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

On January 29, Columbia announced the completion of its divestment from oil and gas companies and the formalization of “this policy of non-investment for the foreseeable future.” The decision came on the heels of several other climate-focused initiatives and was undoubtedly the result of long years of heated protest, dialogue, and deliberation among multiple committed parties on campus. Unsurprisingly, the announcement has inspired a wide range of responses, from admiration to hope, cynicism to outrage. Read More

You Asked” is a series where Earth Institute experts tackle reader questions on science and sustainability. Over the past few years, we’ve received a lot of questions about carbon dioxide — how it traps heat, how it can have such a big effect if it only makes up a tiny percentage of the atmosphere, and more. With the help of Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, we answer several of those questions here.  Read More

If you had $100 million to spend, what would you do with it? That’s the amount of money Elon Musk has stated he’ll be spending on combating climate change, though he’s set on one particular type of technology: carbon capture. Unlike renewable energy or energy efficiency projects, carbon capture aims to zap carbon dioxide out of the air, either passively from the air or at industrial sites with lots of emissions.

But is that the best way to use $100 million to fight climate change? Some experts agree that carbon capture is ideal, while others say we should focus more on changing policy and energy use habits to lower our giant carbon footprint before trying to remove it out of thin air. We asked four sustainability experts across the realms of policy, technology, and climate science what they would do if they could drop $100 million on any sustainability project of their choice, and what they said might surprise you. Read More

One of the few silver linings from the COVID-19 pandemic has been the significant reductionin greenhouse gas emissions as people stayed home to prevent the spread of the virus.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide dropped 7% in 2020, the biggest drop in history following the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century -- down 37 billion tons from 40.1 billion tons after years of increases, the Global Carbon Project announced earlier this month.

However, to meet the climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement, which are to keep global warming below a 2-degree Celsius rise from pre-Industrial Revolution times, the world would need to reduce its emissions the same amount every year for the next decade, climate scientists told ABC News -- a feat that would realistically could not be achieved once the world begins to recover from the pandemic.  Read More

Umair Irfan, a staff writer at Vox covering climate change and science, and Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, joined The Takeaway to talk about the impact of climate change in 2020 and how the new stimulus package might affect climate goals. Listen Here

Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is dedicated to the study of Earth and climate. This year, despite the pandemic that in March paused all fieldwork, the observatory stayed true to form, adding new knowledge about the planet, its inner workings, and its future changes. Here are a few highlights.  Read More

This year became one for the record books for yet another reason: The turbulent weather of 2020 smashed numerous records, from storms to wildfires to heat waves.

This year was the fifth year in a row that the Atlantic hurricane season was an above-normal active season, and 2020 is now in the record books as "the most active hurricane season on record" in the Atlantic, said Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.  Read More

A global pandemic is a good time to reflect on the reality that history is full of much more misery and strife. For example, even by the standards of Medieval Europe, when deadly wars, famines, and diseases were common, the 14th century is particularly heartbreaking. Among many notable and terrible events of that age, the Great Famine, the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death all stand out as infamous events in one of Europe’s most miserable centuries.

A new paper from our team at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, published in Communications Earth & Environment, specifically revisits the infamous and devastating European Great Famine of 1315-1317. During this period, much of Europe experienced unrelenting rains that were compared to the fulfillment of Noah’s Ark prophesy. Historical records report that excessively wet conditions made planting difficult, crop yields poor, and frequently made it difficult to transport what could be harvested to market. The consequence was massive crop and market failures, which led to widespread death and starvation; in some places infanticide and cannibalism were reported, which purportedly gave rise to the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. Famine spread across the British Isles, France, the low countries and Germany, and approximately 10-25% of Europe’s population perished.  Read More

A similar blog piece is also available at Nature's Sustainability Blog.

A conversation on Texas Public Radio about climate change for Climate Week in Texas.  The invited guests on the show were:

Read more and listen to the broadcast here.

PaleoDynamics lab member, Arianna Varuolo-Clarke, has successfully passed her oral qualifying exam in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.  Ari passed with flying colors and presented her qualifying paper titled "Diagnosing twentieth-century past and future centennial wetting trends in Southeastern South America in observations and climate model simulations."  Her work on this topic continues.  Look out for a soon to be submitted paper and her 2020 Fall AGU presentation on the topic titled "Gross discrepancies between observed and simulated secular wetting trends over the 20th-21st centuries in Southeastern South America."  Congrats Ari...keep up the great work!

PaleoDynamics lab member, Hun Baek, has successfully defended his doctoral thesis titled "Hydroclimatic Black Swans: Characterization of the Oceanic and Atmospheric Drivers of Spatially Widespread Droughts in North America."  Hun has been incredibly productive while a student in our lab and the papers embodied in his thesis, along with his additional efforts, can all be found in the below links.  Congrats to Dr. Baek and good luck on the next phase of his journey as a Flint Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University, working with Juan Lora.  

Baek, S.H., J.E. Smerdon, B.I. Cook, A.P. Williams. US Pacific Coastal Droughts are Predominantly Driven by Internal Atmospheric Variability, Journal of Climate, in review.

Baek, S.H., J.E. Smerdon, M. Ting, Y. Kushnir, R. Seager. A Role for the Tropical Pacific in the Spatiotemporal Features of 20th-Century Atlantic Multidecadal Variability, in revision.

Baek, S.H., J.E. Smerdon, G. Dobrin, J.G. Naimark, E.R. Cook, B.I. Cook, R. Seager, M.A. Cane (2020), A Quantitative Hydroclimatic Context for the European Great Famine of 1315-1317, Communications Earth & Environment, in press

Williams, A.P., E.R. Cook, J.E. Smerdon, B.I. Cook, J.T. Abatzoglou, K. Bolles, S.H. Baek, A. Badger, B. Livneh (2020), Large contribution from anthropogenic warming to a developing North American megadrought, Science,

Baek, S.H., N.J. Steiger, J.E. Smerdon, R. Seager (2019). Oceanic drivers of spatially widespread droughts in the contiguous US over the Common Era, Geophysical Research Letters,

Baek, S.H., J.E. Smerdon, R. Seager, A. P. Williams, B. I. Cook (2019). Pacific Ocean forcing and atmospheric variability are the dominant causes of spatially widespread droughts in the contiguous United States, Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres,

Smerdon, J.E., J. Luterbacher, S. Phipps, K.J. Anchukaitis, T.R. Ault, S. Coats, K.M. Cobb, B.I. Cook, C. Colose, T. Felis, A. Gallant, J.H. Jungclaus, B. Konecky, A. LeGrande, S. Lewis, A.S. Lopatka, W. Man, J.S. Mankin, J.T. Maxwell, B.L. OttoBliesner, J.W. Partin, D. Singh, N.J. Steiger, S. Stevenson, J.E. Tierney, D. Zanchettin, H. Zhang, A. Atwood, L. Andreu-Hayles, S.H. Baek, B. Buckley, E.R. Cook, R. D'Arrigo, S.G. Dee, M. Griffiths, C. Kulkarni, Y. Kushnir, F. Lehner, C. Leland, H.W. Linderholm, A. Okazaki, J. Palmer, E. Piovano, C.C. Raible, M.P. Rao, J. Scheff, G.A. Schmidt, R. Seager, M. Widmann, A.P. Williams, E. Xoplaki (2017), Comparing proxy and model estimates of hydroclimate variability and change over the Common Era, Climate of the Past,

Baek, S.H., J.E. Smerdon, S. Coats, A. P. Williams, B.I. Cook, E.R. Cook, and R. Seager (2017), Precipitation, temperature, and teleconnection signals across the combined North American, Monsoon Asia, and Old World Drought Atlases, Journal of Climate,

Scientists have filled a gaping hole in the world’s climate records by reconstructing 600 years of soil-moisture swings across southern and central South America. Along with documenting the mechanisms behind natural changes, the new South American Drought Atlas reveals that unprecedented widespread, intense droughts and unusually wet periods have been on the rise since the mid-20th century. It suggests that the increased volatility could be due in part to global warming, along with earlier pollution of the atmosphere by ozone-depleting chemicals. The atlas was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read More

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Climate change is the defining issue of this century. Students have shown unprecedented levels of civic engagement in climate activism and understand that they will inherit a world that has felt the impact of climate change. Educators must be prepared to bring climate change into the classroom, and the Earth Institute is excited to support these efforts through our professional development event for K-12 educators, “E.I. Teach: Climate Change in the Classroom” from July 28-31. This newly launched effort will enable educators to provide engaging and meaningful learning opportunities for students around climate change and sustainability. A tentative agenda, a list of the speakers, and additional information about the event is available hereRead More

After nearly two decades of declining water flows into the Colorado River Basin, scientists have decided the word drought doesn’t cut it anymore. We need different terms, they say, to help people fully grasp what has happened and the long-term implications of climate change — not just in the Southwest, but across the country.

The term that’s caught the most attention lately is “megadrought.”  Read More