Tag Archives: Earth Institute

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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Join the Earth Institute for Climate Week NYC 2014

STATUE IN WATER SIMPLIFIED(First posted on State of the Planet Sept. 15, 2014.)

From heads of state to ordinary citizens, thousands of people will gather for more than 100 events during Climate Week NYC. They’ll be talking and debating the rights of nature, corporate leadership, the threat from rising seas, innovations for social good and innumerable other topics. The activities in and around Climate Week — officially Sept. 22-28 — are meant to engage people in tackling the problems posed by worldwide climate change, and to encourage leaders to take concrete steps toward finding solutions.

Two major events will punctuate all the days of panel discussions, screenings, art exhibits and educational activities: a “People’s Climate March” on Sunday, Sept. 21, and the United Nations Summit on Climate on Sept. 23 (more on these below).

The Earth Institute and its centers will be engaged in several events:

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Water Supply, Drought and Climate Change at Mono Lake

This post was first published on Dec. 6, 2013, on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog. It was updated on Oct. 14, 2014 (see below).

Guleed Ali pauses to study his notebook, standing on a steep slope covered in gray volcanic ash and desert brush, high above the present-day shore of Mono Lake in eastern California. He looks across the slope to where, a few hundred yards away, a gash of lighter gray sediment cuts across the hill, then disappears. The exposed sediment is history: A record of deposits left by Mono Lake when it stood far higher than today.

Ali picks a spot, hefts his shovel and begins clawing into the slope, raising puffs of dust, searching for a missing page in that sediment history: something higher upslope, evidence of the stream that would have fed the prehistoric lake: a layer of gravel. He finds only sand – perhaps an ancient beach. He moves across the slope, lifts and plunges his shovel back into the soft hillside.

Mono Lake, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Guleed Ali

By studying stream bed sediments, Guleed Ali tries to build a history of how water levels have changed at Mono Lake. Photo: D. Funkhouser

He is digging for dates, looking back tens of thousands of years into the last ice age: When was the lake higher? When did it shrink, and grow again? How does that chronology correspond with the advance and retreat of the massive ice sheets that covered much of North America? And how did the lake’s levels respond to changing climate?

Understanding that past will help scientists like Ali, a PhD student at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, project what might happen in the future as the world warms up. This is no esoteric question for Los Angeles, whose nearly 4 million people depend in part on Mono Lake’s watershed for drinking water, green lawns, agriculture and industry.

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Rosario’s Farm: Rising Tides, Shrimp from the Forest

The video above tells the story of Rosario’s farm, located on the banks of a light brown river in the lush rainforest of the Amazon delta. This story was first posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on Jan. 23, 2013.

Rosario, right, and her brothers Alvino, left, and João.

Rosario, right, and her brothers Alvino, left, and João.

Rosario Costa-Cabral and her brothers harvest hundreds of products from the rainforest: woods like pau mulato and pracuúba, oil for cosmetics from the pracaxi tree, palm fronds for thatch, and fruits like açaí, bananas, guava and cupuaçu. Twice a day, tides swell the delta’s lacework of rivers and streams, flooding the forest and creating a rich nursery for shrimp and dozens of species of fish that serve as an important source of food and income. Without the forest, they say, you lose the fish and shrimp.

But now the tides run higher than in years past. The spring floods that threaten delta communities last longer and cause more damage; and the dry spells in late fall are growing drier. The climate is changing.

A team of scientists, led by Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez of Columbia’s Earth Institute, has come to the delta to find out how Rosario and her fellow caboclos—the people of mixed bloodlines who live here—are adapting. The researchers want to understand how the climate is changing, and how they can help with better forecasting and strategies for adaptation.

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Glenn Denning’s Road to Bali, and the Earth Institute

This post first appeared on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on Dec. 2, 2012.

Glenn Denning, Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development

Glenn Denning. Photo: Winston Baltasar

Glenn Denning grew up in Brisbane, Australia, loved the outdoors and hated the idea of working in an office. And, he really didn’t have any urge to go to other countries. While studying at the University of Queensland, he thought a career in agriculture might suit him well.

Then he happened to overhear a conversation in a hallway between two students. That bit of serendipity sent him on a road to a life overseas; to key roles in “green revolutions” in Asia and Africa; and eventually to an office at Columbia University, and the Earth Institute.

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‘This is a wake-up call – don’t hit the snooze button’

Superstorm Sandy, New York City

Adam Sobel: “I was inside all day Monday, watching the tide gauge data at the Battery along with all the other observations. At 10:30 p.m., I couldn’t stand it anymore and went down to the Hudson, down by Fairway, to see the historic storm surge, just a couple hours after high tide.” This is his photo, looking under the elevated Riverside drive towards the river.

This story was first posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on Nov. 2, 2012

We have to stop thinking in terms of ‘100-year events.’ It’s not going to be another 100 years before we see another extreme storm such as Sandy.”
Art Lerner-Lam, deputy director, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

For years before Hurricane Sandy charged ashore on Monday, researchers from the Earth Institute knew what was coming. In a rapidly urbanizing world, where hundreds of millions of people now live in low-lying coastal areas, those scientists have been urging policymakers to appreciate the threats posed by such natural disasters and find ways to make our cities more resilient.

As the region struggles to recover from this “superstorm,” we asked several experts from the Earth Institute to consider the lessons we can learn as we move forward.

Art Lerner-Lam

Art Lerner-Lam

Art Lerner-Lam watched the storm surge lap at the front door of his apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen on Monday, at the boundary of the evacuation zone. Lerner-Lam serves as deputy director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and also directs the Earth Institute’s Center for Hazards and Risk Research.

“We have to stop thinking in terms of ‘100-year events.’ It’s not going to be another 100 years before we see another extreme storm such as Sandy,” he said. “The statements by Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg affirming the need to address the long-term trends in storm severity are welcome and politically courageous; but the true test will be whether we can muster the popular will to do something about it. …

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For Rio+20, a Call to Preserve Biodiversity

First posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on June 6, 2012.

Deforestation, biodiversity


An estimated 9 million species of living things inhabit the Earth — plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms such as algae and bacteria. But those species are disappearing at an alarming rate, and this loss of biodiversity appears to be a major driver of environmental changes that can affect the biological and chemical processes that humans rely on, according to a new paper in the journal Nature.

“No one can agree on what exactly will happen when an ecosystem loses a species, but most of us agree that it’s not going to be good. And we agree that if ecosystems lose most of their species, it will be a disaster,” said Shahid Naeem of Columbia University, who was one of 17 scientists from around the world who worked on the paper, a review of 20 years of ecological research published this week.

The 7 billion people living on the planet now depend on those ecosystems, and the diverse array of life that comprise them, for our own existence: for food, water, fertile soil, fuel, clean air and protection from pests and disease. The ways that those organisms absorb, utilize and recycle nutrients also play a key role in our climate.

“There is now unequivocal evidence that biodiversity loss reduces the efficiency by which ecological communities capture biologically essential resources, produce biomass, decompose and recycle biologically essential nutrients,” the authors write in the paper, “Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity.”

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Power Play: an Energy Map of New York City

First posted Feb. 13, 2012 on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog.

New York City, energy map, energy usage

Midtown Manhattan is red hot; Greenpoint a cool yellow and beige. It’s all a matter of energy: A new interactive, color-coded map created by a team at Columbia’s engineering school allows viewers to pinpoint and compare estimated energy usage, building lot by building lot, throughout New York City.

The researchers, working under Professor Vijay Modi of the Earth Engineering Center, a center of the Earth Institute, hope the new map will encourage city planners and building owners to seek more efficient ways to produce and use energy by using cogeneration, conservation and alternative energy systems. The map was created by the Modi Research Group.

“The simplest thing we learned [from the map] was that there are possibilities for doing lots of things which are hard to see when you don’t look at the big picture,” Modi said. For instance, neighboring buildings with large energy demands could team up to install cogeneration systems, which use heat generated from electricity to heat the buildings, cutting energy use.

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Opening the Door to More Rooftop Farming?

First posted Feb. 3, 2012 on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog.

Urban Design Lab, green roofs, New York City

Suitable rooftops (blue and yellow) could provide some 3,200 acres. (Graphic: Urban Design Lab)

The New York City Department of City Planning has proposed changes in zoning rules to make it easier to construct and retrofit buildings for energy efficiency – including a provision on rooftop greenhouses.

The zoning law amendments propose a number of new rules to encourage more energy efficient building practices. These include exemptions to building size and height restrictions, with limits, to allow:

= Building rooftop greenhouses on non-residential buildings, up to 25 feet in height.

= Installing wind turbines, both on roofs up to 55 feet above the rooftop, and freestanding ones in commercial and manufacturing areas on waterfront blocks.

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