Features Archive

Opening the South China Sea

The South China Sea is one of the most geopolitically contested marine realms on earth. But it is also of keen interest to geologists who want to understand how this ocean basin, bordered by China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, opened up. On an International Ocean Discovery Program cruise aboard the JOIDES Resolution, scientists will drill through seafloor sediments to understand how the basin reached its present form. Marine geologist Trevor Williams of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is directing downhole logging operations. Follow his dispatches from the ship here.


Kat Allen, a researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, started writing poems about science as a graduate student, in part to make studying for qualifying exams less painfully serious. At Lamont, she sent out a poem with each week’s reminder about the geochemistry department’s coffee social hour. Her “Geopoetry” blog grew from there because, she says, “It was just too much fun to stop.” Kat is currently an instructor in Columbia’s Frontiers of Science program.

Arctic Sea Ice Ecology

Polar ice is home to large communities of algae that thrive in the frigid Arctic environment. These tiny organisms have a big impact on the marine ecosystem and the entire planet — including us. Andy Juhl and Craig Aumack, scientists from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, are in Barrow, Alaska studying algae in and below sea ice, and how our warming climate may impact these important organisms.

Peering Through Polar Ice

Scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have designed a set of ice imaging instruments small enough to hitch a ride on planes flying over both poles on routine missions. This spring, the IcePod will begin collecting data over Greenland from the wing of a New York Air National Guard LC130 plane. IcePod will help scientists to understand how quickly the ice sheets are changing as climate warms and what this will mean for global sea levels.

Hurricane Sandy

What was behind perhaps the worst natural disaster to hit the Northeast seaboard in recent history? How likely is it that we’ll see more superstorms in the future? How could we have been better prepared? The science and the lessons of Hurricane Sandy, through the eyes of researchers at the Earth Institute.

Vanishing Tropical Glaciers

Ecuador’s glaciers are receding fast as temperatures warm. Less ice means less water for farming and producing electricity. To track the changes in Ecuador’s high Andes, Jonathan Cain, a recent graduate of Columbia University’s Masters in Sustainability Management with his Ecuadorian colleague, Pablo Puruncajas, will install weather monitoring equipment on Chimborazo, Ecuador’s tallest peak.

The Fourth Extinction

Researchers at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are investigating why life on earth was nearly extinguished 200 million years ago—and whether that event holds relevance for today.

Beneath the Alaskan Tundra

Arctic peat bogs have been absorbing carbon for thousands of years, but will
this continue as the poles heat up? Warmer temperatures could cause bogs to
decay, sending billions of tons of carbon back into the air. But a warmer
climate might also improve growing conditions, allowing the bogs to take up
more carbon than before. A team of scientists will travel to Alaska’s remote
North Slope to collect peat bog samples to understand how climate and carbon
uptake have varied over the past 15,000 years and what this might mean for
the future.


“We need to build a decent life on a crowded planet.” That quote from Jeffrey Sachs sums up the challenge faced by thousands of participants at Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, June 20-22, 2012, in Rio de Janeiro. Staff and students from the Earth Institute will be writing for State of the Planet from the conference, and after, about the issues to be faced.

Cascadia in Motion

Off the U.S. Pacific Northwest coast, the 680-mile-long Cascadia subduction zone has produced giant earthquakes and tsunamis like the one that ravaged Japan last year–the most recent, in 1700. These quakes are thought to come every several hundred years. To help understand subduction processes along this zone, scientists at sea and on land are conducting the first-ever imaging of an entire plate-the Juan de Fuca-from the ridge where it is growing, to the trench where is diving under North America. Aboard the R/V Langseth and R/V Oceanus scientists will study how fluids, sediments and the structure of faults may influence the evolution of this seismic zone, and the frequency and power of earthquakes, as well as volcanoes that erupt inland.