American Geophysical Union 2021: Key Events From the Columbia Climate School

A guide to some of the most provocative talks at the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists.

By
Kevin Krajick
December 07, 2021

Here is a guide to notable events from the Columbia Climate School at the Dec. 13-17 meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. The meeting takes place in New Orleans, and online across the globe. For information about press registration and how to access talks and press conferences, go to the meeting’s Media Center.

Presentations here are in chronological order. Presenters’ names are hyperlinked to their contact information; presentation numbers are hyperlinked to the formal abstract. Times listed are U.S. Central. (Note: If you call up an abstract from the AGU website, the time displayed may default to your own local time.) All locations are at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Unless otherwise noted, scientists are at our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO).

You can read stories about some of these talks at our State of the Planet. More info: science news editor Kevin Krajick, kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu +1 917-361-7766

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Worldwide Climate Impacts and Risks, Region by Region
Alexander Ruane, Goddard Institute for Space Studies
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s initial Sixth Assessment Report, released in August, shows that changes in the earth’s climate system are widespread, rapid and unprecedented. Ruane is coordinating lead author of Chapter 12, which outlines impacts and risks in 59 land and ocean regions across the planet. He will give an overview of research into a wide variety of environments including mountains, deserts, cities, marine ecosystems and tropical forests, and discuss the prospects for linear and nonlinear changes that could lead to the most extreme disruptions.
Mon. Dec. 13, 16:00-16:15 | Great Hall, Prow Main Stage | U13B-12
Press conference: Mon. Dec. 13, 11:00-12:00. Ruane and others will discuss the main findings of IPCC AR6 WG1 Chapter 12.
Background: IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Working Group 1, Chapter 12

Advances in Underground Carbon Storage
Catalina Sanchez Roa, Peter Kelemen, LDEO
Scientists are working on a revolutionary approach to storing atmospheric carbon, by pumping it underground and speeding up natural chemical processes that will turn it into a solid carbonate. Kelemen has been working for years in Oman, where mantle rocks thrust to the surface offer an ideal host. He will describe new results from the first experimental boreholes. Sanchez has been duplicating similar processes in the lab—the first such lab study—and will report on results showing that they can be self-perpetuating under the right conditions.
Sanchez: Mon. Dec. 13, 14:50-14:55 | Room 265-266 | H14C-05
Kelemen: Mon. Dec. 13, 16:00-18:00 |Poster Hall D-F |H15H-1136
Background: Video, photo essay, story on the Oman project

Mapping Social Vulnerability for Environmental Justice
Carolynne Hultquist, Center for International Earth Science Information Network
One stumbling block to greater environmental justice in the United States is mapping the locations of people most vulnerable to disasters and chronic hazards. Hultquist and colleagues are developing products to do just that. Based on census tracts, they have assembled 1-kilometer-grid maps showing economic and minority status, household compositions, languages, housing types and transportation availability. These can be superimposed on risks such as extreme heat, floods, air pollution and wildfires, and integrated with other data to answer a wide variety of questions.
Tues. Dec. 14 10:03-10:06 | eLightning Theater III | IN22B-07
Background: Forum on Vulnerability to Extreme Heat, Floods and Displacement

Frontiers of Geophysics Lecture
Jeffrey Sachs, Center for Sustainable Development
Sachs is a world-renown economist, bestselling author, educator and global leader in sustainable development. He is widely recognized for bold strategies to address complex challenges including debt crises, the control of malaria and other diseases, extreme poverty, and the battle against human-induced climate change. He directed the Columbia University’s Earth Institute from 2002 to 2016, and now serves as director of the university’s Center for Sustainable Development.
Tues. Dec. 14, 11:00 | Great Hall, Main Stage | Virtual Lecture

A National Map of Air Pollution in Redlined Neighborhoods
Garima Raheja, LDEO
In the 1930s, neighborhoods populated mainly by people of color and immigrants were singled out by mortgage lenders for unfavorable treatment. New studies are showing these “redlining” policies continue to affect those areas today: Residents are disproportionately exposed to extreme heat and traffic; lack green spaces; and suffer poorer health. Raheja and colleagues have now created the first national map showing disproportionate exposure to fine-particle, or PM2.5, air pollution. Compared to other neighborhoods, formerly redlined areas in Seattle, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Denver and other cities carry burdens 2 to12 times higher.
Tues. Dec. 14, 16:00-18:00 |Poster Hall D-F | GH25C-0644
Background: Profile of Garima Raheja

Did Distant Volcanoes Roil Ancient Egyptian Society?
Ram Singh, Center for Climate Systems Research
Egypt’s Ptolemaic era, some 2,000 to 2,300 years ago, was a time of major political unrest and revolts. Singh presents evidence that four big volcanic eruptions in the equatorial and northern hemisphere from 168 to 158 BC may have played a role. His models indicate that the eruptions would have jetted sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere that caused widespread cooling, which in turn would have suppressed monsoon rainfall over the Nile watershed, and disrupted agriculture. He will discuss both the climate models and the actual historical events.
Tues. Dec. 14, 16:00-18:00 | Poster Hall D-F | PP25E-0978

Tracking Africa’s Urban Air Pollution
Garima Raheja, Savannah Ward, Daniel Westervelt, LDEO
Air pollution kills a million people a year in Africa, and causes significant health problems for many others. But even basic measurements of pollution levels, needed for any policy prescriptions, are lacking in major cities. A group led by Daniel Westervelt is showing that low-cost sensors can provide this information, and the group is already carrying out monitoring in many cities including Accra, Ghana; Lome, Togo; and Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya. The readings show just how bad things are.
Accra/Lome: Wed. Dec. 15, 8:40-8:45 |Room 286-287 | AC31C-09
Nairobi: Wed. Dec. 15, 16:00-18:00 | Poster Hall D-F | A35G-1722
Mombasa: Wed. Dec. 15, 16:00-18:00 |Poster Hall D-F | A35G-1716
Background: Bridging the Air-Pollution Data Gap in Sub-Saharan Africa

Earth, Venus, and Death by Giant Volcanism
Michael Way, Goddard Institute for Space Studies
More evidence is emerging that contrary to popular belief, massive volcanism, not giant meteorites, have played the major role in Earth’s repeated mass extinctions. Is it possible that such events also long ago converted Venus from a relatively temperate place possibly hospitable to life to a lifeless one of extreme temperatures? Using Earth’s long history of massive volcanism, Way comes up with a model showing that if similar random events on another Earth-like planet were to take place, they could easily cause a runaway reaction, which would end plate-tectonic movements and cycling of volatiles necessary to provide a life-supporting climate.
Thurs. Dec. 16, 9:45-9:50 |Room 395-396 | P42B-01

The 2021 Texas Grid Meltdown: Will It Happen Again?
Upmanu Lall, Columbia Water Center

The February 2021 meltdown of the Texas power grid—or more properly, its freeze-up—highlighted the vulnerability of large energy systems to weather extremes. Lall and colleagues performed a series of simulations based on 40 years of data from Texas to better understand the conditions that lead to peak seasonal demands for cooling or heating, and how these interact with the availability of wind and solar power. They apply this to identifying weak points in the system—points that may become even more vulnerable as weather becomes more extreme.
Thurs. Dec. 16, 10:25-10:30 |Room 208-210| GC42C-08
Background: How Unprecedented Was the Texas Cold Snap?

Mapping Extreme Heat’s Menace to Farm Workers
Connor Dunn Diaz, LDEO
Recent news reports have put a spotlight on deaths of U.S. farm workers from exposure to extreme heat and humidity. This a worldwide threat, and it is getting worse. Diaz and colleagues have created a global map of worker exposure by overlaying grids of recorded extreme heat/humidity; the planting, growing and harvest seasons of 25 major crops; and the areas covered by those crops. They find that worker exposure has grown substantially over the past 40 years. Regions of most risk include southeast Asia, equatorial South America, the Indo-Gangetic basin, and coastal Mexico and west Africa.
Thurs. Dec. 16,  15:05-15:10 |Room 206-207| GC44C-07
Press conference: Thurs. Dec. 16, 9:00-10:00. Diaz will discuss the study; in addition, others will discuss the extraordinary 2021 western North America heat wave, and a global study of combined heat/drought stressors.

What Caused the Mysterious Climate Downturn of 533-544?
Dallas Abbott, LDEO

Historical records and climate proxies document a severe multiyear cooling of the Northern Hemisphere starting around 533. The most drastic known downturn of the last 2,000 years, it caused famines and political upheavals around the world. Some scientists say it was likely caused by a comet, others by a volcano or volcanoes, but the origin has never been pinned down. Abbott looks into five submarine volcanic eruptions thought to have happened around this time. Using ice cores and seafloor sediments, she zeroes in on southwest Japan’s Kikai volcano as a candidate.
Thurs. Dec. 16,  16:00-18:00 |Poster Hall D-F| V45B-0133
Related presentation, same time and place: V45B-0134

Warmth Is Mounting Fast in High Mountains
Daniel Ruiz Carrascal, International Research Institute for Climate and Society

For 13 years, Ruiz Carrascal’s group has been collecting hourly weather data from instrument loggers along a steep transect spanning 3.2 kilometers of elevation in the Colombian central cordillera. It is one of the most detailed datasets documenting how climate is rapidly affecting high-mountain environments. They are also studying the ecological changes taking place in these areas, which harbor unique species, and supply water to major cities. Ruiz Carrascal presents the latest data, suggesting that human-driven climate change is rapidly pushing ecosystems upward.
Fri. Dec. 17, 8:40-8:45 |Room 211-213 |GC51B-08
Press conference: Mon. Dec. 13, 11:00-12:00. Ruiz Carrascal is a lead author of the IPCC’s latest report on regional impacts and risks of climate change. He and others will present findings on a wide variety of environments.
Background: IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Working Group 1, Chapter 12

Greenland’s Sea Levels Are Falling, Not Rising
Casey Brayton, Margie Turrin, LDEO
Mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet is raising sea levels around the world—but relieved of so much ice, Greenland itself is rising 5 to 23 millimeters a year along its coasts. This has potential impacts on harbor infrastructure, coastal navigation, marine habitat and natural hazards. Brayton discusses efforts to finely chart nearshore bathymetry using multi-beam echo soundings deployed by local people, along with remote sensing by satellites. Challenges include the difficulty of using sounding in waters less than 20 meters deep, and limited visibility to satellites due to fog, floating ice and limited sunlight. Turrin discusses how local people are playing key roles in guiding the project and producing data useful to their communities.
Brayton: Fri. Dec. 17, 16:00-18:00 | Poster Hall D-F | G55D-0275
Turrin:
Fri. Dec. 17, 10:20-10:25 |Room 291-292 | ED52A-07

The Great Alaska Earthquakes of 2020 and 2021, and What They Tell Us
Lynn Sykes, LDEO
The tectonic boundary spanning the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands is the source of some of the world’s largest earthquakes and tsunamis. The known catalog starts in 1788; its latest additions are a magnitude 7.8 quake in 2020 (world’s largest for that year) and a magnitude 8.2 this summer (largest in the United States since 1965). Sykes says that while there are still a few gaps to be filled, the locations and characteristics of these most recent events have given us a much greater understanding of the overall hazards. Due to their remote locations, the 2020-2021 quakes produced little damage—but that may not be the case for future events.
Fri. Dec. 17, 16:00-18:00 | Convention Center Poster Hall D-F | S55G-0224