Category Archives: Science

In High Sierras, Remnants of Ice Age Tell a Tale of Future Climate

(First published on Feb. 14, 2017, on State of the Planet.)

Aaron Putnam sits atop a boulder high in the Sierras of central California, banging away with hammer and chisel to chip out a sample of ice age history. Each hunk of rock is a piece of a vast puzzle: How did our climate system behave the last time it warmed up like it’s doing today?

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Project Aims to Map World’s Oceans by 2030

(First published on Feb. 2, 2017, on State of the Planet.)

More than 85 percent of the ocean floor remains unmapped, leaving us in the dark about much of the earth’s topography. A global, non-profit effort will try to remedy that by 2030. The effort will affect everything from climate research and weather prediction to mineral resource exploration and fisheries.

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Looking at Climate from All the Angles

Earth’s cloud cover. Photo: NASA

(First published on Dec. 16, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

After record-setting warmth this year, winter is upon us. That means it’s summer in Antarctica, and the Earth Institute has scientists camped there working on two projects that will help us understand what’s going on in this climate-changing world.

Margie Turrin of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is filing dispatches and stunning photos from the IceBridge project. Researchers are studying polar ice (a similar program operates in northern summers in Greenland). Flying back and forth across the Antarctic Peninsula, they’re using sensitive instruments to measure the stability of the ice sheets and the tongues of ice shelves that stretch out over the ocean. A second team working on the ROSETTA project is looking at sea temperature and its effects on the Ross Ice Shelf.

Meanwhile, back in the northern hemisphere, the Arctic has been warming twice as fast as the global average, with impacts that will reach far beyond the far north. The melting season in some areas of Greenland is 30 to 40 days longer than in recent decades, said Lamont scientist Marco Tedesco, who helped write the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2016 Arctic Report Card. The report was presented this week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. (For more on that key meeting of scientists and the Earth Institute’s role, look here.)

“In other places, going from 75 F to 80 F might not make such a great difference,” Tedesco told NPR. “But if you cross the melting point, you are basically stepping into a completely new world.”

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Filed under Climate, Science, Sustainable development

Get the Facts: Arsenic in New Jersey Well Water

(First published on June 16, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

A new initiative aims to help homeowners in New Jersey cope with arsenic contamination in private wells—a problem that has only come to light in recent years, and about which many homeowners are still unaware.

In a series of fact sheets and student-produced videos, the project provides important information about the problem to help homeowners understand what may be going on, and how to clean up their water. To watch the videos and read up on the problem, go to the New Jersey Arsenic Awareness Initiative website.

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From Top to Bottom: Scientists Map a New Island Volcano

An animation created by Vicki Ferrini of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of the topography of a new island formed by an explosive volcano in the southwestern Pacific.

(First published on May 4, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

One of the earth’s newest islands exploded into view from the bottom of the southwest Pacific Ocean in January 2015, and scientists sailing around the volcano this spring have created a detailed map of its topography. You can see an animation of the volcano, mostly underwater, by clicking on the above image.

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Study Downgrades Groundwater Contribution to Sea Level Rise

Groundwater pumping for agriculture and other uses has risen sharply. But a new study says it isn’t contributing as much as previously thought to sea level rise.

(First published on May 3, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Some research suggests that, along with melting ice sheets and glaciers, the water pumped from underground for irrigation and other uses, on the rise worldwide, could contribute substantially to rising sea levels over the next 50 years. A new study published in Nature Climate Change says the magnitude is much lower than previously estimated.

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Zeroing in on Life Around a Hydrothermal Vent

(First published on April 13, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Vicki Ferrini has spent a lot of time working on mapping the ocean floor, and now she’s sailing in the South Pacific to get a closer look.

Ferrini, who works in the Marine Geology and Geophysics Division of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is sailing aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s R/V Falkor. Scientists aboard the research vessel are exploring the life around hydrothermal vent systems 2,400 meters beneath the surface of the South Pacific Ocean. And, they’re blogging about it.

Ferrini posted the latest dispatch at the American Geophysical Union website. The ship is hovering over the Lau Back-arc Basin, between Tonga and Fiji and next to the Tonga Trench, where the Pacific plate drives under the Australian Plate.

The video above takes you there via some sophisticated mapping to one of the thermal vents that they are studying.

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