#global warming
LectureHop: Apocalypse Now: A Conversation with Wallace Broecker

* dramatization

On Tuesday, the Institute for Religion, Culture & Public Life presented the third part of its yearlong series, Apocalypse Now: End Time and the Contemporary Imaginary. Seated in front of a small audience old enough to remember the first global climate shift, Wallace S. Broecker (aka the “Grandfather of Climate Science”) expertly addressed just how bad things really are. Lecture-hopper extraordinaire, Zachary Hendrickson, was in attendance to capture every terrifying insight.

                “It’s really hopeless. I don’t think we’re going to do anything because there is no will to do anything.” These final, incredibly depressing words provided the perfect cap on the evening. Delivered by Broecker in response to a question from the audience about whether or not human beings would “make it,” this quote could pretty much sum up the entire night. For someone can say that they first coined the term ‘global warming’ nearly 50 years ago, it must be incredibly frustrating to see that, even as your predictions come to life with devastating consequences, there are still individuals out there who believe that climate change is not a serious issue – or worse, don’t believe it exists at all.

This is a frustration that could be felt in nearly every point that Broecker (who is, by the way a professor at Columbia in the Earth and Environmental Science Department) delivered. Another cloud over the conversation was, of course, Hurricane Sandy. This is where the night started off. Broecker was hesitant to say that Sandy was a direct effect of climate change because it was a “freak storm.” He made the point a number of times that scientists don’t often, or at least shouldn’t, comment on what they haven’t directly studied, and when it comes to specific meteorological occurrences there are simply too many factors at play to say that x directly caused y. However, he did acknowledge that because of climate change there were bound to be more freak instances. “What Sandy tells us is that a lot of what’s to come is going to surprise us,” Broecker proclaimed.

All this talk of super storms and the end of the world had me interested, sure, but I couldn’t help but wonder what the Grandfather of Climate Science thought could save us. Surely he had to know of some great scientific scheme that would fall to Earth like the word of God to Moses and spell things out so clearly for the world that there was no possible way anyone could manage to screw things up… His proposal may surprise you.

Carbon collection, and volcanoes, and politics – Oh, my!

BunsenBwog: Science Is A Battlefield

More controversial that you'd think

Grab your lab coats and slap on your safety goggles, because the world of science is in turmoil. Sort of. This week Zealous Xenobiologist Zach Kagan brings you exciting tales of global warming, stem cells, the secrets of the the brain and more.

Last Wednesday Havemeyer Hall became a battleground over the future direction of Neuroscience research. In a public debate, moderated by Robert Kulwhich of Radiolab fame, two top neuroscientists argued over the direction of future research: In one corner we have Sebastian Seung, MIT professor of computational neuroscience and swanky dresser, and in the other corner we have the one-and-only director of the Center for Neural Science at NYU, Tony Movshon. Seung came into the ring swinging, arguing the the ways that neurons interconnect throughout the brain is the most important avenue for research. Movshon fought back, standing firm in his belief that scientists should specialize in which area of the brain they study, getting deeper into how each individual part functions. In the end both combatants went the whole fifteen without a knock out, but it was a hell of a show.

Most people, other than Fox news pundits, will agree that global warming is caused by increased carbon dioxide levels. However, there have been many other warm periods, which begs the question–was CO2 also involved in these instances? The answer is generally yes, according to a sweeping new study analyzing the global mean temperatures and carbon dioxide levels throughout time. When CO2 levels go up, temperature rises not long after. For example, approximately 21,000 years ago variations in the Earth’s orbit caused warmer summer in the norther hemisphere, causing glaciers to melt, the resulting glacial water altered the Atlantic current system, allowing deep sea CO2 to escape into the atmosphere, warming the planet. Columbia post doctorate fellow Jeremy Shakun remarks: “We constructed the first-ever record of global temperature spanning the end of the last ice age based on 80 proxy temperature records from around the world… It’s no small task to get at global mean temperature.” 
Bunsen Bwog: Unnatural Nature

Not just a girl's best friend

It’s Saturday, which means Chemical Charmer Zach Kagan has once again mixed a week’s worth of science news together in an erlenmeyer flask for your edification. 

landmark study from the Earth Institue suggests that ocean acidity is rising faster than any time in the history of the planet. Open water absorbs CO2 emissions, where it becomes carbonic acid. Normally that acid gets neutralized by sedimentary materials like fossilized plakton, but the quantity of CO2 is so overwhelming that all the carbonized plakton shells have dissolved away, leaving a layer of mud. There’s only one other record of the ocean floor transforming into an underwater swamp of sadness, 300 million years ago—and even that happened over a 5,000 year span. Meanwhile, ocean pH is falling at an unprecedented rate, which the scientists expect will lead to a major decrease in marine diversity.

In other weird nature news, a new collaborative study says that global warming also causes increased snowfall. Columbia researchers expanded on data which suggests that changes in atmospheric circulation and atmospheric water vapor content cause snowier winters, both of which are in turn caused by melting arctic ice. So the globe may be getting hotter, but at least it’s increasing the odds of getting a snow day.
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Overseen: First World Complaints

Bwog’s ever-seasonably dressed Victoria Wills chanced upon this bit of weather-related angst in Hamilton 413.

Famous last words

BunsenBwog

Believe it or not, Columbia scientists actually have better things to do than Frontiers. Bwog presents a review of Columbia’s week in science. Headlines were compiled by Ricky Raudales, who may or may not have submitted the hawk-themed short.

Imagine what Pixar could do with this

  • One panel of judges at last week’s Tribeca Film Festival included two familiar scientists, Stuart Firestein (Columbia) and Janna Levin (Barnard), who helped select the winners of this year’s TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund. Among the rejected pitches was Bwog’s own indie romance, Hawkma, Je T’aime, for which a release date has not yet been set. (Wired)
  • Evolutionary ecologist Dustin Rubenstein sat down with The Scientist to discuss how slime molds, also known as social amoebas, engage in a primitive form of agriculture. What he apparently didn’t mention is that the trials are being conducted inside communal fridges in Harmony (seriously, people, throw out your expired milk cartons.) (The Scientist)
  • Columbia’s own Klaus Lackner shares his latest global warming antidote, an artificial tree capable of sequestering carbon dioxide one thousand times faster than the real stuff. Shove these things in the tailpipes of every New York cab, and you’ve practically solved global warming. (Wall St Daily)
  • Findings from a recent epidemiological study suggest that frequent business travel may be bad for your health, in some cases even increasing one’s risk for cardiovascular disease. Somebody, quick! Tell that to our favorite Dean of Student Affairs by day, pop sensation by night. (Science Daily)
BunsenBwog

"I hate when petroleum-based products cover surfaces" - scientist.

When they’re not jamming or answering our inane questions, Columbia faculty enjoy getting dirty in the lab. Bwog takes a moment to look back on this week in science. Headlines were compiled by our Resident Scary-Number-Things Expert Ricky Raudales.

  • Using cutting-edge computer models, scientists at the Earth Observatory determined that the depletion of ozone over Antarctica has directly affected climate patterns as far north as the tropics. If you’re somehow still not convinced of global warming, here’s a time-lapse progressionillustrating the formation of the now 11.5 million square-mile hole. (CNN)
  • The Times recounts the efforts of our own Ponisseril Somasundaran, chemical engineer and a leading expert in surfactants, who developed safer alternatives to the petroleum-based dispersants used in the recent oil spill. Because fighting oil with even more oil just sounds, you know, silly. (NYTimes)
  • Bigshot, a pet project of the director of Columbia’s Computer Vision Laboratory, invites children to learn about the science behind digital cameras by providing them their own DIY kits. Bwog wonders how long it’ll take for a Brooklyn startup to start marketing the camera to hipsters. (NYTimes)
  • Thanks to data collected from the growth rings of ancient trees, Columbia researchers have pinpointed several record droughts that may have contributed to the decline of the Mayan and Toltec civilizations. So you see, real hard science can help out its cousins in the bunkum pseudosciences anthropological sciences, after all. (InsideScience)

Wrenching image via Wikimedia.

BunsenBwog

No time to look at the camera when you're doing science

When they’re not headbanging or answering our inane questions, Columbia faculty enjoy getting dirty in the lab. Bwog takes a moment to look back on this week in science. Headlines were compiled by our Strong-Willed but Gentle- Handed Correspondent Ricky Raudales.

  • A team of scientists recreated functioning enzymes that date back between one and four billion years ago, revealing, in turn, that the earth was once hotter and more acidic. Sorry 90’s retro junkies, but we’re not closer to hatching a baby Velociraptor anytime soon.
  • When in doubt, adding more is better. Columbia neuroscientists discovered that mice with more hippocampal neurons make wiser decisions and, when combined with exercise, exhibit fewer signs of anxiety.
  • Researchers at the B-school’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CERD) determined that various social factors, such as perception of the current weather affect people’s acceptance of global warming. In a less innocuous correlation, self-identifying Democrats are more likely acceptors than those who identify themselves as Republicans.
  • Researchers at Columbia and Israel’s Ben Gurion University found that judges were hungry for justice. Literally. Apparently judges are less likely to grant prisoners parole if they have not eaten in a while.

Labrats via Wikimedia Commons.

This Week in Procrastination: En Vogue Edition

Compiling the best of the meta lists since 2006.


Monday

Paul Muldoon: The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet will read selections of his poetry, followed by an interview.  501 Schermerhorn @ 8:00 PM.

Tuesday

Adam Kirsch [pdf]: The senior editor of The New Republic will discuss the lives of Allen Ginsberg and Lionel Trilling.  501 Schermerhorn @ 8:00 PM.

Wednesday

Greenhouse Gases: They’re bad, yes, but how do we reduce emissions?  A focus group and panel.  David Aud. (CEPSR) @ 5:00 PM.

Thursday

Traditional Japanese Music:  Traditional instruments along with help from the CU Gagaku Instrumental Ensemble.  Followed by a reception.  Low Rotunda @ 6:00 PM.

AltSpec: Horrible Horrible Dangers Edition

Columbia has long had a penchant for the hazardous.


Shopping carts, to your hands
.  Just by touching them, you risk diarrhea and worse.

Sleep deprivation, to your heart.  Nearly everyone with a college degree will probably have a heart attack 50 years after graduation.

Cancer drugs, to your fetuses.  But now, the miraculous techniques of freezing means you can prevent the first and save the latter.

Vermin, to your asthma.  Oh, and also to your general sanity.

Rocks, to carbon dioxide.  Nothing says “run away” like the word “sequestration.”

AltSpec: Trelawney Edition

Everyone’s elections predictions (which took up most of the “Columbia University” hits this week) came out alright, but there are still more predictions to come.

Stiglitz says “Yes We Can…eventually

Eisenbach says “See?  I told you this one would be different.”

A Columbia scientist says, “The predictions were too late.”

Those who were around in ’68 say, “It’s gonna be just like it used to be, dang nabbit.”

Apres Klaus, le Deluge

The cover story in this week’s Village Voice is an interview with Columbia’s Klaus Jacob, geophysicist and adjunct professor of international and public affairs. 

Jacob is a big time disaster expert: in the 90s, his research on earthquakes convinced the city to change its building codes. And when he worked for President Clinton, he was the first to lead a national study on the effects of global warming.

Nonetheless, Jacob has been trying to warn Columbia for four years about the possible dangers inherent to the University’s blueprint for Manhattanville. Columbia, as it tends to do from time to time, is not listening.

For one, he believes that the new campus is located right in the heart of a flood zone (Think about the valley where the 1 train comes above ground. In fact, there’s Jacob over there to the right, standing in this very valley.) And thanks to global warming, the possibility of flooding due to hurricanes is only going to steadily increase over the years.

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Lecture Hop: How the Nobel Was Won

In which Bwog lecture hopper Phil Crone reports back from the Heyman Center’s discussion on climate change 

Altschul Auditorium was host last night to a panel discussion featuring PrezBo, Joseph Stiglitz, and various experts on the ever more apocalyptic science of climate change. What exactly PrezBo, a freedom of speech scholar-cum-university president, was doing heading a discussion on climate change was anyone’s guess, but by the end of the evening it was clear that he had taken on the position of moderator mainly to provide comic relief for an audience presented with the grim scientific and political realities surrounding the topic.

Comedy, however, was not the first item on the agenda. The main event began shortly after eight with PrezBo introducing the four members of the panel: James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies; R.K. Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Cynthia Rosenzweig, an adjunct professor at Barnard who also works on the IPCC; and Columbia’s favorite Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz.

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Columbia to Spew Graduates, not Carbon

jjhAccording to a press release by University Spokesman Robert Hornsby, carbon emitted by Commencement ceremonies starting about now (watch the live webcast here!) will be offset by the purchase of carbon credits, which pay for carbon absorption projects around the world. It’s all the rage among the guilty-conscience set–and now you can calculate just how much greenhouse gas you’re pumping into the atmosphere on your ride home! Bwog’s only remaining question: did they factor in what will be coming out of Prezbo’s mouth?

Also, some leftovers:

Via Ivygate: All you Office fanatics, the show came to Columbia just as you left.

And…at least somebody liked Quigley’s speech.

J. Sachs wants YOU to help stop Climate Change

kjhIf you read our February issue, you’d have heard of the Global Roundtable on Climate Change, a group of blue chips that has been meeting for the last two years to come up with some sort of statement on what do about our warming world. Last Tuesday, they came out with their joint statement, which has been garnering a lot of low-level press around the world. The statement itself is nothing to get your knickers in a knot over; mostly the conventional wisdom of what needs to happen that’s been out there for years, with lukewarm verbs like “provide,” “support,” and “encourage.” (Meanwhile, these guys are saying the same thing, but less delicately.) The list of groups endorsing is about half the size of those participating in the process–Ford, Google, and Wal-Mart are conspicuously absent. But many of those who didn’t sign as organizations have added their names as individuals, and now you can too! An e-mail went out on the ABC listserv asking students to get on the bandwagon. And chuck your car keys on your way out.

- LBD

QuickSpec – God and Nature Edition

Veritas Forum subjects: infinitude of knowledge, the Almighty, plagiarism

Message of a loving God creates schism, property rights issues, “trouble”

Surprise! Noam Chomsky is anti-war!

Poverty = another reason to worry about Global Warming?

…never fear, J-Sachs’ anti-squalor sustainability squad is here!…just don’t ask too many questions.