2002-2003 Report to President

The Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) has broad intellectual horizons that encompass the solid earth, its fluid envelopes, and its diverse neighbors throughout the solar system and beyond. We seek to understand the fundamental processes defining the origin, evolution and current state of these systems and to use this understanding to predict future states. The Department currently comprises 38 faculty, including two with primary appointments in Civil and Environmental Engineering, 174 graduate and undergraduate students, and over 100 research staff, postdoctoral appointments and visiting scholars. EAPS is notable for its collaborations with other MIT Departments and Schools to address complex interdisciplinary problems. In this vein, the Department is an enthusiastic supporter of the new Earth Systems Initiative.

Educational Activities

EAPS has vigorous graduate educational programs in geology and geochemistry, geophysics, atmospheres, oceans, climate, and planetary science. Each disciplinary area of EAPS continues to be ranked among the top graduate programs in the country, with most areas being rated either first or second nationally. The EAPS graduate program currently focuses on the Ph.D. degree, which is the goal of about 90% of its graduate students. During the past academic year, 149 graduate students were registered in the Department including EAPS students in the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Joint Program. Of these, 107 are U.S. citizens and 42 are international students. Women constitute 44% of the graduate student population. 21 Ph.D. and 13 S.M. degrees were awarded during the past academic year (2002). A bi-annual prize continues to be awarded to recognize and reward the efforts of outstanding EAPS Graduate Teaching Assistants.

EAPS continues to maintain a strong presence within the undergraduate program at MIT. It offers a wide variety of Freshman Advising Seminars each Fall with about 10 faculty members participating each of the past three years. A new undergraduate seminar has been developed to introduce newly declared sophomore majors to the broad research interests of the faculty. In the past two years, EAPS gained a total of 21 new majors, which is a significant increase compared to prior two years. The EAPS Independent Activities Program (IAP) continues to be one of the most vibrant at MIT, and faculty have maintained a healthy Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) including opportunities for field experience in geological settings, astronomical observations and national laboratories. The new Terrascope program, discussed below, has the potential to further increase the number of EAPS majors.

An exciting new activity for the department is the Earth Systems Initiative (ESI), which began this past Spring. This major new undertaking will be aimed at providing an in-depth understanding of the intimate relationships between biological and geological processes that operate over the full extent of time and space scales on Earth. This is an interschool undertaking, with the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering being the largest players. The ESI has significant science, engineering and educational facets. It will be Co-Directed by Professor Kip Hodges (EAPS) and Professor Penny Chisholm (CEE, Biology). (http://web.mit.edu/esi).

Associated with the launch of the Earth systems Initiative (ESI) is a new Earth System Freshman Core Program called Terrascope. This innovative alternative to the freshman core program will use the Earth System as context for the physics, mathematics, chemistry and biology subjects in the Science Core. The new program will include a participating design class modeled after 12.000 (Solving Complex Problems) and will involve EAPS and CEE faculty in teaching and advising roles. Terrascope will be led by the new ESI Co-Directors, Professors Chisholm and Hodges. (http://web.mit.edu/terrascope).


Professor John Grotzinger was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Professor Carl Wunsch was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London (FRS).

Professor Sam Bowring was appointed by the Provost to the Breene M. Kerr chair in geology.

Professor Ed Boyle will be editor of Earth and Planetary Science letters for the next three years.

Professor Rafael Bras was selected to be the Kisiel Lecturer at the University of Arizona. He is incoming Chair of the Faculty, President Elect of the AGU Hydrology Section, and incoming V.P. of the Alumni Association.

Professor Clark Burchfiel will become President of the Geological Society of America in October 2002.

Professor Kerry Emanuel will serve as editor of the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences beginning January 1, 2003.

Professor Brian Evans will receive an outstanding achievement award from the University of Minnesota Alumni Foundation.

Professor Tim Grove was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

Professor James Hansen received the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award.

Professor Kip Hodges was selected as a MacVicar Faculty Fellow, and as the Co-Director (with Professor Penny Chisholm of CEE) of the new Earth Systems Initiative and the new Terrascope Freshman Program.

Professor Lindzen has been listed by Current Contents as one of the Highly Cited Researchers.

Professor Mario Molina was awarded the 2002 Medal to the Citizen of Merit from the Mexico City Government. He also received honorary degrees from University of Waterloo, Florida International University, Utah State University and Universidad de Pachuca, Mexico. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Professor Alan Plumb was selected to be the Haurwitz Memorial Lecturer by the American Meteorological Society and was elected a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society in January 2002.

Professor Ronald Prinn was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Professor Paola Malanotte-Rizzoli was elected a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society in January 2002.

Professor Julian Sachs . was awarded the Jeptha H. and Emily V. Wade Award by the MIT Provost on June 5, 2001.

Professor Roger Summons was awarded the Australian Organic Geochemistry Medal in March 2002.

Professor Maria Zuber was named a Sverdrup Visiting Scholar in the Department of Physics at Augsburg College in April 2002.

Over the past two years, several vigorous searches have led to five exciting new faculty appointments. Roger Summons, whose work in “molecular fossils” is widely recognized and lauded, has been appointed Professor of Geobiology. Julian Sachs, an accomplished young paleoclimatologist, has joined the faculty as the Doherty Assistant Professor. David Mohrig, who has made notable contributions to sedimentary geomorphology, was named Assistant Professor of Geology. James Hansen, who is doing innovative research on optimal observing and forecasting, has joined us as Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science. Most recently, Raffaele Ferrari, who is an expert in the dynamics of small-scale circulations in the ocean, was appointed as Assistant Professor in Physical Oceanography.

The Department currently has active faculty searches in six exciting areas: planetary science, experimental geophysics and geochemistry, seismology, geobiology, atmospheric chemistry, and low temperature geochemistry. These searches, along with the appointments already made are laying the foundation for the department’s future.

The Department continues to pioneer work in new interdisciplinary areas. The Earth Resources Laboratory is broadening its base to include a wider range of geophysical, geological, and environmental topics. The Center for Global Change Science (including the Climate Modeling Initiative) and the Program in Atmospheric, Oceans and Climate continue to foster cross-fertilization among all areas of the earth sciences that control the climate system. Research activities are gradually broadening so that geologists are now working with oceanographers and atmospheric scientists, and models of the climate system have been constructed both for the modern system and for times deep in the geological past. A large new faculty group interested in co-evolution of the geosphere and biosphere has formed and is participating in the Earth Systems Initiative noted earlier. Department faculty also continue to play leading roles in the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

Current Research

Professor Edward Boyle's group has documented a dramatic decline of lead in the North Atlantic in response to the phasing out of leaded gasoline. The unique isotopic signature of the changing sources of lead shows that the water at the bottom of the eastern North Atlantic sank from the surface 80 years ago.

Professor Clark Burchfiel’s group is studying the Cenozoic post collisional intracontinental tectonic evolution of the Tibetan plateau including GPS studies of active crustal movements correlated with active deformation. Tectonic studies in Bulgaria and Macedonia are also proceeding.

Professor Jim Elliot , Susan Kern (graduate student), and their colleagues at Lowell Observatory continued their Deep Ecliptic Survey for Kuiper Belt objects and Centaurs to understand their evolution. They have achieved 40% of their goal of discovering a sample of 500 new bodies.

Professor Kerry Emanuel has been studying the physics of air-sea interaction at very high wind speeds, and the role of global tropical cyclone activity in controlling the ocean's thermohaline circulation and, thereby, global climate.

Professor Brian Evans, visiting Professor Yves Bernabe, and Dr. Uli Mok, working on fluid flow and deformation, found that the evolution of permeability of rocks during natural processes is a unique function of the mechanism of porosity change.

Professor Glenn Fleirl and his students have examined the growth of disturbances in time-dependent tidal flows and shown that these can amplify and lead to turbulence. These flows could, along with swarming behavior, effect concentrations of zooplankton in Cape Cod Bay.

Professor Frederick Frey is involved in the Hawaii Scientific Drilling Project, which is drilling Mauna Kea volcano to a depth of 3100 m. He shows how the magma sources and melting process, and the decreasing extent of melting with decreasing eruption age, changed systematically as this volcano moved away from the hotspot.

Professor Tim Grove and his colleagues have developed a flux-melting model for magma generation in subduction zones. Water is released from the cold subducted oceanic lithosphere, rises into hotter overlying mantle, lowering the melting point of peridotite and resulting in the generation of H2O-rich magmas.

Professor Brad Hager , student Linda T. Elkins Tanton, and Professor Grove found that impact by giant meteorites can lead to flood basalts on Moon and Earth. Crater excavation via removal of ejecta leads to immediate pressure-release melting, perhaps followed by prolonged secondary eruptions due to small-scale convection.

Professor James Hansen has been working on prediction and predictability, with special interest in the impact and possible exploitation of model inadequacies in probabilistic state estimation and forecasting.

Professor Thomas Herring has been using global positioning system (GPS) and very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) data to develop geophysically based models of changes in the rotation of the Earth and Earth deformation on global and regional scales.

Professor Kip Hodges' group has been exploring neotectonic activity and the development of Himalayan topography, and continental subduction in Eocene time in the Indian Himalaya. A new excimer laser microprobe will provide the capacity for high-spatial resolution mapping of Ar and He isotopic distributions in single crystals.

Professor Richard Lindzen’s recent research has focused on the possibility of a very strong negative climate feedback involving tropical clouds, the mechanisms whereby the atmosphere's major heat transporting eddies equilibrate, and the ways in which tropical waves and deep convection interact.

Professor John Marshall has focused attention on the Antarctic Circumpolar Current of the ocean, developing theories of its meridional overturning circulation, which is a central component of the global climate system.

Professor David Mohrig focuses on the evolution of terrestrial and submarine landscapes over long time scales (>10,000 years) through the study of sedimentary record. His laboratory experiments are helping to understand evolution of submarine channels.

Professor Mario Molina and Dr. Luisa Molina have continued to develop the Mexico City Project, including a February 2002 measurement campaign. Their laboratory studies show that organic particles react relatively fast with the hydroxyl radical.

Professor Dale Morgan’s group works on induced polarization, self-potential, and resistivity imaging for a groundwater and contaminant mapping. They completed groundwater mapping in Curacao and imaging at the DOE Savannah River Site.

Professor Reginald Newell is analyzing observations collected by two aircraft during the 2001 spring. A relationship between atmospheric spin and ozone is being studied to find the level of ozone origination.

Professor Alan Plumb and his group are working on: modeling and theory of stratospheric transport; dynamical linkage between stratosphere and troposphere; monsoon modeling; and, in collaboration with Professor Marshall, ocean eddy transport processes.

Professor Ronald Prinn and his students and research scientists have completed studies which have elucidated trace gas production by oceanic phytoplankton, better defined the chemistry of dimethyl sulfide, and examined new gases for OH estimation.

Professor Paola Malanotte-Rizzoli and her group worked on: exchanges between the subtropical and the tropical ocean and how these interactions affect the global thermohaline circulation; new approaches for model simulation of the ocean circulation; and biochemical/physical models for the Black Sea ecosystem.

Professor Daniel Rothman and his group have shown that the regular spacing of channels initiated by subsurface flows in diverse settings is caused by an intrinsic dynamical mechanism, and that the spacing itself decreases with increasing slope and pressure gradient.

Professor Julian Sachs has been measuring organic chemicals and their isotope ratios in marine sediments and polar ice to provide estimates of sea surface temperatures, wind speeds and ocean productivity in the last 450,000 years. The data aids understanding of the causes of abrupt climate change.

Professor Peter Stone , Professor Ronald Prinn, and their colleagues have completed the first quantitative analysis of the uncertainties in projections of global warming. They find that the most probable increase in global mean temperature from 1990 to 2100 is 2.4 C, with a 95 % probability range of 0.9 to 5.3 C

Professor Roger Summons, is studying the chemical and carbon isotopic composition of lipids from cultured microbes, environmental samples, and their fossil analogues in ancient sedimentary environments in order to document and understand the nature of Earth's early microbial life.

Professor Nafi Toksöz and his team are working on seismic tomography of the earth's crust in the Middle East and Asia to locate more precisely earthquakes and possible explosions to support international monitoring of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Professor Rob van der Hilst used a novel wavelet approach to integrate constraints from seismic wave propagation and from gravity-topography coherence to help understand the structure, deformation and mechanical strength of continental lithosphere on different time scales.

Professor Kelin Whipple has been working on relationships between climate and elevation and mountain range evolution. His minimum estimates of landscape response time argue against the often-invoked steady-state assumption, and a river incision law was refined to predict patterns and rates of tectonic uplift.

Professor Carl Wunsch is shifting much of his oceanographic research toward understanding what observations say about the nature of the ocean circulation in the geological past, bringing to bear modern data analysis tools and dynamical ideas.

Professor Maria Zuber and colleagues used altimetry data from the Mars Global Surveyor to measure variations in the depth of CO2 "snow" on Mars. They also measured small variations in the planet's gravity field, which combined with surface elevation changes, provided the first estimate of the density of condensed CO 2 on Mars.