News Archive - 2011

Twin GRAIL Spacecraft on Final Approach for Moon Orbit

As of Dec. 28 GRAIL-A was 65 860 miles from the moon closing at a speed of 745 mph. GRAIL-B was 79 540 miles from the moon closing at a speed of 763mph. "This Mission will rewrite the textbooks on the evolution of the moon," said GRAIL PI Maria Zuber.

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Season's Greetings from MIT

Happy Holidays!

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EPA regulates emissions of mercury, arsenic and many other toxins

PAOC's Noelle Selin speaks with the LA Times about the new rules.

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Proposal for MIT Global Environment Initiative seeks public comment

Oceans and Climate will be two among six foci for MIT's new Global Environmental Initiative.

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EAPS goes to AGU - Fall 2011

Over 70 members of EAPS presented their work at the annual AGU meeting last week. 

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Two new Earth-sized exoplanets discovered

Some 950 light-years away, a team, including EAPS Sara Seager, finds smallest exoplanets yet detected.

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The Scientist Who Loved the Cold

In this video MIT-WHOI Joint Program grad. student Alison Criscitiello shares her thoughts about the work/life intersections that come from her love of all things cold.

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Sara Seager named AAAS fellow

Seager's award comes in recognition of her pioneering work on theoretical models of the atmospheric composition and internal structure of extrasolar planets, from super-Earths to gas-giant planets. 

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Robert van der Hilst named head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

Robert van der Hilst, the Schlumberger Professor of Earth Sciences in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), has been named the new head of EAPS, effective Jan. 1, 2012.

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Taylor Perron gives Sharp Lecture at AGU

Taylor Perron received the Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award from the Focus Group on Earth and Planetary Surface Processes, and delivered its Robert Sharp Lecture this year.

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Near-Earth asteroid 2005 YU55 flyby

Watch a time-lapse video of asteroid 2005 YU55 as it passed by last month as seen from MIT's Wallace Observatory in Westford, MA. 2005 YU55 has a diameter of about 400 m and on this occasion passed within ~325, 000 km of the Earth. 

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Meet Yodit Tewelde - EAPS Graduate Student

Yodit Tewelde is a graduate student in the Planetary Science Program in EAPS.

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Debating at the Federal Reserve Bank

Kudos to grad students Alex Evans, Yodit Tewelde, and Mike Sori who took time out to help high school students in the Boston Debate League last week.

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Tracking an Elusive Chemical - Estrogens

PAOC graduate student Dave Griffith studies the impacts these hormones might have in the coastal ocean.

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Terrascope freshmen present plan to reduce global diversity loss

Freshmen in the Terrascope subject Mission 2015 (also known as "Solving Complex Problems") have spent the fall semester studying the problem of what to do about disappearing global biodiversity. 

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Popendorf filters seawater inPhoto by Michal Koblížek, Czech Academy of Sciences

The Ocean's Tiny Chemists

Kim Popendorf is a graduate student in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program with an interest in marine biogeochemical cycles. Her advisor is Ben Van Mooy.

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New Faculty

EAPS has two new members of faculty. Atmospheric chemist, Professor Dan Cziczo (pronounced Cit-so) and planetary scientist Professor Kerri Cahoy.

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Seismic Imaging at ERL

EAPS is an important contributor to MIT's energy and environmental initiatives, and our Earth Resources Laboratory (ERL) serves as the center for sub-surface science. ERL Director Rob van der Hilst describes current research and how the ERL brings together scientists and engineers from across MIT to study sub-surface reservoirs.

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Prof. M. Nafi Toksöz  - Source:

Toksöz Fellowship Fund.

The oil crisis of the 1970’s brought home to Professor M. Nafi Toksöz the importance of growing global energy demand and the energy security of the United States.

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GRAIL launch - Source: V. McKenna, EAPS

Beyond the Dark Side of the Moon

In October 1959 the Soviet Luna 3 satellite beamed back the first ever images of the dark side of the moon. Fifty-two years later a NASA satellite mission, launched on September 10th, 2011, aims to provide scientists with the first comprehensive images of the inside of the moon.

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Blogging Darjeeling

Follow grad. student Anita Ganesan's blog. Anita, a grad. student in the Prinn Group, is currently in Darjeeling, India installing the instrument she has built to measure long-lived greenhouse gases.

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Timeline of a Mass Extinction

Sam Bowring and Dan Rothman have identified a new timescale that may help scientists home in on the end-Permian extinction’s likely causes. 

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The First Hairy Microbes

Geologist Tanja Bosak and co-workers at MIT and Harvard have unearthed remains that are more than 100 million years older than any previously identified ciliate fossils, suggesting early life on Earth may have been more complex than previously thought. 

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Postcard from Darjeeling

Grad. students Laura Meredith and Anita Ganesan are currently in Darjeeling, India, deploying Anita's gas chromatograph.

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The Mercury Game

Find out how a game, co-developed by Noelle Selin, can teach people about the role of science in international environmental policy making.

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Between the beach and the deep blue sea

Physical oceanography grad. student Rachel Horwitz describes her work exploring the dynamic gateway of the shallow inner shelf. Rachel is a member of the MIT-WHOI Joint Program.

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Phytoplankton bloom, Image: ESA

Spring greening

Raf Ferrari and former postdoc. John Taylor report identifying a physical explanation for why phytoplankton blooms explode along ocean fronts.

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A Rosetta mission image of the asteroid 21 Lutetia. Image: ESA

Battered asteroid may have warm core

According to associate professor Ben Weiss, co-author of two recent Science papers about asteroid 21 Lutetia, "The asteroid belt may be more interesting than it seems on the surface".

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Carlson Lecture Poster - Image: School of Science

Inaugural Carlson Lecture

If you missed October's Lorenz Center sponsored inaugural Carlson lecture, here is a recording of Paul Hoffman's talk "Earth's Surprising Climate History".

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Prof. Leigh Royden

Royden awarded 2011 GSA Woollard Award

Prof. Leigh (Wiki) H. Royden has been selected as the 2011 George P. Woollard Awardee by the Geophysics Division for her "major contributions to the study of geologic processes through quantitative geophysical modeling".

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TESS's primary goal would be to identify terrestrial planets orbiting nearby sta

TESS project awarded $1 million NASA grant

Sara Seager of MIT's TESS team named by NASA as one of 11 proposals recently accepted for evaluation as potential future science missions.

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Spitzer finds steaming super-Earth

Research by postdoc Brice-Olivier Demory (Seager Group) provides surprising new details about a supersized and superheated version of Earth called 55 Cancri e.

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Lorenz Center gravatar

Lorenz Center gets an online home

The Lorenz Center at MIT, founded by PAOC's Dan Rothman and Kerry Emanuel, is devoted to learning how climate works. Named after the late MIT meteorologist Edward N. Lorenz, a pioneer of chaos theory, the Center fosters creative approaches to increasing fundamental understanding. At the new website you can read about the new Center's goals and aspirations, its origins, as well as the people involved.

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Image: (L-R) Astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, astronaut Eugene

Zuber testifies

Prof. Maria Zuber, EAPS Department Head, testified before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on September 22 on the goals and priorities for the future of human spaceflight. 

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David McGee talks with prospective graduate student Emily Zakem at the 2011 Open

David McGee to join the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate faculty

McGee is a paleoclimatologist who has focused on reconstructing past changes in extratropical atmospheric circulation and hydrology. 

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Raf Ferrari - Source: PAOC

Ferrari awarded Breene

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Marking 9-11

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Grail launch - Image: V. McKenna

GRAIL on its way.

On Saturday, Sept. 11, 2011 at 9:08:52, GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) was boosted by a Delta II rocket on it's way to the moon. 

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DEAPS Extreme Weather and Climate 2011

Earthquakes, hurricanes, plummeting watermelons, DEAPS Extreme Weather and Climate 2011 had it all.

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Susan Solomon - Image: Wikipedia

Susan Solomon to join the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate faculty

PAOC is delighted to announce that Susan Solomon will join the EAPS faculty as Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science effective January 1, 2012.

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An artist's rendering of the twin GRAIL spacecraft orbiting the moon. The projec

To the Moon

Maria Zuber becomes the first woman to lead a planetary spacecraft mission.  Saturday’s launch of NASA’s Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) twin spacecraft, a carefully choreographed mission to precisely map the moon’s gravitational field, could help scientists understand fundamental questions about the moon’s composition, internal structure and evolution.

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Urban regions are an ever increasing source of air pollutants

A new way to model urban air pollution

Urban regions account for an ever increasing fraction of Earth’s population, and are consequently an ever increasing source of air pollutants. These pollutants include anthropogenic aerosols, which have important climate and health implications. But modeling aerosol emissions from urban areas is difficult due to the detailed temporal and spatial scales required. Thus, urban areas significantly contribute to the overall uncertainty and variability in global atmospheric model predictions of aerosol and pollutant distribution.  To address these uncertainties, researchers from the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change set out to see if they could better model aerosol emissions and distribution from urban regions. 

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Image: MIT News

Breathing new life into Earth

New research suggests O2 may have been made on Earth hundreds of millions of years before its debut in the atmosphere, keeping a low profile in "oxygen oases" in the oceans. Waldbauer, Newman and Summons have found evidence that tiny aerobic organisms may have evolved to survive on extremely low levels of the gas in these undersea oases.

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Taken from the Canadian Research Icebreaker CCGS Amundsen, in the Beaufort Sea i

On Thin Ice.

According to Postdoc. Pierre Rampal and co-authors the most recent global climate report fails to capture the reality of the changing Arctic seascape.

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A view looking southeast along the surface trace of the San Andreas fault in the

Putting the pieces together

Tom Herring among MIT researchers to reconstruct Baja California’s 2010 ‘Easter Earthquake.’

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Image: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

To an asteroid, and back

In a class being co-taught by Sara Seager, Kerri Cahoy, and others, students will have the "rare opportunity to get their hands dirty building space-ready hardware". "It's a chance to sample the original chemistry of everything that makes the Earth, and us," says Richard Binzel, an advisor to the student project. 

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This artist concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a m

3 Questions: The Next Mars rover destination

Maria Zuber says Gale Crater may reveal clues about Mars' past. In this "3 Questions" interview she speaks with MIT News about a future in which humans might explore the Red Planet. 

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Tanja Bosak - Sourcde:

Bosak wins 2011 AGU Macelwane Award

Assistant Professor of Geology, Geochemistry, and Geobiology, Tanja Bosak has been awarded a James B. Macelwane Medal in recognition of "significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding young scientist".

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Maria Zuber, the Earle A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics and Planetary Science

Stellar eclipse gives glimpse of exoplanet

Using spectral data from a transit of 55 Cancri e, postdoc Brice-Olivier Demorey and Prof. Sara Seager have been able to establish the exoplanets dimensions.

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Tree - source: MIT News

The tallest tree in the land

Knowing how tall trees can grow in any given region can give ecologists a wealth of information, from the potential density of a forest and size of its tree canopy to the amount of carbon stored in woodlands and the overall health of an ecosystem. Now grad student Chris Kempes (Follows' Group), along with colleagues at the University of Maryland and the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, has come up with a simple model to predict the maximum tree height in different environments across the United States. 

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Prof. Kerri Cahoy

Meet Planetary Scientist Prof. Kerri Cahoy.

Cahoy joins EAPS this July as an Assistant Professor in the Planetary Sciences Program. Prof. Cahoy uses spacecraft radio systems to study the atmospheres and ionospheres of solar system planets. 

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Dan Cziczo - Image: Helen Hill

Introducing Atmospheric Chemist Prof. Dan Cziczo.

Dan Cziczo is an atmospheric scientist interested in the interrelationship of particulate matter and cloud formation. He comes to EAPS from PNNL where he has been a Senior Scientist in the Atmospheric Science and Global Change Division and Director of the Atmospheric Measurement Lab in the Fundamental Science Directorate since 2007.

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The projected path of 2011 MD	 Image: NASA/JPL

3 Questions: Richard Binzel on near-Earth asteroids

Planetary scientist Rick Binzel, speaks to MIT News in this "3 Questions" article. '2011 MD,' found by a Lincoln Lab team, will pass close to the planet on Monday.

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Scanning electron microscopy images reveal a microscopic, oval-shaped shell with

Life after Snowball Earth

The first organisms to emerge after an ancient worldwide glaciation likely evolved hardy survival skills, arming themselves with tough exteriors to weather a frozen climate. EAPS' Tanja Bosak and co-workers have discovered hundreds of microscopic fossils in rocks dating back nearly 710 million years, around the time when the planet emerged from a global glaciation, or “Snowball Earth,” event. 

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An image of the microfossil Characodictyon taken with a scanning electron micros

Ancient armor

In summer 2007, two geologists armed with rock hammers and a shotgun hiked through the Yukon, looking for fossils. For two weeks, postdoc. Phoebe Cohen and Francis Macdonald, an assistant professor of geology at Harvard University, set up camp along the Alaska-Canada border in a remote mountain range accessible only via helicopter. 

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The Investiture of the Hoods Ceremony - image: Helen Hill

Degrees awarded.

Degrees awarded during the 2010/2011 academic year. Degrees are conferred in September, February and June.

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Ozone concentration levels in China (1 x 1 degree grid cell), 2005 - Image: Lams

The price of fresh air

China has experienced unprecedented development over the past three decades, but this growth has come at a substantial cost to the country’s environment and public health. China is notorious for extremely high levels of air pollution. As the country faces continuous environmental challenges that mirror its continuing development, there is a need to measure the health impacts of air pollution. Read this MIT News article about a recent study released by the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change quantifying the damage to the Chinese economy caused by a lack of air-quality control measures between 1975 and 2005. The study is co-authored by Noelle Selin.

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Commencement 2011

On Friday, June 3, immediately after Commencement, EAPS hosted a reception for new graduates and alumni in the Ida Green Lounge.

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Image: The National Geophysical Data Center

Hotspot in the hot seat

Using a new imaging technique adapted from uses in oil and gas exploration, EAPS' Robert van der Hilst and colleagues have produced high-resolution images that peek hundreds of kilometers below the Earth’s surface. Doing so, they found a hotspot — but not where many scientists had thought it would be. Instead, the MIT team found evidence of hot mantle activity some 600 kilometers deep and 2,000 kilometers wide, in an area far west of the “Big Island” of Hawaii.

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Vince Agard receiving 2011 Crosby Award - image: J. Taylor

2011 Student Awards

A roll-call of this year's Excellence in Teaching, Crosby, Goetze and Rossby award recipients.

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EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson	 image courtesy of the Environmental Protection A

Science and policy can catalyze each other, EPA head says

During her visit to MIT to give this year's Kendal Lecture, EPA Head Lisa Jackson discussed how technology can affect government regulations.

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Bradford Hager

Hager awarded 2011 Augustus Love Medal

Brad Hager has been awarded the Augustus Love Medal at the 2011 meeting of the European Geosciences Union.

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One of the thousands of fragments recovered from the Allende meteorite, which fe

Cold asteroids may have a soft heart

Partially molten small bodies may be abundant in space, and may have given the Earth its oceans.

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DNA in Space - Image: Christin Daniloff

Are you a Martian?

We all could be, scientists say — and an MIT-developed instrument might someday provide the proof. Research scientist Christopher Carr and postdoctoral associate Clarissa Lui, working with Maria Zuber and Gary Ruvkun, a molecular biologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, came up with the instrument concept and put together the initial team. 

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Map of Japan - Image: Wikipedia

Seeing through the cracks

  In the wake of Japan’s largest earthquake, MIT scientists look for geological clues to explain its devastating magnitude -  EAPS' Brad Hager speaks to MIT News.

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Sailing ship - Image: MIT News

Nautical night at the MIT Museum

Weather-in-a-Tank participates in the 75th anniversary of the MIT Nautical Association event.

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A slice of ferromanganese crust from the Pacific Ocean was analyzed using a SQUI

Reading Earth's magnetic history

Ben Weiss talks to MIT News about a new tool which allows unprecedented accuracy in dating of some seafloor rocks, with potential to help climate analysis.

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Just another asteroid hurtling towards Earth....

Hollywood hype aside, close encounters of a rocky kind are fairly common. But they’re fascinating to local scientists who want to learn how it all began, and maybe fend off armageddon. Postdoc Francesca DeMeo and Professor Rick Binzel in the Boston Globe 

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