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Holy schist! That’s a lot of Earth science

July 27, 2011

You can actually buy these. Credit: CafePress

Sitting alone, headphones blocking out the world in a booth at my local coffee shop, the above popped into my head. Representing far more than a desire to sneak lightly-masked political incorrectness into my daily affairs, the title of this post is a testament to one unwavering truth–my descent into geophysics dorkitude is reaching critical levels.

In the few months since I last updated this site, through my daily routine of drinking more coffee than can possibly be healthy and reading scientific research off a screen far too small, I have been repeatedly struck by one unassailable conclusion: the world is complicated, my ability to understand it declines daily, and I relish every moment of this descent into uncertainty.

It’s obviously hopefully not the case that I’m actually getting dumber with time (the effects of caffeine on memory are mixed.) Rather, the more I read about the nuances of the physical world, the more I realize my superficial grasp ain’t worth schist.

So what is it that has led me to be so self-degrading? The following stories (along with a video, magazine article, and an interview with a textbook author) represent the most important geophysical science research as selected by the editors of a handful of American Geophysical Union journals (where I am now a staff writer, yay!). The links lead to short journal summaries which, though brief, hopefully give the gist of the research.

Scientific research covered by the popular media usually falls into one of two camps, either: “This might kill you!” or, “This isn’t really that important, but it certainly is cool!” There is plenty of that below, but it’s also sprinkled with a dose of, “This is scientifically important!” You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Fires, floods, and other things that might kill you:

Cold snaps still a threat despite global warming

Next generation atmospheric model improves hurricane forecasting

Model gives 3 months warning of Amazonian forest fires

Model suggests path to ending the ongoing Haitian cholera epidemic

Three-dimensional ash cloud observations could help keep planes in the air

Determining the trigger of East Asian dust storms

Raarrrr. (Yes I know that's not East Asia) Credit: Avlxyz

The rain that drowned Pakistan could have been predicted

Deadly 2010 Russian heat wave not a consequence of climate change

The cause of the 2010 Russian heat wave was largely predictable

Improved model reproduces the 2003 European heat wave

Modeling monthlong slow slip earthquakes

High detail snapshots of rare gigantic jet lightning to the ionosphere

The changing Earth–past and future:

New emissions scenarios say 2°C warming may be unavoidable

Potential for resumption of East Pacific sea level rise after 30-year hiatus

Surge in North Atlantic hurricanes due to better detectors, not climate change

Australia's coast went from lush rainforest to... this. Credit: Imira

How Indonesian development destroyed Australia’s rainforest

Potential for Atlantic current collapse confirmed by global circulation model and observations

Carbon Sequestration and Its Role in the Global Carbon Cycle - An interview with Brian J. McPherson - “…[C]arbon capture and storage is something we can do now. We can tackle individual sources of CO2 emissions in a tangible way. While ocean and land uptake is something that happens naturally and continuously over relatively long time scales, carbon capture and subsurface storage can tackle massive quantities of CO2 quickly. Of course, that can only happen if a way to pay for it is realized. Unfortunately, the only country in the world right now that has an effective commercial carbon capture and storage program is Norway, which is facilitated through a carbon tax. In other countries where cap-and-trade systems are in place, commercial carbon capture and storage is still nonexistent. Nonetheless, the technology exists”

How North Atlantic cooling alters Southern Ocean wind and increases atmospheric carbon dioxide

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica. Credit: James Wu

Ozone depletion leading force for Southern Ocean change

Explaining away El Niño Modoki

Constraining the trigger for an ancient warming episode

Ocean floor faulting explains differences in Central American lavas

New data refine the travels of Gondwana

Building an atlas of Arctic climate dynamics

H2Whoa, that’s a lot of hydrology:

The varying life expectancies of American reservoirs

Estimating contaminant spreading by subsurface water

The traveling rings of the North Brazil Current

Zooming in on aquatic denitrification hot spots

Antarctic coast. Credit: Samuel House

A new source of freshwater for Antarctica’s coastal waters

Seasonal anomalies in the Canary Current

Determining the underlying pattern of Arctic snowfall

Two eyes are better than one for measuring rain from space

The effect of sediment on mountain river erosion

Dual-dynamic approach improves soil water transport model

Determining a relevant measure of hydrologic connectivity

Bang. Zoom. Straight to the Moon! (and beyond):

Amino Acids from Interstellar Space

A coronal mass ejection. Scary schist. Credit: NASA

Space Weather Model Moves Into Prime Time - “[T]he model could bring quantitative analysis to a field dominated by history- and experience-based predictions. “Our forecasters would just watch pictures of the Sun,” said Pizzo. If they saw what appeared to be a [coronal mass ejection] heading toward the Earth, they would “make a wild guess, basically, about when it’s going to get here and how bad it’s going to be.”

Mapping the magnetic mayhem in the heliosheath

Lost in a fog on Mars

Miniature detector measures deep space radiation

How science happens. Or, the stuff that doesn’t really fit anywhere else, and no one wants a category with only one thing in it:

Fundamental issues of modeling in a climate of change

Identifying misbehaving models using baseline climate variance

Improving model estimates of gross primary production

Improving global estimates of land surface properties

Updated algorithms improve aerosol detection accuracy

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