USGS: New Discoveries Could Improve Climate Projections

New discoveries about the deep ocean’s temperature variability and circulation system could help improve projections of future climate conditions.

The deep ocean is affected more by surface warming than previously thought, and this understanding allows for more accurate predictions of factors such as sea level rise and ice volume changes.

High ocean surface temperatures have also been found to result in a more vigorous deep ocean circulation system. This increase results in a faster transport of large quantities of warm water, with possible impacts including reduction of sea ice extent and overall warming of the Arctic.

“The deep ocean is relatively unexplored, and we need a true understanding of its many complex processes,” said U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt. “An understanding of climate change and its impacts based on sound, objective data is a keystone to the type of long-term strategies and solutions that are being discussed now at the United Nations conference in Copenhagen.”

USGS scientists created the first ever 3-D reconstruction of an ocean during a past warm period, focusing on the mid-Pliocene warm period 3.3 to 3 million years ago.

“Our findings are significant because they improve our previous understanding that the deep ocean stayed at relatively constant, cold temperatures and that the deep ocean circulation system would slow down as surface temperatures increased,” said USGS scientist Harry Dowsett. “By looking at conditions in the past, we acquire real data that allow us to see the global climate system as it actually functioned.”

“The average temperature of the entire ocean during the mid-Pliocene was approximately one degree warmer than current conditions, showing that warming wasn’t just at the surface but occurred at all depths” said USGS scientist Marci Robinson. “Temperatures were determined by analyzing marine plankton fossils, which are organisms that inhabited the water’s surface, as well as fossils of bottom-dwelling organisms, known as ostracodes.”

Global average surface temperatures during the mid-Pliocene were about 3°C (5.5°F) greater than today and within the range projected for the 21st century by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Therefore it may be one of the closest analogs in helping to understand Earth’s current and future conditions. USGS research on the mid-Pliocene is also the most comprehensive global reconstruction for any warm period.

Read the full article, published in Climate of the Past.

The USGS led this research through the Pliocene Research, Interpretation and Synoptic Mapping group. The primary collaborators in PRISM are Columbia University, Brown University, University of Leeds, University of Bristol, the British Geological Survey and the British Antarctic Survey. Learn more about PRISM research.

[Source: USGS press release]

Geospatial Working Group Formed at the University of Kentucky

“Geospatial science and technologies (GST) have important applications in many areas of natural and social sciences, engineering, management, business, and health sciences. A formerly loosely organized group of UK faculty and staff using GST in research and practical applications recently decided to become a more formal working group under the auspices of the Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment. The Geospatial Working Group (GWG) was formed October 14 by a unanimous vote of the informal geospatial group members.

“The working group will further develop the University of Kentucky’s GST infrastructure as related to teaching, research, and applications of geospatial science and technology including geographical information systems (GIS), remote sensing, global positioning systems (GPS), spatial information technology, and mapping sciences. The GWG includes representatives from the University of Kentucky Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Agriculture, Engineering, Public Health, and Health Sciences, as well as the University Libraries, Kentucky Geological Survey, and UK Facilities Management. The group also includes representatives from several Kentucky state agencies and private companies.”

GIS Specialist, Health Geomatics Laboratory, Dalhousie University

We seek a full-time GIS Specialist to support ongoing requirements of the Health Geomatics Laboratory and the Elizabeth May Chair office in the Faculty of Science at Dalhousie University. The GIS Specialist will work on a variety of health geomatics research projects, develop web-based mapping products, and assist with the administration and coordination of research and outreach activities. The successful candidate will join an interdisciplinary research team with expertise in environmental science, epidemiology, health geography, GIS, GPS, and spatial statistics.”

3D Structure Modeling at the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Germany

…from the 2009 Three-Dimensional Geologic Mapping Workshop held by the Illinois State Geological Survey…

Birget Willscher, Rolf Rüdiger Ludwig, and Bettina Kühn

“The Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) is a geoscientific institute which provides neutral and independent advice and information about geoscientific and natural resource issues to the federal government of Germany and to German industry and research institutions. This includes technical cooperation with developing countries, international geoscientific cooperation, and geoscientific research. BGR is a subordinate agency of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi).

“The 2D presentation and evaluation of geological/hydrogeological data will always show just a small slice of a complex situation. Therefore, we regard 3D structure models as standard. 3D modeling is a necessary tool to guarantee spatial consistency for geological/hydrogeological information. Our team is working predominantly on hydrogeological 3D structure modeling.”

Carnegie Mellon Researchers Help Lead Global Team To Improve Predictions About Air Quality and Climate

Carnegie Mellon University’s Neil Donahue and Allen Robinson are working with a team of more than 60 scientists, including researchers from the University of Colorado and the NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science, to develop a more holistic approach to improving climate and air quality prediction models. Donahue and Robinson are co-authors of a study that appears in the Dec. 11 issue of the journal Science.

Donahue, head of Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies (CAPS), created a chemical map that provides some of the first clear images of how organic aerosols change once they become part of the atmosphere, while Robinson led an experimental team demonstrating those changes for aerosols emitted from diesel engines and wood fires.

“The atmosphere acts like Dan Aykroyd’s Bass-O-Matic. It makes similar looking goop almost no matter what you start with; could be diesel soot, could be wood smoke, could be molecules emitted by trees. Once the atmosphere is done, it all looks the same,” said Donahue, an atmospheric chemist.

“The blurring of the emissions of different sources is potentially a very important simplification, which is key to improving air quality and climate models,” said Robinson, an engineer whose research focuses on the sources of atmospheric aerosols.

“Atmospheric processing alters the effects of aerosols on climate and human health. It appears to greatly simplify the effect of the aerosols from different sources on cloud formation and rainfall,” Robinson said.

Donahue reports that his map tracks two key properties — volatility (the tendency to evaporate) and the oxygen to carbon ratio — that evolve as particles make their way through the atmosphere. “This ratio is important because it is an indicator of how much the organic matter is gaining oxygen and building up on particles floating in the air. The chemical roadmap also can help people predict the ability of the particles to participate in cloud formation,” Donahue said.

For more than a decade, Carnegie Mellon researchers have been working to pinpoint the sources and effects of harmful atmospheric particles. Better known as PM2.5, these tiny, almost invisible particles can be breathed more easily into the lungs than larger dust particles and can have adverse effects on human health.

“Pittsburgh suffers from high PM levels, due to a combination of high regional background levels and local emissions, many of them organic,” Robinson said. “This new map will help us understand how and when these two sources interact to create local pollutant hot spots.”

“This new collaborative effort will take a lot of mystery out of how and where these airborne particles go and how they impact both humans and our climate,” said Donahue, whose work focuses on chemical production and transformation of particles in the atmosphere.

The research was funded with grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The research team included scientists from more than 30 institutes and international collaborators from England, Switzerland, China, Japan, Mexico, Germany, Sweden and Finland.

[Source: Carnegie Mellon press release]