainfall in this region. A team headed by PhD. candidate Guleed Ali and geochemist Sidney Hemming is working here to plot past lake levels 12,000-27,000 years ago. They will sample deep layers of salty sediments since incised by streams, and exposed in cliffs as high as 225 feet. Ali does some fieldwork in May. Main teamwork with other members takes place in mid-July, but Ali will remain through August, and return in October/November. The lake is currently far below its high stand 15,000 years ago, and has fluctuated dramatically since. On foot, researchers will map sediments and remove samples by hand. In the lab, new analysis techniques will enable them to date layers far more accurately than in the past. The west has been suffering serious drought, and may get worse as global climate warms, but no one knows for sure. This should aid projections.

Mono Lake Committee website

Watch a video and read a story about the project


THE GALAPAGOS PLUME AND THE CENTRAL AMERICA LAND BRIDGE Geologic fieldwork, Panama, SEPT 13-20, 2013; MARCH 8-16, 2014

Like the Hawaiian islands, Yellowstone, and other volcanic landmarks, parts of central America and the Galápagos Islands are made of lavas and magmas from a mantle plume–an upwelling of material from the deep earth over which tectonic plates are moving, to form lines of volcanoes or islands on the surface. Among other features, this plume has played a role in forming one of earth’s pivotal features: the narrow land bridge joining North and South America at the isthmus of Panama. The plume in this region has been migrating westward into the Pacific over the past 100 million years or more, and, now active around the Galápagos Islands. The land bridge has played a key role in global biological evolution and climate, first forming through hotspot eruptions during the time of the dinosaurs, breaking and then rejoining the continents again some 3 to 15 million years ago. The land bridge probably altered global climate and evolution by rearranging landmasses and cutting circulation between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Petrologists are now studying the resulting igneous rocks for a greater understanding of the basic deep-earth chemical and physical processes that drive such eruptions, from initial upwelling to the present, and the formation of the land bridge, focusing on the period 15 million-60 million years ago, when the plume formed underwater seamounts. Some of these have since crashed into central America and come up on dry land. In September, geochemist Cornelia Class and petrologist Esteban Gazel will collect samples from some of them in Panama for later analysis. Fieldwork will involve hunting for outcropping rocks along the Pacific coast on the sparsely inhabited Azuero peninsula, largely along beaches, and jungle riverbeds; small islets near shore may also be accessed by boat and/or swimming. Among other things, Gazel and others believe that the plume is cooling, and may be in the throes of a death that will come millions of years from now.

Gazel paper in Nature


HOW HIGH DID SEAS GO? Sampling ancient shores, Tuscany, OCT. 25-29, 2013; Argentine Patagonia, Feb. 1-14, 2014 

About 3 million years ago, during the Pliocene, earth was warmer than today and ice sheets collapsed, causing sea levels to rise—but how high? Paleoclimatologist Maureen Raymo , postdoctoral researcher Alessio Rovere, and a team from several institutions are collecting and precisely dating shells and sediments from exposed Pliocene shorelines around the globe. This October, the team will collect samples on Pianosa Island, off Tuscany. (In November, if plans work out, collections will be made on the coast of Virginia.) February 2014 will see collections near the tip of South America, along the coast of Argentine Patagonia. Past fieldwork was in South Africa, Kenya, Australia, India and the U.S. southeast coast. After correcting for movement of shorelines due to tectonic activity and loading and unloading of ancient ice sheets, they aim to pinpoint past sea levels across the world. The key question driving their investigation: to what extent did melting from Greenland and Antarctica contribute to rises 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

How High Could the Tide Go? (New York Times)

NY Times slideshow on the research


POLAR ICE, BY AIR  Aerial Surveys, East Antarctica  OCT 21-Dec 23, 2013

Climate change appears to be affecting the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland from both above and below. To understand the processes, the NASA-led Operation IceBridge has been imaging the ice sheets in three dimensions, using instrument-laden aircraft flown at low levels. This year the project moves to the vast East Antarctic ice sheet, where a NASA P-3 plane will fly grid lines with a laser altimeter, radars, optical camera, and instruments that measure gravity and  magnetics. Lamont crew members Kirsty Tinto and Jim Cochran will be responsible for the latter two. Flights will be based out of the U.S. McMurdo Station. The instruments measure parameters including ice thickness and shape of underlying bedrock, shedding light on how the ice is changing, and why.

Lamont’s IceBridge website

NASA IceBridge website and NASA IceBridge logistics pages

Greenland expedition blog and Antarctica expedition blog




Deep coring, geologic reconnaissance, Petrified Forest National Park  OCTOBER 8-23, 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, and no continuous, well-dated chronology exists for key geologic periods. Hidden in these layers lie key records of deep time on earth. To assemble a conclusive timeline, Lamont geologist Paul Olsen, paleomagnetics expert Dennis Kent and colleagues are leading the Colorado Plateau Coring Project, aimed at drilling cores as much as 1.5 kilometers deep from a half-dozen sites, to provide data from 250 million to 145 million years ago, a time of great planetary changes: the ascent of dinosaurs, origins of modern ecosystems, and repeated extinctions of much life on earth. The first core will be done at Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, Oct. 8-23, 2013. Drilling will penetrate the colorful and fossil-rich Chinle and Moenkopi formations, spanning the late Triassic, about 252 million to 202 million years ago–the era leading up to a mysterious global extinction that cleared the way for the rise of the dinosaurs. Among other things, the core is expected to illuminate how large natural climate swings driven by the movements of earth and its relation to other planets perturbed life on earth over long periods—and shed light on what changing climate might do now. Scientists will also examine evidence that a giant meteorite that hit what is now Canada preceded the mass extinction that led to the dinosaurs. The cores should allow scientists to refine their understanding of similar records from the same era in other site across the world, including from the U.S. northeast, China and the United Kingdom. In addition to the coring, geologists will also conduct visual field reconnaissance of rock formations on foot in the park and surrounding lands. Related field investigations in paleontology, magnetics and other disciplines are to be done later by the universities of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, Berkeley Geochronology Center, and researchers from Mexico, Germany, the Netherlands and China. The drill site is convenient to Holbrook, Ariz.; once underway, drilling will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

CPCP website

Related fieldwork in the United Kingdom




Tree ring sampling, historical studies:  Vietnam, Cambodia, other nations  ONGOING. Scientific meeting, Ho Chi Minh City  NOVEMBER 2013

Many scientists are studying how climate change may affect seasonal monsoon rains and the hundreds of millions in southeast Asia’s Mekong River basin who depend on them. Among the key players are researchers at Lamont’s Tree Ring Lab, who have been unraveling the history of the monsoon via core samples of growth rings from ancient trees. Led by Brendan Buckley, they have tracked down specimens at scores of remote sites. They are working on the Greater Mekong Basin project, a five-year initiative now in its fourth year that aims to document the changing flow of water over the past 1,000 years and how societies have adapted, using both physical records and historical documents. Researchers will report results at a meeting planned for early November in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (Details TBD.) Following this, Buckley and colleagues may retrieve cross sections of illegally logged ancient cypresses near Dalat, in the central highlands. A separate trip to core living trees may go to Cambodia later.

Tree Ring Lab web pages

Audio slideshow on the work

The Asian drought atlas

Study on the fall of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat

Log coffins of an unknown civilization


ADAPTING TO RISING SEAS AT THE AMAZON’S MOUTH Studies of tides, weather and communities, coastal Brazil  ONGOING

Sea level at the mouth of the Amazon is rising 3 to 4 millimeters a year, and extreme high tides may be getting more frequent. Some 5 million mostly poor, rural people in increasingly flood-prone areas are adapting by moving off their land part time, and turning from farming to shrimping, fishing and forestry. A three-year interdisciplinary project led by the Federal University of Pará, now in its second year, aims to document the tides and study human adaptations. Katia Fernandes of the the International Research Institute for Climate and Society will help collect data on tides, and lead an effort to develop an early-warning system of coming high water. Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez of the Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability will 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 involves interviews, visits to communities, and monitoring of instruments.

Article and video on the project


CO2 CAPTURE ON THE ARABIAN PENINSULA  Geologic fieldwork – Oman, United Arab Emirates  JAN 2014 and ONGOING

In the desert nations of Oman and the UAE, rock from earth’s mantle has been thrust to the surface to form mountains. The formation, the Samail Ophiolite, has long interested geologists because it reveals rocks normally inaccessible in the deep earth. In a new twist, scientists have also recognized that these rocks are chemically unstable near the surface, reacting continuously with carbon dioxide. Geochemists Peter Kelemen and Juerg Matter are mapping sites where evidence of these natural reactions can be seen on the desert floor, in canyons and in excavations, and are investigating whether they can be artificially harnessed and speeded up, in order to store manmade greenhouse emissions in the earth. In fall 2012, an international workshop was held to discuss drilling experimental holes. Next planned trip, January 2014, will range over wide areas, including the Ras Madrikah peridotite formation along the Oman coast.

Earth Institute video, photo essay and story on the project

Oman Drilling Project webpages

Earth Institute article on the project

Living on Earth podcast with Juerg Matter


EXPLOSIVE VOLCANOES  Lava sampling, central Mexico  JAN 2014 (TBD) Central Mexico is strung with dangerous volcanoes, with nearby citizens on sporadic alerts. In January 2013, geochemist Susanne Straub ascended to 14,000 feet to collect fresh lava and tephra from two major peaks—active Popocatepetl, near Mexico City; and the currently dormant Nevado de Toluca. Minerals in the debris indicate the origins of the magmas, allowing Straub and colleagues to test their idea that earth’s mantle–not the crust above it–plays the dominant role in fueling these kinds of volcanoes. If this turns out to be true, Straub and her colleagues can develop a better understanding of how such melts move upward, and how long it takes for pressure to build into a catastrophic eruption. The research should also shed light on how such volcanoes influence long-term ocean chemistry and climate. Straub and colleagues may return next year to collect more samples.

Smithsonian page on Volcan Popocatepetl


A GLACIER-VOLCANO NEXUS? Lava sampling, Patagonia JAN/FEB 2014

Some volcanologists think glaciers in the past may have helped check eruptions in places like Iceland by exerting pressure on magma. To investigate this idea, in January 2013 volcanologist Dave Ferguson traveled to the Puyuhuapi volcanoes of southern Chile—a region previously more glaciated than now–to sample lavas from the last 20,000 years. In the lab, he is dating the lavas and looking at whether their chemistry suggests they erupted when the surface was decompressed. Another trip to Chile or other parts of Patagonia may come next year around the same time. The research may pertain to the present, as some scientists are asking whether rapid deglaciation due to climate change could affect some volcanoes.

Chronicle of Higher Education article on the project

Smithsonian Puyuhuapi volcano pages


WIND AND THE CO2 CYCLE  Sediment coring, south New Zealand/Auckland Islands   FEB 2014

The westerly winds that circle the Southern Ocean not only control rain in the southern hemisphere; they drive ocean circulation in a way that strengthens or slackens the ocean’s uptake of manmade carbon dioxide from the air. In recent years uptake has slowed and rains decreased, apparently due to the winds’ moving south in response to human destruction of the Antarctic ozone layer. To understand how this may affect global climate in an age of rising CO2, a team working on land and at sea will track natural variations in the westerlies over the last 16,000 years. Researchers including paleoecologist Jonathan Nichols will start in the southwest of New Zealand’s south island, coring layers of plant material from lake bottoms and bogs that reflect changes in the westerlies. They will then sail on the University of Otago’s research vessel Polaris II to work in the uninhabited Auckland Islands. The ship will also take sediment from fjords within the islands. Some crew will count and observe whales—a project unrelated to the climate study. The trip will take about three weeks.

Video on Nichols’ bog work in Alaska


BREAKUP OF PANGAEA  3D earth imaging, Georgia USA  MARCH 8-28/JUNE 2014

Rocks beneath the coastal plain of Georgia were at the center of the events that shaped eastern North America, and researchers aim to develop a deeper understanding of this by imaging them. 230 million years ago saw the start of the breakup of a single giant continent comprising most land on earth, followed by one of the greatest volcanic events on earth–an outpouring of magma that formed the oceanic rift now separating North America from Europe and Africa. A detailed record of the cataclysms may be preserved beneath Georgia, which started to tear off North America, but in the end, stuck around. This “failed rift” will be subject of a campaign to image geologic structures in 3-D up to 40 kilometers down, using sound waves. Led by seismologist Donna Shillington, and colleagues at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Texas, the SUwanee Suture and GA Rift Basin experiment (SUGAR) will set off underground charges in two 300-kilometer transects, and record echoes with portable instruments. Among other things, the project may shed light on the great Triassic-Jurassic extinction, which brought the rise of dinosaurs around this time. The project should also help characterize rocks potentially suitable for future underground storage of industrial carbon dioxide. Fieldwork will involve up to 60 students in Georgia, and a broad public outreach program.

SUGAR project website


DEEP UNDER MT. ST. HELENS Geophysical imaging, geology fieldwork, Washington state SUMMER 2014-2016

A new multi-institutional project will examine the buildup and transport of magma under Washington state volcanoes, focusing on active Mt. St. Helens, whose1980 explosion was the most deadly and destructive such event in U.S. history. Teams from the Imaging Magma Under Mt. St. Helens (iMUSH) project will measure ongoing earthquakes with instruments at 70 sites around Mt. St Helens. They will also measure subterranean electromagnetism and small manmade earthquakes created with underground explosive charges in a much wider area reaching up toward Mt. Rainier, which almost certainly will become active again at some point. At the same time, researchers will collect volcanic rocks at many sites for geochemical analyses.The geophysical measurements are aimed at creating detailed CAT-scanlike images of the volcanoes’ magma sources, and the chemistry at revealing the dynamics of magma generation and movement. These investigations should provide a clearer understanding of how volcanoes work in general, and particularly what is happening under Mt. St Helens. Leading part of the project is Lamont-Doherty seismologist Geoffrey Abers, who will place and monitor many of the seismic instruments. Other partners come from the University of Washington, Rice University, Oregon State University, Cornell University and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Project website

University of Washington press release

Rice University page on the project



MAPPING AFRICA’S SOILS   Digital maps for farming 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 African scientists and other partners to map soil conditions, set a baseline for monitoring changes, and provide options for improved land management. Building on recent advances in digital mapping, remote sensing and other technologies, teams are currently engaged in 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. 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


REGENERATING HAITI  Farming, water, hazards, health, education ONGOING

Long before the 2010 earthquake, Haiti suffered poverty, environmental degradation, and vulnerability to natural hazards. Various Earth Institute centers have been active here since 2009, and are continuing research under the overall direction of Tatiana Wah of the Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development. Ongoing projects are run by political scientist Marc Levy of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), hydrologist Wade McGillis at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, social scientist Sabine Marx at the Center on Environmental Decision Making and program manager Alex Fischer at CIESIN/CGSD. McGillis is continuing work monitoring weather trends and surface water flows to help reduce the risk of floods. In March, Levy leads a team researching Haiti’s development-finance system to find optimal ways to bring money to local programs. This summer, Marx continues work on how people perceive and react to environmental hazards. Fischer is leading analysis of data being used by local partners in community-based watershed planning and research initiatives with Haitian universities.

Haiti Research and Policy website

National Geographic piece on the initiative

Read blog posts on Haiti projects

ANDEAN ECOLOGY AND CLIMATE  High-elevation surveys, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru  ONGOING

The high Andes hold some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems; but climate change may be destabilizing them, and upsetting water resources critical to major cities. Since 2004, scientists led by Colombia-based Daniel Ruiz Carrascal of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society has worked in Los Nevados Natural Park, near Medellin, at 4,000-4,500 meters. There, clouds and humidity are thinning, water bodies drying, and wildfires increasing; stressed plants and other biota may be moving toward summits. One-week surveys of biota and collections of data from a network of permanent instruments are done about every three months; next, in early March, September and December 2013. In northwest Bolivia, between the towns of Antiquilla (4,600 meters) and San Jose (520 meters) temperature/humidity loggers have also been installed, and surveys are conducted periodically. In Los Nevados, along the Colombia-Ecuador border, and in the Madidi-Apolobomba protected area of Bolivia and Peru, Lamont tree-ring scientist Laia Andreu Hayles is also working with Carrascal to develop chronologies of past climate using high-elevation trees and woody plants; next visits for this are late June-early July 2013.  Participants must acclimate to extreme elevations, and endure inclement weather.

Watch a slideshow on the project

Los Nevados flora catalog, image gallery (Spanish)

Project blog post

Video on related study of Andean glaciers


INDIA’S WATER CRISIS Designing sustainable irrigation  ONGOING

In India’s northern breadbasket farmers are pumping out far more groundwater than comes in. In 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 more water-efficient farming. This includes incentives to modify electricity subsidies used in pumping groundwater; use of soil-moisture measuring devices that allow farmers to use only the amount of water needed; more efficient irrigation methods including drip irrigation; and possible changeovers to crops that require less water. In a new initiative, scientists will study 80-some abandoned mines in the state of Jharkhand, where people are gathering water. They will assess the safety of the mine water for drinking and irrigation, and also explore using solar energy to pump the water.

Watch a video on the project

Punjab project description

Story on tensiometers




NORTHEAST DROUGHTS, PAST AND FUTURE Coring Marsh and Lake Sediments FEB-AUG 2013

Parts of the New York/New Jersey region may face water shortages if population keeps growing—especially if changing climate makes rainfall more erratic, as projections suggest. Paleoecologist Dorothy Peteet has found evidence that natural variations in centuries past have already produced droughts much drier and longer than anything seen in modern times. 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, coring sites including Hudson Valley’s Black Rock Forest and Mohonk Preserve; New Jersey’s High Point State Park; and Jamaica Bay and Haverstraw Bay, in the Hudson River estuary.

Peteet discusses Northeast megadroughts

Earth Institute article on Peteet’s work




Scientists are mapping in new detail the seafloor and sub-seafloor of Long Island Sound. The sound is heavily used—crisscrossed by vessels on top and by energy and communications lines on bottom—but most maps predate modern technology. The research seeks to image the topography and makeup of the bottom, and the habitats there, in order to best manage resources and update nautical charts. March-June (schedule TBD), researchers including marine geologist Frank Nitsche will use sonar pulses to map the bottom texture up to tens of meters below the bed aboard a University of Stony Brook vessel. Cruises of one to five days may also take cores from the bottom. This year, cruises will cover a pilot area between Bridgeport, Conn., and Port Jefferson, N.Y. Coming years will cover the whole 1,320-square-mile sound.  The project is a collaboration among federal and state agencies, and several universities.

Long Island Sound Seafloor Mapping website


FRACKING RISKS   Groundwater tests, upstate New York APRIL-MAY 2013; Pennsylvania, JULY-AUG 2013

As New York weighs whether to allow energy producers to use hydraulic fracturing to tap shale gas reserves, Pennsylvania  has been fracking the Marcellus Shale formation under both states for several years now. In a joint project with the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, geochemists Beizhan Yan and Steven Chillrud,  Martin Stute and Brian Mailloux will investigate whether water quality differs between areas with and without fracking. They will sample some previously visited private wells in and around Binghamton, NY, this spring, and by summer, expand sampling to Pennsylvania. They will examine whether natural gas, chemicals or radioactive elements found naturally underground, as well as those injected during the fracking process, can be detected in areas where shale gas is or is not produced.

Earth Institute fracking experts


TRAPPING CO2 UNDERGROUND  Pilot drilling  Palisades, NY  AUG. 19-30, 2013

A consortium of institutions is drilling into geologic formations under parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to see if they may eventually support storage of industry-produced carbon dioxide. A 2,000-foot borehole will be drilled and cored at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in Palisades, N.Y. (A prior hole was drilled in 2011 off exit 14 on the New York Thruway). Drilling should take about four weeks. The work is aimed at studying the so-called “Newark Basin,” composed of layered sedimentary and volcanic rocks. Lamont sits directly on a huge sill of volcanic rock (the Palisades sill); the work will collect the first core through the lower portion of the sill, and the lower contact of the Newark Basin sediments. Lamont scientists David GoldbergDennis KentNatalia Zakharova and Paul Olsen are participating.

Article on drilling project

Lamont research into East Coast carbon storage

TriCarb website

Popular Mechanics article on project


HUDSON RIVER SEWAGE  Water/sediment sampling by boat MAY-NOV 2013

In cooperation with the environmental group Riverkeeper, biologists are mapping the sources and fates of the surprising amount of sewage entering the Hudson River. Sampling is done monthly from a small vessel, 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 Canal; and further up, Saw Mill River, Pocantico River, the Sparkill, Roundout, Esopus and Catskill creeks. Many old sewage systems are overflowing during heavy rains, and many tributaries have more frequent problems than the main body of the river. Investigators: Andrew Juhl, Greg O’Mullan

Article on the project

Report on the project’s progress

Latest report on Hudson Sewage


TREE-RING ‘BOOT CAMP’  Hudson Highlands  June 24-July 2, 2013

Tree-ring scientists offer a weeklong boot camp each summer to teach students how to core trees and read their annual rings to study a wide range of phenomena. Previously held in New Mexico and Virginia, North American Dendroecological Fieldweek comes this year to the Hudson Highlands, some 50 miles north of New York City. Students will bunk in a lodge at Black Rock Forest, near Cornwall, N.Y., and learn how tree-ring science can be used to study past climates, fire history, ecology and even old buildings. They will visit centuries-old trees in Mohonk Preserve, where Lamont-Doherty scientists have long worked, and other unusual sites where ancient trees remain preserved.  Lamont dendrochronologist Neil Pederson will lead, with postdoctoral researchers Dario Martin-Benito and Nicole Davi.

Tree Rings Show NY Unprepared for Megadroughts


HOW MUCH HEAT CAN PLANTS TAKE?  Studies of leaf respiration   Hudson Valley  JUNE 17-28, 2013  (Also: Minnesota, Spain, Sweden, Australia, June-Aug 2013) 

As climate warms, many plants and trees may suffer heat stress and, in effect, breathe hard; this could add huge amounts of greenhouse gases to the air, and eventually cause die-offs. In the first global experiment of its kind, scientists from many institutions will test reactions of trees to increased temperatures in real time. In the Hudson Valley’s Black Rock Forest, PhD. student Mary Heskel and colleagues supervised by plant physiologist Kevin Griffin will remove branches from tall trees (a shotgun is the tool of choice in some cases), and in the lab measure leaves’ respiratory responses to increasing temperatures. Part of the project will test the idea that most plants, no matter where they grow, stop functioning at 47 to 48 degrees C (116.6 and 118.4 F). Griffin will perform similar experiments with colleagues near Barcelona June 17-July 5. Heskel carries on in Australia during May and possibly September; sites in Minnesota July 3-24; and Umea, Sweden July 29-Aug 16.

Black Rock Forest website


NEW YORK EARTHQUAKES Seismometer Installation, Monitoring ONGOING

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory runs the network of seismometers that records quakes in much of the U.S. northeast, including the  New York City area—a region that sees a surprising number of small events, and occasionally sees big ones. A recent study based on its observations says that quakes capable of doing billions in damage to modern infrastructure have in the past been more frequent than previously known.) The team is continually expanding the network, and this year hopes to install instruments in Westchester, Pa.; Pomona, N.Y.; New York’s Harriman State Park; and in New York City parks, including a proposed station inside the memorial arch at Manhattan’s Washington Square. Visitors are welcome at Lamont, where the network is monitored 24 hours a day. There is also a museum of historic seismic instruments from around the world. Head of network: Won-Young Kim.

Lamont Cooperative Seismographic Network web pages

Study on New York City earthquake risk

New York Times article on Albany tremors

Earth Institute story on the project


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 make the city hotter—the so-called “heat island” effect. Recently, the idea of covering roofs with plants or reflective material has taken hold, with a growing number of experimental sites. Scientists Stuart Gaffin, Patricia Culligan and Wade McGillis are studying a half-dozen planted rooftops at Columbia, a Bronx school, and a Con Edison building in Queens. Earth Institute ecologist Matt Palmer leads a city parks project to plant 10 rooftops with native grasses designed to mimic native meadow habitat. PhD. student Robert Elliott is working to put green-roof elements into sites with less capacity for bearing extra weight. Grad student Melanie Smith has been collecting insects from the green roof on the US post office  9th Avenue building, the city’s largest green roof, to assess its effects on biodiversity. Working at the Brooklyn Grange in Long Island City, researchers including Kubi Ackerman of the Urban Design Lab, Earth Institute postdoctoral fellow Leigh Whittinghill are studying a rooftop farm.

New York City Coolroofs website

Earth Institute article on green roofs



Summer 2013, Possible trip to southwestern Oregon and northern California by geologist Peter Kelemen to study mantle peridotite outcrops— unusual formations where rocks from deep under the seafloor are now on dry land; with colleagues from Stanford University and UCal Santa Barbara. Also, possible trip to southern Alaska to look at similar rocks, preserved in the Talkeetna arc.

June 16-30, 2013: Paleomagnetics expert Dennis Kent travels to Xi’an, central China, to help paleontologists date habitation sites of early man. Some are said to be 1.8 million years old, but this is controversial.

Summer 2013: Seismologists Paul Richards and Won-Young Kim travel to Almaty, Kazakhstan, to continue a project to preserve and study seismograms from the former Soviet Union. Registering earthquakes and nuclear tests, these are valuable both for studying nature and understanding how to detect new test explosions. Paper records are being digitally scanned in cooperation with Kazakh scientists.

Pending funding, oceanographer Frank Nitsche will lead a cruise along the East Antarctic continental shelf in early 2014 to determine the potential pathways by which warming shallow ocean waters—already shown to be eating at West Antarctica–may be reaching the larger glacier tongues in the east. Antarctic Voyage blog; Antarctic Glaciers blog

Geochemist Alexander van Geen, who works to mitigate arsenic in groundwater, has begun cooperating with Myanmar, following its recent opening to foreigners. Initial activities include provision of kits to analyze 10,000-some wells.  A workshop in Yangon for scientists from surrounding nations may take place in January 2014.  Article on van Geen’s work

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

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

Volcanologist Philipp Ruprecht makes periodic rock-collecting trips, probably next Jan-Feb 2014, to the active Quizapu volcano in central Chile—site of south America’s largest historical explosive eruption—to understand what drives its magma recharge and thus its hazard potential.

As part of a larger group, postdoctoral researcher Einat Lev is studying the lava flows by creating and pouring molten rock at Syracuse University. The pourings use a special furnace and molten basalt. 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. ONGOING

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 may exert strong controls on climate cycles.  Indonesian Throughflow pages

Braddock Linsley, director of the stable isotope lab, scuba-dives to retrieve samples of giant corals growing 30 to 60 feet below the surface off various Pacific Ocean islands; these long-lived organisms record as much as 500 years’ worth of temperature, salinity and other climate-related parameters. Possibly fall 2013, he will travel to Indonesia’s Makassar Strait.

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