American Geophysical Union 2022: Key Research From the Columbia Climate School

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

Kevin Krajick
November 29, 2022

Here is a guide to notable research presentations and other events from the Columbia Climate School at the Dec. 12-16 meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. The meeting takes place in Chicago and online across the globe. For information about press registration and how to access events, go to the meeting’s Press Center.

Presentations here are in chronological order. Presenters’ names link to their contacts; presentation numbers link to the formal abstracts. Times listed are U.S. Central. (Note: If you call up an abstract, the time displayed may default to your own local time if you attend remotely.) All locations are at the McCormick Place Convention Center. Unless otherwise noted, scientists are at our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO).

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

* * * * *

Predicting Droughts and Floods in the Panama Canal
Braddock Linsley, LDEO
The Panama Canal uses water stored in reservoirs to operate its locks; droughts can bring restrictions on ship drafts, while floods can damage  infrastructure. Is there a way to predict these events to help manage the canal? Linsley and colleagues studied the chemistry of corals in Pacific Ocean water off the isthmus to come up with month-by-month measurements of river flow into the ocean from 1719 to 2018. They show that distant volcanic eruptions appear to act in concert with El Niño events in a way that should help scientists predict swings in rainfall for the region.
Monday Dec. 12, 14:45-18:15 | Poster Hall A | A15H-1331

Extreme Weather, Dark Tweets
Kelton Minor, Data Science Institute

Minor analyzed daily weather across the planet alongside 7.7 billion tweets from 190 countries between 2015 and 2021. He found that users’ exposure to extreme rainfall or heat consistently correlated with more negative sentiments, compared to days of normal weather. The trend could be accelerating; the deadly western North America heat wave and western Europe floods of 2021 both produced far more negative sentiments than did previous extreme events. As extremes multiply, the world’s overall mood may darken further, suggests Minor.
Tuesday Dec. 13, 8:00-9:00 | Online only | GH21D-02

Drinking, Drugging and Heat
Robbie Parks, Mailman School of Public Health
Parks and colleagues looked into whether periods of hotter than average temperatures affect hospitalizations for substance abuse. From 1995-2014, they found that extreme heat across New York state indeed drove daily increases in alcohol-related admissions, with the highest correlations outside of New York City. Surprisingly, for cannabis, cocaine, opioids and sedatives, the result was the opposite: Lower than average temperatures correlated with more extreme use.
Tuesday Dec. 13, 9:00-12:30 | Poster Hall A | GH22B-0605
Background: Rising Temperatures May Increase Fatal Accidents

The Coevolution of Humans and Water
Upmanu Lall, Columbia Water Center
In this wide-ranging invited talk, Lall will explore how Homo sapiens evolved in relation to Earth’s water, and how we and water may co-evolve over the next 100 to 1,000 years or longer. Water from glaciers, rivers, lakes, the atmosphere and ocean currents distributes energy, microbes and manmade chemicals to all parts of the planet—yet our understanding of it is generally coupled only to our own immediate needs. Will humans continue to shape the planet to their will, or will nature reassert herself? In either case, what role will water play?
Tuesday Dec. 13, 11:10-11:20 |McCormick Place E354b | H23A-01

Can Precariously Perched Boulders Gauge Earthquake Risk?
Charles McBride, William Menke, LDEO

Earthquakes are a threat to the New York City area, but no truly major ones have occurred in historical time, and no one knows the maximum magnitudes of ancient events. Near the city, researchers are studying giant boulders dropped by glaciers 15,000 years ago, in positions unstable enough that earthquakes could tip them over. 3D models of the boulders are allowing them to calculate the forces it would take to dislodge them, ruling out quakes of those size or bigger. McBride presents preliminary results.
Tuesday Dec. 13, 14:45-18:15 | Poster Hall A | T25 D-0153
Story on the project

Tropical Dendrochronology: Beyond Tree Rings
Arturo Pacheco-Solana,
Dendrochronologists have assembled year-by-year records of climate going back hundreds or thousand of years in many regions, but the tropics remain largely a black hole, because trees there do not form annual rings. Lamont-Doherty scientists have been working to overcome these limitations. Pacheco-Solana discusses efforts in the Bolivian Andes, where samples from a variety of remote areas are being analyzed with new techniques, including the anatomy of cell structures and radiocarbon isotopes.
Tuesday Dec. 13, 8:00-9:00 | Online only  | GC21A-02
Related talk: New tree-growth chronologies from the Bolivian Amazon
Tuesday Dec. 13, 15:42-15:53  |  McCormick Place S502ab  | GC25B-06
Background: Studying old-growth trees in Bolivia

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Reunion Party
A yearly reunion brings together hundreds of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory staff and alumni going back decades who have gone on to research positions across the world. Plenteous food and drink. All members of the press corps are welcome—a great chance to make contacts, hear about new work, and have fun.
Tuesday Dec. 13, 6:30-8:30pm, Hilton Chicago, 720 South Michigan Ave., Continental Room

The 2022 Pakistan Floods and 2021 North American Heat Wave: Common Drivers?
Mingfang Ting, LDEO
Ting’s group has been studying the connections of extreme weather to large-scale atmospheric currents and the long-term impacts of warming temperatures. In this invited talk, she will discuss the forces behind the astonishing 2021 heat wave that broke records by tens of degrees in the western United States and Canada, and the unprecedented 2022 floods that devastated Pakistan. Such extreme weather may be caused by interconnected factors that operate over farflung regions, she suggests.
Wednesday Dec. 14, 11:45-11:50  | McCormick Place E450a  |  Abstract

Whither Ukrainian Refugees?
Michael Puma, Center for Climate Systems Studies

Humanitarian agencies and governments face the daunting task of anticipating where resources should be positioned for distribution to refugees, and nothing speaks louder to this than Russia’s war against Ukraine. Puma and colleagues have modeled the recent movements of millions of Ukrainians to surrounding countries, and their routes. The model shows promise for anticipating movements on regional and local scales that could be applied to other crises.
Wednesday Dec. 14, 14:45-18:15  |  Poster Hall A  | GC351-0801

Greenland Is Rising From the Ocean
Margie Turrin, LDEO
Sea levels are rising across much of the world, due in part to melting of the Greenland ice sheet. But in Greenland itself, sea levels are falling, as land previously depressed by ice is slowly rebounding upward This may soon become a serious problem for coastal communities whose only means of travel is through increasingly shallow adjoining waters. Turrin and colleagues are working directly with residents to map the submarine landscape in fine detail, predict how it will change, and design adaptations. Tinto describes the process, and progress so far.
Thursday Dec. 15, 9:00-12:30  | McCormick Place Poster Hall A  |OS42C-1206

Boreal Forests Nearing a Thermal Tipping Point
Mukund Palat Rao, LDEO
The far north is warming so rapidly that Siberia has recently seen summer temperatures of up to 100 degrees F. Experiments by Rao and colleagues show that a few degrees more, and the Siberian larch, a keystone of northern Russia’s ecosystem, may no longer be able to photosynthesize. It could happen in the next 20 to 30 years, Rao warns, with cascading effects on the environment and carbon cycle in this vast region.
Thursday Dec. 15, 14:45-18:15 | McCormick Place Poster Hall A | B45G-1793

In a Warmer World, Simultaneous Crop Failures Look More Likely
Kai Kornhuber, LDEO
Kornhuber and colleagues recently identified a pattern of systematic meanders in the Northern Hemisphere’s jet stream that have caused simultaneous crop-destroying heat waves in multiple regions of the world. Climate change may amplify these waves and make them more frequent in major breadbaskets. Now, in new work, they suggest that while climate models accurately reproduce such atmospheric patterns, they underestimate associated surface anomalies, and thus the resulting potential future damage to crops.
Thursday Dec. 15, 15:12-15:21 | McCormick Place S503ab | GC45C-04
Newly IDed Jet-Stream Pattern Could Imperil Global Food Supplies

Resetting the Clock on the World’s First Nuclear Explosion
Paul Richards, LDEO

Richards, a pioneer in seismological detection of nuclear tests, looks back at Trinity, the world’s first atomic explosion, on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico. It was originally estimated that the detonation took place at 5:29 am, but due to the failure of radio timing devices, that was within a window of about 25 seconds. By reanalyzing old-fashioned seismograms of the event (literally, wiggles on paper) using modern digital methods, Richards and colleagues have pinpointed the time to within a few tenths of a second.
Friday Dec. 16, 9:00-12:030 | Poster Hall A  | S52E-0089

The U.S. Water Table 100 Years From Now
Kerry Lee Callaghan, LDEO
U.S. water tables of the future will be affected by multiple uncertain factors, including human usage; how precipitation patterns change; rises in sea level; and topographic changes as the land itself slowly rises or sinks due to isostatic rebound from the end of the last ice age. Water tables could correspondingly rise or fall depending on locale, causing water shortages or surfeits. Callaghan presents a range of scenarios for different regions through 2100.
Friday Dec. 16, 9:00-12:30 | Poster Hall A | GC52H-0244

Future of the U.S. Southwest Drought
Richard Seager, LDEO
Seager and colleagues long ago predicted the U.S. western drought, and remain at the forefront of studying it. In their latest research, they say that whatever happens, the region is unlikely to return in the foreseeable future to the relatively wet decades of the 20th century, due both to long-term warming climate and the operation of cyclic sea-surface temperature patterns in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The best-case scenario, they say: Ocean cycles will push precipitation up a bit, but never again to where it was; in the worst case, shifting ocean patterns will make the region even drier than it is now for decades to come.
Friday Dec. 16, 9:35-9:46 | McCormick Place S502ab | GC52C-04
Background: Imminent Transition to a Drier Southwest

Higher CO2 May Affect Plant-Based Allergies
Lewis Ziska, Mailman School of Public Health
It has been suggested that warming temperatures may increase human vulnerability to plant allergies, as growing seasons lengthen and ranges of allergenic plants spread. But rising atmospheric CO2 in and of itself also influences how many plants grow, because it changes their physiology for better or worse. In this invited talk, Ziska looks at how more CO2 may influence plants and a range of ailments they produce, including contact dermatitis (think poison ivy), reactions to airborne pollen, and food allergies.
Friday Dec. 16, 16:47-16:58 | McCormick Place S503ab | GC56C-01
Related talk: Higher CO2 May Reduce Nutrient Value of Crops
Tuesday Dec. 13, 9:05-9:17 |McCormick Place N426ab | U22A-01