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Updated: 4 hours 35 min ago

Revealing the Ocean’s Rare but Prolific Carbon Export Events

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 11:22

Photosynthesizing phytoplankton serve as primary producers in the upper ocean, where they take up atmospheric carbon dioxide and incorporate it into their biomass. In a process known as carbon export, some of this biomass is ultimately transported to the deep sea. New research by Henson et al. examines the factors that drive variations in export efficiency—the fraction of organic carbon produced by primary productivity that is eventually exported.

To conduct their investigation, the researchers combined and analyzed relationships among several global data sets collected since the mid-1980s. These included measurements or estimates of carbon export, phytoplankton community structure and primary productivity, zooplankton and bacterial abundance, and water column structure and nutrient availability.

Previous research has shown that typically, only a small fraction of organic carbon from primary production is exported to deeper waters. However, the new analysis revealed the existence of rare, high–export efficiency events. These events appear to occur mainly when macrozooplankton and bacterial populations are low. For instance, at the beginning of a springtime phytoplankton bloom, growth of zooplankton may lag behind growth of the phytoplankton they feed on. Instead of being eaten, a larger proportion of phytoplankton cells and the carbon they contain may sink, boosting export efficiency.

These rare occurrences of high carbon export efficiency result in a global inverse relationship between primary productivity and export efficiency. This relationship poses a potential problem for empirical models of carbon export that rely on satellite data and that typically assume a positive relationship between the two variables. In some cases, these models may be underestimating carbon export.

The new analysis highlights the importance of the entire upper ocean ecosystem, including phytoplankton, zooplankton, and bacteria, in determining export efficiency and suggests that different factors drive export efficiency in different regions of the world. The authors note that incorporating region-specific information into computational models could improve the models’ ability to accurately simulate carbon export. (Global Biogeochemical Cycles, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018GB006158, 2019)

—Sarah Stanley, Freelance Writer

Great Pacific Garbage Patch Swim Nears Conclusion

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 12:20

Long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte will complete his Vortex Swim to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the ocean on Saturday, 31 August.

The swim took Lecomte, 52, purposely through the largest plastic accumulation zone in the ocean, the 1.6-million-square-kilometer Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the eastern North Pacific Gyre between Hawaii and California.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one of two trash vortexes in the North Pacific Ocean basin. Credit: NOAA

During the 5,370–nautical mile (nm) journey on board the I Am Ocean sailing yacht, Lecomte swam more than 335 nm to observe specific locations of the patch. Scientists from the University of Hawai‘i (UH) directed Lecomte’s swimming route using satellite imagery and ocean modeling to locate the highest concentrations of debris.

During Lecomte’s time in the water and during the entire 80-day expedition, he and his crew have provided scientific data to researchers from UH and other institutions about microplastics, water toxicity, and marine life. He and the crew have also tagged large pieces of debris with tracking devices.

The current swim, sponsored by natural performance apparel maker icebreaker, does not compare in length to Lecomte’s 1998 swim across the Atlantic or his 1,500-nm swim in the west Pacific in 2008. However, the Vortex Swim is calling attention to the problem of ocean plastic pollution. Between 4.8 and 12.78 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010, an increasing concern because of its impact on marine life and potentially on people as well. A 2016 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation noted that there are more than 150 million metric tons of plastics in the oceans and that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by weight.

Eos spoke with Lecomte, a resident of Round Rock, Texas, when his ship was a few days west of its San Francisco destination.

Eos: Why did you do the Vortex Swim?

Lecomte: When I was very little and playing in the sand, I remember not seeing any plastic in the sand. But now every time I take children on a beach, I see [plastic in] sand everywhere. I have been doing open water [swims] for a long time and spending a lot of time in the water and close to the environment. For the past 10 years or so, I’ve thought about ways to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution. The best way is to do it through a swim and to use the swim as the platform to get attention.

Eos: What was it like for you to swim through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

Lecomte: When I swim, I can see exactly what is in the water column. There has been plastic in high concentration, microplastic, around me, [which is] something we couldn’t see from the boat or we couldn’t [infer] from the amount of plastic and microplastic that we collected from our nets….Right in the middle of the garbage patch was a very tight concentration [of plastic] everywhere. If I had seen that type of water on the beach, I would not have decided to go swim in that water.

Lecomte and his crew collected microplastics like these during the journey through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Credit: @thevortexswim, @osleston

Eos: What was the most disturbing thing that you saw during your swim?

Lecomte: One category is the fishing gear that we saw, a lot of it. The other category is household products that we use every day, like a toothbrush or a razor or a bottle of water or a bottle of shampoo….Very often, when [plastic] is broken into little pieces, you cannot see the small pieces, and you cannot recognize what is the source. But when you see the bigger debris, you know that it’s something you have at your house; you know it’s something that you have used in the past. That’s something we have in our lives. We create that problem.

Eos: You have described plastic in the ocean as plastic smog. What do you mean?

Lecomte: Once it’s broken into small pieces, the microplastic is in high density. It’s not one area where you have plastics that are aggregated together…so it creates kind of smog or a soup. It’s not in an area where you just find microplastic and you can take it out and you solve [the] problem.

Eos: What was your most amazing experience during the swim?

Lecomte: The sea life. The day I was swimming near sperm whales was an amazing moment….As a sperm whale was passing beside me, it was looking at me. It was very intense to be in that moment, to share that moment. At the end of that day, when I went back on the ship, I found we had our highest microplastic [count],…counting over 3,000 pieces. That was very insightful for me to know that you have amazing creatures living in that soup of microplastic.

“I want to provide an unusual way to bring awareness because swimming, and having swum in the plastic [patch] for so many miles, and having lived through it, is a different perspective on the issue.”Eos: What can be done about plastic in the ocean?

Lecomte: First of all, we don’t have to use single-use plastic….Plastic is still a good product, I think. But we have to understand that once we have finished using that product [we have] to find ways to upcycle it or to recycle it….It’s not only human behavior that needs to change, but also the plastic industry needs to change its practices so not as much plastic that cannot be recycled is being used.

Eos: What is your message to others about the plastics problem?

Lecomte: I want to provide an unusual way to bring awareness because swimming, and having swum in the plastic [patch] for so many miles, and having lived through it, is a different perspective on the issue. It’s not just talking about the amount of plastic that is there….It’s about talking about a real life and being a real person with real emotions about this message.

Eos: Do you think your swim has had an impact?

Lecomte: There is no silver bullet to the problem.…But I know that at the same time, reading from feedback that we get from people following us, we are inspiring people to understand a little more about the problem and to change their habits….The problem wasn’t created overnight, so it will also be a long haul to resolve it.

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Forecasting Solar Storms in Real Time

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 11:56

The Sun routinely ejects clouds of gas and sends them hurtling through space at several thousand kilometers per hour. At least a few dozen times a year, those clouds head straight for Earth.

These natural events, called coronal mass ejections (CMEs), crop up when the Sun’s magnetic field becomes tangled and, in righting itself, releases a swarm of charged particles called superheated plasma. Sent at just the right angle toward Earth, these plasma clouds can wreak havoc on our electrical grids, satellites, and oil and gas pipelines.

Quebec, Canada, for instance, experienced a blackout related to a solar storm on a winter night in 1989. The province went black after a solar storm sent an electric charge into the ground that shorted the electrical power grid. The outage lasted 12 hours, stranding people in elevators and pedestrian tunnels and closing down airports, schools, and businesses.

What if researchers working on CME models around the world could post their forecasts publicly, in real time, before the CME reaches Earth?Solar storms can threaten our communication and navigation infrastructure. In the past, solar storms interrupted telegraph messages, and future storms could threaten our cellphones, GPS capabilities, and spacecraft.

With the right kind of warning, utility operators, space crews, and communications personnel can prepare and steer clear of certain activities during solar storms. But once a CME event is spotted leaving the Sun, our best models struggle to forecast when exactly it will arrive.

To improve forecasts, a group of scientists is taking a community approach: What if researchers working on CME models around the world could post their forecasts publicly, in real time, before the CME reaches Earth?

The CME Scoreboard, run by the Community Coordinated Modeling Center at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, does just that. The online portal with 159 registered users acts as a live feed of CME predictions heading for Earth. The portal gives scientists a simple way to compare forecasts, and the log of past predictions presents a valuable data set to assess forecasters’ accuracy and precision.

Keeping Score

The AGU Grand Challenges Centennial Collection features the major questions faced by science today. Editors of Space Weather identified CME predictions as one of them, calling the ability to provide them “essential for our society.”

CME forecasting still lags behind our capabilities to forecast weather systems here on Earth, and the paper highlights several reasons why. Leila Mays, coauthor on the paper and science lead for the CME Scoreboard at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said that CME forecasts are lacking in two key areas: Measurements of solar activity are sparse, and the exact physical details driving the Sun are still unclear.

Despite the need for improvement, people on Earth still rely on CME forecasts, and scientists have myriad ways to supply them. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United Kingdom’s Met Office both release publicly available CME predictions, and individual research groups build their models from scratch. Forecasting models range from data-driven empirical models to physics-based, equation-driven models.

The models operate independently, perhaps using unique parameters or data inputs, but they all strive for a shared goal: to determine when a CME, or CME’s shock wave, will impact Earth.

The CME Scoreboard serves as a repository for a wide range of these models. Mays said that scientists tracking solar activity will notice when a CME event explodes from the surface of the Sun, setting down a ticking clock for when the plasma will hit Earth (or miss it altogether). This sets off a flurry of activity, with scientists running their models with parameters from the most recent eruption, including the plasma’s speed, direction, and size. With the numbers crunched, they post their best guess and wait to see what unfolds.

Ground Truth

Since the CME Scoreboard’s inception in 2013, scientists have posted 814 arrival time predictions. Some predictions narrowly miss the mark, skirting the real arrival time of the CME by a mere hour or two. But others are days away, trailing the arrival by 30 or more hours.

The scoreboard gives a platform for ad hoc discussions that researchers were already having, spread across listservs and email chains whenever a new CME would appear.Mays said that the forecasts come from over a hundred users and represent 26 unique prediction methods. She said that the interest in the portal has been strong, which she’s not surprised about. The scoreboard merely gives a platform for ad hoc discussions that researchers were already having, spread across listservs and email chains whenever a new CME would appear.

Pete Riley, a senior research scientist at Predictive Science Inc., knew of the scoreboard but had never contributed. Looking at years of forecasts on the website, he decided to analyze the accuracy and precision of past predictions.

“I felt like having knowledge in the field but not having a horse in the race, so to speak, I’d be able to do a fairly independent evaluation,” Riley told Eos.

His study, published in Space Weather in 2018, is the first analysis of the scoreboard data. Riley and his collaborators compared the difference between the projected arrival times and the actual reported times for 32 models. The analysis showed that the forecasts, on average, predicted the CME arrival with a 10-hour error, and they had a standard deviation of 20 hours. Several models performed the best, he said, but only moderately so, and the few that submitted regularly over the 6 years of data analyzed didn’t seem to be improving their forecasts.

The paper “serves as kind of a ground truth for where we are at currently,” Riley said, as well as laying the foundation for future analysis. Riley made the code accessible so that future forecasts can be tested against the group. Mays said that in the future, the scoreboard may use the information to create a list of automatically updating metrics.

Although more work lies ahead, Riley said that the future looks bright for more accurate predictions. He points to new space missions that will help fill in blind spots, including NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and nanosatellites called CubeSats that individual research groups deploy.

“Space weather is becoming ever more important because as a society, we are so reliant on technology now,” Riley said. With the additional data, he said, “I think it’s promising that in the future we will be able to make predictions more accurate.”

—Jenessa Duncombe (@jrdscience), News Writing and Production Fellow

4 September 2019: This article was updated to clarify the description of the AGU Grand Challenges Centennial Collection and correctly identify the research paper’s journal of publication.

Six New Satellites Watch the Atmosphere over Earth’s Equator

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 11:55

In the dark, early morning hours of 25 June 2019, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launched a constellation of six identical satellites, each the size of a typical kitchen oven, into orbit above Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Their planned 5-year mission: support operational global weather prediction, tropical weather and climate research, space weather forecasting, and ionospheric research.

The satellites will collect radio occultation profiles of unprecedented accuracy in near-real time in the tropics.The launch (at 06:30 coordinated universal time , 2:30 a.m. local time), part of the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program 2 mission, sent the 300-kilogram satellites into a 720-kilometer-altitude equatorial (24°) low Earth orbit. These satellites represent the latest phase of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC) program. The mission, a collaboration with the Taiwan National Space Organization’s (NSPO) Formosa Satellite (FORMOSAT) program, goes by the name FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2.

The satellites will collect radio occultation (RO) profiles of unprecedented accuracy in near-real time in the tropics. Signals passing between the FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 satellites and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) satellites travel through various layers of the atmosphere, depending on the relative positions of the satellites. Measured and derived profiles of the signals’ phase delay, bending angle, and refractivity contain valuable information about temperature, pressure, and water vapor in the troposphere and stratosphere and electron density in the ionosphere (Figure 1). This information, in turn, is used for weather and climate research and for studies of space weather and the ionosphere.

Fig. 1. As a FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 satellite passes behind Earth relative to a GNSS satellite, a series of atmospheric limb scans produces a radio occultation sounding.


Continuing a Collaboration

FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 follows the highly successful U.S./Taiwan COSMIC-1 program, which launched on 6 April 2006. The approximately 7 million atmospheric soundings that COSMIC-1 has produced to date have improved global weather forecasts and supported hundreds of scientific studies of weather, climate, and space weather [Anthes, 2011].

FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 is the first satellite constellation to observe the tropical atmosphere from equatorial orbit using the RO technique. The satellites, expected to collect more than 5,000 soundings per day (Figure 2), will provide an unprecedented look at tropical weather, including tropical cyclones. They will also provide new insights into climate phenomena such as monsoon patterns, the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, the Madden-Julian Oscillation, and the tropical convergence zones (Intertropical Convergence Zone, South Pacific Convergence Zone, and South Atlantic Convergence Zone).

Fig. 2. FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 satellites produce 5,000 low- to middle-latitude RO soundings per day (green dots). In comparison, radiosondes provide approximately 1,300 soundings per day (red dots) over all latitudes.


Eye of the TGRS

Each FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 satellite houses the primary mission GNSS RO payload: the Tri-GNSS Radio Occultation System (TGRS), developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Each satellite also houses two science payloads to study space weather, including an ion velocity meter developed at the University of Texas at Dallas and a radio frequency (RF) beacon developed at SRI International.

The TGRS instrument measures the propagation time of radio signals from a GNSS satellite (either a U.S. GPS or Russian GLONASS satellite) to a FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 satellite. As the FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 satellite orbits Earth and the radio waves descend through the atmosphere (Figure 1), the waves are refracted and slowed, with the degree of bending related to the vertical gradient of the density of the neutral atmosphere and ionosphere [Melbourne et al., 1994; Kursinski et al., 1997].

The RO soundings can penetrate deep into the lower troposphere at all latitudes, observing planetary boundary layer heights and structure and providing valuable information on low-level moisture.From the raw phase and amplitude measurements of these radio waves, profiles of bending angle and refractivity can be deduced and assimilated into numerical weather prediction models, yielding improved information on temperature, pressure, and water vapor. Vertical profiles of temperature and moisture can be estimated from the refractivity profiles with the use of additional data from another source (e.g., other observations or models). The RO soundings’ high vertical resolution and ability to “see” through all cloud conditions complement the high horizontal resolution of conventional infrared and microwave satellite soundings.

The FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 TGRS instrument, which is the most advanced RO instrument ever flown, will be making use of model-aided open-loop (OL) signal tracking [Sokolovskiy, 2001]. This tracking method allows the RO soundings to penetrate deep into the lower troposphere at all latitudes, observing planetary boundary layer heights and structure and providing valuable information on low-level moisture.

The TGRS also includes an advanced high-gain beam-forming antenna, which will help acquire the highest signal-to-noise RO soundings ever produced (>2,000 volts/volt). These soundings will enable improved observations of lower-tropospheric water vapor and the detection of the heights of superrefraction layers [Sokolovskiy et al., 2014].

In addition, the TGRS will provide some 5,000 vertical profiles per day of electron density between 90 and 500 kilometers. These profiles will help define Earth’s ionospheric structure, as well as density irregularities that cause RF scintillation and can contribute to satellite communication problems and GNSS navigation outages.

Starting the Data Stream

Processed results will be ready for distribution with a median latency of 30 minutes from the time of data collection.The satellites will take about 20 months after launch to separate into different orbital planes to provide optimal local-time coverage. After an initial calibration-validation evaluation of the data during the first 4 months after launch, all data will be released to the public at no cost.

Two data centers will receive and process the satellites’ raw data: the COSMIC Data Analysis and Archive Center (CDAAC, which developed the data processing algorithms) located at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and the Taiwan Analysis Center for COSMIC (TACC) at the Central Weather Bureau in Taiwan. Processed results will be ready for distribution with a median latency of 30 minutes from the time of data collection. Following NOAA’s free and open data policy, all FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 raw data and products will be made freely and openly available to the international science and operational communities from CDAAC or TACC and the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Telecommunication System.

FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 is a collaborative project between the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States, with NOAA and NSPO as the designated representatives. NSPO is sponsored by the Taiwan Ministry of Science and Technology. Other partners include the U.S. Air Force, U.K. Surrey Satellite Technology, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, and Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Additional information about the FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 mission is available from NOAA, UCAR, and NSPO.


The authors thank the FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 team members in Taiwan and the United States for their many contributions to this mission. We acknowledge the sponsors in Taiwan (Ministry of Science and Technology) and the United States (NOAA, U.S. Air Force, NASA, and the National Science Foundation).

A New Approach to New Worlds

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 11:49

In September 1960, we planted our flag. I don’t mean Neil Armstrong doing his thing 9 years later on the Moon, of course (see our July issue for that celebration). This is when AGU’s then president Lloyd V. Berkner invited member H. E. Newell to stake a claim here in the pages of Eos on the field of planetary science, as the organization with “the strongest interest in this matter.”

Planetary science, then defined as the burgeoning study of the solar system, was the ultimate in convergence science, incorporating so much more than existing astronomy and rocket associations were able to represent. “Once the property of the astronomer, and not too highly valued a property at that, the planets now are brought within the purview of the geophysicist,” Newell wrote. “It is hoped that the geophysicists and astronomers will unite now to give them the attention that they deserve scientifically.”

Newell was announcing in Eos the launch of the Planning Committee on Planetary Science, which Berkner had appointed him to lead. Two years later—only 2 months after John F. Kennedy declared that we choose to go to the Moon—and with overwhelming support from its membership, AGU announced its new Planetary Sciences section.

This month, as we continue our yearlong celebration of AGU’s Centennial, we look to our neighbors in this small patch of our universe. Indeed, these days we look even farther beyond—the study of exoplanets was still only theory to our pioneering section leaders.

Let’s begin by urging new exploration of a world once thought dead. In our cover story on Venus, scientists have taken a contemporary look at the data sent back from the Magellan spacecraft in the 1990s and are revising their theories on the state of the planet’s geology. Once thought to have succumbed to catastrophic resurfacing, new maps reveal Venus is resurfacing in a steady state, in pieces at a time. Enough questions have been raised by looking at old data with new technology that scientists are extremely eager to find out what they may discover by sending a new mission to go collect data with today’s capabilities. And Venus-philes aren’t the only ones: Now that thousands of exoplanets have been discovered, some of them look suspiciously like our inner neighbor. Understanding Venus can help us understand so many parts of the universe.

While volcanologists have their eyes on Venus, oceanographers have their sights on Europa. A new study reveals that the ocean under the surface of Europa’s moon very likely contains sodium chloride—good ol’ Terran table salt and the same type of salt found in our own oceans. It’s an exciting finding, especially for anyone hoping to find life on a world other than our own.

This issue is packed with several more recent studies about metals on the Moon, the first detected marsquake, and the fine line between giant planets and brown dwarfs. We’re also taking some liberties in the definition of planetary sciences by reporting on some exceptional research on the makeup of our own, sometimes very strange, planet.

My favorite fact in this issue is from this story: There are continent-sized “blobs” in Earth’s mantle that if they were sitting on the planet’s surface, would reach so high the International Space Station would have to navigate around them. The study of the Earth blobs began in the 1970s, but with multiple published papers concluding contradictory findings, the research has only raised more questions and deepened a fascinating geoscience mystery.

No one at AGU was sleeping on the opportunity for Earth and space scientists to participate in the discoveries offered by our first forays off world, H. E. Newell the least of all: “The new frontier of science in our time is space research. All scientific disciplines will be called upon in its exploration,” he wrote in Eos. We call you all once more, as we enter the next century of collaboration together through AGU.

—Heather Goss (@heathermg), Editor in Chief

Tropical Forests May Have More Canopy Than Previously Thought

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 11:30

Canopy leaf area is a vital dynamic property characterizing ecosystem productivity and energy, water, and carbon exchanges with the atmosphere. It is commonly used in the form of leaf area index (LAI), the total one-sided leaf area divided by a unit horizontal surface area. A “textbook expectation” for LAI in tropical forests is to be in the order of 5–6.

Using data from dozens of destructively sampled trees from a tropical biome in southeastern Cameroon, Sirri et al. [2019] suggest that LAI is much higher, calling for serious reevaluation of our theoretical and numerical models of tropical forests.

Models predicting leaf areas are developed that rely on tree characteristics typically measured in forest inventories or can be obtained with remotes sensing methods. The inferences of this study thus have broad implications for understanding tropical forest function, remote sensing sciences, and predictive biogeochemical and hydrological models.

Citation: Sirri, N. F., Libalah, M. B., Momo Takoudjou, S., Ploton, P., Medjibe, V., Kamdem, N. G., et al. [2019]). Allometric models to estimate leaf area for tropical African broadleaved forests. Geophysical Research Letters, 46. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019GL083514

—Valeriy Ivanov, Editor, Geophysical Research Letters

Organic Gases Released and Taken Up by Soil Lack Quantification

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 12:46

Biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) are organic gases emitted by plants and microorganisms. Thousands of different compounds exist, and they are often very reactive in the atmosphere. A recent article in Reviews of Geophysics focused on the role of soil in both emitting and taking-up BVOCs. Here, the authors give an overview of soil BVOC dynamics and their impacts on the atmosphere, and describe a modeling approach for quantification.

How do plants and soils emit and consume biogenic volatile organic compounds?

Living plants are thought to be the main emitter of BVOCs from the biosphere. Plants emit BVOCs in conjunction with their growth and development, in stress defense, and through communication with other plants and insects.

Soil can both release and consume BVOCs. Bacteria and fungi in soils produce BVOCs through decomposition of plant litter and soil organic matter. Plant roots located in soil can also both produce and emit BVOCs. Meanwhile, soil can consume BVOCs from the atmosphere, through physically retaining compounds in soils and/or microbes taking up these compounds as carbon and an energy source.

The current global estimate of BVOCs emitted from plants is about 700 to 1000 teragrams of carbon per year, which is about twice the amount of methane emissions per year. However, the total amount of BVOCs emitted from soil—including from plant litter, roots and soil organic carbon—has not yet been estimated at the global scale.

How do BVOCs affect the Earth’s climate system?

Biogenic volatile organic compounds released from terrestrial ecosystems can influence local, regional and global climate.BVOCs released from terrestrial ecosystems can influence local, regional and global climate. For example, the hydroxyl radical (OH) is an important atmospheric cleaning agent that can react with many pollutants and greenhouse gases. BVOCs can react with OH and thereby deplete it from the atmosphere. In turn, this can lengthen the lifetime of methane (a greenhouse gas) and hence lead to warming of the atmosphere.

BVOCs can also react with nitrogen oxides (NOX) and influence tropospheric ozone concentrations. Ozone in the troposphere is a greenhouse gas and air pollutant, and a threat to human health and the environment.

In addition, BVOCs and their reaction products can also be incorporated into aerosol particles (so-called biogenic secondary organic aerosol), which can reduce the amount of radiative energy received by the Earth and thus cools the atmosphere.

How do soil BVOC emissions vary over space and time?

Soil BVOCs vary with different plant species and soils types. For example, coniferous needle litter can release both compounds stored in the needle tissue and microbial-produced compounds during decomposition. In contrast, litter of broadleaved trees, even though without stored compounds, can be more easily broken down by microbes than needle litter, thereby producing BVOCs. In spring and autumn, when photosynthesis is limited by low temperature and light, soil BVOC emissions from relatively fresh litter can exceed plant emissions.

How can soil BVOC fluxes be modeled?

State-of-the-art ecosystem models take into account decomposition processes in soils…but they do not simulate the production and consumption of BVOCs.State-of-the-art ecosystem models take into account decomposition processes in soils in order to estimate fluxes of carbon dioxide and sometimes methane, but they do not simulate the production and consumption of BVOCs. In such models, vegetation variation, substrate amount (for example, the amount of litter and soil organic carbon), and soil environmental variables (in changes with climate inputs) are generally considered.

Adding soil BVOC-related processes into such models would require using existing data from multiple ecosystems to derive mathematical relationships to link the fluxes with considered environmental variables and substrate variability in models. Our review further suggests starting to model compounds that are often reported in the literature (See Table 1 in our review article), as these microbial-produced compounds might represent the wide distribution of related microbes in soils. There might be a need for considering physical properties of different compounds for modeling gas transfer rates out from soils.

A schematic drawing of the soil BVOC model. The red box and arrows are the new processes related to soil BVOCs, while the black arrows show processes that have been traditionally included in ecosystem models. Credit: Tang et al. [2019], Figure 2What are the main challenges of integrating soil BVOC fluxes into ecosystem models for quantification? 

One challenge is that modeling soil BVOCs is unlike modeling carbon dioxide and methane, as some of the compounds can originate from intermediate products of chemical reactions, not only as a direct product from microbial decomposition and/or plant metabolism.

Another issue is that the compound composition of emissions from soils could depend on the microbial community composition, yet linking soil BVOC fluxes with microbial diversity is challenging for ecosystem models at this stage.

There is still considerable work to do in order to model soil BVOC-related fluxes in a realistic way and further quantify their impacts on the atmosphere.Furthermore, in field observations, it is difficult to separate understory plant emissions from belowground emissions. The measurements with removal of understory vegetation and/or roots inevitably change soil structure and microbial community. Some compounds might not occur in natural, undisturbed environment. With these data in hand for building models, we surely face uncertainties in the estimated emission composition and magnitude.

There is still considerable work to do in order to model soil BVOC-related fluxes in a realistic way and further quantify their impacts on the atmosphere. Our review suggests a modeling framework and could initiate modeling attempts for quantifying soil emissions at different scales.

—Jing Tang (jing.tang@bio.ku.dk;  0000-0001-7961-8214), Guy Schurgers ( 0000-0002-2189-1995), and Riikka Rinnan ( 0000-0001-7222-700X) University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Saturnalia Revisited, Rosalind Franklin, and Other Recommendations

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 12:43


Welp, ok, I think I'm done. I think I've processed all the color images from Cassini. Huh. Do we get to launch a new mission to Saturn now?https://t.co/m3wyRuovzg

— Kevin M. Gill (@kevinmgill) August 22, 2019

Wow. Oh, wow. If you thought you were done marveling at the beauty of Saturn just because the Cassini mission is over, think again.

—Kimberly Cartier, Staff Writer


“Rosalind Franklin” Mars Rover Assembly Completed. Construction of the rover named for the DNA pioneer, a collaboration between the European Space Agency and Roscosmos, was completed on Tuesday. It travels next from the Airbus facility in the United Kingdom to another in France for testing, before being launched in July 2020. The Franklin rover will be able to dig as deep as 2 meters into the Martian ground to search for signs of life. —Heather Goss, Editor in Chief


How Should We Talk About What’s Happening to Our Planet? An interesting take on how to talk about climate change. —Randy Showstack, Staff Writer


Is the Threat of “Fake Science” Real? Well, yes. Fake science includes not only outright fraud and state- and industry-sanctioned nudges but also the unintended consequences of innovation and academic policies. Great think piece. —Caryl-Sue, Managing Editor


Peer Reviewers Need a Code of Conduct Too.  Ask around and you’ll find that many current and former academics have been bullied by peer reviewers, usually early in their careers. It happened to me, too. Anonymous peer review is not a license to bully, haze, or terrorize other academics. Constructive criticism of science should do just that: build people up and help them become better scientists. —Kimberly Cartier, Staff Writer


“Coral in Volcanic Ash”; Medium: Carbonate and Silicate; Artist: Nature.

The Pearl – young, steam-driven ash surrounds a chunk of preexisting, high-standing coral in SE Oahu. Stephanie, #BYU #geology pic.twitter.com/wJDMef56PO

— Jani Radebaugh (@radjanirad) August 26, 2019

This mass of ancient coral surrounded by volcanic ash on Oahu is striking and almost mind-blowing, until you realize there’s a perfectly reasonable geologic explanation. Actually, even then it’s pretty mind-blowing—and even more striking. —Timothy Oleson, Science Editor


“Painting” the Ghost Forests of the Mid-Atlantic Coast. Rising sea levels are bringing saltwater farther inland, killing trees, and the resulting ghost forests are growing at an increasing rate. A photographer used an unusual process to explore the issue, producing haunting, evocative images. —Faith Ishii, Production Manager


No, This Island of Pumice Will Not Help Save the Great Barrier Reef.

This Manhattan-sized raft of floating rock was ejected by an undersea volcano in the waters surrounding the South Pacific island nation of Tonga. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Climate change wins again. Despite some recent news stories indicating that a huge chunk of pumice could bring new life to the Great Barrier Reef, others explain that these pumice rafts are nothing new and won’t counteract rising temperatures. —Tshawna Byerly, Copy Editor


Ousted Head of Science Agency Criticizes Brazil’s Denial of Deforestation Data and Plants Could Remove Six Years of Carbon Dioxide Emissions—If We Protect Them.

ESA astronaut @astro_luca captured a series of images of the #wildfires affecting the #Amazon rainforest during his #Beyond mission on board the @Space_Station, including this one… https://t.co/FpcxYmdNcj pic.twitter.com/xJm7Xcha0F

— ESA (@esa) August 26, 2019

The current increase in deforestation of the Amazon rain forest is unconscionable given the strikingly clear forecast of creating a degraded savanna with continued clear-cutting and new research showing just how efficiently trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. —Liz Castenson, Editorial and Production Coordinator


New Elevation Measure Shows Climate Change Could Quickly Swamp the Mekong Delta. As great as global satellite data are, ground truthing those data whenever possible is imperative, as this research shows. “The ground-truthed projection more than doubles the number of Vietnamese living in low-lying areas that will be inundated by encroaching seas, with some underwater in only a few decades.” —Timothy Oleson, Science Editor


Global Warming Is Conquering the Vikings.

Climate change is putting organic artifacts, such as those found at kitchen middens like these at Qajaa, Greenland, at risk. Credit: Joergen Hollesen, CC BY-4.0

A wealth of information may be lost forever as up to 70% of archaeological remains in the Arctic will likely decompose in the next 80 years. Such a shame. —Faith Ishii, Production Manager


Researchers Reproduce Processes Behind Astrophysical Shocks.

Researchers in the lab have reproduced the process behind shock waves driven by solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Credit: NASA/SDO

We just got a little closer to understanding the astrophysical shocks that come from solar flares and coronal mass ejections! Interestingly enough, the results didn’t come from space, but from the lab. An intriguing study. —Jenessa Duncombe, Staff Writer


Taking a Breath of the Wild: Are Geoscientists More Effective Than Non-geoscientists in Determining Whether Video Game World Landscapes Are Realistic?

Good news, everyone! It is OK to learn geology from your video game, so play on. —Liz Castenson, Editorial and Production Coordinator

Hunting for Planets Around Old, Anemic Stars

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 12:00

The first stars were made of hydrogen and helium. That hasn’t really changed, but each subsequent generation of stars has a bigger fraction of heavy elements like carbon, oxygen, silicon, and iron—elements needed to make planets.

How low can a star’s metallicity go and still form planets?Heavy elements make up only about 1.3% of the Sun’s mass. Astronomers call these elements metals and abbreviate their abundance with the atomic symbol for iron. Even at that low percentage, the Sun still had enough material to form eight planets, dozens of dwarf planets, and an uncounted number of smaller objects.

But how low can a star’s metallicity go and still form planets? To answer that question, Ji Wang and his team are turning to the oldest stars in the galaxy: galactic halo stars.

“Halo stars are the key to understanding planet formation in the very metal-poor regime,” said Wang, an astrophysicist at Ohio State University in Columbus. Wang discussed this project at Extreme Solar Systems IV in Reykjavík, Iceland, on 19 August.

Hiding in the Halo

Most stars in the Milky Way galaxy live in one of three places: a compact central bulge, a dense and thin spiral disk, or a diffuse cloudlike halo. Sometimes, halo stars plunge through the disk at high speeds and from random directions, like a comet streaking in from the cold reaches of the solar system before swooping outward again.

Those trajectories make halo stars stand out in surveys of stellar motion, like the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission. Halo stars also tend to be older and therefore more chemically primitive than disk stars.

Wang’s team turned to halo stars to find out how often low-metallicity stars create planets. Of Gaia’s catalog of 1.7 billion stars, the researchers narrowed their search to stars with halolike trajectories that are within about 3,000 light years of us and have less than 10% the amount of metals as the Sun. They narrowed that list to stars bright enough for NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to observe with high precision.

During the first half of its mission, TESS searched for planets around about 6,200 of the team’s chemically primitive target stars. The researchers focused on large, short-period objects called hot Jupiters, the type of planet most likely to transit.

“We didn’t find any planets,” Wang said. “This is okay because, even for the nondetection, we have put a very tight constraint on the occurrence rate around metal-poor stars.”

The team’s tests showed that TESS could have overlooked roughly half of potential hot Jupiters around these distant stars. On the basis of those statistics, the team calculated that hot Jupiters are born around metal-poor halo stars no more than 0.34% of the time.

Is It Age or Lack of Metals?

“It might be the case that old stars, regardless of their metallicity, are unlikely to have a hot Jupiter.”“This is really cool work. I think it’s a great idea,” Kevin Schlaufman, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., commented after the presentation. He pointed out, however, that some recent studies suggest that tidal interactions can make hot Jupiters crash into their stars. “If hot Jupiters are destroyed by tides, it might be the case that old stars, regardless of their metallicity, are unlikely to have a hot Jupiter.”

One way to resolve that issue, according to Wang, would be to look for metal-poor stars among the younger disk stars. But this would be like looking for a handful of needles in a haystack: Disk stars far outnumber halo stars, and they are mostly metal rich. Finding the few metal-poor stars would be a big task, he said.

The team estimates that TESS will observe about another 10,000 metal-poor halo stars by the end of next year, which will narrow down how often anemic stars create giant planets, Wang said.

“With the full sample, we could set a 0.14% upper limit if there are still zero detections,” he said.

In the meantime, “we can still look for small planets, although with a lower detection efficiency,” Wang said. “There are still a few planets we could detect around these halo stars.”

—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer

Scientists Share Results of Dust Belt Research

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 11:57

The area from the west Sahara through the Middle East and Central Asia to the Gobi desert is often called the “dust belt,” an expansive region where winds stir up frequent and often severe dust storms.

The dust belt consists of natural dust sources, such as the Sahara and Gobi deserts, and human-induced sources like the Aralkum, the arid and salty swathe in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that continues to emerge as the inland Aral Sea dries. In a changing climate, the countries located in this area suffer from the dust in a variety of ways because of its negative effects on air quality, human and environmental health, and economic activity, for example. Furthermore, dust originating from sources in the dust belt does not just stay local but is also distributed by wind and weather to remote regions. It is thus important to better understand the composition, transport, and effects of the dust.

Credit: Dietrich Althausen

The first Central Asian Dust Conference (CADUC) took place recently in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, bringing together about 80 scientists from 17 countries. Four topics were addressed at the conference: dust at sources, dust in transport, dust sinks, and the impacts of dust. Six extended oral contributions presented overviews of the topics of the conference, whereas another 43 talks reported specific research results.

The first session comprised presentations of studies on dust sources, which are often made using space-based observations. Outputs of these investigations reported at the conference included new inventories of dust sources; parameters and methods for the assessment of dust sources; characteristics of recently developing sources, such as Lake Urmia in Iran; the observation that saline dust storms are becoming more frequent; dust flux estimates; and identification of dust transport pathways in western Asia.

Results reported during the second session focused on particle properties and measurements of long-range transported dust from the Sahara to East Asia; dust lofted up to heights of 11 kilometers; the mixing and aging of dust with other particles; parameters for identifying dust from remote and in situ observations and for the representation of dust in models; vertically resolved, ground-based dust measurements in Central Asia; long-term, space-based, and vertically resolved dust measurements from the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) instrument, part of the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) mission; the electrostatic charging of dust during atmospheric transport; and long-range dust transport from the dust belt to places as far away as Moscow.

The dust belt (enclosed by yellow dashes) stretches from the Sahara desert in Africa to the Gobi desert in central and East Asia. Credit: Adapted from Hofer et al., 2017, https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-17-14559-2017, CC BY 4.0

In the third session, participants discussed the chemical and mineralogical constituents of Central Asian dust with comparisons to Saharan dust; Aralkum as a human-made dust source; possible, although not yet identified, pathways of dust down mixing in the atmosphere; mixing of dust with particles produced through anthropogenic activity in Central Asia; and dust transported to regions west and north of Central Asia such as Georgia and Siberia.

The fourth session addressed the impacts of dust. Following a broad overview about dust hazards, several presenters examined meteorological impacts of dust resulting from its ability to serve as ice-nucleating particles and alter radiative fluxes. Additionally, speakers presented results from studies of the health impacts of dust containing toxic metals, bacterial transport over long distances aboard dust, how different dusts affect bacterial survival, and plant growth under dust-induced stress.

All abstracts from the conference are open access and are published in the conference proceedings. Conference participants agreed that future CADUC meetings should be held to follow up on this first conference.

We are very grateful to the nonprofit Volkswagen Foundation for its support of the conference.

Author Information

Dietrich Althausen (dietrich.althausen@tropos.de), Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research, Leipzig, Germany; Sabur Abdullaev, Physical-Technical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, Dushanbe; and Julian Hofer, Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research, Leipzig, Germany

How the Ocean’s “Shadow Zone” Breathes

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 11:56

Deep within the eastern North Pacific Ocean lies the “shadow zone,” a massive reservoir of nearly stagnant seawater trapped between the ocean floor and shallower currents. Oxygen levels in this zone are vanishingly low—less than 5 millimoles per cubic meter, compared to more than 200 millimoles per cubic meter at the ocean surface—and the only organisms that thrive there are anaerobic microbes. A new study traces the sources of oxygen pulses that periodically refresh the shadow zone, offering findings that could help scientists predict how climate change will affect oxygen-depleted seas.

Oxygen deficient zones (ODZs) like the North Pacific shadow zone occupy only 0.35% of the ocean’s volume worldwide. Yet they are growing as ocean oxygen levels drop—a trend linked to global warming that threatens marine ecosystems—and play an important role in global biogeochemical cycles: The anaerobic microbes that live in these zones, for example, use up roughly half the ocean’s nitrogen, producing the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. In addition, ODZs affect concentrations of trace metals such as dissolved iron in seawater, which phytoplankton like diatoms require to grow. Phytoplankton are the foundation of marine food webs and remove vast quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

To study how oxygen-rich water enters the North Pacific shadow zone, Margolskee et al.  examined oxygen measurements from Argo floats, a vast array of autonomous sensors that drift the world’s oceans, and from the World Ocean Database. They also used a computational technique called Lagrangian particle tracking to trace specific parcels of oxygen-rich water back to their origins.

The shadow zone receives infusions of oxygen more frequently than previously thought, the team found, with oxygen arriving by several routes. For example, oxygenated water is delivered via eddies spinning off the eastward flowing North Equatorial Countercurrent along the zone’s southern boundary and via deep, narrow flows called the North Equatorial Undercurrent jets along the northwestern boundary.

The computer models used today to simulate global ocean circulation and climate don’t accurately reproduce the fine-scale dynamics of such currents or the frequent intrusions of oxygen observed to occur within ODZs. Nor do they reliably predict how changes in ODZs will alter nitrogen and carbon cycles. By incorporating the sort of high-resolution modeling and particle tracking used in the new study into these models, scientists may be able to more accurately forecast how the North Pacific shadow zone and other ODZs will respond to climate change. (Global Biogeochemical Cycles, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018GB006149, 2019)

—Emily Underwood, Freelance Writer

Space Weather Drives Power Grid Anomalies in Europe

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 11:30

Space weather research is often of practical interest beyond the scientific community given its potential impact on the infrastructure upon which modern society relies. For example, there are statistical correlations between anomalies in the power-distribution networks of mid-latitude countries and geomagnetic activity.

Výbošťoková and Švanda [2019] have added evidence for this relationship by making the first such study of a European power-transmission network, complementing previous studies in the United States, such as Schrijver et al. [2014]. These statistical studies help us to understand the impacts of day-to-day space weather on power grids, a poorly understood issue when compared to the disruptive effects arising from severe space weather.

It is strategically important that the space weather community develop an understanding of the full range of impacts on power grids, from both everyday and severe space weather, and this result is a valuable step towards that objective.

Citation: Výbošt’oková, T., & Švanda, M. [2019]. Statistical analysis of the correlation between anomalies in the Czech electric power grid and geomagnetic activity. Space Weather, 17. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019SW002181

—Michael A. Hapgood, Editor, Space Weather

The Kuroshio Current: Artery of Life

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 11:41

The Kuroshio Current is one of the major ocean currents. It begins east of the Philippines then flows in a northeastward direction past Taiwan and Japan. It forms the western side of the clockwise North Pacific Ocean gyre. A new book just published by AGU explores the physical, biogeochemical, and ecosystem dynamics of the Kuroshio Current. Here, one of the editors explains what makes this particular ocean current so interesting and what further research is needed to better understand its characteristics and impacts.

What are some of the key characteristics of the Kuroshio Current?

The surface water of the Kuroshio moves rapidly, transporting heat, salt, organic and inorganic matter from south to north.The surface waters of the Kuroshio Current are warm and salty. This is because the Kuroshio starts in the tropics where the westward flowing North Equatorial Current reaches the western boundary of the North Pacific.

The surface water of the Kuroshio moves rapidly at speeds of around two meters per second, transporting a large amount of heat, salt, organic and inorganic matter from south to north.

The streaks of warm water can be clearly seen in satellite images in spring. The water looks almost transparent because there are no small marine floating organisms; this is because the surface waters of the Kuroshio origin are nutrient poor. Despite the nutrient poor conditions, many pelagic fish species use the Kuroshio region for their spawning and migrations. This is known as the “Kuroshio Paradox.”

How does this ocean current influence life on the Japanese archipelago?

The path of the Kuroshio Current near Japan. Credit: Nagai et al. (eds.) [2019], Figure 1.1bThe main physical influence is on the local weather since air temperatures tend to be controlled by heat in ocean surface waters.

Because the Kuroshio Current carries warmer water from south to north, transported heat often induces cloud formations increasing the chance of rain and changing the path of storms.

For example, if the Kuroshio takes a large meander during the winter season, paths of low pressure shift southward near Honshu Island, in turn increasing the chance of snows in Tokyo.

The Kuroshio also has important economic, social, and cultural significance in Japan. The rich waters support a large fishing industry which is significant in a society where fish is the main source of protein in the diet. In addition, many Kuroshio species, such as Skipjack tuna, lobster, and turban shell are offered in traditional ceremonies at shrines.

There is interannual variability in the behavior of the Kuroshio, which has a knock-on effect on nutrient transport and thus biological production and the associated fisheries industry, but the reasons for these connections are still unknown.

Is there an explanation for the “Kuroshio Paradox”?

Possible spawning migrations of Notoscopelus japonicus in relation to the oceanic fronts in the western North Pacific. Credit: Nagai et al. (eds.) [2019], Figure 17.1aThe reason for rich fish stocks being found in nutrient poor waters has been a compelling question for many ocean scientists. The key to unravelling the mystery may lie underneath the nutrient poor waters at the surface.

Recent studies show that the Kuroshio transports a large amount of nutrients in dark subsurface layers from south to north as a nutrient stream.

South of Honshu Island, the Kuroshio Current frequently draws Kuroshio waters into coastal regions. This not only pulls the warm surface waters towards land but also the lower layers of nutrient rich water.

How does the Kuroshio Current affect the climate?

The Kuroshio Extension is one of the major net carbon dioxide sinks for the Earth’s atmosphere.Recent studies of ocean biogeochemistry show that the area downstream of the Kuroshio—the Kuroshio Extension—east of Honshu Island, is one of the major net carbon dioxide sinks for the Earth’s atmosphere, similar to the Gulf Stream Extension in the North Atlantic. These “carbon hotspots” absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and send it to the bottom of the ocean.

Researchers are still exploring why the Kuroshio Extension and Gulf Stream Extension are the regions of largest net CO2 absorption.

The book presents observational and modeling studies conducted as part of a ten-year study of “Kuroshio ecosystem dynamics for sustainable fisheries” funded by the Japanese government. Credit: Takeyoshi Nagai

One of the reasons is that the warm waters transported from south to north are cooled as they move to northwards, which increases their ability to absorb CO2.

Another possible explanation is phytoplankton photosynthesis in these regions.

Further research is needed to better understand of the role of the Kuroshio nutrient stream in forming the CO2 sink in order to better predict ocean responses and feedbacks to climate variabilities in future.

What are some of the challenges of studying the Kuroshio Current?

The greatest challenge is to accommodate varieties of scale—both in space and time—at which important physical processes occur.

The greatest challenge is to accommodate varieties of scale, all of which are required for a comprehensive understanding of the physical, biogeochemical and ecosystem dynamics of the Kuroshio.We can study the Kuroshio on an ocean basin scale covering several thousand kilometers; studies suggest that the current varies on a decadal timescale in response to changes in the atmosphere.

We can study eddies, which span several hundred kilometers; research suggests that these emanate from the Kuroshio on a timescale of weeks to months.

We can also study ocean fronts, which can break into smaller flows on a scale of hundreds to tens of hundreds of meters and timescales as short as days.

In turn, these interact with subsurface ocean waves and trigger microscale turbulence at several tens of meters to millimeters.

All of these scales are required for a comprehensive understanding of the physical, biogeochemical and ecosystem dynamics of the Kuroshio. However, it is not yet possible to resolve all the scales at the same time both in the observations and in the numerical simulations.

What is certain is that the curious characteristics of the Kuroshio Current will keep scientists busy for many decades to come.

Kuroshio Current: Physical, Biogeochemical, and Ecosystem Dynamics, 2019, 336 pp., ISBN: 978-1-119-42834-3, list price $199.95 (hardcover), $159.99 (e-book)

Takeyoshi Nagai (email: takeyoshi@gmail.com), Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, Japan

Editor’s Note: It is the policy of AGU Publications to invite the authors or editors of newly published books to write a summary for Eos Editors’ Vox.

Scientists Rescue Historical Data Taken on Floating Ice Island

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 11:40

Measurements collected on a scientific drift station half a century ago were published for the first time this summer, dramatically increasing the number of heat flow readings of the Arctic seafloor.

The data hail from places so remote in the Arctic Ocean that researchers would typically need a submarine or icebreaker to reach them. Scientists took the measurements while living on a massive iceberg that had broken off from an ice sheet, called an ice island, between 1963 and 1973.

“A lot of these places have never been visited again by anyone.”The study, released 10 July in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, is the first in-depth look at marine heat flow measurements of the western Arctic Ocean. The data provide clues to the geologic history of the region, one of the final sections of seafloor whose origin and age remain unclear.

“These men spent months and months on this island under extreme conditions just to get the science,” said lead author Carolyn Ruppel, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) based in Woods Hole, Mass. “A lot of these places have never been visited again by anyone.”


Researchers set up camp on Fletcher’s Ice Island, also known as T3, during the Cold War as part of a strategic and scientific campaign. The ice island stretched more than 77 square kilometers, an area larger than Manhattan, and its level surface made it ideal for landing aircraft. The U.S. Air Force established a weather station on the island in the 1950s, after first spotting the island on reconnaissance flights in 1946.

Parachutes with food, fuel, and spare parts rain down on the ice island from a Navy aircraft in June 1969. Credit: D. Scoboria/USGS

A collection of other government agencies, university research groups, and indigenous residents employed by the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory began scientific studies on the ice island in the following decades, conducting meteorological, oceanographic, and geophysical surveys from the island. Before satellites, the researchers living on the island tracked their location with techniques similar to those of early 20th century Arctic explorers, using a theodolite to note the position of the Sun and the stars.

The latest study publishes temperature measurements of the Arctic seafloor, known as marine heat flow data, taken by USGS starting in 1963. The data describe how much thermal energy is transferred through ocean sediments, measured by metal probes several meters long that pierced the seabed. Marine heat flow data were instrumental in discovering seafloor spreading in the 1960s, a crucial component of the theory of plate tectonics, and scientists use it as one way to weave together the geologic story of an ocean basin.

The Mysterious Western Arctic Ocean

Geologists collected the bulk of the world’s marine heat flow data during a flurry of ocean exploration in the mid-20th century. Researchers raced around the globe, probing the seafloor for temperature readings from shallow plateaus to deep-sea trenches. As they filled in maps with data, one area remained largely untouched: the western Arctic Ocean.

“It’s the largest area of seafloor in the world that we don’t know how, or exactly when, it formed,” Matt O’Regan, a research scientist in the Department of Geological Sciences at Stockholm University in Sweden, told Eos. The Arctic’s western half is framed by two Canadian territories, Northwest Territories and Yukon, and the U.S. state of Alaska. “There have been decades of debate about how it actually came into existence,” O’Regan said.

Part of the mystery, said O’Regan, was due to a lack of heat flow measurements available in the region. Before the study’s publication, heat flow measurements of the deep western Arctic Ocean totaled only 25 data points. USGS scientists collected 356 marine heat flow measurements while camped on the ice floe, increasing the number of measurements in the area by more than 15.

O’Regan called the newly released data “a fantastic contribution.”

“It’s really one of these great legacy data sets,” he said.

Restoring a Lost Data Set

Until now, “it was effectively a lost data set.”At the end of the experiment on Fletcher’s Ice Island, Ruppel said that USGS quickly shifted focus, directing its scientists to study the North Slope of Alaska, where petroleum interests had grown. The researchers published a few summaries of the marine heat flow measurements, but until now, she said, “it was effectively a lost data set.”

Working on a data set taken more than half a century ago was challenging, said Ruppel, because she didn’t have intimate knowledge of the equipment and experimental methods. The measurements from the study were collected before Ruppel left elementary school, and many of the people involved have since passed away.

Ruppel worked with one of the surviving researchers, retired USGS scientist and study coauthor Art Lachenbruch, who orchestrated experiments on Fletcher’s Ice Island and published preliminary interpretations of a small portion of the data in the 1960s.

Piecing together information from online chat boards, interviews, and old reports, Ruppel re-created metadata for the study.

USGS technicians took marine heat flow measurements in this building, called the Hydrohut. The hut surrounded a hole in the ice through which the heat flow probe descended to reach the ocean and seafloor below. Credit: D. Scoboria/USGS

The latest paper contains the first thorough analysis of the heat flow data, pairing it with seismic data taken since the 2000s. The authors used a simple numerical model to test predictions against the observed data. Among other findings, the study suggests that shallowly circulating fluid in the ocean crust may be one factor contributing to heat flow measurements varying substantially throughout the study area.

Andy Fisher, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz who was not involved with the research, called the data “scattered” because researchers had no control over where the ice island went. But, Fisher went on to say, the trove of measurements is “really important for helping to motivate more careful, more fine-scale work.”

Fisher, who has studied marine heat flow measurements for much of his career, called seeing the data “thrilling.”

Renewed interest in marine heat flow data has blossomed in the past 10 years, according to O’Regan. Scientists studying the biogeochemistry of the seafloor, the fate of frozen stores of methane called marine hydrates, and the slow degradation of permafrost are turning to marine heat flow as an important foundation for their experiments.

Although the latest study brings to light data from deeper waters far from the continental shelf where many of the contemporary studies take place, said O’Regan, “you really need this sort of continuum out into the deep basin to see how things evolve and why they’re changing.”

For Fisher, the legacy of the data lies not only in what they could help scientists uncover but also as an homage to those that took the data in the first place. “This was a serious campaign,” he said. “This data was hard won.”

“People were camped out for years,” Fisher added. “They could have been lost to history. These authors brought them to life.”

—Jenessa Duncombe (@jrdscience), News Writing and Production Fellow

Global Warming Is Conquering the Vikings

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 11:34

In Norse mythology, there are many myths that once known, are now lost. But the Norse, of course, left behind more than their tales. They also left behind their things and, in places like Anavik, on the western coast of Greenland, their dead.

And long before Vikings came to Greenland, the indigenous Inuit people left behind mummies, as well as hair with intact DNA.

As the world warms, remains like those at Anavik and the Corpse Headlands will decompose before archaeologists are ever able to unearth them.Elsewhere in the Arctic, on an icy island called Spitsbergen, there’s a place called the Corpse Headlands, where there are graves filled with the bodies of 17th and 18th century whalers. When archeologists excavated the site in the 1970s, they found down-filled pillows, mittens, and pants sewn together from pieces of other pants.

The Arctic’s ice helps preserve these snippets of human history. But snippets of organic material rot when it’s hot, and new research is finding that as the world warms, remains like those at Anavik and Corpse Headlands will decompose before archaeologists are ever able to unearth them.

“The microbial degradation of the organic carbon is really temperature dependent,” said Jørgen Hollesen, a geographer at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

To get a clearer picture of the warming, Hollesen and his team installed weather stations at five sites in western Greenland, where they measured soil temperature and water content. Inland sites, they found, get less rain overall than coastal sites, and they also tend to be hotter. Such dryness and hotness, Hollesen said, create ripe conditions for decomposition because bacteria that decompose organic matter have more air to breathe.

Rapid Decomposition

The team then modeled, under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, just how much decomposition they might expect to see in the next century.

They found that instead of Arctic archaeological remains taking at least a century or more to fully decompose, up to 70% will likely vanish in the next 80 years. In Greenland alone, there are over 6,000 registered archaeological sites. This number includes both Norse and Inuit sites.

Human remains, like this mummified infant unearthed at Qilakitsoq, are threatened by changes brought by a warming climate to the soil of Greenland. Credit: National Museum of Denmark

“We cannot afford the luxury of thinking that heritage sites preserved underground are preserved,” said Vibeke Vandrup Martens, an archaeologist with the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research who was not involved in the new Scientific Reports study.

Vandrup Martens studies remains on Svalbard that stand a good chance of decomposing at a rapid pace over the coming years, and she hopes this new research will help archaeologists like her when it comes to prioritizing which of those sites they need to work to preserve. “It’s a question of choosing, or just accepting having lost it,” she said.

It’s still not possible to say what kinds of remains, be they bones or clothes or wood, will decompose first. But finding that out is what Hollesen wants to do next by keeping an eye on what kinds of remains appear to be decomposing the fastest.

“We don’t know which ones contain something that could be fantastic,” he said. “You don’t know what you haven’t found yet.”

—Lucas Joel, Freelance Journalist

Accounting for the Fact that Snow Falls Slower than Rain

Mon, 08/26/2019 - 12:53

Satellite estimates of precipitation are the only way to achieve the complete spatial coverage needed to understand how the water cycle may respond to warming, specifically, whether it speeds up or slows down. These estimates rely on indirect measures such the brightness temperature of cloud tops, which need to be calibrated with ground-based observations.

You et al. [2019] highlight the need to consider the time lag between satellite retrievals and ground-based estimates of precipitation, especially in the case of snowfall, when correcting the former with the latter. While the lag is small—of the order of a fraction of an hour—it is significant on climate time scales in reducing apparent discrepancies between the two types of measurements. This is therefore relevant to improved monitoring and understanding of the global water cycle.

Citation: You, Y., Meng, H., Dong, J., & Rudlosky, S. [2019]. Time‐lag correlation between passive microwave measurements and surface precipitation and its impact on precipitation retrieval evaluation. Geophysical Research Letters, 46, 8415–8423. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019GL083426

—Alessandra Giannini, Editor, Geophysical Research Letters

Researchers Reproduce Processes Behind Astrophysical Shocks

Mon, 08/26/2019 - 11:44

Astrophysical shock waves associated with solar flares and coronal mass ejections contribute to space weather that can affect life on (and above) Earth by disrupting cell phone signals and damaging satellites.

Particle velocity distributions and other spacecraft-collected data can be used to solve mysteries about these collisionless shocks and their precursors. However, significant problems still exist with these measurements.

“Spacecraft [data] remain fundamentally limited, as they rely on the inherently noisy process of sampling shock crossings through multiple orbits and have difficulty gauging large-scale, 3D effects due to undersampling,” researchers wrote in a study published 21 June in Physical Review Letters.

For decades, researchers have been trying to understand shock formation and the properties of shocks, but it’s only recently that they have had the diagnostic capabilities to examine these events more closely.“Up in space, things are always changing,” said Dan Winske, a retired laboratory fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory who wasn’t involved with this study. Even if spacecraft visit the same locations multiple times, he said, the original measurements may not be reproducible.

“That’s why lab experiments are undertaken in this field,” he noted.

And now for the first time, researchers have observed “time-resolved electron and ion velocity distributions in magnetized collisionless shock precursors” in such lab experiments. They also detected direct evidence of events necessary for the shocks to form, including piston and ambient plasma coupling and piston ion flow deformation.

The team’s experiments, conducted at the University of Rochester’s Omega Laser Facility, relied on Thomson scattering of a probe laser beam. This technique enabled the researchers to collect time-resolved data on the system’s electron density, temperature, and ion flow speed. The researchers also used two-dimensional proton radiography to map the system’s spatially resolved magnetic fields.

These are “very nice results,” Winske said. For the past 4 to 5 decades, researchers have been trying to understand shock formation and the properties of shocks, but it’s only recently that they have had the diagnostic capabilities to examine these events more closely, he noted.

A Tricky Experimental Setup

Although the existence of Thomson scattering is well known, few researchers have applied it in this context, said Derek Schaeffer, an associate research scholar in Princeton University’s Department of Astrophysical Sciences and lead author of the study. Thomson scattering is “a very powerful diagnostic,” but it’s also “a difficult diagnostic to use well,” Schaeffer said.

The technique utilizes lenses to collect scattered light from laser beams, but those beams are only tens of micrometers wide, Schaeffer said. Thus, even a slight misalignment of the lenses can interfere with their collection of the scattered light.

Also, the technique is most suitable for use with high-density plasmas because they produce the scattering signals needed to result in selective, coherent spectra, Schaeffer said. Laser plasmas can meet this criterion, but there are few laser facilities available, he noted.

Next Steps

Because this experiment didn’t lead to the formation of a shock, Winske said the researchers “need to run it longer.”

Schaeffer, however, said that stopping short of shock formation was “as much out of necessity as anything else.”

In a laboratory setting, it’s challenging to make shocks form with present technology because these experiments are fast paced and energy intensive and “take a lot of magnetic volume,” Schaeffer said. Because incorporating Thomson scattering already made the experiment complex, the researchers opted to stop the experiment at the shock precursor stage.

Going forward, Schaeffer and his colleagues plan to expand their recent experiments to more closely replicate the type of measurements taken in space.

Although the measurements reported in this study were taken in only one direction, “spacecraft probe all three dimensions,” Schaeffer said. Space observations have revealed that in the same area, plasma can behave differently in different directions, so Schaeffer and his colleagues want to make it possible for their laboratory experiments to also reflect this reality.

For the near future, collecting multidirectional data will likely entail setting up the experiment in one direction as was done in the present study, taking the measurements, and then manually resetting the experiment for a different direction, Schaeffer said. However, emerging technologies may eventually make it possible to rotate the setup during experiments without the need for a manual reconfiguration of the components, he noted.

—Rachel Crowell (@writesRCrowell), Science Journalist

Devastating Floods Hit India for the Second Year in a Row

Mon, 08/26/2019 - 11:44

Extreme monsoon rains have come to India for the second year in a row, causing millions to flee their homes and leading to more than a thousand deaths since May.

Both 2018 and 2019 brought flooding that would be expected only once every hundred years.Several Indian states experienced extreme precipitation in early August, causing rivers to flood their banks and hillsides to give way. In the state of Kerala, on India’s southwest coast, 121 people have died, and more than 83,000 have taken refuge in relief camps, according to the Times of India. The most casualties have occurred in the state of Maharashtra, where 245 people have died, reported AccuWeather.

The flooding comes on the heels of disastrous flooding last year that left nearly 500 dead in Kerala and over 1,200 causalities across India. Both 2018 and 2019 brought flooding that would be expected only once every hundred years.

A Warming Atmosphere

Very little rain fell in India during the first 2 months of the monsoon season this year, and scientists worried about a water deficit. Yet starting 7 August, 453.4 millimeters of rain fell on Kerala in just 6 days, according to the Times of India. The amount is nearly 5 times above the average of 92.6 millimeters. The heavy rain swept through towns, stranded fisherman, and crumbled buildings.

The onset of heavy rain came from an atmospheric disturbance called a monsoon depression that formed over the Bay of Bengal in early August. Monsoon depressions are common during monsoon season, but what was unusual was the intensity of the rain that fell in such a short time.

Arathy Menon, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, suggests two distinct changes to the Indian monsoon due to a global warming.

“Based on only a few years of data, it is really difficult to directly, scientifically attribute the whole responsibility of these two flood events to global warming.”In a 2013 paper, Menon and her colleagues found that climate change may make India’s monsoon rains more variable day to day. Deluges one day and blue skies the next can lead to flooding and complicate agricultural processes as well as access and availability to water supplies, according to the paper.

Second, Menon said that her current research shows that the Western Ghats, a mountain range that spans six Indian states, will have higher-intensity rainfall because of climate change. Warming air temperatures from global warming are causing the atmosphere to hold more moisture because warmer air can carry more water vapor. When monsoon winds carry more moisture, they bring more intense rainstorms. This phenomenon is particularly true in the mountains, where the steep slopes push water-logged air upward, causing it to condense and rain out.

The Western Ghats run through Kerala and Maharashtra, both states hard-hit by this year’s monsoon rains. Menon cautions against attributing the recent floods to climate change, however.

“Based on only a few years of data, it is really difficult to directly, scientifically attribute the whole responsibility of these two flood events to global warming,” Menon said. “But global warming has the potential to increase the extreme precipitation events in the future.”

Landslide Risk

The rain also triggered destructive landslides in mountainous regions. A landslide on 8 August killed 46 at Kavalappara in Kerala’s Malappuram district, and officials are still searching for 13 missing more than a week later.

Thomas Oommen, an associate professor at Michigan Technological University who studies landslide hazards in Kerala, told Eos that over 3,000 landslides have occurred in the Western Ghats in the past 2 years from the excess rain.

When asked about the deadly landslide in Kavalappara, Oommen said that he had not toured the site, but he’d heard the news reports of a dozen or more quarries near the slide. “That’s quite a lot of quarries to be in one area,” he said.

Oommen traveled to Kerala after the 2018 floods to survey recent landslides, as reported in Eos. His research team found that most of the landslides surveyed occurred at sites with recent construction. New construction can lead to water pooling under the surface, becoming heavier and heavier until the hillside gives way. Constructing quarries for mining, clearing native vegetation for cash crops, and building new infrastructure change the path of water running over the landscape.

Despite the magnitude of last year’s disaster, which wiped out villages, roads, and power lines in the hilly districts of Kerala, Oommen said that the local government has yet to change their land use strategy. “There has not been much done. That’s the sad part,” Oommen said. He said that political will, both of the public and of the elected officials, is needed to prevent future risk.

“People in Kerala have been shaken by this repeat event from last year,” Oommen said. “I hope this second event has even been a second wake up call.”

In addition to his scientific work, Oommen said he is working to bridge science with policy making. Recently, he flew to Mumbai to consult on disaster management education and research.

“We have done some research, we have identified some of the vulnerable areas,” he said of his past scientific surveys. “We need to actually lead this to action.”

—Jenessa Duncombe (@jrdscience), News Writing and Production Fellow

Tropical Corals Are Migrating Away from Warming Waters

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 11:32

While millions of human refugees are expected to mass migrate in response to the climate crisis, much is still unknown about how other species, on land and underwater, will respond to changing conditions. A large, international team of researchers recently explored how the worldwide geographical distribution of coral recruitment has been changing over time.“These data add to the increasing documentation of the ‘tropicalization’ of temperate systems.”

“Despite widespread climate-driven reductions of coral cover on tropical reefs, little attention has been paid to the possibility that changes in the geographic distribution of coral recruitment could facilitate beneficial responses to the changing climate through latitudinal range shifts,” the researchers wrote.

The team’s analysis, published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series, indicates that although global coral recruitment has declined by 82% and plummeted by 85% in the tropics since 1974, recruitment in the subtropics has jumped by 78% over that time period.

“Thus, coral recruitment appears to be moving poleward,” Mark Hay, an experimental marine ecologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, wrote in an email to Eos. Hay, who wasn’t involved with the report, added, “These data add to the increasing documentation of the ‘tropicalization’ of temperate systems.”

First of Its Kind

The report is “the first of its kind at this scale,” said Nichole Price. She’s a benthic marine ecologist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine, and the lead author of the study.

“The novelty of the study is in its temporal and spatial scale, the broad extent of the data presented, and in focusing on a critical process (recruitment) that is rarely investigated over such scales,” Hay wrote. “The study covered five continents, nearly four decades (1972–2012), and greater than 1,200 records of coral recruitment,” he added.

Price and her colleagues analyzed data from 92 studies (including 68 published and 24 unpublished) furnishing 1,253 records of coral recruitment.

The researchers examined studies focusing on recruitment to deployed settlement tiles. The team’s main conclusions about coral recruitment trends were based on tiles that had been deployed for at least 3 months. Most of the included tiles were made of terracotta (or another ceramic material), with some composed of polyvinyl chloride, acrylic, or calcium carbonate. Their areas ranged from 0.01 to 1.5 square meters.

The majority of the tiles (96%) were deployed at depths of 20 meters or less. The analysis included only tiles deployed on fringing reefs, on barrier reefs, or in lagoons. “Following a period of immersion, the numbers of coral recruits (typically ≤1 cm diameter) settled on the tiles are counted under magnification, and are usually reported as density (i.e. number of recruits per area or tile) for each deployment,” Price and her colleagues wrote in the study.

“For any large data compilation such as this” covering “global-scale patterns over multiple decades,” researchers often encounter “issues of variance due to patterns being potentially confounded in time, space, methodologies, etc., but this is such a large data set and the patterns [are] clear enough that I find the documentation both convincing and useful,” Hay wrote.

“Additionally, the variance that is inevitable in such studies makes it more likely that real patterns will be  missed rather than false patterns found,” he noted.

Are Corals Finding Climate Refuge?

Though the tropical and worldwide declines still outweigh the boost in subtropical recruitment, these results provide a “glimmer of hope.”Though the tropical and worldwide declines still outweigh the boost in subtropical recruitment, these results provide a “glimmer of hope,” Price said. The numbers suggest that some corals “may find refuge” in the face of rising temperatures and other oceanic conditions ill suited to their survival, she noted.

Still, the long-term effects of relocation on corals are unknown. Differences in environmental factors in the subtropics, such as light availability and seasonal temperature variations, could impact coral populations, Price said. Researchers also don’t know how interactions with other organisms, especially kelp, will play out.

This coral reef and seaweed are both growing in the waters off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan. Tropical reef-building corals and kelp don’t naturally exist in the same locations, but that’s changing with coral reef migration. Credit: Soyoka Muko/Nagasaki University

Both kelp and reef-building corals behave as ecosystem engineers, constructing three-dimensional structures that serve as homes for other living organisms, Price noted. Only time will tell whether their habitation of the same space will lead to competition or some form of coexistence.

Another possibility? The climate crisis might also drive kelp species to migrate, Price said.

—Rachel Crowell (@writesRCrowell), Science Journalist

2019 AGU Union Medal, Award, and Prize Recipients Announced

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 13:58

Each year, AGU honors individuals for their outstanding achievements, contributions, and service to the Earth and space science community. AGU medals are the highest honors bestowed by the Union. In this, AGU’s Centennial year, when we commemorate the past and look to the future, we recognize individuals for their body of scientific work and sustained impact within the Earth and space science community. AGU Union awards and prizes recognize individuals who have demonstrated excellence in scientific research, education, communication, and outreach.

This distinguished group of honorees—scientists, leaders, educators, journalists, and communicators—embodies AGU’s mission of promoting discovery in Earth and space science for the benefit of humanity.

On behalf of AGU’s Honors and Recognition Committee, the selection committees, and AGU leaders and staff, we are pleased to present the recipients of AGU’s 2019 Union medals, awards, and prizes and honor the important role they play in amplifying the voice of the Earth and space community while inspiring other scientists to help improve lives around the world.

We appreciate everyone who has shown support and commitment to AGU’s Honors Program. Our dedicated volunteers gave valuable time as members of selection committees to choose this year’s Union medal, award, and prize recipients. We also thank all the nominators and supporters who made this possible through their steadfast efforts to nominate and recognize their colleagues.

Celebrate at Fall Meeting

We look forward to celebrating our honorees’ profound contributions at this year’s Honors Ceremony and Banquet, to be held Wednesday, 11 December, at Fall Meeting 2019 in San Francisco, Calif.

Please join us in congratulating our esteemed class of 2019 Union honorees listed below.

—Robin Bell, President, AGU; and Mary Anne Holmes (agu_unionhonors@agu.org), Chair, Honors and Recognition Committee, AGU



William Bowie Medal Barbara A. Romanowicz, University of California, Berkeley; Collège de France; and Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris

James B. Macelwane Medal Amir AghaKouchak, University of California, Irvine Anton Artemyev, University of California, Los Angeles Emily V. Fischer, Colorado State University Francis A. Macdonald, University of California, Santa Barbara Erik van Sebille, Utrecht University

John Adam Fleming Medal Michelle F. Thomsen, Planetary Science Institute

Walter H. Bucher Medal Leigh Royden, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Maurice Ewing Medal Maureen E. Raymo, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University

Robert E. Horton Medal S. Majid Hassanizadeh, Utrecht University

Harry H. Hess Medal Richard J. Walker, University of Maryland, College Park

Roger Revelle Medal Eugenia Kalnay, University of Maryland, College Park

Inge Lehmann Medal Ulrich R. Christensen, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research

Joanne Simpson Medal for Mid-Career Scientists Penelope L. King, Australian National University Ann Pearson, Harvard University Fuqing Zhang, Pennsylvania State University

Devendra Lal Memorial Medal Kuljeet Kaur Marhas, Physical Research Laboratory


Ambassador Award Sunanda Basu, National Science Foundation (Ret.) Alik Ismail-Zadeh, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology Margaret Leinen, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Constance Millar, Pacific Southwest Research Station, U.S. Forest Service Lixin Wu, Ocean University of China

Edward A. Flinn III Award James Broda, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Athelstan Spilhaus Award Brian May, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE)

International Award Susan Elizabeth Hough, U.S. Geological Survey

Excellence in Earth and Space Science Education Award David J. P. Moore, University of Arizona

Africa Award for Research Excellence in Ocean Sciences Andrew Green, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science Andrew Akala, University of Lagos

Science for Solutions Award Franziska C. Landes, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University

Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism Alexandra Witze, Freelance

Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism Sarah Kaplan, The Washington Post

David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism Ann Gibbons, Contributing Correspondent, Science

Spilhaus Ambassador Award Grant Esteban Gabriel Jobbágy, National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) and Universidad Nacional de San Luis Michael Edward Wysession, Washington University in St. Louis


Asahiko Taira International Scientific Ocean Drilling Research Prize Beth N. Orcutt, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

Climate Communication Prize Marshall Shepherd, University of Georgia


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