News

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.

Panelists:

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

Nathan Steiger and Jason Smerdon gave a presentation for the PAGES2k Network Seminar Series titled Annual Reconstructions of Global Hydroclimate Fields over the Common Era using Data Assimilation.  The description of the presentation and its recording are below.

Description

The Paleo Hydrodynamics Data Assimilation (PHYDA) product was the first global reconstruction of hydroclimate and associated dynamical variables over the past 2000 years. The reconstruction was derived using a data assimilation framework that optimally combined 2978 paleoclimate proxytime series, including the complete PAGES 2k database, with the physical constraints of the NCAR CESM climate model.

In the first half of our presentation, the details of the PHYDA reconstruction will be presented. We will discuss the specific data assimilation methodology that was employed, how the proxy database was curated and incorporated, and the skill assessments that were used to validate the PHYDA reconstruction. We will give an overview of the reconstructed variables that are available from PHYDA and conclude by describing our plans to develop an improved and updated version of the PHYDA.

In the second half of our presentation, we will describe the use of the PHYDA to improve our understanding of several important hydroclimatic problems. The first investigation will explore the causes and coupling of simultaneous multi-decadal droughts in southwestern North America and central Chile. The second investigation will describe our work to characterize global hydroclimatic responses to large tropical volcanic eruptions. These two examples demonstrate the power of the PHYDA to provide new insights into our understanding of past hydroclimatic variability and change, with relevance for our assessment of future hydroclimatic risks.

The impact of no spectators traveling to the Games will likely be "relatively minimal," Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist for Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, told ABC News.

"I trust it will ultimately amount to many tons of emissions avoided, but keep in mind that the disruptions to travel due to COVID (a much larger perturbation to global travel) only contributed to an overall reduction in 2020 emissions of about 7% below 2019 levels," Smerdon said.  Read More

Smerdon is skeptical that training to survive in the wilderness is the best way to prepare for the looming crisis. A better investment of time and energy to him would be lobbying local, state and national leaders to put forth more resources and policies that could help mitigate the impact of climate change.

"It's counter to what is actually most effective in light of impacts of climate change, which is having prepared and resilient and connected communities," Smerdon said of the impulse to live off the grid.  Read More

Summer for many Americans is the time to enjoy being outside. But for much of the United States, this year’s extreme drought, wildfires, smoke and heat waves have made enjoying outdoor activities nearly impossible and continue to threaten the livelihoods and health of people and ecosystems across the country. With summer 2021 barely half over, and conditions likely to worsen in coming months, these extreme conditions provide a stark reminder that the chronic impacts of climate change will be one of our greatest 21st-century challenges.

As bad as 2021 has been, the story of drought in the West doesn’t begin this year. Since 2000, severe drought has drained western reservoirs, increased ground-water extraction, promoted giant wildfires and forest die-off, and coincided with ever-intensifying heat waves. We’ve had a bit of a bad run.

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Large tropical volcanoes have caused some of the world’s most destructive natural disasters, with eruptions spewing out massive streams of harmful gases and hot debris that can wipe out everything in their path. But, what about wider impacts on global climate? Large eruptions are well known to temporarily cool the planet, but the picture is less clear when it comes to changes in the global distribution of rainfall.

In a new study, a team of researchers from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the University at Albany and other institutions have used natural climate archives such as tree rings to better understand big eruptions’ global hydroclimate impacts over the past 1,000 years.  Read More

For the planet, the year without tourists was a curse and a blessing.

With flights canceled, cruise ships mothballed and vacations largely scrapped, carbon emissions plummeted. Wildlife that usually kept a low profile amid a crush of tourists in vacation hot spots suddenly emerged. And a lack of cruise ships in places like Alaska meant that humpback whales could hear each other’s calls without the din of engines. Read More