American Geophysical Union 2018: Key Events From the Earth Institute

The American Geophysical Union fall meeting takes place Dec. 10-14 in Washington, D.C. Here is a guide to key talks and other events from Columbia’s Earth Institute.

Kevin Krajick
December 03, 2018

The American Geophysical Union fall meeting is being held Dec. 10-14 in Washington, D.C. Here is a chronological guide to key talks and other events from Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Unless otherwise noted, scientists are at our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Reporters may contact scientists directly. More info: science news editor Kevin Krajick, [email protected] 917-361-7766. 

A Global Picture of Drought Kate Marvel, Goddard Institute for Space Studies
The world is getting wetter in some places, drier in others. Merging multiple large-scale drought atlases based on tree rings, Marvel creates a comprehensive picture of global hydroclimate. She says the emerging patterns of drought resemble what we would expect to see as a result of human activities, and we should see a human fingerprint on droughts across the world to become clearer in the 21st century.
Monday, Dec. 10, 8:01-8:16am, Convention Center Salon B. GC11B-01

 How Storms May Wreck Tropical Forests Maria Uriarte, Earth Institute faculty
Uriarte and colleagues have closely studied the effects of 2017’s Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico’s rich and diverse forests—the worst ever recorded. Many trees were killed or injured, and doomed to premature death. This is only the start, says Uriarte: warming climate will probably increase the force of future storms. Across the tropics, many tree species may die off completely in the wake of repeated storms, leaving forests dominated by a few wind-resistant types, and pauperizing entire ecosystems.  Press conference: Monday, Dec. 10, 10am. Shaw/LeDroit Park Rooms, level M3, Marriott Marquis. Uriarte joins researchers from NASA and the University of New Hampshire to discuss related findings on Hurricane Maria’s effects on forest ecology and chemistry, and patterns of energy outages.
Talk: Friday, Dec. 14, 8:48-9:00am, Convention Center 147B. B51C-05
Story, slideshow and video on Uriarte’s fieldwork

Storing Carbon Off U.S. Coasts Will Fortin and David Goldberg
Goldberg discusses a new feasibility study for collecting and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide in seafloor basalts off Washington State and British Columbia. The study looks at both technical, legal and regulatory issues, concluding that it can be done. On the East Coast, Fortin reports the discovery of a previously unmapped rift basin off New York and Connecticut that also might be used to store carbon.
Fortin: Monday, Dec. 10, 1:40-6:00pm, Convention Center Posters. T13F-2817
Goldberg: Thursday Dec. 13, 1:40-6pm Convention Center Posters. PA43B-3219

 Transforming African Climate Services Tufa Dinku, International Research Institute for Climate and Society
Dinku discusses an ongoing program to bring medium-term climate information to a dozen African countries, where weather stations are often unevenly distributed, sparse or even declining in number. Temperature and rainfall projections are vital for countries where most people depend on rain-fed agriculture, and for anticipating natural disasters. The program is underway in nations from Senegal to Madagascar.
Monday, Dec. 10, 8:00am-12:20pm, Convention Center Poster Hall. PA11D-0921

Africa’s Growing Air Pollution Roisin Commane
Africa is seeing rapid growth in both population and economy, and air pollution is multiplying apace. The continent already produces over 40% of the world’s carbon monoxide from biomass burning—mainly slash-and-burn agriculture, as well as use of wood and other biomass for fuel. But tailpipe emissions, industry and other human activities may soon overtake biomass as the main source. Commane looks in detail at the various emissions, and their effects on global atmospheric composition.
Monday, Dec. 10, 1:40pm-6:00pm, Poster Hall A13H-1364

What’s Up With Wildfires Robert Field, Earth Institute, and others Experts in the areas of smoke, health, climate change, weather forecasting and post-fire debris flows will be available to answer questions about the deadly 2018 U.S. wildfire season. Field has helped develop fire danger rating systems for Canada, Indonesia and Malaysia. He currently studies the effects of the water cycle on fires, and the causes, fates and effects of emissions from fires worldwide. Also appearing: Ravan Ahmadov and Mark Jackson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Christine Wiedinmyer of the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Tuesday, Dec. 11, 8:00-9:00am, Shaw/LeDroit Park Rooms, level M3, Marriott Marquis

 Climate Science in the Courtroom Radley Horton
Many lawsuits are now seeking to hold governments and companies accountable for damages caused by climate change. A pillar of such suits is attribution science—the effort to understand how specific damaging environmental events may be tied to changing climate. Horton examines the latest developments in attribution science, scientists’ role in litigation, and the future of attribution science in law and policy.
Tuesday, Dec. 11, 8:00am-12:00pm, Convention Center Poster Hall. GC21F-0661

 How Climate May Affect Green Power David Farnham, Columbia Water Center
Wind and solar energy generation are expanding, partly in response to climate change. The other side of the coin: how might changing climate affect wind and solar power? Farnham looks at how electricity demand may become redistributed across seasons, as needs for heating and cooling change with shifting climate. Specifically, he looks at possible interannual to decadal variations that bear on the design of new renewable energy systems and backup sources.
Tuesday, Dec. 11, 9:10-9:25am, Convention Center Salon C. GC21C-05

 Mapmaking for Human Good Robert Chen, Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)
Chen discusses how maps of human interaction with the planet can help us deal with climate change, reduce the impact of disasters and improve the quality of life. Across the world, CIESIN scientists are developing accurate, consistent maps of human settlement and infrastructure, land cover, land use and other parameters to aid pursuit of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Remote sensing and other technologies are being used to fill in gaps left by more traditional means of mapping.
Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2:04-2:16pm, Marriott Marquis, Marquis 3-4. PA23A-03

 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Reunion Party
Traditionally on Tuesday night at AGU, staff and alumni of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory gather from around the world for a reunion. Journalists covering AGU are welcome—a way to make contacts, hear the buzz about new work, and have fun.
Tuesday, Dec. 11, 6:30-8:30pm, Washington Plaza Hotel, 10 Thomas Circle NW

 Aftershocks of Nuclear Tests David Schaff
Schaff reports that newly precise methods of locating earthquakes show that North Korea’s last nuclear bomb test, in 2017, set off a dozen subsequent earthquakes over eight months. He and his colleagues have located these quakes along a previously unknown fault several miles from the test site. The new methodology promises to shed light on both human-induced earthquakes and natural ones.
Wednesday, Dec. 12, 8:00am-12:20pm, Convention Center Poster Hall. S31F-1673

 Algae Are Eating the Greenland Ice Shujie Wang
Scientists believe that melting of the Greenland ice sheet may be getting hastened by warm-season growth of algae that darken the surface and thus magnify uptake of solar radiation. Wang and colleagues are now using satellites to track algae growth in unprecedented detail and scope. In summer 2017, they saw a huge bloom within just a few July days. Growth appears driven by combined air temperature, meltwater production and runoff. With all these factors trending upward, algae may boom.
Wednesday, Dec. 12, 9:15-9:30am, Convention Center Salon G. C31A-06
Melting of the Greenland Ice, Seen Up Close

Sexual Harassment of Women in Earth Sciences    Convened by Robin Bell
In a plenary session, a panel will discuss a 2018 National Academies report on this enduring problem, focusing on field situations, and how various institutions are responding. Led by AGU president Bell, the panel will include Kathryn Clancy, University of Illinois; Eric Riggs, Texas A&M; Susan Jane Webb, University of the Witwatersrand; Rhonda Davis, U.S. National Science Foundation; and U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier of California. There will be an audience Q&A. A press availability with the panelists will follow.  Panel: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 12:30-1:30pm, Convention Center Ballroom A-C. U33C.  Press availability: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2:00-2:45pm, Shaw/LeDroit Park Rooms, level M3, Marriott Marquis.

 Killer Humidity Is Upon Us Colin Raymond
A study last year projected that extreme humidity combined with rising heat could soon create conditions exceeding the limits of human endurance in some parts of the world. Now, a follow-up of records from 7,500 weather stations shows that such combinations have recently been briefly but reliably recorded in some cities of the coastal Mideast. And, parts of South Asia and coastal areas throughout the subtropics have been getting perilously close to the threshold. These conditions increased between 1979 and 2017.
Wednesday, Dec. 12, 1:40pm-6:00pm, Convention Center Posters. NH33D-3234
Humidity May Prove Breaking Point for Some Parts of World

 Megadrought Is Underway in the West Park Williams
Projections say that warming climate will increase the risk of megadrought in the U.S. West and northern Mexico. Williams says it is already here. With parts of the region seeing almost uninterrupted drought since the start of the 21st century, new comparisons with tree-ring chronologies and modeling of soil moisture indicate that conditions now are already among the most extreme of at least the last 1,100 years. Natural variability has played some role, but climate change has pushed things over the edge, says Williams.
Thursday, Dec. 13, 9:00-9:15am, Convention Center 156. H41C-05

 Flowing Lava, Up Close Einat Lev
Using drones equipped with light and thermal sensors, scientists observed the 2018 eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano in unprecedented detail, down to the centimeter scale. As a result, Lev and colleagues have made new discoveries about subtle variations in the velocities of lava, and how it navigates around obstacles. These results should complement ongoing lab studies of the dynamics of artificial lavas that Lev’s group is conducting.
Thursday, Dec. 13, 1:40pm-6:00pm, Convention Center Poster Hall. V43J-3861
Story, video and slideshow on Lev’s work on Kilauea

What to Do With the National Climate Assessment?  Richard Moss, others
The U.S. government recently released the National Climate Assessment without fanfare, and the president has disavowed its findings. That followed the 2017 dismissal of the advisory panel charged with helping implement the report’s findings on local and regional levels. But the panel quickly reconstituted itself in nonofficial form, and will issue its own report in early 2019. Led by Moss (a visiting scientist the Earth Institute), members will discuss how states, cities, communities and private interests can use the NCA to create mitigation and adaptation measures. Other participants hail from the cities of New York and Ann Arbor, Mich; Marine Biological Laboratory; Lawrence Berkeley Lab; the universities of California and Colorado; and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Friday, Dec. 14, 10:20am-12:20pm, Marriott Marquis, Marquis 3-4. PA52B
Disbanded Climate Advisory Panel Revived—But Not by Feds