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  • Pumping Draws Arsenic Toward a Big-City Aquifer - The Earth Institute - Columbia University
    are contaminated The city started filtering its water about 10 years ago But in the suburbs near the neighboring Red River and beyond many residents rely on private wells drilled into a patchwork of clean or polluted sands and no central filtering system is available Van Geen and colleagues including a team from the Hanoi University of Science studied 31 wells around the village of Van Phuc about 5 5 miles southeast of the city near the river for several years They found that in the parts closer to Hanoi shallow wells go into the safe orange sediments nearer the river they go into the grey ones and draw arsenic Normally high water levels in the safe aquifer would drain toward the river and keep the polluted water at bay But the team found that Hanoi s pumping has reversed this the safe aquifer is now in effect sucking water from the contaminated one and from the river itself Using helium and hydrogen isotope dating techniques they showed that over the last 40 to 60 years water from the contaminated aquifer has migrated inland some 2 000 meters more than a mile During the same time substantial arsenic contamination has moved at a slower pace going in about 120 meters or 370 feet Many people anticipated that pumping out these good aquifers would put them in jeopardy but before this we didn t have proof said Scott Fendorf a soil geochemist at Stanford University who was not involved in the study This demonstrates that there is a threat Fendorf said that in many areas from India to Vietnam people are drilling wells deeper to get away from generally shallow arsenic rich sediments The study suggests that these deep wells too could eventually go bad Recent studies by other groups suggest that wells in the Indian state of West Bengal are at risk but in Bengal there are so many wells in so many places it is hard for researchers to track exactly what is happening The Hanoi study by contrast starkly demonstrates and quantifies the results because municipal pumping is so centralized The Red River and its surrounding aquifer is a source of organic carbon that encourages release of arsenic into groundwater further inland Benjamin Bostick LDEO Study coauthor Michael Berg a geochemist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology called the Hanoi pumping a huge unintended experiment Berg said that similar processes may be underway in other areas such as the megacities of Dhaka and Beijing and widespread farming areas of Asia along with parts of sub Saharan Africa and South and North America where irrigation and municipal pumping are sucking aquifers dry We are altering systems all over the world he said As for how the arsenic gets into water van Geen says that around Van Phuc like many other areas the apparent key is dissolved organic carbon bits of decayed plant matter and other detritus of living things Water in the safe aquifer is

    Original URL path: http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/3118 (2014-07-01)
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  • Daniel Hillel, Pioneer in High-Efficiency Irrigation, to Receive World Food Prize - The Earth Institute - Columbia University
    Confronting hunger can bring diverse people together across even the broadest political ethnic reiligious or ethnic differences said Quinn Hillel was born in Los Angeles at the start of the Great Depression but his family moved to Palestine part of which later became the state of Israel in 1931 As a child he lived on a kibbutz where he experienced the challenges of living in and farming a mostly arid countryside He later received degrees in earth and agricultural sciences at universities in the United States and at Hebrew University of Jerusalem Before finishing his education he was already developing advanced irrigation methods and had helped found a farming community in Israel s Negev Desert which was joined by onetime Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion Soon Ben Gurion arranged to send Hillel on his first agricultural mission to Burma After getting his doctorate Hillel went on to promote water use efficiency across the Middle East Africa Asia and South America under the auspices of organizations such as the World Bank UN Food and Agriculture Organization and U S Agency for International Development Along the way he wrote 21 widely read books translated into 12 languages and countless manuals and articles that helped spread the word on his techniques Among other things Hillel helped developed systems that use perforated pipes to deliver water in conjunction with tensiometers devices that measure soil moisture and allow farmers to finely tune the amounts of water given to specfiic crops He designed ways to treat soil surfaces that increase water infiltration and reduce evaporation prevent root zones from becoming too wet and keep salts dissolved in irrigation water from leaching out into soils and damaging them For largely barren areas he showed how farmers could harvest and store rainwater by inducing and collecting runoff from sloping ground and grow crops even on soils dominated by coarse sand or gravel In an interview with the Jerusalem Post Hillel emphasized that he was only one of many people experimenting with such methods at the time and that others had commercialized much of the technology The switch was also made possible by the new availability of plastic pipes and ground coverings he said and the willingness of new settlers to experiment with nontraditional approaches Such methods are now used on an estimated 15 million acres in arid and semi arid countries Hillel also early on recognized the potential for climate change to reduce the amount of rainfall in already dry regions and began promoting efforts to adapt to what he saw as coming shortages He became a senior advisor to the Earth Institute s Center for Climate Systems Research in 1992 and joined the organization in 1997 Recently he has been working on adaptation of agriculture to climate change in association with the affiliated NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies In her keynote speech at the announcement Secretary of State Clinton said the world faces a devastating water crisis Hillel she said understood the critical role water

    Original URL path: http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/2989 (2014-07-01)
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  • New Grants to Extend Reach of Africa's Green Revolution - The Earth Institute - Columbia University
    two leading private sector companies who are committed to address food security in Africa Pedro Sanchez director of the Tropical Agriculture Program said These two leading seed companies recognize that without precise information on how to replenish the fertility of African soils improved seeds of all crops will not reach their potential The Earth Institute and its partners have played a major role in combating hunger in Africa since 2004 when then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for a uniquely African Green Revolution Sanchez and others working on the UN Millennium Project Task Force on Hunger released a report the following year making recommendations they said could reduce hunger by half by 2015 The Tropical Agriculture Program and its partners started the African Soil Information Service AfSIS in 2009 to develop a digital map of soil properties of the non desert portions of Sub Saharan Africa Understanding nutrient levels water retention and other properties of soils and getting that information back to farmers in a timely way is key to helping the region feed its people DuPont is contributing 1 million over three years for the agronomic dimension of the Tropical Agriculture project in Ethiopia Monsanto will contribute 400 000 for a similar project in Tanzania for the first year of a planned three year effort part of 50 million in grants the company has pledged to support agricultural development in Sub Saharan Africa The Tropical Agriculture program is seeking support for similar work in Nigeria and Ghana the two other countries where a second phase of the digital soil map project is planned Developing this system will begin to overcome one of the major constraints currently faced in Africa that impedes the practical use of soils information the proposal states Crop yields will increase decreasing hunger improving nutrition

    Original URL path: http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/2978 (2014-07-01)
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  • Scientists Make Progress in Assessing Tornado Seasons - The Earth Institute - Columbia University
    reporting may also explain the increase Lack of an accurate long term tornado record makes it hard to know the truth and has also hampered scientists ability to relate tornadoes to cyclical weather patterns that could aid in forecasting While individual hurricanes can be spotted days in advance tornadoes appear with much less warning A tornado watch typically gives only a few hours notice that dangerous conditions are brewing while warning of an actual tornado bearing down may give people just a few minutes to get out of the way Tippett a seasonal forecasting expert had already built statistical models to understand how climate change might affect hurricanes by adding more heat and moisture to the air But applying the same methods to something as tiny and complicated as a twister is trickier said study coauthor Adam Sobel an atmospheric scientist with joint appointments at Columbia s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory and School of Engineering and Applied Science A tornado is not a lot bigger than the house it has just destroyed he said It s a small thing and short lived Combing through 30 years of data Tippett and his colleagues began looking for patterns linking climate and tornadoes By comparing average atmospheric conditions with average monthly tornado counts in regions across the United States they identified two parameters that seemed closely associated with monthly tornado activity rain associated with strong updrafts and helicity which measures the tendency of winds to spin those updrafts They then looked to see if they could predict the tornado activity of individual months from 1979 to 2010 from a simple index based on each month s average wind and rain parameters The index correlated significantly with the observed numbers of tornadoes in all months except September and October Moreover the National Oceanic and

    Original URL path: http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/2943 (2014-07-01)
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  • Asthma Hot Spots Linked to Trucks, Low-Grade Heating Oil - The Earth Institute - Columbia University
    carbon levels were high in homes of children with asthma They also reported elevated levels of black carbon within homes in neighborhoods that had high asthma prevalence and high densities of truck routes or homes burning low grade or dirty heating oil The study may be the first to show an association between airborne soot in the home and proximity to buildings burning low grade dirty oil technically known as types 4 and 6 Based on suspicions about the effects of soot New York City is already moving to phase out use of low grade oils but the study could lend more urgency to the effort Because of its history as a shipping and oil refining center New York City burns more dirty oil for residential and commercial heating than any other city in the country said study coauthor Steven Chillrud a research professor at the university s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory These fuels produce more byproducts of incomplete combustion than cleaner oil or natural gas and contribute substantially to air pollution Buildings that burn dirty oil are unevenly distributed throughout the city which could help explain disparities in health This study adds to the evidence that further public health interventions on oil and truck emissions standards and the use of dirty oil may be warranted This is especially timely as New York City considers regulations to further reduce the burning of low grade oil for domestic heating said the study s senior author Matthew Perzanowski an associate professor of environmental health at the university s Mailman School of Public Health The researchers collected air samples from inside the homes of 240 7 and 8 year old children from middle income neighborhoods throughout the city These children also took breathing tests to measure exhaled nitric oxide an indicator of lung

    Original URL path: http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/2958 (2014-07-01)
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  • In Himalayas, Assessing Climate Threats to Ice, and Water Supply - The Earth Institute - Columbia University
    coming in the wrong season rivers may eventually become drier part of the year including in summer when gradual melt from glaciers adds to monsoon rains As glaciers shrink Bhutan now has some 2 700 high elevation meltwater lakes many growing at perilous rates behind leaky natural dams of rubble Bhutanese scientists have identified at least 24 that could burst in the near future One in the country s north at the head of the Raphstreng glacier burst in 1994 killing dozens of people downstream It is quickly refilling Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck left center a member of Bhutan s royal family spoke to a climate conference last month far left Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory tree ring scientist Edward Cook Aaron Putnam Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory Earth Institute scientists have worked with Bhutanese colleagues since 2002 when the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory Tree Ring Lab began sampling trees as part of a project to map changes in the Asian monsoon rains The project is headed by tree ring lab director Edward Cook In 2010 Cook and Bhutanese colleagues began planning wider collaborations with others including Lamont geochemist Joerg Schaefer who studies advances and retreats of glaciers Last month they co organized a one day conference on Himalayan climate in Bhutan s capital Thimpu Speakers included scientists from Bhutan and India Brigham Young University and the Earth Institute affiliated Columbia Water Center International Research Institute for Climate and Society and Center for Research on Environmental Decisions CRED The meeting served as an official runup to a summit in Thimpu among Bangladesh Bhutan India and Nepal shortly after at the end the countries agreed to work together on climate related food and water issues Also in August 2011 Prime Minister Jigme Thinley and Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs co hosted a conference in Bhutan on Gross National Happiness Bhutan is literally in the bull s eye of missing data for past and present climate and glacier data said Cook Most Himalayan climate research so far has focused on regions to the west he said so information is badly needed in the east to project climate into coming decades One overarching question whether Himalayan glaciers will melt uniformly in response to warming or if some regions might actually see more ice Computer models do not agree on whether the eastern Himalayas might see more or less high elevation precipitation in the future Some scientists cite preliminary calculations that Bhutan s glaciers could be less sensitive to changing climate than others yet so far glaciers here seem to be retreating faster than those in surrounding areas Figuring out how the system works is key to projecting future water flow said Cook The Raphstreng Bechung glaciers seen here in a satellite image feed rivers below and a growing meltwater lake blue held back only by a rubbly dam that threatens to burst Google Earth To help answer such questions Schaefer and Summer Rupert of Brigham Young hope to plot past and present advances and retreats

    Original URL path: http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/2932 (2014-07-01)
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  • New York State May Soon Suffer Outsize Effects from Climate, Says Report - The Earth Institute - Columbia University
    Inland and upstate heavier and more frequent precipitation events like those that have caused massive damage in the last few months are also expected especially during milder winters New York State is highly vulnerable to extreme climate events said Radley Horton a climate scientist at CCSR who led the report s climate projections New York City is at risk because of its extensive shoreline but so are towns and cities along the Hudson River as far north as the Troy Dam 150 miles away he added Horton and Rosenzweig are also with the Earth Institute affiliated NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies New York City and Long Island are at greatest risk from rising sea level and more severe storms For instance the report says that by 2020 nearly 96 000 people on the barrier island of Long Beach off Long Island could be at risk from rising seas at a potential cost of 6 4 billion Currently 11 percent of New York City streets are at risk of flooding during a 100 year storm With two feet of sea level rise a quarter of its streets are at risk and at four feet of sea level rise 34 percent are at risk A four foot rise in sea level by the 2080s would also put the New York City subway system much of it already below sea level and subject to flooding at risk of extreme flooding once a decade instead of once every hundred years Klaus Jacob a scientist at Columbia s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory who led the chapters on transportation and telecommunications said You can t have the whole system being shut down once a decade What s important is that we re vulnerable right now to the 100 year storm After 40 minutes of rain the entire subway system could be underwater Drinking water and the health of coastal and river ecosystems may also be at risk if flooding increases If the increase in extreme precipitation events over the last 50 years continues we can expect more severe combined sewer overflows and curb and drainage problems and more severe inland flooding of rivers and low lying areas said Horton More intense precipitation events may lead to fouling of coastal waters and rivers and also more sediment washing into drinking water reservoirs It could potentially harm the quality of our drinking water Patrick Kinney an epidemiologist at Columbia University s Mailman School of Public Health who led the report s public health chapter said that heat related illnesses and deaths are expected to increase especially in urban areas which tend to build up and hold heat during the summer Heat related deaths could rise 70 percent over the 1990s he said and declining air quality from added ground level smog and rising pollen counts may lead to more asthma and other respiratory illnesses The poor and the elderly are projected to be most vulnerable to the added risk of heat waves and floods Maps included in

    Original URL path: http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/2916 (2014-07-01)
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  • Water Scarcity in Densely Populated Countries - Videos - The Earth Institute - Columbia University
    Water Jeffrey Sachs Climate Sustainable Development Millennium Villages Education Student Featured Animations Water Scarcity in Densely Populated Countries 2010 03 09 Upmanu Lall director of the Columbia Water Center and Ph D candidate Stefan Sobolowski talk about a key project at the Water Center understanding how changing climate and land uses will effect water scarcity in highly population dense countries such as India Channels Sustainable Development Water Climate Tags Upmanu

    Original URL path: http://www.earth.columbia.edu/videos/watch/198/ (2014-07-01)
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