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MPA ESP Students Tour Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory

MPA ESP Class of 2017 at the Lamont Doherty Observatory. ESP students take a series of field trips in the summer to enrich their coursework, as the community also becomes their classroom.
ESP Class of 2017 at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. Students take a series of field trips in the summer to enrich their environmental science coursework.

Students from Columbia University’s MPA Environmental Science and Policy program recently visited the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory  on June 27 to learn about the ground-breaking research being carried out at one of the world’s leading research centers for climate and the environment. Lamont-Doherty is part of the Earth Institute and is located on a 157-acre campus in Palisades, N.Y.

Students toured several research facilities including the Tree Ring lab, Core Repository, Polar Geophysics Division, Dyhrman Lab, Office of Marine Operations, and the award-winning Gary C. Comer Geochemistry Building, which earned LEED Silver certification.

Arthur Lerner-Lam, Lamont deputy director, welcomed students with a presentation on the history of the observatory and gave an overview of the facility’s research that has contributed to the development of our understanding of Earth systems. Professor Benjamín Bostick, who teaches environmental chemistry during the ESP program’s summer semester, is a researcher at the Gary C. Comer Geochemistry Building, where he specializes in geochemistry. He and other researchers spoke to students about their most recent research in the fields of biogeochemistry, seismology, climate physics and oceanography.

Professor Park Williams explains the process of studying tree rings to understand how trees are reacting to climate change
Professor Park Williams explains the process of studying tree rings to understand how trees are reacting to climate change

Park Williams, an MPA-ESP professor of climatology and bioclimatologist, took ESP students on a tour of the Tree Ring Lab, where tree rings from over 100 different species from every continent except Antarctica are catalogued and studied. Williams highlighted the importance of using these rings as a tool to analyze the history of earth’s ever-changing climate and environment

According to Williams, “looking at tree rings is the single best way of learning what year-to-year climate was like. With tree rings, we are able to interpret historic climate fluctuations that we would not otherwise be able to observe before modern measurements.” At the Tree Ring Lab, tree ring specialists, also known as dendrochronologists, evaluate tree core samples by measuring the distance between each ring and using the observable patterns to chronicle a history of extreme climate events in a particular region, which can then be used to determine the effects of extreme weather on soil nutrients.

Another highlight of the tour was the visit to the Lamont-Doherty Core Repository. The repository contains one of the world’s most unique and important sediment core collections from the deep sea. The repository is comprised of deep sea cores, coral cores, marine dredge samples, and terrestrial cores from lakes and wetlands, with some samples being more than 100 million years old. The cores enable scientist to better understand Earth’s processes such as climate change, ocean acidification, evolution and tectonics.

Nicole, the “Core librarian,” discusses the sediment cores removed from every major ocean body that are archived in the Core Repository
Nicole, the “core librarian,” discusses the sediment cores removed from every major ocean body that are archived in the Core Repository

Judy Goh, a student from the MPA ESP Class of 2017 , especially enjoyed the Core Repository. “I was fascinated with the amount of history captured in snapshots within the sediment core repository, each a story of climate change from decades past with chemical traces. I am astounded at the human ingenuity to uncover, study and store these fragments for scientific research—with the weight-aided contraption to extract core samples and refrigeration technology.”

Columbia’s Environmental Science and Policy program is the only public policy program in the country that requires scientific coursework and training in climatology, ecology, environmental chemistry, toxicology and hydrology. MPA-ESP faculty members each hold substantial experience in the sciences behind environmental policy, and they play an integral role in the success of the program.

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