Earth Sciences

Arsenic in Bangladesh resides in the sediments washed down from the Himalayas by rivers like the Brahmaputra and Ganges over many thousands of years. Water pumped up for irrigation is affecting rice crops. Photo: David Funkhouser

Battling ‘the Largest Mass Poisoning in History’

As many as one in five deaths in Bangladesh may be tied to naturally occurring arsenic in the drinking water; it is the epicenter of a worldwide problem that is affecting tens of millions of people. For two decades, health specialists and earth scientists from Columbia University have been trying to understand the problem, and how to solve it.

by |July 13, 2015
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An Algorithm to Investigate Unwelcome Plankton

Computer scientists at Columbia University will work with oceanographers to understand what has caused an unusual plankton-like species to rapidly invade the Arabian Sea food chain, threatening fisheries that sustain more than 100 million people.

by |July 7, 2015
The Vetlessen Prize 6-24-15

Vetlesen Science Prize Celebrated at Columbia Gala

Stephen Sparks, one of the world’s foremost experts on volcanoes, received the Vetlesen Prize for his groundbreaking scientific work at a ceremony held June 24 at Columbia University. Two-hundred-fifty people attended the formal gathering in the Low Library Rotunda.

by |June 30, 2015

Antarctica’s Retreating Ice

While the ice sheets on West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula are usually the ones to make the news in relation to climate change, recent studies have documented transformations that are taking place on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet as well. On the continent as a whole, large areas of ice have already melted and this trend shows no sign of slowing, meaning the implications for global sea level rise in this century could be more dramatic than earlier projections anticipated.

Antarctica from below. A Nature Review article highlights novel biodiversity found below the surface of the ice. Photo: NASA

The Otherworldly and Elusive Life Beneath Antarctica’s Ice

While renowned for the penguins, Antarctica is perhaps equally well known for what it doesn’t have: basically, anything else. But scientist Steven Chown says the view that the icy continent lacks life is “simply not true.”

by |June 29, 2015
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Glacial Earthquakes May Help Forecast Sea-Level Rise

Glacial earthquakes are produced as massive ice chunks fall off the fronts of advancing glaciers into the ocean. A new study of the quakes’ mechanics may give scientists a way to measure ice loss remotely and refine predictions of sea-level rise.

by |June 25, 2015
This schematic of the tree of life details the novel phylogenetic placement of newly discovered bacterial groups.

Subsurface Discovery Sprouts a New Branch on the Tree of Life

Last week a study published in Nature pulled the veil on a branch of the bacterial tree of life that has evaded detection for nearly a century and a half. The study used cutting edge genome sequencing and savvy bioinformatics techniques to make this remarkable discovery.

by |June 22, 2015
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From the Nile to the Sundarbans: the Undergraduate Capstones

This spring, students in the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development presented innovative solutions to sustainability issues as part of their Capstone Workshop. Their clients ranged from the United States Military Academy at West Point to the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

by |June 8, 2015
Bahamas, hurricanes

Hurricane Histories and Carbon Mysteries

The Bahamas might be a vacation destination for most people. But for us, they represent an excellent site to study several different questions about past, present and future climates.

by |June 5, 2015
hurricanes, hurricane prediction

Behind the Expected Quiet 2015 Hurricane Season

On May 27, 2015, NOAA officially announced a likely below-normal Atlantic Hurricane season is coming up. The range for the possible numbers of major hurricanes is 0-2. What are the reasons behind it? How precise are these numbers?

by |June 2, 2015