State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


American Geophysical Union 2023: Key Research From the Columbia Climate School

Here is a guide to notable research presentations from centers and affiliates of the Columbia Climate School at the Dec. 11-15 meeting of the American Geophysical Unionthe world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. The meeting takes place in San Francisco, and online across the globe. 

Talks here are in rough chronological order. Presenters’ names link to their contacts; presentation numbers link to the formal abstracts. Times listed are U.S. Pacific. (Note: If you attend remotely and call up an abstract, the time displayed may default to your own local time.) Unless otherwise noted, scientists are at our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO).

More info: science news editor Kevin Krajick, | +1 917-361-7766

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Adapting to Climate With Africa’s ‘Orphan Crops’
Jose Guarin, Center for Climate Systems Research
Building a more resilient food system will require breeding cultivars that can withstand future climate conditions. In Africa, research has focused mainly on the most economically important crops; however, some less cultivated but highly nutritious crops already possess notable resilience potential. Guarin and colleagues have identified specific ones and estimated their possible future yields, based on projected reactions to increased atmospheric CO2, higher temperatures and changes in rainfall. The results are aimed at informing agricultural policies going forward.
Monday Dec. 11, 11:10-11:20 | 2008 Moscone West | GC12C-05

Where Sea Levels Are Falling, Not Rising
Jacqueline Austermann, LDEO
As sea levels rise around the world, around Greenland they are falling—in places more than 2 centimeters a year. This comes in part because the land is bouncing back as melting reduces the weight of its ice sheet. Austermann’s group is examining how adjustments in the underlying mantle are driving this movement—observations useful in constraining the evolution of the ice sheet, and understanding its response to future warming. More immediately, many communities sit along shallow coastal waters, where falling water levels may soon hinder travel and fishing; the researchers are working with communities on adaptation plans.
Monday Dec. 11, 14:42-14:52 | 158 South Moscone Center | G13A-04
Greenland Rising project web pages

Plugging the Gaps in U.S. Dam Safety
Antoinette Wannebo, Center for International Earth Science Information Network
Climate change presents serious risks to thousands of aging U.S. dams, but we are behind in generating data on the risks to nearby populations. Part of the reason is that a dam can fail at varying times of the day or year, when people are differently distributed, including nighttime, working hours, rush hours and school holidays. Population can also vary by season where there is significant agricultural or recreational land. Wannebo teases out what data is needed, and the problems in generating it.
Monday Dec. 11, 14:48-14:56 | 2014 Moscone West | IN13A-05

The Climate Cost of Rocket Launches
Kostas Tsigaridis, Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Rocket launches are spiraling in number, with a 40% increase from 2022 to 2023 alone, and far more to come for decades, as we crowd the Earth with satellites and send missions to space. Each launch produces copious emissions of black carbon, NOx, carbon monoxide and other substances. Using scenarios for different vehicles, numbers of future launches, and future fuels, Tsigaridis and colleagues have simulated the effects on the troposphere and stratosphere to the year 2050 in order to understand how climate and atmospheric chemistry may be affected.
Monday, Dec. 11, 15:20-15:30 | 3000 Moscone West | A13A-08

Did Greenland Once Melt to Bedrock?
Allie Balter-Kennedy, LDEO
In 2016, researchers published a startling finding, based on a core of bedrock drilled from deep beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet decades ago: Most or all of the ice melted in the recent geologic past—an event until then considered unlikely. But that single core was all they had to go on. In an effort to follow up, this summer the researchers drilled through more than 500 meters of ice to take a new deep bedrock core, along with another from a shallower site. This talk will reveal the first results.
Monday Dec. 11, 17:00-17:10 | 2005 Moscone West | C14A-07
Project Greendrill web pages | Original 2016 study

Deep Down, Hope for Freshwater Aquifers in Bangladesh
Huy Le, LDEO

As sea levels rise, saltwater is infiltrating shallow freshwater wells used by millions in Bangladesh. In a first-of-its kind survey, scientists used electromagnetic measurements of the subsurface to detect and map deeper freshwater aquifers that one day may be tapped. The good news: aquifers further from the ocean appear to be continually recharged from inland. The bad news: those closer to the coast may be isolated remnants of “fossil” freshwater deposited tens of thousands of years ago, and thus finite in supply.
Tuesday Dec. 12, 8:30-12:50| Poster Hall A-C, Moscone South | H21S-1592

Hastening CO2 Mineralization With Seawater
Claire Nelson, LDEO
In-situ mineralization is a novel and promising technology for removing CO2 from the atmosphere and permanently storing it. Basalt, one of the most common rocks around, reacts naturally with CO2 pumped underground, solidifying it into a harmless solid form. But this is not yet being done on large scales, due to various stumbling blocks. Nelson and colleagues say that alternating pulses of seawater with CO2 can greatly speed the process. In a separate study, they have identified at least one critical area of basalt under the Gulf of Aden, where emissions could be piped from surrounding countries including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kenya and Tanzania.
Tuesday Dec. 12, 14:10-18:30 | Poster Hall A-C, Moscone South | V23B-0172
Related: Large Scale CO2 Mineralization in the Gulf of Aden

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Reunion Party
This yearly reunion brings together hundreds of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory staff and alumni from across the world. Plenty of food and drink, and members of the press are welcome—a unique chance to make contacts, hear informally about new work, and have fun.
Tuesday Dec. 12, 18:30-20:30, San Francisco Marriott Union Square, 480 Sutter St.

Simultaneous North and South America Droughts
Anson Cheung, LDEO
Tree-ring scientists recently showed that southwestern South America and southwestern North America have suffered a series of simultaneous multi-decade droughts over the past 1,000 years. These appear driven by conditions over the tropical Pacific, but state-of-the-art models have so far failed to produce coherent simulations equaling the scale and frequency of these events. This raises the possibility that the models are wrong, and won’t give any warning of future droughts.
Wednesday, Dec. 13 | 14:10-18:30 | Poster Hall A-C Moscone South | PP33E-1569

Hellscapes of Extreme Heat, Humidity and Pollution
Samuel Bartusek, LDEO
Extreme humid heat and air pollution are both obvious health hazards. But how and where they may co-occur is little explored. Bartusek has mapped extensive regions where fine-particulate pollution tends to be higher during bouts of extreme humid heat. They cluster in the most populous areas of the subtropics, affecting nearly half the global population. Such combinations of oppressive heat and pollution appear driven by conditions including anomalously high NOx, near-surface winds bringing moisture from nearby sources, and the presence of a shallow boundary layer.
Thursday Dec. 14, 8:30-12:50 | Poster Hall A-C Moscone South | GC14G-1183

A First Global Assessment of Seafloor Metal Nodules
Daniel Babin, LDEO
Polymetallic nodules on deep ocean floors are rich in copper, nickel, cobalt and other substances needed in great quantities for clean energy technologies. But despite pressing interest in mining them, there has been no global appraisal of their mass and value. Babin has analyzed thousands of seafloor photos and studies of nodules’ properties to map and estimate their global tonnages. Since most of these deposits are in international waters, his results point to the need for updating regulations governing extraction and distribution of profits, particularly to disadvantaged nations.
Thursday Dec. 14, 8:30-12:50 | Poster Hall A-C Moscone South | SY14A-1045

Mixing Sight and Sound to Convey Complex Earth Data
Benjamin Holtzman, LDEO
For years, Holtzman has been exploring the use of synchronized sounds and  animations to convey earthquake physics, producing spectacular sound/sight experiences. He has now expanded to representing the workings of geysers, geothermal reservoirs and Arctic sea ice. These so-called datamovies are intended to help people better grasp data that is too complex to understand through conventional graphs and charts. He will demonstrate his products.
Thursday Dec. 14, 11:10-11:20 | 2010 Moscone West | IN42A-06
Related: Finding potential geothermal reservoirs using complex data

More Dynamic Risk Assessments for Extreme Weather
Mona Hemmati, LDEO
Extreme weather is taking increasing tolls on lives and livelihoods, but current decision-making processes for mitigation and adaptation don’t adequately capture the risks, argues Hemmati. Her interdisciplinary group’s research seeks to address the limitations by bringing into play not just climate risks, but the vulnerabilities of differing populations, specific times of day or season, probable response times of authorities and other factors.
Thursday Dec. 14, 16:00-16:10 | 2016 Moscone West| NH44A-01

NYC Gas Stoves and Outdoor Methane Pollution
Roisin Commane, LDEO
Some cities are trying to limit the use of natural gas in part because it produces emissions of methane, carbon and nitrogen dioxide. Much attention has been focused on indoors, but is outdoor air affected? Commane and colleagues have been monitoring New York City air pollutants and studying their sources at ground level over long periods, including during the Covid lockdown, when traffic largely stopped—but methane pollution did not. The culprit, they say: incomplete combustion in gas stoves and to a greater extent, hot-water boilers. They say previous studies underestimate local methane emissions by a factor of 3 to 5.
Friday Dec. 15, 9:40-9:50 | 3004 Moscone West | A51F-08
Background: The Truth About Gas Stoves

Where Will the San Andreas Break Next?
Lynn Sykes, LDEO
Sykes has been working for many years to refine techniques of forecasting where large earthquakes are likely to occur, and over what time span. California’s San Andreas fault definitely produces large events, but it is not really one continuous fault, but a series of structures, all moving at different rates—or not moving, and thus building stress. Sykes reexamines seismic data preceding past big quakes to come up with a forecast of where and approximately when some of the next breaks will occur.
Friday Dec. 15, 11:28-11:39 | 153 Moscone South | T52A-07

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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