Research News from 2013
June 11, 2013
Smaller than a speck of dust, Emiliania huxleyi plays an outsized role in the world’s seas. Ranging from the polar oceans to the tropics, these free-floating photosynthetic algae remove carbon dioxide from the air, help supply the oxygen that we breathe, and form the base of marine food chains. When they proliferate, their massive turquoise blooms are visible from space.
Now scientists have discovered one of the keys to E. huxleyi’s
success. A seven-year effort by 75 researchers from 12 countries to map its genome has revealed a set of core genes that mix and match with a set of variable genes that likely allows E. huxleyi,
orEhux, to adapt to different environments. Their results
are described in the latest issue of Nature.
June 06, 2013
Twice humans have witnessed the wasting of snow and ice from Peru’s tallest volcano, Nevado Coropuna—In the waning of the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago, and today, as industrial carbon dioxide in the air raises temperatures again. As in the past, Coropuna’s retreating glaciers figure prominently in the lives of people below.
May 29, 2013
During the last ice age, when thick ice covered the Arctic, many scientists assumed that the deep currents below that feed the North Atlantic Ocean and help drive global ocean currents slowed or even stopped. But in a new study in Nature, researchers show that the deep Arctic Ocean has been churning briskly for the last 35,000 years, through the chill of the last ice age and warmth of modern times, suggesting that at least one arm of the system of global ocean currents that move heat around the planet has behaved similarly under vastly different climates.
May 13, 2013
Eight hundred years ago, relatively small armies of mounted warriors suddenly exploded outward from the cold, arid high-elevation grasslands of Mongolia, and conquered the largest contiguous empire in history. Led by Genghis Khan and his sons and grandsons, the Mongols briefly ruled most of modern-day Russia, China, Korea, southeast Asia, Persia, India, the Middle East and eastern Europe. They reshaped world geography, culture and history in ways that still resound today. How did they do it? Among the forces at work: the Mongols’ fast horses and brilliant cavalry tactics; their openness to new technologies; and the political genius of Genghis himself. Now, a research group is looking into a possible other factor: climate change. The idea may have implications not only for our understanding of history, but for modern Mongolia and the wider world.
May 07, 2013
After John Diebold, an enormously popular and influential marine scientist, died suddenly in summer 2010, friends and family resolved to erect a memorial to him.
During a long career at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Diebold had spent seven or so of his 66 years at sea on all the world’s oceans, and many more preparing for cruises and writing up results. Those who cared about him settled on a handmade bench, made of red oak carved to look like driftwood, joined with salvaged nautical-looking pieces of iron, all weighing about a ton.
May 01, 2013
Mark Cane, an expert on the El Niño climate pattern, and Terry Plank, an authority on explosive volcanoes—both scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory--have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Membership in the National Academy, given for excellence in original scientific work, is one of the highest honors awarded to engineers and scientists in the United States.
April 22, 2013
Fueled by industrial greenhouse gas emissions, Earth’s climate warmed more between 1971 and 2000 than during any other three-decade interval in the last 1,400 years, according new regional temperature reconstructions covering all seven continents. This period of manmade global warming, which continues today, reversed a natural cooling trend that lasted several hundred years, according to results published in the journal Nature Geoscience by more than 80 scientists from 24 nations analyzing climate data from tree rings, pollen, cave formations, ice cores, lake and ocean sediments, and historical records from around the world.
March 26, 2013
A new study in the journal Geology is the latest to tie a string of unusual earthquakes, in this case, in central Oklahoma, to the injection of wastewater deep underground. Researchers now say that the magnitude 5.7 earthquake near Prague, Okla., on Nov. 6, 2011, may also be the largest ever linked to wastewater injection. Felt as far away as Milwaukee, more than 800 miles away, the quake—the biggest ever recorded in Oklahoma--destroyed 14 homes, buckled a federal highway and left two people injured. Small earthquakes continue to be recorded in the area.
March 20, 2013
Scientists examining evidence across the world from New Jersey to North Africa say they have linked the abrupt disappearance of half of earth’s species 200 million years ago to a precisely dated set of gigantic volcanic eruptions. The eruptions may have caused climate changes so sudden that many creatures were unable to adapt—possibly on a pace similar to that of human-influenced climate warming today. The extinction opened the way for dinosaurs to evolve and dominate the planet for the next 135 million years, before they, too, were wiped out in a later planetary cataclysm.
March 11, 2013
A delay in the summer monsoon rains that fall over the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico is expected in the coming decades according to a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The North American monsoon delivers as much as 70 percent of the region’s annual rainfall, watering crops and rangelands for an estimated 20 million people.
February 27, 2013
Earth Institute research expeditions investigating the dynamics of the planet on all levels take place on every continent and every ocean. Below: selected projects in rough chronological order, and resources to learn more about them. Work in and around New York City is listed separately at bottom. Unless otherwise stated, projects originate with our main research center, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and are often run in collaboration with other institutions. For expedition blogs written from the field, see our Features archive.
February 12, 2013
A nuclear test explosion set off last night by North Korea was far larger—perhaps by three or four times—than the country’s last known blast, say seismologists who have examined seismic waves coming from the site. The estimate suggests that the North Koreans are making steady progress toward building more forceful weapons.
January 31, 2013
An oceanographer who has painstakingly collected measurements from each of the world’s oceans to understand how the oceans move heat and freshwater around the planet to influence climate is the winner of the 2013 Prince Albert 1 Medal for outstanding contributions to oceanography, given by the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean (IAPSO).
January 16, 2013
Louise Rosen, a senior manager in Columbia University’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations, has been named director of a new office at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory that will oversee fundraising, communications, education and strategic initiatives. She will start the new position on Feb. 11.
January 14, 2013
An American atmospheric chemist who led efforts to identify the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole and a French geochemist who extracted the longest-yet climate record from polar ice cores have won the prestigious Vetlesen Prize
. Susan Solomon and Jean Jouzel will share the $250,000 award, considered to be the earth sciences’ equivalent of a Nobel.
January 09, 2013
As earth’s climate warms, scientists have tried to understand why the poles are heating up two to three times faster than the rest of the planet. Airborne dust, it turns out, may play a key role.
In a new study
in Nature Climate Change, researchers show that at the peak of the last ice age, some 21,000 years ago, the poles were 10 times dustier than today, while areas closer to the equator had twice as much dust. During this time of extreme cold, New York City was under two miles of ice and up to 12 degrees F colder than today while Greenland was about 45 degrees F colder. The study’s authors suggest that higher atmospheric dust concentrations at the poles during the last ice age helped to cool earth’s surface and prevent snow and sea ice from melting during summer.