Earth Sciences

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Photo Essay: Seeking Humanity’s Roots

East Africa’s rift valley is considered by many to be the cradle of humanity. In the Turkana region of northwest Kenya, researchers Christopher Lepre and Tanzhuo Liu of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are cooperating with colleagues to study questions of human evolution, from the creation of the earliest stone tools to climate swings that have affected developing civilizations.

by |June 8, 2016
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Seeking Humanity’s Roots

Who were our earliest ancestors? How and when did they evolve into modern humans? And how do we define “human,” anyway? Scientists are exploring Kenya’s Lake Turkana basin to help answer these questions.

by |June 8, 2016
Research engineer Ted Koczynski explains how rock surfaces representing the rock bed of a glacier put pressure on a block of ice from each side as the ice is pushed downward in the new cryogenic deformation apparatus. Depending on the configuration, sensors throughout the device can measure friction, viscosity and anelasticity. Image: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Crushing Ice to Learn About Glaciers & Icy Moons

To understand how quickly ice from glaciers can raise sea level or how moons far across the solar system evolved to hold vast, ice-covered oceans, we need to be able to measure the forces at work. A new instrument designed and built at Lamont does just that.

by |June 6, 2016
The Eltanin 19 profile, showing the symmetry of magnetic reversals on either side of a mid-ocean ridge, launched the plate tectonics revolution at what was then Lamont Geological Observatory.

The Plate Tectonics Revolution: It Was All About the Data

The young scientists who led the plate tectonics revolution 50 years ago showed how asking the right questions and having access to a wide range of shared data could open doors to an entirely new understanding of our planet.

by |May 24, 2016
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John Imbrie, a Pioneer of Paleoceanography

Imbrie, a former head of the Department of Geological Sciences, helped confirmed connections between changes in Earth’s orbit and the timing of the ice ages and was a co-founder of CLIMAP, an international effort to use sediment cores to map Earth’s climate at the height of the last ice age.

by |May 19, 2016
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Walking in the Shadow of a Great Volcano

On a ledge just inside the lip of Chile’s Quizapu volcanic crater, Philipp Ruprecht was furiously digging a trench. Here at an elevation of 10,000 feet, a 1,000-foot plunge loomed just yards away, and wind was whipping dust off his shovel. But the volcanologist was excited. Ruprecht had just found this spot, topped with undisturbed wedding-cake layers of fine, black material that the crater had vomited from the deep earth some 84 years ago. Samples from the currently inactive site might shed light on its exceedingly violent behavior.

by |May 17, 2016
The researchers take numerous lava samples for later analysis. University of Chile graduate student Rayen Gho attacks a boulder.

Photo Essay: In the Shadow of a Great Volcano

High in the southern Andes, Chile’s Quizapu crater is one of South America’s most fearsome geologic features. In 1846, it was the source of one the continent’s largest historically recorded lava flows. In 1932, it produced one of the largest recorded volcanic blasts. The volcano is currently inactive, but could revive at any time. What is next?

by |May 17, 2016
With the right mix of nutrients, carbon-capturing phytoplankton grow quickly, creating blooms visible from space. (Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen/NASA)

Iron Fertilization Won’t Work in Equatorial Pacific, Study Suggests

Over the past half-million years, the equatorial Pacific Ocean has seen five spikes in the amount of iron-laden dust blown in from the continents. In theory, those bursts should have turbo-charged the growth of carbon-capturing algae, but a new study shows that the excess iron had little to no effect.

by |May 16, 2016
From the bridge of the R/V/ Falkor, looking out at Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai. Photo: Colleen Peters

From Top to Bottom: Scientists Map a New Island Volcano

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.

by |May 4, 2016
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Viewing Science Through a Different Frame

Is it an album cover for a 1980s hair band, or a thin section micrograph of precious minerals? A model of ice streams in glacial lakes, or a 3D laser light show from a dance club? This past week at the third annual Research as Art exhibit at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, scientists traded in lab coats and goggles for artist smocks and easels as they demonstrated that when the line between science and art is allowed to get tenuous, the results are anything but.

by |May 4, 2016