State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Current and Upcoming Scientific Fieldwork, 2024 and Beyond: A Guide

Geodynamicist Jacqueline Austermann surveying cliffs of upraised ancient corals in Barbados


Field researchers with the Columbia Climate School and its affiliated centers are studying the dynamics of the planet on every continent and every ocean. Projects range from climate to basic geology, natural hazards, pollution and sustainable technologies. Dependent on logistics and safety factors, journalists are invited to join expeditions or otherwise cover them.

Expeditions below are in rough chronological order, divided into NEW YORK CITY/U.S. NORTHEAST; WIDER UNITED STATES; and INTERNATIONAL. Unless otherwise stated, projects originate with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. This list will be kept updated; check back periodically. Contact: senior science editor Kevin Krajick, 917-361-7766.


CARBON-HUNGRY ROCKS | Geologic surveys, suburban New Jersey and offshore New York/New Jersey | SPRING-SUMMER 2024
Much of northern New Jersey and parts of southern New York and eastern Pennsylvania are underlain by vast deposits of basalt, a volcanic rock believed highly reactive with carbon dioxide. These deposits also extend offshore. A team led by geophysicist David Goldberg is investigating whether emissions from power plants and other sources in the region could be pumped to basalts on the seabed and stored there in solid form. As part of the research, students are sampling and mapping basalt outcrops in the New Jersey suburbs as analogs to the seabed deposits, and will follow up with lab tests. This summer, fixed-wing aircraft will perform magnetic and gravity surveys off the coast in order to better map out seabed deposits that could be targeted. Article on the project

George Okoko samples a formation of volcanic rock in suburban New Jersey
Grad student George Okoko samples a formation of volcanic rock in suburban New Jersey as part of a project to lock up excess carbon from the air.

SUDDEN WAVE | Studies of flash-flooding risk, New York City | SPRING-SUMMER 2024 and ONGOING
Scientists have intensively studied New York’s flood risk from rising seas, but paid far less attention to flash flooding from increasingly intense rainfalls. 2021’s Hurricane Ida was a wake-up call, inundating low-lying neighborhoods and killing more than a dozen residents. Researchers including economist Malgosia Madajewicz are working to clarify the risks around Jamaica Bay by assembling newly detailed maps of potential flash-flood areas, and assessing vulnerability of populations based on socioeconomic factors. Part of the work will involve door-to-door surveys of residents, and focus groups on households’ ability to recover. Neighborhoods covered will include Edgemere, Arverne, Belle Harbor, Hamilton Beach, Old Howard Beach and Rosedale.

CLIMATE JUSTICE | Coastal resilience studies, New York/New Jersey metro area | ONGOING
By 2050, sea levels around New York may rise by as much as two feet over 2000 sea levels. This will especially affect low-income communities, which are often clustered in low-lying areas. Researchers with the Resilient Coastal Communities Project are working with a wide range of partners to assure that the region’s premier coastal resilience project, run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will cover all affected communities and hazards. Where appropriate, they are encouraging nature-based solutions such as street-level green spaces and wetland restoration. A project of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development. Leaders: environmental attorney and educator Paul Gallay and international development expert Jacqueline Klopp. Resilient Coastal Communities Project pages | Story on the project

POISONED PONDS | Studies of toxic algae in New York City parks | SUMMER 2024 and ONGOING
A onetime pleasant waterfall-fed pond in Manhattan’s Morningside Park has been overtaken by thick mats of toxic algae. In a project announced last year by Columbia president Minouche Shafik, a group led by biological oceanographer Joaquim Goes and colleagues at Columbia Engineering are restoring the site. With help from local high-school students, Goes will disperse a natural mineral substrate into the pond via a small autonomous boat, which will also carry instruments to monitor water quality. If this works, the project may extend to Central Park’s Harlem Meer and other park ponds suffering similar problems. Article on the project

Researchers walking through remnant of old-growth forest on New Jersey’s Sandy Hook peninsula
Researchers are studying a rare remnant of old-growth forest on New Jersey’s Sandy Hook peninsula; sea level rise threatens to wipe it out.

SEASIDE METHUSELAHS | Monitoring tree health, coastal NY/NJ |  SUMMER/FALL 2024
Only a few tree species can withstand the wind and water conditions along the edge of the U.S. East Coast; and after centuries of development, there are just a few old-growth stands left. Now, these rare trees are under lethal threat from climate-driven rising seas and powerful storms. Paleoclimatologist Nicole Davi has sampled rings from many of these trees, dating back as far as the mid-1700s. She has installed instruments on individual trees to record their physiological reactions to weather in real time. The project aims to chart the region’s weather history, and project future effects of climate change on the trees. She is working at Long Island’s Montauk Downs State Park, Fire Island National Park, and in New Jersey at Sandy Hook peninsula, Cattus Island, Lighthouse Center and Jakes Landing. Story and slideshow on Sandy Hook’s forest

WILD CITY | Surveys of urban wildlife, New York City | SUMMER 2024 and ONGOING
Although it is the most densely populated U.S. city, New York is home to many wild animals including foxes and raccoons, along with recent additions such as coyotes and beavers. With expanding green spaces, populations are growing, but because many creatures are nocturnal and secretive, it is often unclear what spaces they occupy. For the past few years, eco-epidemiologist Maria Diuk-Wasser and students have been censusing animals and investigating patterns of movement and dispersal by deploying camera traps in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island’s Nassau County. They are also quantifying bird species in the same areas. Many of the creatures play a role in spreading vector-borne diseases, and part of the study is aimed at understanding and minimizing harmful animal-human interactions. Related to Diuk-Wasser’s investigations of Lyme-carrying ticks (below). Story on the project

Grad student Myles Osborn Davis sets a camera trap in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery
In an effort to map the presence and movements of raccoons, coyotes and other mammals, grad student Myles Osborn Davis sets a camera trap in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

LYME THREAT | Studies of human/tick contacts, New York City | SUMMER 2024
Researchers are developing a comprehensive map of where people are most at risk of contracting tick-borne diseases in New York City. This includes quantifying tick presence in various landscapes, along with that of small mammals (mainly mice) and birds, who play roles in spreading Lyme and other vector-borne diseases. Through surveys, the team is also studying the role of human behavior and travel through parks, backyards and other green spaces. A cohort of citizen volunteers is using a smartphone app to track their own movements. The ultimate aim is to minimize human exposure. Led by eco-epidemiologist Maria Diuk-Wasser. Project webpages

Drilling cores as deep as 25 feet into the muck, ecologist Dorothy Peteet studies the scant remnants of the U.S. East Coast’s once vast wetlands. In one NASA project, she and colleagues seek to understand how much carbon is stored in coastal marshes, how much is endangered by sea-level rise and development, and which ones should be targeted first for preservation. Coring sites this year include salt marshes in New Jersey’s Cheesequake State Park, Otter Creek Preserve in Westchester County, and sites along the shores of Long Island. In a separate study, she is studying the end of the last ice age by coring to the bottom of sediments built up over the last 15,000-plus years. In this project, she will drill into New Jersey’s Budd Lake Bog, wetlands near Rosendale and Kingston, N.Y., and in Rhode Island. Article on post-glacial wetlands | Article on carbon-storage work around New York City

Grad student Clara Chang and paleoclimatologist Dorothy Peteet core sediments from a saltwater marsh near JFK Airport in Queens, NY
Grad student Clara Chang (left) and paleoclimatologist Dorothy Peteet core centuries-old sediments from a saltwater marsh near JFK Airport in Queens, N.Y.

SHELL GAME | Experimental oyster cultivation, Piermont, N.Y. | SPRING-FALL 2024 and ONGOING
Most predictions of oyster reefs’ vulnerability to changing environmental conditions are based on lab studies, not natural observations. Braddock Linsley and Luca Telesca have planted and are closely monitoring eastern oysters, Crassostrea virginica, next to a pier along the Hudson River in Piermont, N.Y. The oysters are contained in custom-built instrumented chambers, allowing the researchers to track oysters’ minute-by-minute responses to changes in oxygen and chemical conditions in terms of shell building, feeding and water filtration. The species is the focus of intensive restoration efforts in numerous estuaries, including New York Harbor, so predicting how well they do is important, especially as the climate changes.

PRECARIOUS BOULDERS | Geological fieldwork to detect past earthquakes | Harriman State Park, N.Y. | SUMMER 2024
Recent research suggests that earthquakes in and around the New York metro area are more common than previously thought, but no one knows the maximum size of past events. To extend the record into prehistoric time, geologist William Menke and students are focusing on huge boulders that have been precariously perched on the bedrock surface of exurban Harriman State Park in the same positions since the end of the last ice age. The hypothesis goes that if, say, a magnitude 7 quake would tip over a boulder, but it is still in place, no such quake has taken place in the past 15,000 to 20,000 years. Story on the project | Earthquake Risk to NY Greater Than Thought

Boulder left behind by a melting glacier in Harriman State Park, NY
A precariously perched boulder laid down tens of thousands of years ago by a melting glacier could be used to estimate the strength of past earthquakes in the New York metro area.

WATERS UNDER PRESSURE | Mapping threatened habitats, Long Island Sound | JUNE 10-29, MID-AUGUST, NOVEMBER 2024
Oceanographers Frank Nitsche and Cecilia McHugh are part of a project to finely map the bathymetry and bottom habitats of Long Island Sound, which are under intense pressure from pollutants and excess nutrients that cause harmful algal blooms and low oxygen levels. This summer they will dredge sediments from the bottom and retrieve deeper cores. Oceanographer Joaquim Goes and colleagues are investigating algae in particular. After recent studies involving satellite imagery and extensive water sampling, they are developing an information and decision system for managing these blooms. Mapping project web pages  |  Article on the algae project 

WATERSHED MOMENT | Studies of past climate, Catskill Mountains | SPRING/SUMMER 2024
The New York/New Jersey watershed, comprising the region that drains into New York harbor, includes wide swaths of the Catskill Mountains, whose reservoirs serve nine million people. As part of an investigation of factors that expose some populations to poor quality drinking water, dendrochronologist Nicole Davi will take cores from old Catskills trees to study past climate swings and their potential effects on water quality over hundreds of years.

GOTHAM GREENHOUSE | Tracking New York’s emissions | ONGOING
To better understand the exact sources of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, atmospheric scientist Róisín Commane and colleagues are measuring carbon dioxide, methane and other gases on fine scales in and around New York City. Among other things, they will sample air from a van containing a mobile lab to quantify emissions from landfills, wastewater plants and natural-gas leaks. They have also been working inside buildings to investigate methane emissions from gas-powered boilers and stoves. Article on the portable lab | Article on the NYC project | Article on NYC greenery and CO2

EXTRATERRESTRIAL VOLCANOES AND EARTHLY ICE | High-pressure lab experiments, Palisades, N.Y. | ONGOING
Geophysicists Christine McCarthy and Rob Skarbek study conditions within and under Earth’s glaciers, and the subsurfaces of other planetary bodies including the icy moons of Neptune, Saturn and Jupiter. In one set of experiments, McCarthy and team are studying the conditions under which volcanoes erupt on these moons by recreating the brines and slurries thought to be driving such events. In another, they are recreating the conditions at the rocky beds of glaciers, to understand how glaciers move and how climate change may affect them. McCarthy on her background and the physics of ice |  McCarthy’s TED-style talk on icy moons

TURNING CO2 TO STONE| High-pressure lab experiments, Palisades, N.Y. | ONGOING
Jacob Tielke, Christine McCarthy and Peter Kelemen are performing lab experiments to assess the feasibility of injecting atmospheric carbon underground and turning it into a solid mineral. The experiments focus on peridotite, a type of rock that reacts rapidly with carbon in nature. Some of the largest deposits of peridotite are in Oman, but they are also present in U.S. states including Washington, Oregon, California and Vermont. Video, photo essay, story on the Oman project | Story on the experiments | Geologists Map U.S. Rocks to Soak CO2 From Air

TINY PLASTICS | Studies of micro/nanoplastics, New York area, Antarctica, other areas | ONGOING
Using newly developed technology, oceanographer Joaquim Goes and geochemist Beizhan Yan have been mapping the abundance and sources of microplastics in and around New York. Yan and colleagues also recently developed an even newer technology to document a proliferation of nanoplastics—yet tinier plastic bits—in bottled water and other sources. Working with the team, volunteers are collecting samples of snow and other materials from remote areas of the world including Antarctica for evidence of plastics.  Article on the New York project | Nanoplastics in water | Antarctica expedition

COMING CLEAN | Technology to filter microplastics from washing machines, New York City | ONGOING thru 2025
Recent research shows that a major source of micro- and nanoplastic pollution is washing of clothes; geochemist Beizhan Yan says a single three-pound load of laundry sends hundreds of thousands of particles into sewers. Municipal waste-treatment systems are not set up to deal with them, so he and colleagues are developing filtration systems to remove them from home and commercial washing machines. Tests are being carried out at Columbia-owned dorms and/or apartment buildings. Story on the project

Salvaging tree rings from old framing timbers during a building demolition in downtown Manhattan
Salvaging tree rings from old framing timbers during a building demolition, downtown Manhattan. The samples can be used to reconstruct past climate.

NYC’S ANCIENT TREES | Analyzing timbers from old buildings | ONGOING
Many New York structures built in the 19th and early 20th centuries are framed inside with massive timbers—in many cases, now the sole remnants of eastern old-growth forests that were erased to help create the metropolis. Tree-ring scientists Caroline Leland and Mukund Palat Rao are salvaging these rare artifacts from demolitions of old buildings. Their aim is to study past climates; some tree rings in the timbers record yearly weather conditions going back to the 1500s—data available nowhere else, since most living trees that old were cut down long ago. Story on the project

SAVING TRIBAL LAND | Sea-level adaptation, Shinnecock Nation, New York, and other communities | ONGOING thru SPRING 2027
The Shinnecock people have long dwelled along the seashore of Long Island; half the small tribe’s members now live on a low-lying peninsula that is slowly being inundated by sea-level rise. Economist Malgosia Madajewicz is working closely with tribal authorities to help design adaptation strategies that will allow people to remain on their land. The project will also include the nearby town of Mastic Beach, where other Indigenous people live. With colleagues, she will also work on a partner program with Indigenous people along the Virginia shore.  Shinnecock Nation website

DIARY OF A TREE | Real-time forest monitoring, Hudson Valley | ONGOING
Biologist Kevin Griffin and colleagues are running a network of instruments in the New York suburbs to monitor physiological functions of trees, and transmit the data in real time to the lab. They have wired some 60 trees in the lower Hudson Valley and Long Island, monitoring how they respond to daily weather shifts; this in turn is suggestive of how they may respond to longer-term climate changes. They also have a live rooftop webcam at suburban Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory that takes a photo of the area canopy every 15 minutes, available in real time to the public; this is aimed at assessing how seasonal rhythms of trees and vegetation may be changing. Article on the webcam | Camera livestream | Earth Institute article on the research | New Yorker article

RESURRECTED SPRINGS | Studies of 1800s spas, Northeast states | TBD
Many commercial warm springs popular in the 19th century have been left to decay or been demolished, and locations of some have been lost. Working with local historians, geologists Dallas Abbott and Bill Menke are searching out sites in New England and New York state to study subterranean conditions that feed these springs, and how they may be evolving. Among other things, they will compare century-old temperature readings with new ones to judge whether possible subtle rises in temperature could indicate if climate change has affected underground waters.


Team digging for disarmed explosive devices, Pawnee, Oklahoma
Digging for disarmed explosive devices, Pawnee, Okla. An ongoing project employs drones and geophysics to speed up the slow, dangerous job of finding and neutralizing land mines and other ordnance, which are a global menace.

*NEW*GOLD’ IN THOSE HILLS | Recovery of critical minerals from old coal mines | MAY, JULY and AUGUST 2024
Northeastern Pennsylvania is honeycombed with old coal mines that are flooded with some 430 billion gallons of water, much of which circulates and eventually re-emerges at the surface, polluting streams, creeks and aquifers. This may present both an environmental and economic opportunity. The waters contain cobalt, lithium and rare-earth elements that are poisonous—and increasingly needed for electric vehicles, batteries and other green-energy technologies. A team including geologist Sean Kinney will set up instruments and take repeated samples in order to characterize how much water is circulating and the amounts of these valuable elements. The aim is to recover them, and potentially help pay for environmental cleanups with the profits.

*NEW* DANGER BELOW | Testing old mines and wells for uranium pollution, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona | MAY and SEPT/OCT 2024
Many Navajo people lack safe drinking water, partly because there is uranium in their groundwater, from both natural geologic processes and abandoned uranium mines and slag heaps. Things will probably worsen as ongoing climate-driven megadrought shrinks aquifers and concentrates uranium. Scientists including geologist Sean Kinney will study water from abandoned mines and wells in Petrified Forest National Park, which is close to the Navajo Nation and geologically connected. By developing a map of isotopic signatures, they aim to develop a system to track the sources and movements of uranium, and how climate may affect supplies. As part of the project, they will access deep boreholes previously drilled to investigate the region’s geologic and climatic history—a project that will resume in spring 2025. Drilling in Petrified Forest

EXPLOSIVE POTENTIAL | Spotting land mines with aerial geophysics, Pawnee, Oklahoma | JUNE 10-14, 2024
The war in Ukraine is the latest magnifier of a worldwide menace: more than 100 million land mines and other unexploded munitions that kill thousands every year, even long after conflicts are over. Detecting them with handheld instruments is slow and dangerous. A team co-led by grad student Jasper Baur is testing ways to find them more quickly and safely using instrument-equipped drones and artificial intelligence. They have buried about 150 real but disarmed devices at a rural explosives range run by Oklahoma State University; here, researchers from several institutions will convene to test their latest technologies, including magnetometers, ground-penetrating radar and thermal imaging devices. Baur and colleagues are also working directly in Ukraine. Story on the project

WARNING SIGNS | Volcano monitoring, Aleutian Islands, Costa Rica | LATE MAY/EARLY JUNE 2024, REVISITS THRU 2025
Some 80 active volcanoes worldwide threaten people, but dependable eruption forecasts are elusive, because many are in poor, remote areas, unmonitored with modern technology. Volcanologists Terry Plank, Einat Lev and colleagues are working to create a standardized package of instruments and protocols that can be duplicated cheaply across the world and monitored remotely in real time. In a pilot project at the Aleutian Islands’ active Cleveland and Okmok volcanoes, they have deployed sensors to detect danger signals including gas emissions, earthquakes and surface inflation. Data is transmitted continuously via satellite. The team just installed a similar array at Costa Rica’s active Poás Volcano. Multimedia report on Poás | Project web page

TOXIC ARCTIC WATERS | Observations of microbe blooms, northwest Alaska | JUNE/SEPT 2024 AND ONGOING
Biological oceanographer Ajit Subramaniam is helping study the waters off the coastal Chukchi Sea community of Kotzebue, where warming has led to rapid declines in sea ice and summer blooms of cyanobacteria that could harm ecosystems and local food supplies. Indigenous Kotzebue citizens helped design the program, and are monitoring waters by boat and with instruments moored to the bottom. The aim: to determine what species are blooming, and what effects they exert on the food chain. The project is called “QiñiÄ¡niaḷak qiñiÄ¡naqsiḷugu,” which is Iñupiaq for “Making the invisible visible.” In June, Subramaniam will install instruments and meet with his collaborators; in September, he will retrieve the instruments and the data they hold.  Article on the project

Ecologist Natalie Boelman surveys a plot near the northern tree line, Brooks Range, Alaska
Ecologist Natalie Boelman surveys a plot near the northern tree line, Brooks Range, Alaska.

SOUNDS OF A CHANGING ARCTIC | Bioacoustic/camera wildlife studies, Alaska/Yukon | SUMMER 2024
Large areas of Alaska’s tundra face possible fossil fuel development. Ecologist Natalie Boelman and colleagues are assessing potential effects on wildlife. Using sensitive microphones and camera traps at 90 locations, they are comparing three areas: Alaska’s heavily industrialized Prudhoe Bay; the possibly threatened Arctic Wildlife Refuge; and Canada’s protected Ivvavik National Park. Sensors pick up everything from bird calls to insects buzzing, along with human noise. Boelman hopes to recruit volunteers to help count animals such as caribou in the images; artificial intelligence will combine images with sounds to analyze the abundance and activities of animals, and their reactions to disturbance. This summer is the last of five years of data collection.

WHITHER THE TUNDRA | Arctic vegetation studies, northern Alaska |JULY-AUG 2023
The Toolik Lake research station, on Alaska’s North Slope, has been the site of continuous ecological research for nearly 50 years, part of a worldwide network aimed at understanding long-term cycles and changes in nature, especially in regard to climate change. Principal investigator at Toolik is plant physiologist Kevin Griffin. He and ecologists Natalie Boelman and Shahid Naeem are engaged in a range of work on the effects of climate change on plants and tundra biodiversity. Much other work is being done by researchers from other institutions. Toolik Station website

BEFORE NORTH AMERICA EXISTED | Studies of deep-time tectonics, Montana, Idaho, Utah | EARLY JUNE and LATE JULY/EARLY AUGUST 2024
Some 750 million years ago, the core of what is now North America broke away from the supercontinent of Rodinia, which then encompassed most of the Earth’s land. But many details of this period are unknown, because sedimentary rocks laid down around that time have eroded away, creating what geologists call an unconformity―a missing part of the geologic record. Geologist Stephen Cox plans to get around this by sampling metamorphic rocks in the iconic Teton and Uinta mountain ranges that once lay far below the vanished sediments. He will test these in the lab using new technology that charts how the rocks cooled or warmed as sediments were added or subtracted. Cox has already used similar methods to reveal a previously hidden history of great earthquakes in California. Project web page | Ancient earthquakes on the San Andreas

CARBON-EATING ROCKS | Geologic mapping and sampling, California, Vermont | SUMMER 2024
Scattered through the United States, scientists have found unusual rocks thrust up from the deep earth that react rapidly with carbon dioxide—and with the right technology, might be harnessed to remove it from the air. Geologist Peter Kelemen and colleagues will visit sites to refine the maps and remove samples for laboratory testing by geochemist Christine McCarthy and others. Sites are clustered in and around coastal mountain ranges. Lab experiments on carbon sequestration | Related project in Oman| Geologists Map U.S. Rocks to Soak CO2 From Air

RESETTING THE HUMAN CLOCK | Dating early stone tools, southern California | TBD 2024
Evidence is mounting that humans settled the Americas well before the longtime conventional date of about 13,000 years ago. Geochemists Sidney Hemming and Tanzhuo Liu may be on the trail of the most radically earlier date: some 45,000 years ago. But this is based on analysis of just a single stone tool about the size of a child’s palm, found in California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park; more evidence is needed. And in fact there are abundant stone artifacts in this arid, barren area, awaiting study. The scientists will analyze rock varnish, which forms on stony surfaces over thousands of years, including both natural and worked stones. Working with archaeologists, they plan to collect more material from several ancient sites.
Anza-Borrego Park description

Ecologist Marie Uriarte and team assess damage to forests from Hurricane Maria in central Puerto Rico
A team led by ecologist Marie Uriarte (foreground) assesses damage to forests from Hurricane Maria, central Puerto Rico.

Beyond destroying infrastructure and killing people, Hurricane Maria killed or severely damaged a quarter of Puerto Rico’s big trees. Forest ecologist Maria Uriarte and colleagues are working throughout the island to assess the outlook for forests. In the long term, they aim to project how global warming and resulting more intense storms could affect the makeup of forests across the tropics and subtropics. Much of the work focuses on Luquillo Experimental Forest, near San Juan, where the researchers have been studying the same plots for decades. Story, video, slideshow on Uriarte’s work

LEGACIES OF POISON | Mitigating air and water pollution in tribal lands, North/South Dakota, Oklahoma, Arizona | SPRING-SUMMER 2024 and ONGOING
Tribal lands in the Dakotas alone contain more than 15,000 hazardous waste sites and 7,000 abandoned mines, which send dangerous levels of arsenic and uranium into drinking water. Some geologic formations also naturally release these substances into groundwater. In collaboration with the Oglala Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux and Spirit Lake Tribes, researchers are investigating contaminants’ pathways, health effects and ways to mitigate hazards. Similar efforts are also underway on tribal lands in Oklahoma and Arizona. Led by Ana Navas-Acien of the Mailman School of Public Health, with investigators including Benjamin Bostick and Steven Chillrud. Arsenic taints many U.S. wells

BETTER SEPTIC | Innovative wastewater systems, Alabama | ONGOING
In poor rural central Alabama, municipal sewage systems are few and far between, and some 90 percent of private ones function poorly; many just consist of a pipe running to a nearby ditch or stream. One county has been cited by the U.S. Justice Department for discriminating against Black residents for failing to provide wastewater infrastructure; there, a full third of residents suffer from sewage-related parasitic hookworm. In a pilot project, teams are building 15 modular small-scale wastewater systems, each serving about 20 households or businesses, similar to ones used by the military. If the pilot is successful, such systems could be built to serve many other areas. Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center, co-leads the project. Alabama Violated Rights in Sewage Case | Project web pages


STOPPING ILLEGAL LOGGING | DNA studies of trees, Bolivia | MAY 2024
Once a tree is cut down, it can be difficult to say where it came from, and whether it was cut legally. But recent research advances are making it easier to pinpoint where certain trees came from, using DNA and stable isotopes. Tree-ring scientist Kathelyn Paredes Villanueva will collect wood samples in the tropical forests of Bolivia in order to build a database of DNA and stable isotopes aimed at allowing authorities to identify illegally harvested trees and hold loggers to account. Decoding the DNA fingerprints of trees

POLLUTED TREASURE | Mercury-free gold mining, Peruvian Amazon | SPRING 2024
The Madre de Dios river basin of southeast Peru is heavily pocked by small-scale illegal mines, where miners commonly use polluting mercury to extract gold. Grad student Jennifer Angel Amaya and geochemist Alexander Van Geen are part of a project to induce miners to separate out the gold using purely mechanical means. They are taking samples of water, sediment and plankton in order to gauge natural mercury levels in remote areas, and visiting legal mining concessions with specialized instruments to ascertain that no mercury has been used to process ores. Through arrangement with the government, mercury-free gold can be sold at a premium. Story on the project

DINOSAURS ON ICE | Geology transects, northwest China | APRIL-JUNE 2024
For most of their reign, dinosaurs are thought to have lived in warm, humid conditions, but a recent study suggested they became dominant after they survived a cold period that wiped out many competitors. The lead author of that study, paleontologist Paul Olsen, will travel with colleagues through the desert of northwest China’s Junggar Basin, where they first uncovered evidence of freezing conditions during the crucial period, about 202 million years ago. To clarify the picture of this time, they will sample sediments from outcrops and by drilling cores. Dinosaurs Took Over Amid Ice, Not Warmth

OLD WAYS | Studying ancestral conservation methods, Papua New Guinea | MAY-JUNE 2024
Anthropologist Paige West and Indigenous leader and scholar John Aini are working with 22 communities in the New Ireland province of Papua New Guinea to understand and revitalize traditional Indigenous conservation practices, and develop new forms of resilience in the face of climate change. West will also work with collaborators across the country to develop a new project examining changes in traditional religious practices, the loss of local languages and biodiversity, and the effects of climate change. Decolonizing Conservation in the Pacific | Reimagining Conservation Practice in Papua New Guinea 

RIFTING CONTINENT | Geological fieldwork to map fault zones, Botswana | MAY 13-30, 2024 | Tanzania, JULY 14-27,
Geologist Folarin Kolawole is mapping poorly known seismic faults generated by the slow rifting of East Africa. The research is aimed at understanding both long-term rift evolution and contemporary earthquake risk. In May he and a postdoc will visit the Okavango-Makgadikgadi Rift Zone in northern Botswana, where young faults break the desert surface, often causing sizable earthquakes. They will map fault structures and sample rocks to determine the timing and structural styles of faulting across the region. He and a student will do similar work in Tanzania in July.

ICY SIGHTS AND SOUNDS | Studies of wasting glaciers, northern Italy and possibly Greenland | SUMMER 2024
Hit by record temperatures, glaciers in northern Italy’s rugged Dolomite Mountains are quickly melting away. Geophysicist Marco Tedesco and colleagues will fly drones equipped with special visual instruments over the surfaces of several glaciers in order to characterize the amount of melting and the exact processes at work. They will also deploy microphones to record the sounds of meltwater rushing under the surface, and relate that to their surface observations. Pending funding, they will carry out a similar mission at one or more glaciers in Greenland. Melting of the Greenland Ice, Up Close

BEDROCK CLUES | Coring rock under Greenland ice | SUMMER 2024 and SUMMERS THRU 2026
In 2016, scientists led by geochemist Joerg Schaefer raised a stir by asserting that the Greenland ice melted to bedrock at least once in the recent geologic past—suggesting it could happen again with human-induced climate change. In summer 2023, Schaefer and colleagues achieved a scientific first by drilling through more than 1,500 feet of ice into bedrock, to gather more evidence. This summer, they will return to drill more sites in remote northeast Greenland. The project will continue through 2026. Also involved: Nicolás Young and Gisela Winckler.  Project web pages | Story on the project | Greenland ice melted to bedrock in the past 

NEW GROWTH | Monitoring tree responses to drought, Costa Rica, Sweden, Florida, Mexico | ONGOING THRU 2024
Many forests are projected to see more high heat and drought as climate warms; in some, including parts of Russia and Mongolia, the dominant species may soon reach their endurance limits, with cascading ecological effects. Ecoclimatologist Mukund Palat Rao is studying potential effects by installing sensitive instruments that record how individual trees respond to changing conditions hour by hour. He is working in Costa Rica, Sweden, northern Florida, and Sonora, Mexico. Colleagues on the project are monitoring sites in Alaska, Saskatchewan, Belgium and Denmark.

DEEP ARCTIC FLOW | Ocean-bed drilling between Greenland/Norway | JUNE 4-AUG 2, 2024
The Fram Strait, between Greenland and the Norwegian island of Svalbard, is the only deep-water connection between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, and is the route of vigorous currents flowing in both directions. Scientists with the International Ocean Discovery Program will retrieve cores of sediment from the bottom that have built up over millions of years. Analyses will enable them to document changes in the flow, along with advances and retreats of ice sheets during past climate swings. This, in turn, will allow ground truthing of climate models that project future temperatures and ice sheet stability. Crew will include Brendan Reilly, director of the Lamont-Doherty Deep Sea Core Repository. IODP Expedition 403 web pages

Researchers crossing a meltwater stream on Greenland Ice Sheet
Crossing a meltwater stream, Greenland Ice Sheet.

DISAPPEARING WATER | Studies of glacial lake drainage, western Greenland | JULY 2024
Each summer, meltwater lakes form atop parts of the Greenland ice—and many suddenly drain. Little is known about what triggers this, where the water goes, and how it might influence ice movement. A team based in the coastal town of Ilulissat has been traveling inland by helicopter to place geophysical instruments around where lakes typically form, including GPS units to measure minute ice movements, radars to detect water pathways underneath, and water-depth recorders for the lakes themselves. Team seismologist Meredith Nettles will wrap up the project as she retrieves instruments left last summer. Article on meltwater within the ice

LAND’S END | Lake coring, archaeology, northern Greenland | LATE JULY/EARLY AUG 2024
Peary Land, a now uninhabited peninsula in far northern Greenland, was once an oasis, if a harsh one, for early Arctic people; its dry climate keeps glaciers from building, making it the world’s northernmost ice-free region. Little is known of how people survived here as far back as 2500 BC, or why they repeatedly came and left. Paleoclimate scientist William D’Andrea has been working here with archaeologists. By coring lake sediments near old settlements, he will retrieve leaf remains, pollen, DNA and other material that can chart past temperatures, precipitation, and plant and animal life that may have influenced human habitability. The results will resonate with challenges in a changing environment faced by Arctic peoples today. Wandel Dal project website | D’Andrea’s work in Arctic Norway

TO GLACIATE OR NOT? Field geology, northern Argentine Andes | MID-APRIL – MID-MAY 2024
The arid mountains of northern Argentina’s Cordillera Oriental are largely unglaciated, even though high-elevation temperatures would allow ice to form. This has not always been so; erosion patterns in some locales suggest that glaciers have formed there in the past, while others nearby have remained ice free. A group co-led by glacial geologist Michael Kaplan will investigate how past shifts in rainfall may have influenced glacier formation. Among other things, they will map erosion patterns and sample rocks that can indicate when glaciers came and went. With the climate rapidly shifting now, the study will put into context how the region has reacted to past climate shifts.

THE RIGHT ROCKS | Mapping rocks for carbon sequestration, Kenya | MAY-JUNE 2024
Kenya could become a world leader in carbon sequestration. It is rich in basaltic rocks, where chemical reactions can turn atmospheric carbon into a solid mineral underground. It is also rich in geothermal wells, which provide ready conduits for pumping carbon down into the Earth. Such a process has already been harnessed in Iceland, but relevant studies on Kenya’s basalts are almost nonexistent. Graduate student George Okoko and colleagues will carry out an extensive project in Kenya’s central and southern Rift Valley regions to map out basalt formations, take samples and evaluate the rocks’ carbon storage capacity. Project led by David Goldberg and Claire Nelson of Lamont-Doherty, and Lydia Olaka of the Technical University of Kenya.  How basalt turns CO2 to stone

NAVIGATING THE NEW ARCTIC | Mapping Greenland’s changing coasts | MAY 2024
Sea levels in most of the world are rising, but in Greenland they are actually dropping; Greenland is losing so much ice, the land is rebounding from its weight. This threatens to strand coastal communities that depend on already shallow waters for travel and fishing. With local people doing the field work, a group led by polar scientists David Porter, Robin Bell and Kirsty Tinto is working to map waters around four communities in detail, document how they are changing, and how people may adapt. Work is taking place in Kullorsuaq, Aasiaat, Tasilaq and Nuuk. The program will wrap up when the scientists visit in May. Project web pages | Story on the project | Story on the melting of Greenland

SAVE THE CHILDREN | Disaster management workshops, Dominica, Puerto Rico | SPRING 2024 and ONGOING
Emergency response plans often fail to address the unique needs of children and their families before, during and after disasters. The National Center for Disaster Preparedness is conducting workshops in the hurricane-prone Caribbean nation of Dominica and in Puerto Rico to help authorities develop action plans to ensure that critical services such as schools remain operational or are restored as soon as possible. In Dominica, they will work in the territory of the Kalinago Indigenous people; in Puerto Rico, training will eventually extend to all 540-some licensed day-care facilities. Resilient Children/Resilient Communities Initiative

ICE AND FIRE | Geophysical surveys, Askja Volcano, Iceland | JULY or AUG 2024
Askja Volcano is one Iceland’s most remote and intriguing features, situated in the central highlands and accessible only a few months of the year. It was virtually unknown until 1875, when a massive explosion drove many Icelanders to emigrate. In 1907, two German scientists working there disappeared without a trace; it has subsequently been used by NASA expeditions as an analog to Mars. In 2021, it began to rapidly inflate, suggesting magma was rising again. This summer, a team including volcanologist Conor Bacon will measure the local magnetic field from ground and air to see what more can be gleaned about the volcano’s current state. Smithsonian Institution Askja Volcano pages

AFRICAN SMOG | Air pollution studies, Morocco, Uganda | SUMMER 2024 AND ONGOING
Much of Africa suffers from drastic air pollution that kills as many as 700,000 people a year just in the sub-Saharan region. Most countries have no means to measure pollution, much less address it. Atmospheric scientist Dan Westervelt and colleagues have designed low-cost monitors and are now helping governments set up networks to chart pollution from cooking fires, garbage burning, vehicles and generators. This summer they hope to set up monitoring equipment in Marrakech, Morocco and Kampala, Uganda. Ongoing work has also been taking place in Togo, Ghana, Kenya, Benin, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Air Pollution in the Global South | Measuring pollution in Togo Bridging the Pollution Data Gap in Sub-Saharan Africa

City residents using a private van for public transportation
Many cities in poorer parts of the world lack centralized public transport, relying instead on often chaotic masses of private vehicles. Researchers are studying ways to improve such services.

GETTING THERE | Improving informal urban transport, Africa, Latin America, Asia | SUMMER 2024 and ONGOING
In many big cities of the Global South, there is little organized public transport; rickshaws, motorcycles, minibuses and other largely unregulated private vehicles are the main way to get around. This exacerbates traffic congestion and air pollution, among other problems. In eight cities, a new global consortium is partnering with transport operators, passengers, governments and technology firms to explore ways these services might be improved to bring about better efficiency, access and public health. Projects in Accra, Bangkok, Beijing, Bogotá, Cape Town, Kumasi, Mumbai and San José. Led by Jacqueline Klopp of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development.  Project announcement | A ‘digital commons’ to track African urban transport

MILLENNIA OF CLIMATE ADAPTATION | Ethnographic, archaeological investigations, southwest Madagascar | SUMMER 2024 and ONGOING
A team of researchers co-led by Kristina Douglass and Indigenous Malagasy people is using archaeological, ethnographic and ecological data to investigate how residents have adapted their livelihoods in farming, fishing, foraging and herding to big natural climate swings over the last 3,000 to 5,000 years. Human-influenced climate change presents new threats, and the past may help act as a guide to how Malagasy people can adapt in the future. Spinoff projects include investigations of the early settlement of Madagascar, past megafauna extinctions, and the effects of modern coral harvesting. Project website

Bangladeshi farmers speak with a research team
Bangladeshi farmers speak with a research team studying both gradual and sudden movements of the land surface.

SINKING AND SHAKING | Studies of land subsidence, earthquakes in Bangladesh| ONGOING
Across much of low-lying Bangladesh, sea levels are rising and land is sinking, causing flooding and pollution of fresh water aquifers. On top of this, it has become clear that the region faces risk of catastrophic earthquakes. Geophysicist Michael Steckler and colleagues are studying the forces at work, especially near the coast. The results should help the nation design and maintain dikes, wells and other infrastructure that can resist these hazards. Steckler makes frequent trips, including to the coastal Sundarbans, home of the world’s largest remaining mangrove forest. Bangladesh earthquake risk | Watch a documentary | Project blog

MONSOON MYSTERIES | Ocean-going studies, Bay of Bengal/Arabian Sea | ONGOING
A third of the world depends on agriculture fed by seasonal Asian monsoon rainfall, which is governed largely by sea-surface temperatures and currents in the Indian Ocean. In recent decades, the ocean has undergone pronounced warming, which may be changing patterns. In an attempt to understand two key areas—the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea—research ships from India and the United States are carrying out a series of cruises. Research is combining remote sensing with shipboard measurement and deployment of autonomous underwater gliders. Biological oceanographer Joaquim Goes is one of the key participants.

OCEAN INVADERS | Studies of harmful plankton off Oman | TBD
It’s part plant, part animal, and it’s taking over. It’s Noctiluca scintillans, a floating organism that forms thick, slimy mats on the ocean, feeding on everything from sunlight to fish eggs. It is thriving in the Arabian Sea, where climate change has created ideal conditions for it; in neighboring Oman, this is damaging fishing and aquaculture, clogging water intakes of oil refineries and desalination plants, and hurting tourism. Oceanographer Joaquim Goes is leading a seagoing study of the organism and how to deal with it. The creatures are now spreading off southeast Asia and India, and may eventually reach other areas. Studying Bioluminescent Blooms in the Arabian Sea

UNCERTAIN THREATS | Studies of earthquake faults, New Zealand | TBD
Much of New Zealand’s landscape is dominated by visible earthquake faults, but little is known about long-term dangers, because it is hard to tell when they last moved. Geologist Stephen Cox and and colleagues are sampling rocks from major faults in the sparsely populated Wairarapa region of the South Island. Most work is along the coast, where faults are visibly exposed at low tide. Samples are analyzed using newly developed chemical methods that allow the team to detect and date earthquakes that occurred tens of thousands to millions of years ago. Cox recently used a similar method to chart out previously unknown big earthquakes on parts of California’s San Andreas fault. ‘Quiet’ Part of San Andreas May Be Threat  | How Earthquakes Leave Chemical Clues in Rocks

DANGEROUS WATERS | Mapping polluted wells, Bangladesh | ONGOING
Naturally occurring arsenic in groundwater is a major problem in wells across much of Southeast Asia. Geochemists Alexander Van Geen and Ben Bostick have long been studying the causes and possible mitigation measures. They are currently supplying highly detailed maps of arsenic levels found in groundwater at different depth levels in a wide-scale effort to get villages across Bangladesh to switch to safer wells. Videos and story on Asian geological and health studies Arsenic pollution near Hanoi

An outdoor kitchen in Bonsaaso, Ghana
An outdoor kitchen in Bonsaaso, Ghana. For cooking, many people depend on wood or charcoal, which produce dangerous pollutants.

CLEARER AIR | Access to cleaner cooking fuels, central Ghana | ONGOING THRU 2028
Some 3 billion people cook with wood and other biomass on rudimentary stoves, producing a fifth of the world’s black-carbon emissions, along with substantial adverse health effects. In a central Ghana region with 30,000 people, researchers are exploring ways to transition people in farming communities to new cookware and cleaner fuels, including propane. Surveys of existing air quality are the first step. Staff includes geochemist Steven Chillrud, who measures human exposure. Project web page

EMPTYING THE LAND | Studies of protected areas, Japan | SUMMER 2024
In Japan, populations in many rural areas are aging and declining―reverse of the problem seen in most countries seeking to preserve natural areas amid booming population growth. Joshua D. Fisher, who co-directs the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity, will visit rural regions to investigate how well different systems of governance are working in protected areas. Part of a wider international project at Hiroshima University to outline best practices for managing protected areas. Project web pages

SUSTAINING PEACE | Sociological fieldwork, Costa Rica | TBD
While most research frames peace within the context of conflict and war, social psychologist Peter Coleman and colleagues from the Advanced Consortium on Conflict, Cooperation and Complexity are studying the factors that contribute to harmony in societies that are outstandingly peaceful. Fieldwork was recently completed in Mauritius. The researchers hope to move on to Costa Rica. Report on Mauritius | The Sustaining Peace Project | Researchers Study How Mauritius Achieves Peace

WANING GLACIERS | Citizen surveys, Peru | SUMMER 2024
Anthropologist Benjamin Orlove of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society is surveying people who are affected by and adapting to declines of nearby glaciers. In Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, his research focuses on changes in water availability, increases in natural hazards, and alteration of culturally and economically significant landscapes. In his study area, residents’ primary challenge is coping with reduced water for irrigation and domestic use.

MELTING SURFACE | Surveys of ponds, streams in Antarctica | NOV-DEC 2024
Scientists have recently documented the apparently growing presence of seasonal meltwater ponds and streams atop the Antarctic ice sheet―an ominous development that could hasten deterioration of the ice. Most of these have been located on floating ice shelves. A team co-led by glaciologist Jonathan Kingslake will look at such features on grounded ice, which is fixed to land, where the dynamics may be different. Water is streaming across Antarctica

ON THE MOVE | Studies of climate-driven migration, The Gambia | JAN 2025
Geographer Alex de Sherbinin and political scientist Fabien Cottier of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network will visit this West African nation to investigate the factors that drive people to migrate within their own country, or internationally. In the capital of Banjul, they will interview people who have moved from the countryside, and talk to their relatives and friends in the rural areas they left behind. They will also interview people contemplating moves to Europe or North America to understand their motivations and the benefits they anticipate. Factors behind climate migration


Members of Sonya Dyhrman’s biological oceanography lab will sample ocean-surface waters off Bermuda as part of a wide-scale study of how phytoplankton and bacteria interact, May 20-27, 2024.

In Cambodia and Vietnam, geochemist Benjamin Bostick is helping investigate the effects of climate change on rice production, and how to make it more sustainable. Fieldwork scheduled for June 2024 and January 2025. In fall 2024, he will participate in work related to agroforestry and the recovery of cleared lowland tropical forests.

The Turkana Rift System of northwest Kenya has long been the locus of key research into the evolution of humanity. Grad student Christian Rowan, who studies how long-term tectonic processes influence ancient environments, will do fieldwork there to refine understanding of how this region has changed over millions of years. Seeking Humanity’s Roots

Geochemist Peter Kelemen is working as part of a team that is studying how rocks at a major nickel deposit in northern Ontario may be employed to soak up carbon from the air.

The National Center for Disaster Preparedness is conducting workshops for state and municipal employees at many sites to help with planning for climate resilience, equitable disaster response, post-disaster economic and housing recovery, mass-care community sheltering, relocation assistance and pandemic preparedness. Upcoming workshops will take place in Alaska, Puerto Rico, North Dakota and Florida, including on tribal lands.

A 2022 survey of New York state’s schools found that a full third had water outlets with lead levels above the established threshold, along with other problems. Laureline Josset of the Columbia Water Center is working with middle- and high-school students in Harlem to develop educational programs around water issues.

Political scientist Lisa Allyn Dale will take a group of undergraduate students to rural Rwanda to work alongside undergrads at the University of Rwanda on a series of sustainable development projects in cooperation with local partners, spring 2025. Article on Dale’s work in Rwanda

Tree-ring scientist Laia Andreu-Hayles and colleagues have been collecting samples from ancient trees in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador to reconstruct climate and weather patterns over the past 1,000-plus years. Work has extended from the high Andes into lower elevations of the western Amazon. Pending logistics arrangements, the research will continue in coming months and years. Abstract of past research

Efforts to improve energy access in the developing world frequently focus on homes, schools and health facilities. In Uganda, engineer Vijay Modi has been helping lead a project focusing on agricultural lands where electric infrastructure would make economic sense. Data comes from satellite imagery, interviews and data on crops, livestock, irrigation systems, and agricultural processing and storage systems. Project web page