American Geophysical Union 2020: Key Events From the Earth Institute

A guide to key talks and other events at the Dec. 1-17 virtual American Geophysical Union meeting.

Kevin Krajick
December 01, 2020

[Updated Dec. 7, 2020]

Below, a guide to notable events from Columbia University’s Earth Institute at the Dec. 1-17 American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. The meeting takes place this year entirely online. Journalists can gain free access by applying at the AGU Media Registration page. For a press overview, visit the AGU Media Center; a guide to navigating the meeting is at FAQs for Fall Meeting 2020.

–Session/presentation numbers (e.g. P013-0014) below are hyperlinked to the formal abstract of each presentation. The name of each presenter is hyperlinked to their contact information.
–Times below are on a 24-hour clock, U.S. Pacific Time. However: If you register as press and subsequently call up an abstract, time may automatically display in your local time.
–The times listed below are for live 3- to 5-minute presentations, each part of a session of similarly brief talks, followed by live audience Q&A. Each presenter will also prerecord a fuller 15-minute talk, made available to press on Dec. 1, and archived onward. See the FAQs for Fall Meeting for details.
–Posters will remain up all day as indicated, and archived for later viewing. The presenter of each poster will schedule one or more live text chats during the appointed day. See the FAQs for Fall Meeting for details.
–Unless otherwise noted, scientists are based at our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO). Other Earth Institute centers are listed by name.

 More info: science news editor Kevin Krajick, [email protected] +1 917-361-7766.

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 Plenary: Implications of the 2020 Election for Science
Tuesday Dec. 1, 8:00-9:00
In the 2020 U.S. election, science itself was seen to be on the ballot, after many political leaders ignored, contradicted or interfered with basic scientific evidence and attempted to discredit science and scientists. Panelists who work at the interface of science and policy will explore what the election will, and will not, mean for science going forward. With Alex Halliday, The Earth Institute; Janice Lachance, AGU; Marcia McNutt, National Academy of Sciences; Georges Benjamin, American Public Health Association; and John Podesta, Center for American Progress. Moderated by Ed O’Keefe, CBS News.

Climates of the Future—The Really, Really Far Future
Michael Way, Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Geologists have been trying to game out how plate tectonics might rearrange continents and oceans far in the future. In one scenario, North America and Asia form a supercontinent called Amasia largely north of the equator 200 million years from now. In another, a supercontinent called Aurica forms in the south. Using factors such as solar luminosity and Earth’s rotation rate, Way finds that differences in climate could be stark, depending on where the puzzle pieces end up. Models examining the possibility of life on other planets are based on the mere presence of water, not land/water geography, so the study gives scientists a potential new way to think about the issue of extraterrestrial life.
Background: Earth Institute article on the research 
P013-0014  Poster – Tuesday Dec. 8, 4:00-20:59

 Changing Sea Ice, as Seen by Indigenous Elders and Modern Science
Christopher Zappa, LDEO
For three years, Zappa and colleagues have run the Ikaaġvik Sikukun (Ice Bridges) project to study changes in sea ice and marine life in Kotzebue Sound, northwest Alaska, where the ice has seen dramatic declines. Local indigenous elders, with many generations of knowledge, have been partners in designing and executing the research. The team has deployed low-flying drones, oceanographic moorings and direct on-ice measurements to develop a highly detailed picture of how air and water conditions are driving the changes. The entire process is being documented by an ethnographic filmmaker.
Background: Project website
SY026-09 Live talk – Wednesday Dec. 9, 16:36-16:40

Rise and Fall of Mississippi Delta Civilizations, Past and Present
Elizabeth Chamberlain, LDEO
The Mississippi Delta, once heavily populated by native peoples, holds numerous archaeological sites, but as land sinks and sea level rises, many sites are disappearing. Chamberlain and colleagues are dating remaining ones, finding that many were built 600 to 1,000 years ago, usually a few hundred years after sediment deposition elevated land surfaces enough to make them habitable. That process is now going in reverse. The study should inform understanding how earlier societies evolved in relation to the land, and the land’s now relentless obliteration.
EP035-05  Live talk – Thursday Dec. 10, 20:46-20:50

 The Growing East-West U.S. Climate Divide  Daniel Bishop, LDEO
Instrumental records show an increasing trend toward drier conditions in the U.S. West, but wetter ones in the East. There will probably be socioeconomic consequences for both regions. Bishop and colleagues put the shift into a long-term context; their studies of tree rings show that the East-West difference from 1999-2018 was greater than at any time since the 1600s. They also map out the geography and seasonal timing of the divide. The findings support suggest that warming climate is behind the changes.
Background: The 100th Meridian May Be Shifting
PP033-02  Live talk – Friday Dec. 11, 19:04-19:08

 Music of This Sphere: Song and Story Swap
Sunday Dec. 13, 7:30-9:30
This Sunday’s regular Sustain What Song and Story Swap from the Earth Institute will honor and feature AGU scientists, with music and other performances related to the earth sciences. With popular singer-songwriters Dar Williams and Tom Chapin; Oxford physics professor Raymond Pierrehumbert; Penn State glaciologist (and Johnny Cash imitator) Richard Alley; and many more. Hosted by journalist Andrew Revkin, director of the Earth Institute’s Initiative on Communication and Sustainability. (AGU community members can sign up to perform by emailing Revkin at [email protected])
Event Web page  | Sustain What Channel

Roundtable: The Pandemic and Implications for the World Food Supply
Monday Dec. 14,  8:00-8:45
As the pandemic drags on, food production, supply chains and consumer income are being been disrupted, and hunger is rising in many regions. This panel will assess the effects so far, and what might happen during this pandemic or future ones–especially if compounded by floods, heat waves, droughts, distribution bottlenecks or trade wars. It will also look at ways to mitigate resulting potential famines. The panel will be live only, and not recorded. Reporters may participate in real time on Zoom. See FAQs for Fall Meeting 2020 for details.
Panelists: Iman Haqiqi, Purdue University GH023-05
Michael Puma, The Earth Institute GH023-07
Cynthia Rosenzweig, The Earth Institute GC108-01
John Valbo-Jorgensen, UN Food and Agriculture Organization GH023-03
Moderator: Kevin Krajick, The Earth Institute

A Hidden Force Behind 2020’s Siberian Heat Wave  Lucas Gloege, LDEO
An extended heat wave in 2020 pushed temperatures in Siberia to an unprecedented 100 degrees F. A rapid attribution study has placed the blame largely on overall global warming, but Gloege and colleagues see an added factor: a systematic meander in the northern jet stream that brought warm air up from the south, and then stalled, allowing the heat to build. The pattern, described last year for the first time and seen as a potential threat to agriculture, is playing out in the far north as well, says Gloege. Such events could become more frequent as the world warms, and have huge ecological implications for the far north.
Background: Read about the newly identified meander pattern
GC083-0013  Poster – Monday Dec. 14, 4:00-20:59

 Decaying Dams Threaten U.S. Communities
Paulina Concha Larrauri, Columbia Water Center
There are more than 90,000 aging dams across the U.S., many now facing heightening risks of cascading downstream failures due to increased extreme precipitation. Larrauri and colleagues are establishing a framework to quantify the potential causes and impacts of dam failures so protective measures can be prioritized. They say there is an increasing trend toward potentially interconnected events, but there could be strikingly different consequences, depending on where the dams are located.
Background: Article about the dangerous dam project
H155-06  Live talk – Monday Dec. 14, 17:50-17:54

 An Ancient Lake Basin Beneath the Greenland Ice  Guy Paxman, LDEO
New geophysical data have located a huge, previously unknown paleo-lake basin beneath the ice in northwestern Greenland—the first such known feature in the world. The lake, age unknown, covered about 7,100 square kilometers, and its basin might contain sediments up to 1.2 kilometers thick. It could be a treasure house of information on past ice-sheet extent and environmental conditions, if researchers can drill into it.
Background: An Ancient Lake Deep Beneath the Greenland Ice
CO52-11 Live talk – Monday Dec. 14, 18:00-18:03

 Erupting Volcanoes, Ancient Egyptians
Ram Singh, Center for Climate Systems Research
Archaeologists suspect that a series of explosive volcanic eruptions disrupted societies around the Mediterranean 2,000 to 2,500 years ago. Singh and others are part of an initiative that seeks to quantify how the eruptions may have suppressed rains feeding the Nile River, leading to massive crop failures in Egypt. They are also looking into whether farmers of this time could have themselves affected climate through massive irrigation projects. The project is a collaboration among historians, climate scientists and hydrologists.
Background: Nile Initiative website
PP040-0008  Poster – Tuesday Dec. 15, 4:00-20:59

Predicting U.S. Outbreaks of Vector-Borne Diseases
Angel Muñoz, International Research Institute for Climate and Society
Diseases carried by mosquitoes, including dengue and chikungunya, have multiplied 30-fold over the last 50 years, due in part to changes in environmental conditions, urban growth and increasing long-distance travel. In the U.S., outbreaks often start with international travelers, then can spread when increasingly warm weather favors mosquito reproduction. Muñoz presents a new system to monitor and forecast such conditions in the continental United States and contiguous regions, weeks or months out. Colleagues are developing similar tools for other parts of the world.
Background: Potential for Subseasonal Forecasts to Predict Dengue Outbreaks  GH022-03  Live talk – Wednesday Dec. 16, 7:10-7:15

 Rivers Under the Greenland Ice  Ching-Yao Lai, LDEO
Scientists believe that meltwater streams at glacier bottoms can lubricate their rocky beds and cause them to surge forward. But so far, observations of such drainages are limited largely to dye-tracing experiments in shallow ice near glacial edges. Lai and colleagues have now developed a way to map development of streams much farther in, under thousands of feet of ice, by observing fine-scale changes in surface topography following the drainage of supraglacial lakes into spaces below. Such events are multiplying in Greenland as surface melting increases, and so may present a way to understand what is happening below.
CO66-06  Live talk – Wednesday Dec. 16, 19:20-19:24



Earth Institute scientists are studying a wide variety of issues related to the pandemic, including the use of global mapping to track vulnerable populations; effects on the environment; and implications for global food security. For comprehensive information on our coronavirus research, visit our Guide to Coronavirus Resources. Below, relevant talks.

The Global COVID-19 Viewer
Alex De Sherbinin, Center for International Earth Science Information Network
In cooperation with NASA, scientists at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network have developed the Global Covid-19 Viewer, an easy-to-use, continually updated interactive map showing how many people are affected by the pandemic down to the U.S.-county level, with information on transmission and mortality risk factors. The viewer, available to everyone, maps populations by age, sex, and population density.
Background: Access the Global COVID-19 Viewer
NH026-09  Live talk – Friday Dec. 11, 16:25-16:28

The NYC Shutdown: Pollution Drops Expected and Unexpected
Luke Schiferl, LDEO
The spring 2020 shutdown of New York City was a huge natural experiment on air quality. A Manhattan air-sampling station operating before, during and afterward showed clear, expected declines in carbon monoxide between February and April, plus an unexpectedly large drop in methane. After accounting for weather conditions, researchers were able to attribute these declines to individual emissions sectors including buildings and vehicles.
Background: How the Shutdown Is Clearing New York’s Air
A081-06  Live talk – Wednesday Dec. 9, 20:50-20:54

Vehicle Carbon Monoxide in the NYC Shutdown  Bronte Dalton, LDEO
Researchers monitored air quality at a station in Manhattan’s West Harlem in 2019 and 2020, including during the Covid-19 shutdown. Combined with observations at other stations and analyses of wind patterns in and around the city, they were able to show that CO emissions from vehicles went down 40 percent during the early part of the shutdown.
A095-0013  Poster – Thursday Dec. 10, 4:00-20:59

Impact of the 2020 NYC Lockdown on PM2
V. Faye McNeill, Center on Global Energy Policy
An analysis of air quality from stations across all five New York City boroughs from March 22-June 8, 2020 shows that levels of dangerous fine particulate matter, or PM2, fell 37 percent for the last week of March, 25 percent for April, and 48 percent for May.
GH007-0001  Poster – Monday Dec. 14, 4:00-20:59

Climate Change, Covid-19 and Potential Global Food Shocks
Cynthia Rosenzweig, Goddard Institute for Space Studies
As the pandemic drags on, food production has been disrupted, and hunger is rising. The long-running worldwide Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project is testing protocols to understand how this pandemic and future ones may combine with heat waves, droughts and floods to produce even more severe shocks to the world food system.
Background: AgMIP website
GC108-01 Live talk – Tuesday Dec. 15, 11:30-11:34

Steps to Safeguard Global Food Chains
Michael Puma, Center for Climate Systems Research
Global food security is threatened by Covid-19, but at least for now, stocks of major staples are high. But Puma warns that hoarding by just a few key exporting countries could bring worldwide price spikes and starvation in many others. He urges steps toward international cooperation to ensure continued exports, especially to countries already short on food.
GH023-07  Live talk – Wednesday Dec. 16, 9:00-9:05

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The Earth Institute, Columbia University, mobilizes the sciences, education and public policy to achieve a sustainable earth. Earth Institute centers and affiliates represented here:

 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory seeks fundamental knowledge about the origin, evolution and future of the natural world, on every continent and in every ocean.

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies  is a research center that models and monitors earth systems, to predict atmospheric and climate changes.

 The Center for Climate Systems Research enhances interdisciplinary earth and climate research across Columbia and at the affiliated NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

 The International Research Institute for Climate and Society aims to enhance society’s ability to understand, anticipate and manage the impact of seasonal climate fluctuations.

 The Center for International Earth Science Information Network works at the intersection of the social, natural and information sciences. It specializes in spatial data integration.

 The Center on Global Energy Policy provides independent, balanced, data-driven analysis to help policymakers navigate the complex world of energy.