Noon Balloon Lecture Series - Fall 2010

The weekly NOON BALLOON lecture series provides undergraduates in the Earth and environmental sciences, and anyone else who is interested, a look at the breadth of research being conducted in these fields. Lecturers are research scientists/faculty and graduate students who will talk about their current research and how it ultimately contributes to the understanding of our planet.

Fall 2010 Schedule

Tuesdays 12:15-1:00pm in Room 417 Schermerhorn Hall

You are welcome to bring your lunch.

 Sep 14

Sally Odland - Tipping Point: The Confluence of Energy, Emissions, the Economy and Exponential Growth

Summary: The Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico encapsulates the energy dilemma the world now faces. Why are the oil companies drilling at the far edges of technology, beneath a mile of water and 3 miles of earth in the first place? What risks are we willing to take on to keep the oil flowing? Fossil fuel consumption drove economic prosperity for the past 150 years. But now, it is clear that future oil and gas supplies will be neither cheap nor easy to bring to market, and that the new supply comes with large environmental, financial and geopolitical risks. Yet there is no “plug-and-play” Plan B waiting to seamlessly power the current enterprise. Therefore, we are entering a period of great uncertainty, volatility, rapid flux and adaptation. The impact of the Energy Transition on the global economy and the planet's climate will be significant. It will have far-reaching consequences in all sectors of society and will play a significant role in the lives of today's students.

 Sep 21

Steve Brusatte - Tyrannosaur phylogeny and biology: new research on ancient model organisms

Summary: Tyrannosaurus is the most feared and familiar of all of the dinosaurs, but recent fossil discoveries give a startling new picture of tyrannosaur evolution. Five important new species have been revealed over the past year, running the gamut from some of the most primitive and smallest members of the group to completely bizarre forms. Raptorex is barely larger than a man but has all of the classic tyrannosaur features, such as the large skull and puny arms, indicating that the tyrannosaur body plan first evolved at small size and not in giant bone-crunchers. Alioramus, from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia, is one of the closest cousins of Tyrannosaurus but is only half its size and has a bizarre long snout and eight horns on its skull. Sinotyrannus is one of the oldest tyrannosaurs, but was nearly the size of T. rex itself! These, and other discoveries, are overturning previous theories about tyrannosaur evolution. The tyrannosaur group was a long-lived lineage that began with small species in the Middle Jurassic. For the first 80 million years of their history tyrannosaurs remained small animals, until rapidly developing colossal size at the end of the Cretaceous. I have studied many of these specimens and will discuss the latest views on tyrannosaur evolution and biology, using as a guide a newly-published phylogenetic analysis (family tree) that is a major part of my dissertation research.

 Sep 28

Emily Goldstein, Joel Gombiner, Todd Nelson, and Lisa Weber - Summer 2010 Research Projects

Summary: Undergraduates in the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences are encouraged to get involved in a research project by their junior year. Research projects may be based at Columbia or other institutions, and may take place during the academic year or be summer internships. Sometimes projects evolve into the senior theses. At this week's Noon Balloon, four department upperclassmen will discuss their research experiences from summer 2010.  The talks are informal and each student will speak for 10 minutes. 

 Oct 5

Timothy Crone - Measuring the Size of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Leak: Science in the Media Spotlight

Summary: This year's Deepwater Horizon blowout and subsequent oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico initiated a tragic and unprecedented oceanographic "experiment". Scientists will likely study the effects of this disaster for years. In order to place this research into proper context and fully understand the environmental and ecological impacts of the oil, an accurate estimate of the total oil released will be required. In this talk I will discuss my research on seafloor hydrothermal systems and how this work allowed me to make estimates of the oil flow rates and the total volume released. I will detail my findings to date, and I will also discuss the role played by the media in shaping the story and science surrounding the incident.

 Oct 12

Klaus Jacob - Risks from Climate Change for New York City, and Adaptation Options

Summary: Climate change forecasts for NYC imply various rising risks including the number of days per year with extreme high temperatures and extreme downpours; and sea level rise, which in combination with coastal storms leads to storm surge flooding and inundation of subways, road and rail tunnels, and of other critical infrastructure (including Columbia's Manhattanville extension). NYC, New York State, and critical infrastructure organizations (e.g. MTA, PANYNJ) have recently started initiatives to develop options for how to adapt to these impending challenges. None of the options are cheap. But they have social, economic, and land use/urban planning implications. These will demand political will and public support.

 Oct 19

Midterm Week - No Noon Balloon

 Oct 26

Richard Seager - The past and future of hydroclimate in southwest North America

Summary: Southwest North America (SWNA) has experienced a series of severe multiyear droughts in the period since European settlement some of which have seriously impacted the social history of the region. Climate modeling has recently revealed that these droughts were caused by small, naturally occurring changes in tropical sea surface temperatures. The modern era droughts, however, pale in comparison with a series of megadroughts of multidecadal duration during the Medieval period. The megadroughts are clear from tree ring reconstructions and are still visible in the western landscape. The causes of the megadroughts are unknown but I'll speculate on them anyway. As for the future, SWNA is robustly projected to become more arid as a consequence of rising greenhouse gases and global warming and general drying and poleward expansion of the subtropical dry zones. The mechanisms for this are distinct from those of naturally-occurring drought. Drying of SWNA, including Mexico, is going to place severe stress on water resources in a place where existing supplies are already stretched.

 Nov 2

Election Day - University Holiday - No Noon Balloon

Summary: .

 Nov 9

Dale Chayes - Geophysical Data: “Real data has real warts”

Summary: In spite of the rapid growth of modeling and analysis in recent decades, there remain many opportunities to gain new insights about the Earth by making measurements. In the most general sense, one can can make well understood measurements, using existing tools and techniques, in a new place or make new measurements with new instrumentation. In either case (and all the shades of grey in between) failure to understand the data can lead to misinterpretation and inappropriate use. We will take a cooks tour of a few geophysical data acquisition systems, covering the acquisition and including real-time display, quality assessment, and archiving issues. The discussion will also visit how such efforts are conceived, organized, and executed.

Suggested reading:


 Nov 16

Jason Smerdon - Climategate: The Anatomy of a Controversy and Its Historical Context

Summary: In late November of 2009, computer hackers illegally released more than 1000 emails and other information taken from a server of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. The resulting firestorm became an international news story and ultimately led to multiple investigations of scientists in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Although all of the scientists were exonerated by these investigations, the controversy and its fallout continues today. I will explore the details of the controversy and provide the scientific and political background that is necessary to understand the story in a larger context.

 Nov 23

Emily Goldstein and Stephanie Jurburg - Undergraduate Research

Summary: Undergraduates in the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences are encouraged to get involved in a research project by their junior year. Research projects may be based at Columbia or other institutions, and may take place during the academic year or be summer internships. Sometimes projects evolve into the senior theses. At this week's Noon Balloon, two department upperclassmen will discuss their research experiences. The talks are informal and each student will speak for about 15 minutes. 

 Nov 30

Robin Bell - Changing Ice Sheets: What is the Evidence? What Next?

Summary: The media is full of images of building sized fragments of ice crashing into the ocean and state size pieces of floating ice breaking up in a matter of weeks. Are these monster ice cubes important? Here we will review the evidence for the ice sheet changing beyond the images. The three prominent observations are the edges of the ice sheets are dropping, the flow of ice is speeding up and measurments of the ice sheet mass indicate they are loosing mass. We talk about the work being done at Lamont to understand why the ice sheets are changing. Without understanding why we cannot plan for future change.

 Dec 7


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Access the Spring 2010 schedule.