Beyond just the impact on other institutions, the urgency with which Columbia takes climate action bears on its educational mission, says Professor Jason Smerdon, an Earth Institute faculty member and the co-director of the undergraduate Sustainable Development program.

“For me to teach students about the importance of sustainability and then have them go out and operate on a campus that's not sustainable—that sends a message. It says that what’s being taught in the classroom isn’t as important as what happens in the ‘real world,’ or that there are financial considerations that should supersede the ethical and moral considerations of sustainability.”

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Austral summer precipitation increased by 27% over the past 120 years in southeastern South America (SESA), a region including southern Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and northern Argentina. This trend has driven widespread increases in agricultural production, making it important to understand if the trend will continue or reverse over the coming decades. A new paper led by Arianna Varuolo-Clarke, a 4th-year Ph.D. student in the Smerdon Climate Lab, investigates the influence of the South American low-level jet on SESA precipitation. Ari finds that a trend in this jet accounts for some of the observed rainfall increase in SESA from 1951 to 2020. Most of the jet trend comes from increased atmospheric moisture content, likely due to a combined impact of natural variations in the climate system and increased sea surface temperatures driven by human-caused global warming – a warmer ocean surface enhances evaporation, increasing humidity globally. Her results are important for understanding what is causing the rainfall trend, whether it will continue, and how we interpret climate models, which do not reproduce the observed rainfall trends in SESA over the last century or more.  

TLDR?  Check out Ari's Twitter thread on the paper.  You can also get the long version by reading the open access paper here.

Forest fires can have a significant effect on the amount of water flowing in nearby rivers and streams, and the impact can continue even years after the smoke clears.

Now, with the number of forest fires on the rise in the western United States, they are increasingly influencing the region’s water supply, and increasing the risk for flooding and landslides, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesRead More

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The drought that has enveloped southwestern North America for the past 22 years is the region’s driest megadrought—defined as a drought lasting two decades or longer — since at least the year 800, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Thanks to the region’s high temperatures and low precipitation levels from summer 2020 through summer 2021, the current drought has exceeded the severity of a late-1500s megadrought that previously had been identified by the same authors as the driest in 1,200 years.

University of California Los Angeles geographer Park Williams, the study’s lead author, said with dry conditions likely to persist, it would take multiple wet years to remediate the effects. “It’s extremely unlikely that this drought can be ended in one wet year,” he said. The study was coauthored by Jason Smerdon and Benjamin Cook of the Columbia Climate SchoolRead More

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When Smerdon, a Pullman, Wash. native, experienced winter on the hill, it marked the first time he had ever "seen ski masks used for anything other than robbing a bank."

Whether Gusties will need ski masks to fight frigid Minnesota winds in the future is uncertain.  To know more, Smerdon, now a leading climate scientist at Columbia University, dives into the past, finding natural climate records in everything from ice cores to cave deposits.  Mapping climate across thousands of years allows Smerdon and his colleagues at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to understand natural variations in climate across history, how those variations are being disrupted by human activity, and to assemble predictive models for the future.  Read More

This may have been the year the world finally began to pay attention to the mayday calls for climate change and the harmful effects warming global temperatures will have -- not just on the environment, but on human life.

Scientists have long warned of the calamity that could result from rising global temperatures. Predictions such as extreme temperature events, the increase of severe drought and more intense storms have all come to fruition in 2021 -- around the world and close to home.  Read More

Fall, an iconic season to the Northeast, is changing because of our warming world, and some of the most significant changes will be noticeable in your backyard.

Spooky and sweet costumes took over streets and sidewalks in celebration of Halloween and pumpkin spice everything are quintessential fall favorites that climate change can’t, well, change, but some other favorite things are being altered. Read More

As the leaders of the world gather in Glasgow to discuss the fate of the climate crisis, the power to save the planet from destruction caused by humans does not only lie in the hands of those in power.

While the majority of reductions in greenhouse gases will need to be accomplished by transformation in policy and industry, individual actions can also help prevent further warming, according to the experts.

"As individuals, we have to pursue collective action to actually move the needle on this," Jason Smerdon, a climate scientists for Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, told ABC News. Read More

Physicist and leading climate scientist Dr Jason Smerdon '98 of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Earth Institute at Columbia University, on #WhyGustavus from Pullman, Washington, his paths to science and academia, his undergraduate and graduate school experiences (featuring haikus, luck, contingency, and potassium cyanide), his scholarship with historians and the influence of English courses on his career, the reality, evidence, and politicization of human-influenced climate change, doable technologies and our agency in response to the crisis, and the case for physics and the liberal arts. Listen

Climate change is real. The science doesn’t lie, and as each year arrives with a new climate disaster, we’re granted more data to illustrate how dire the situation really is. But data aside, some of these consequences are obvious. Summer is getting hotter. Winter is getting weirder. Spring blooms come later. And autumn, that season of cozy flannels and boots and crisp air and foliage... what is going on there?  Read More

In April 2021, Columbia released a ten-year sustainability plan that aligns the campus with the Paris Climate Agreement by using science-based targets to guide a pathway for the University campuses to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The event will provide an overview of the Plan 2030 and its key commitments, then move into a panel discussion about activity underway to advance the goals this coming year, and the role that students and faculty play in supporting the University to meet its goal.


Jessica Prata - Assistant Vice President, Environmental Stewardship Office at Columbia

Izzy Seckler - Undergraduate Student, Columbia College ‘23

Jason Smerdon - Lamont Research Professor in the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Earth Institute Faculty, Earth Institute

Indrajeet Viswanathan - Director of Energy Management and Sustainability, Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Dan Zarrilli (moderator) - Special Advisor, Climate and Sustainability 

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It’s Climate Week in NYC, “a time to showcase leading climate action,” its organizers, the Climate Group, say. To that end, WSR reached out to Columbia University, which recently established its first new school in 25 years. The “Columbia Climate School,” a university partner of Climate Week, is a direct response to the pressing climate crisis. Professor Jason Smerdon, an Upper West Sider, helped design its educational programs. We spoke to him about the school’s significance; the way things are going climate-wise, including on the UWS; and how to get involved.  Read More

Hurricane Ida is the kind of natural disaster that brings terror to people who have lived through deadly storms.

Seeing Ida's maximum sustained winds topping 150 mph, torrential rainfall that overflows waterways and makes roadways impassable and storm surge so powerful it could destroy entire communities, it is difficult to face the reality that these types of events will become more commonplace in the future, as the planet continues to warm.

"It's really been a devastating summer in terms of the impacts that we've seen across the Northern Hemisphere this this year," Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist for Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, told ABC News. "So this is just one more piece of bad news and lots of events that are impacted by global warming."

While the overall number of hurricanes is not likely to increase as a consequence of global warming, researchers believe that over time, the storms that generate will get stronger and more intense.  Read More

Multidecadal “megadroughts” were a notable feature of the climate of the American Southwest over the Common Era, but we know relatively little about the occurrence of such droughts in southwestern South America where a decadal-scale drought is currently impacting much of ChileNathan Steiger, an adjunct research scientist in the PaleoDynamics Lab, has published a paper using the Paleo Hydrodynamics Data Assimilation (PHYDA) product to both characterize megadroughts in southwestern South America and determine the degree to which they occurred at the same time as those in the American Southwest.  He and coauthors report strong evidence that megadroughts in the two regions did occur synchronously in the past as a consequence of unusually frequent La Niña events in the tropical Pacific. This assessment of coupled megadroughts in North and South America provides a comprehensive theory for the causes of coupled megadroughts, particularly during the Medieval era. The work also provides the first detailed accounting of megadroughts in southwestern South America.

The PHYDA was developed by Nathan as a postdoctoral scientist in the PaleoDynamics Lab and is available here.  His paper on coupled megadroughts can be found here.

Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, says we’re going in the wrong direction.

“The number of heat waves we’re experiencing now will continue to increase with increasing greenhouse gas emissions,”‘ he said.

He urges we can’t forget “heat waves beget droughts, beget fires.”

“All of these things are connected,” he added.  Read More