2015-2016 Report to President

The Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) studies Earth, Planets, Climate, and Life and has broad intellectual horizons encompassing the solid Earth, its fluid envelopes, and its neighbors throughout the solar system and beyond. The department seeks to understand fundamental physical, chemical, and biological processes that define the origin, evolution, and current state of these systems and to use this understanding to predict future states. The department comprises 41 faculty, including three with a primary appointment in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), one with a primary appointment in the Institute for Data, Systems and Society (IDSS), and another with a primary appointment in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) and more than 240 research staff, postdoctoral appointments, and visiting scholars.

EAPS is notable for its emphasis on interdisciplinary problems and is involved in numerous laboratories, centers, and programs that address broad questions in the Earth sciences, including those that are among the most pressing societal issues of our time: change in climate and environment, natural resources and hazards, and the origin and evolution of life on Earth and, perhaps, elsewhere. For example, the Earth Resources Laboratory (under directorship of Professor Bradford Hager) integrates faculty, staff, and students across disciplinary, department, and school boundaries to investigate geophysical and geological problems in energy and resource development. The Center for Global Change Science (under directorship of Professor Ronald Prinn) builds cross-institute activity in meteorology, oceanography, hydrology, chemistry, satellite remote sensing, and policy. The Lorenz center (under co-directorship of Professors Kerry Emanuel and Daniel Rothman) aspires to be a climate think-tank devoted to fundamental scientific enquiry. Furthermore, EAPS is MIT’s largest participant in the MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (MIT-WHOI) Joint Program for graduate education and research in ocean sciences and engineering.

Educational Activities:

The EAPS faculty is committed to the development and maintenance of vibrant education programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Student engagement with the education program is a continuing departmental goal. Graduate students meet with the Department Head and Associate Head at least once per term to discuss concerns and issues arising in their respective programs with the goal of sustaining active and open conversation around educational issues.

Graduate Program:

EAPS has vigorous graduate educational programs in the areas of Earth, Planets, Climate, and Life, including geology, geochemistry, geobiology, geophysics, atmospheres, oceans, climate, and planetary science. In fall 2015, EAPS had 159 graduate students registered in the department, including 78 students in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program and one Fifth-Year Master’s student. Women constituted 47 percent of the graduate student population, and 5.7 percent were members of an underrepresented minority group.

The excellence of the EAPS graduate program is built not only on the strength of teaching and supervision by the faculty but also on the involvement of EAPS graduate students in departmental activities. Students develop formal and informal ways of improving their educational experience as well as the student life of the department. For example, the graduate students continue to take responsibility for an expanded orientation program for incoming graduate students. They plan a number of social events to introduce the newcomers to EAPS, MIT, and the Cambridge area. The department graduate students are well organized and meet regularly, with one student presenting his/her research to the student body at the weekly Graduate Student Seminar. Undergraduate majors are encouraged to attend these talks. The departmental Graduate Student Mentoring Program continues as a well-received approach to provide peer support for new students.

EAPS awards an annual prize for excellence in teaching to highlight the superior work of its teaching assistants. During the 2016 academic year, Ms. Stephanie Brown, Mr. Chawalit Charoenpong, Ms. Christine Chen, Mr. Michael Eddy, Mr. Chris Kinsley, Ms. Marianna Linz, Ms. Sharon Newman, and Mr. Robert Yi were recognized for their contributions.

Our students were also recognized by their respective professional societies and outside organizations. Mr. Alex Bogdanoff was awarded a 2016 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship in a U.S. legislative office by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant Program. Ms. Christine Chen received the Geological Society of America Student Research Grant, Charles A. & June R. P. Ross Research Award, the Explorers Club Exploration Fund, Mamont Scholarship. Mr. Michael McClellan and Mr. Jaap Nienhuis each received an "Outstanding Student Paper Award" at the Fall 2015 Meeting of the American Geophysical Union for their respective work. Ms. Sharon Newman won the Geology Society of America (GSA) Geobiology and Geomicrobiology Division Award for best student oral presenter at GSA 2015, Baltimore. Ms. Mary Knapp received the Best Paper Award at the IEEE Aerospace conference in March 2016. Other student awards for AY16 can be found at https://eapsweb.mit.edu/news/2016/2015-2016-member-awards

EAPS graduated a total of 22 doctoral students and seven master’s students in AY16. Details can be found at https://eapsweb.mit.edu/news/2016/degrees-awarded-2016.

Undergraduate Program:

EAPS had 23 undergraduate majors in AY2016, 74 percent of whom were women, and 8.7 percent of whom were members of an underrepresented minority group.

We note that the EAPS undergraduate population has always been small but that standard satisfaction is high and that we continue our efforts to increase the number of majors. These activities include events for incoming freshman, an increase in the number of department labs tours and talks during Department Explorations in IAP, involvement through freshman advising and teaching beyond EAPS, widened use of social media, and increased visibility on campus.

The department maintains a strong presence in undergraduate education across MIT so that the general MIT student body has ready access to education in geo-scientific aspects of climate and environmental change, natural hazards, and natural energy resources. Professor Susan Solomon co-taught 5.60 Thermodynamics in the Spring Term. Professor Mick Follows co-taught an ecology class with CEE. Our faculty members with joint appointments (Kerri Cahoy, Noelle Selin, Collette Heald) are also active in teaching undergraduates. 12.340x Global Warming Science, taught by Professor Kerry Emanuel, was offered again in the Spring 2016 term. The department supports and provides leadership of two major undergraduate programs at MIT, Terrascope (under directorship of Professor David McGee) and the Experimental Studies Group (under directorship of Professor Leigh Royden). EAPS also offers a relatively large number of Freshman Advising Seminars. With the combined enrollment of Terrascope and the advising seminars, EAPS connected with 7.5 percent of the students in the freshman class on a weekly basis. Similarly, EAPS is an active participant in three interdisciplinary minor programs; the broadly based Energy Minor, the Astronomy Minor (with Physics) and the Atmospheric Chemistry Minor (with, Chemistry, Aero/Astro, and ESD).

At the 2016 Student Awards and Recognition Dinner, the Goetze Prize was awarded to Ms. Megan Mansfield (advised by Dr. Amanda Bosh) in recognition of her outstanding senior thesis. She was also inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and the physics honor society Sigma Pi Sigma. Ms. Madison Douglas received the W.O. Crosby Award for Sustained Excellence, recognizing her achievement, both academic and intellectual, as well as general contributions to the department. She also received an “Outstanding Student Paper Award” at the Fall 2105 meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Ms. Libby Koolik was the recipient of the EAPS Achievement Award, which recognizes a rising senior from across the EAPS disciplines. The award is presented to a student who has distinguished her or himself through a combination of high GPA, focused course work, and leadership within EAPS. Ms. Brynna Downey was recognized as an outstanding undergraduate teaching for her work in 12.A03 Meteorite Kills Dog, a Freshman Advising Seminar.

EAPS graduated nine bachelor degree students in AY16. Details can be found at https://eapsweb.mit.edu/news/2016/degrees-awarded-2016


The department continues in its efforts to hire the best young scientists and help them develop successful careers.

Dr. Timothy Cronin a former EAPS graduate student who recently completed a postdoc at Harvard, joined our faculty as an Assistant Professor in July of 2016.

We also extended an offer to Dr. Matěj Pěc a geologist currently completing a postdoc at the University of Minnesota. Pěc will join the department in January of 2017.

EAPS will also welcome Dr. Andrew Babbin in January of 2017. Babbin is a marine biogeochemist and is currently completing a postdoc here at MIT in CEE.

We are now halfway through the fifth year of the junior faculty mentorship program introduced in January 2012. Each junior faculty is assigned a mentor team comprising a primary mentor (often a close colleague) and two senior faculty members from outside the candidate’s disciplinary group. They meet – as a group – once a semester and report to the Head of Department. Junior and senior faculty alike are satisfied with the new system, but feedback solicited from junior faculty will be used to make further improvements.

Promotions (Effective July 2016):

Associate Professor of Geology Olivier Jagoutz was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor with Tenure.

Honors and Awards:

Kristin Bergmann , Victor P. Starr Career Development Assistant Professor, was voted the Early Career Councilor for the Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM). She was also named the Ally of Nature Awardee in 2015 and the Victor P. Starr Career Development Assistant Professor in 2016.

The New Horizons Mission to Pluto, of which Richard Binzel , Professor of Planetary Sciences and Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow, is a Science Team Co-Investigator, was honored with multiple team awards including:

Science Magazine: People’s Choice Award: #1 Story of 2015

Science Magazine: Top Ten Breakthroughs of the Year 2015

Discovery Magazine: Top Science Story 2015

Science News Magazine: Top Science Story 2015

National Space Club: Goddard Trophy 2016

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: Space Ops Award 2016

Space Foundation: Jack L. Sweigert Exploration Award 2016

National Space Society: Space Pioneer Award 2016

Smithsonian Institution: 2016 National Air and Space Museum Achievement Award

Aviation Week and Space Technology: 2016 Laureate Award National Air and Space Museum Trophy

American Astronautical Society: Neil Armstrong Space Flight Achievement Award 2016.

Clark Burchfiel , Professor Emeritus of Geology, received a Certificate of Appreciation for his contributions to China-US cooperation in Science and Technology.

Kerry Emanuel , Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Atmospheric Science, was appointed Honorary Fellow, the highest award of the UK’s Royal Meteorological Society “in recognition of a distinguished career and long standing contribution to meteorology”.

Raffaele Ferrari , Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Oceanography and Chair of EAPS Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate, was awarded the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Robert L. and Bettie P. Cody Award in Ocean Sciences. The Cody Award, presented biennially by Scripps, consists of a gold medal at $10, 000.

Timothy Grove , R R Shrock Professor of Geology, was awarded a Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Liege, Belgium.

John Marshall , Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Oceanography, was awarded the 2016 Bernard Haurwitz Prize of the American Meteorological Society "for seminal contributions to atmospheric, oceanic, and climate dynamics and the creation of innovative modeling tools and educational resources."

Daniel Rothman , Professor of Geophysics, was awarded the Levi L. Conant Prize of the American Mathematical Society. The Conant Prize recognizes the best expository paper published in either the Notices of the AMS or the Bulletin of the AMS in the preceding five years. Rothman received the prize for his paper Earth's Carbon Cycle: A Mathematical Perspective in the Bulletin of the AMS (2015).

Noelle Selin , Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Associate Professor, was named an AAAS Leshner Leadership Fellow. She was a co-author of Giang et al. (2015) which won Best Environmental Science & Technology Journal Environmental Policy Paper of 2015.

Susan Solomon , Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science, received an honorary doctorate from the University of British Columbia.

Maria Zuber ,
E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics, was elected Chair of the National Science Board.

Community Events:

The 5th Annual Carlson Lecture at the New England Aquarium entitled Watching Water: Nature’s Field Guide to Weather and Climate was given by Director of the Atmosphere in the Earth System Department at the Max-Planck Institute for Meteorology, and Professor at the University of Hamburg Bjorn Stevens. Steven’s engaging and informative lecture explored what may have triggered the shift in climate that kicked off the cycle of ice ages Earth began experiencing three million years ago. In addition to the formal lecture, several groups set up demonstrations and exhibits during the pre-lecture reception, including members of the McGee, and Follows Groups, as well as students in EAPS Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate, who coordinated demonstrations using the iGlobe, an educational tool developed by Professor Glenn Flierl to allow geographic projection of geophysical data onto a sphere.

In January 2016 EAPS hosted a highly successful daylong symposium MIT on Climate = Science + Action, aimed at defining the key role of basic science in understanding and reacting to climate change. Speakers, among them multiple EAPS faculty, examined what we know, what’s left to learn, and the diverse climate-related research happening throughout the institute. The event complemented and reinforced efforts to raise EAPS profile as the de-facto center for climate science research and education within the Institute.

There were no Kendall or Brace Lectures during AY16.


News curation, creation, and reporting remain central to EAPS communications. Communications Officer Helen Hill continues to maintain strong ties with the MIT News and Media Offices, as well as networking proactively with communications staff in other DLCs. Continued cultivation of the EAPS community to share its work proactively remains a daily challenge but increased exposure to current department news through social media, news emails like EAPSpeaks, and electronic signage in common areas all reinforce and encourage members to get in touch, for instance when journals accept papers, when people are involved in fieldwork or outreach activities, or when members of the EAPS community receive awards.

It had long been recognized that the dated styling and limited functionality of our old website (c. 2005) was undermining the department’s ability to project itself as a world-class entity. Our new site (Fall 2015) provides a state of the art messaging platform allowing streamlined information delivery to provide visitors with a richer more engaging experience. In addition, the flexibility of the site's infrastructure allows changes to be made quickly and efficiently in a way not possible with the old one. Current projects include development of pages to display and index EAPSpeaks and EAPS Scope materials more effectively.

The success of our annual print magazine EAPS Scope, and its usefulness as a take-away in lieu of a department brochure, led us (in fall 2015) to switch EAPSpeaks, formerly a weighty biannual electronic newsletter, to a leaner and more manageable monthly news email. Using the commercial email-marketing platform MailChimp we were quickly able to create a stylish new publication, allowing us to share up-to-date news and event information more efficiently.

In 2015 EAPS commissioned a five-minute, professionally produced, promotional video intended to educate prospective donors about the EAPS enterprise and to cultivate fellowship support. The video (fall 2015) has been well received at multiple donor and community events.

Looking forward, to more effectively convey the cross-disciplinary nature of research in the department, EAPS has been actively reframing front-facing materials geared towards external, non-specialist audiences according to the four broad inter-related themes: “Earth. Planets. Climate. Life.” We look forward to having new printed materials early in AY17 as well as adapting the way we organize and present materials on our website to reflect this new framework.

Planning is also underway with a new campaign to encourage increased undergraduate awareness of, and engagement with, the department. The communications office is working closely with Education Officer Vicki McKenna, informed by discussion with current EAPS majors.



During FY16, EAPS development efforts were focused on building fellowship funds, stewardship of existing EAPS donors, and outreach to alumni and new audiences with particular interest in research into Earth, Planets, Climate and Life. New gifts and pledges to EAPS in FY16 totaled $2.234M – a decrease from the extraordinary results of FY15, but nevertheless reflecting a valuable boost to EAPS fellowship funds and research support.

At the close of FY16, attention is turning to finding significant partners for the Green Building fundraising campaign ($30M+), which we expect to become an integral part of MIT’s Campaign for a Better World, leading to modernized lab and teaching facilities for EAPS faculty and students, and a focal point on campus for world-class discovery science as well as a convening center for environmental activities and research.


We are pleased to report that one new endowed fellowship fund was named (James L. Elliot ‘65 Graduate Student Support Fund), and four expendable graduate fellowships were donated in FY16 by generous members of the EAPS Visiting Committee. In Fall 2015, shortly following the groundbreaking New Horizons fly-by of Pluto, the Elliot Fund was launched with a six-figure gift from Cathy Olkin and Terry Olkin in honor of the late Professor Elliot, whose groundbreaking research led to the discovery of Pluto’s atmosphere. Professor Richard Binzel has been working closely with EAPS SDO Angela Ellis on outreach and fundraising efforts, speaking about New Horizons to MIT alumni from Boston to California, from a private dinner in Lexington, MA to an MIT Club event in Utah, to a special reception in Menlo Park, California. Thanks in part to the challenge gift offered by the Olkins, the Elliot fund has attracted 33 gifts to date. Fundraising efforts continue.

Funds raised for the Sven Treitel ’53 Graduate Student Support Fund, launched in FY14, have now exceeded $750K, thanks to additional support received during FY16, and in particular to a generous gift from Robert C. Cowen '49 (XIX), SM '50 (XIX) who became the newest member of the EAPS Patrons Circle. In October 2015, during the week of the SEG Annual meeting, Sven Treitel ’53, SM ’55, PhD ’58 and his wife Renate attended a special dinner hosted by Rob van der Hilst in New Orleans where we celebrated with several EAPS alumni and friends who have supported the fund.

EAPS is continuing fundraising efforts for each of the named EAPS endowed fellowship funds (Elliot, Klein, Madden, Toksöz, Treitel) to ensure that their generated endowment income is sufficient to support at least one student per academic year, in perpetuity. (As of FY16, approximately $1.9M is needed per fellowship to meet this goal.) We will also continue to reach towards our vision of establishing ten additional fellowship funds for EAPS to ensure that our faculty have the resources available to recruit the most talented graduate students in all disciplines every year.


The EAPS Patrons Circle, established in 2014 to recognize EAPS major fellowship donors, has now reached 27 members. Our second annual EAPS Patrons Circle event was held in April 2016, and we were pleased to welcome among our guests several new patrons who were attending for the first time: Robert C. Cowen ‘49, John H. Carlson ‘83, Pat Callahan '75, SM '77 and David Dee. Patrons were able to get to know students and faculty, enjoying a poster session from current and past fellows during the cocktail hour, and lively presentations by four fellows during dinner. Five Norman C. Rasmussen climate fellows, the Callahan-Dee fellow, the Madden and Toksöz fellows and the two Whiteman fellows were among those who enjoyed meeting their patrons during this celebratory evening, that concluded with inspiring remarks from Patrons Chair Neil C. Rasmussen '76, SM '80 who noted that spaceship Earth needs careful guidance from people who understand how the planet works - and the importance of supporting MIT-EAPS graduate students who can become our “drivers”.


In October 2015, the Lorenz Center hosted the fifth Annual John H. Carlson lecture entitled “Watching Water: Nature's Field Guide to Weather and Climate” by Bjorn Stevens, at the New England Aquarium, attracting an audience of over 250 alumni, students and members of the public. A private dinner hosted by John H. Carlson following the lecture was attended by around 80 VIP guests, faculty and students.

Also during the past year, EAPS and the Earth Resources Lab hosted an annual reception for alumni and friends during the week of the SEG meeting in New Orleans, and EAPS also hosted receptions during the AGU annual meeting in San Francisco, the GSA meeting in Baltimore. At least 500 guests came to these receptions to network and hear the latest news from EAPS.

Also during December 2015, Visiting Committee member Fred Middleton hosted a lecture and cocktail reception for MIT alumni and friends in Menlo Park, where approximately 100 guests donned 3D glasses to view Professor Richard Binzel’s “Pluto Revealed” images and to hear the latest revelations from the New Horizons mission.

In January 2016, over 300 faculty members, students, alumni, and members of the public attended the climate symposium “MIT on Climate: Science + Action”, hosted by EAPS and co-sponsored by the Lorenz Center, the Houghton Fund, and MIT Alumni Association. Alumni and friends were joined by Chancellor Eric Grimson at a VIP reception following this packed, day-long symposium in the Stata Center that showcased climate research across the Institute.

In May 2016, Professor Ben Weiss spoke about his research (“From Mars to Meteorites”) at the home of MIT alumna Adina Gwartzman '81, SM '82 in Cleveland, Ohio and was introduced to local alumni by Thomas F. Peterson, Jr. ’57 who remains a generous supporter of the Weiss group’s research.

Throughout the year, EAPS faculty members have also been invited to lead tours with the MITAA travel program, and to speak at MIT Club events, thereby helping to raise awareness of EAPS research amongst a broader cross-section of MIT alumni. We continue to partner with the MIT Alumni Association to arrange speaking engagements and travel opportunities, and with colleagues in Resource Development to draw attention to EAPS opportunities for engagement, new research and funding priorities. With the Campaign for a Better World now well underway, we anticipate that EAPS focus both on Discovery Science and research that is highly relevant to the Health of the Planet will encourage more interaction with alumni and prospective donors, and further philanthropic support.

Looking forward: The Campaign for the Green Building

During FY15 and FY16, EAPS Visiting Committee Chair Neil Pappalardo '64 jumpstarted our efforts to renovate the Green Building by establishing the A. Neil Pappalardo Fund for EAPS capital improvements. The fund has already been invaluable for renovation (and planned renovation) of lab facilities for three new EAPS faculty members. We look forward to gathering further support for capital improvements from MIT alumni and friends who are inspired by EAPS interdisciplinary research into the Earth, Planets, Climate and Life and who share our vision for the iconic Green Building as a center of excellence and a gathering place for students and scientists who are driven by their curiosity about the planet and their drive to make the world a better place.

Faculty Research Highlights:

Kristin Bergmann

Professor Bergmann joined the EAPS faculty as an assistant professor in July of 2015. Bergmann’s research group studies the ancient interactions between the environment and early complex life. In particular, her group focuses on the nature of carbonate sedimentation through time and reconstructing climate change in the Neoproterozoic period (1000-541 million years ago) and the Cambrian and Ordovician periods (541-443.8 million years ago). The Bergmann lab uses a combination of approaches including fieldwork, micro-analytical methods including electron microprobe and secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), and carbonate clumped isotope geochemistry.

The Bergmann lab space on the 10th floor of Building 54 was renovated during the fall of 2015. During the spring of 2016, the Bergmann group moved into the space and set up the lab for a variety of analyses. Two field seasons were conducted during the last year to Newfoundland to sample Cambrian and Ordovician (541-443.8 million years ago) aged strata on the Port au Port Peninsula and Ediacaran (635-541 million years ago) aged rocks on the Avalon Peninsula. Bergmann also taught a new course in Sedimentology in the Field that took 11 students to Allamoore, Texas over spring break to study 1.2 billion year old rocks and 540 million year old rocks.


Creveling, J.R., Bergmann, K.D., Grotzinger, J.P. (2016), Cap carbonate platform facies model, Noonday Formation, SE California, GSA Bulletin, 128, 1249-1269, doi: 10.1130/B31442.1

Richard Binzel

After nearly two decades of perseverance to reach the launch pad and more than nine years of flight, as a founding member of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto Professor Binzel achieved the objective for the first spacecraft reconnaissance of our solar system's most distant planet. This historic achievement in space exploration has been honored with multiple team awards including: Science Magazine: People’s Choice Award: #1 Story of 2015, Science Magazine: Top Ten Breakthroughs of the Year 2015, Discovery Magazine: Top Science Story 2015, Science News Magazine: Top Science Story 2015, National Air and Space Museum: Goddard Trophy 2016, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: Space Ops Award 2016, Space Foundation: Jack L. Sweigert Exploration Award 2016, and the National Space Society: Space Pioneer Award 2016.

Edward Boyle

Professor Boyle’s group completed an oceanographic section for lead (Pb) and Pb isotopes from sections in the Southeast Pacific (Ecuador to Tahiti) and the northern North Atlantic (approximately Lisbon to Greenland to Labrador).

Among their observations the group found that Southern Hemisphere eastern Pacific surface Pb concentrations are lower than in the Northern Hemisphere, but they are still enriched in anthropogenic Pb relative to deeper waters. In the plume downstream of the East Pacific Rise hydrothermal vents, anthropogenic Pb is stripped from solution onto iron and manganese phases resulting in the lowest Pb concentrations ever observed in the ocean, less than 0.1 parts per trillion. In the northern North Atlantic, Pb is highest in the eastern mid-depth Labrador Sea Water that sank from the surface ~30 years ago. A statistical examination of the concentration of Pb on North Atlantic particles shows that 90% of the variance in particulate Pb can be accounted for by solution-surface adsorption onto manganese oxide and lithogenic minerals.

A 150 year long record of Pb and Pb isotopes from a coral in the South China Sea off of Vietnam shows that the main source of Pb is recirculated and upwelled water containing Pb from Chinese emissions into the atmosphere. A study of Pb and Pb isotopes in the coastal waters of Singapore shows that anthropogenic aerosol Pb with a low 206Pb/ 207Pb ratio deposited into the ocean exchanges with natural crustal Pb with a high 206Pb/207Pb ratio on the surfaces of river-borne particles.


Chen, Mengli, Edward A. Boyle, Jong-Mi Lee, Intan Nurhati, Cheryl Zurbrick, Adam D. Switzer, Gonzalo Carrasco, Lead Isotope exchange between dissolved and fluvial particulate matter: a laboratory study from the Johor River estuary, Proc. Royal Society London B (in press)

Chen, Mengli, Nathalie F. Goodkin, Edward A. Boyle, Adam D. Switzer, Annette Bolton (2016), Ocean circulation contributes to the rise and fall of lead in the western South China Sea over the past two centuries, Geophys. Res. Lett. 43: 4490–4499, doi: 10.1002/2016GL068697

Daniel Cziczo

Professor Cziczo’s research group seeks to understand the chemical composition, size and morphology of small atmospheric particles, commonly termed aerosols, and how these properties impact the uptake of water. Research endeavors are organized around answering four questions:

How do particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, in particular those produced by human activities, affect the planet’s climate? Cziczo seeks to answer this question because the largest uncertainty in understanding the Earth’s climate is the formation and persistence of clouds [IPCC, 2013]. The uncertainty is due to several poorly understood processes and measurements including: (1) the microphysics of how particles nucleate droplets and ice, (2) the number of droplet and ice forming particles as a function of atmospheric properties such as temperature and relative humidity, (3) the atmospheric distribution of droplet and ice forming particles and (4) the role of anthropogenic activities in producing or changing the behavior of droplet and ice forming particles. This, the major focus of the Cziczo Group, is organized around a set of projects aimed at reducing uncertainty in these four areas. Cziczo uses a combination of laboratory, field and modeling studies to accomplish this goal. Secondary foci in the field of Atmospheric Chemistry are better understanding the role of aerosols in visibility, heterogeneous chemistry, and the initiation of precipitation (i.e., the role of aerosols in the Earth’s water cycle.)

Do we have the right instruments to answer the questions we’re interested in? In order to accomplish their group’s goals they are actively involved in the development of new instruments for laboratory and field use. A major group goal has been instrument miniaturization in order to access remote field sites with limited space and power as well as deployment on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Development activities include ongoing partnerships with private industry (e.g. Aerodyne, Inc., Billerica, MA and Droplet Measurement Technologies, Boulder, CO) as well as government laboratories (e.g. NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Division in Boulder, CO.)

Do clouds around other planets, both within and beyond our solar system, limit our understanding of those planets? EAPS has offered a location where the group’s expertise and instrumentation for terrestrial aerosols and cloud formation can be leveraged to address topics of interest in other fields. In Planetary Sciences, they have extended the capabilities of cloud chambers designed and built for terrestrial studies to conditions found on other planets. Studies include determination of conditions required for cloud formation in the Martian Atmosphere and mimicking exoplanet cloud formation.

Can our instrumentation for atmospheric studies be used to understand pre-industrial aerosols? In the field of Paleoclimatology, the Cziczo Group has sought to address another of the large uncertainties in understanding climate change: the lack of data characterizing the pre-industrial aerosol loading of the atmosphere. Modern instrumental records of aerosols date back, at most, a few decades. To overcome this limitation, the group has utilized a single particle mass spectrometer to characterize aerosol trapped within ice cores. Using this method, they use a modern technique to characterize aerosols dating back hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. The ultimate goal is to “stitch” pre-industrial to contemporary records with a common instrumental technique.


Ardon-Dryer, K., Garimella, S., Huang Y.-w., Christopoulos, C., and Cziczo, D. J., Evaluation of DMA Size Selection of Dry Dispersed Mineral Dust Particles, Aero. Sci. Tech. (in press)

Ardon-Dryer, K., Huang, Y.-W. and Cziczo, D. J. (2015), Laboratory studies of collection efficiency of sub-micrometer aerosol particles by cloud droplets on a single-droplet basis, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 15, 9159–9171, doi: 10.5194/acp-15-9159-2015

Atkinson, D. et al., Aerosol Optical Hygroscopicity Measurements during the 2010 CARES Campaign, ACP (in press)

Garimella, S., et al., The SPectrometer for Ice Nuclei (SPIN): A new instrument to investigate ice nucleation, Atmos. Meas. Tech. (accepted)

Hiranuma N., et al., Development and characterization of an ice-selecting pumped counterflow virtual impactor (IS-PCVI) to study ice crystal residuals, Atmos. Meas. Tech. (in press)

Tang, M., Cziczo, D. J., and Grassian, V. (2016), Interactions of Water with Mineral Dust Aerosol: Water Adsorption, Hygroscopicity, Cloud Condensation, and Ice Nucleation, Chem. Rev., doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrev.5b00529

Zawadowicz, M. A, et al. (2015), Single-Particle Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry Utilizing a Femtosecond Desorption and Ionization Laser, Anal. Chem., doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.5b03158

Zawadowicz, M. A, Proud, S. R., Seppalainen, S. S. and Cziczo, D. J. (2015), Hygroscopic and phase separation properties of ammonium sulfate/organics/water ternary solutions, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 15, 8975–8986, doi:10.5194/acp-15-8975-2015

Kerry Emanuel

During the academic year July 2015-June 2016, Professor Emanuel and his research group continued several lines of research and initiated several others. Graduate student Vince Agard and Emanuel continued studying how severe local storms, which produce damaging wind, hail, and tornadoes, respond to climate change. Diamilet Perez-Betancourt and Emanuel are exploring the dynamics of spiral rainbands in hurricanes. New graduate student Rohini Shivamoggi and Emanuel initiated a new line of work on the physics of secondary eyewalls in tropical cyclones.

Emanuel hosted two long-term visitors: Professor Fuqing Zhang from Pennsylvania State University, who was in residence during the fall semester, 2015, and Dr. Louise Nuijens from the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg, Germany. Zhang and Emanuel explored the importance of the wind-dependence of surface enthalpy fluxes for determining the properties of tropical cyclones, and also explored the fundamental predictability of tropical cyclone intensity [Zhang et al. 2016, Emanuel et al.]. Nuijens and Emanuel discovered that the altitude distribution of cumulus convection in a simple two-column model is strongly tri-modal, which has also been observed in natural convection. They are currently trying to understand why this is the case.


Emanuel, K., and F. Zhang, On the predictability and error sources of tropical cyclone intensity forecasts, J. Atmos. Sci. (accepted)

Zhang, F. and K. Emanuel, 2016: On the role of surface fluxes and WISHE in tropical cyclone intensification. J. Atmos. Sci., 73, 2011-2019, doi: 10.1175/JAS-D-16-0011.1

A complete list of Professor Emanuel’s recent publications is available at http://eaps4.mit.edu/faculty/Emanuel/publications/research_papers

Raffaele Ferrari

Professor Ferrari's group had a very productive year. One particularly interesting result was highlighted in Nature shortly after being presented at Ocean Sciences in February 2016 ( http://www.nature.com/news/role-of-chaos-in-deep-ocean-turned-upside-down-1.19455 ). The ocean deep circulation is a crucial element of the climate system as it controls the ocean uptake of heat and carbon. Starting with Walter Munk’s seminal 1966 paper, it has become textbook knowledge that the deep circulation is fed by waters that become dense enough to sink into the ocean abyss at high latitudes and are brought back toward the surface by the turbulent mixing generated by breaking internal waves. The Ferrari Group showed that the textbook picture in not consistent with the observations collected over the last two decades, which show that mixing is most vigorous close to the ocean bottom. The waters return at the surface along the ocean boundaries, while mixing drives additional sinking of waters. They have confirmed their finding with theory, numerical simulations and observations and are now lobbying for a large observational program to fully test the theory and its implications for Earth’s climate.

Beyond this work, other members of the group remained active in studies of air-sea interactions and their impact on ocean biology. They also continued their study of mesoscale turbulence in the atmosphere.

Glenn Flierl

Professor Flierl and his students are investigating physical and biological dynamics in the ocean and other more general problems in geophysical fluid dynamics. Recent publications include a study of the aggregation of zooplankton (the primary food for right whales) to understand why their concentrations can be orders of magnitude larger in the Great South Channel than in the rest of Mass. Bay, analysis of banded flow structures in the ocean, and studies of the fluxes of material associated with turbulent flows. A recent MS thesis from his group examined the structure of vortices in sinusoidal zonal flows with applications to the Red Spot on Jupiter.

Professor Flierl was the lecturer for the 2015 Fluid Dynamics in Earth and Planetary Sciences in Kyoto. In this 15 hour set of lectures, he covered the dynamics of geophysical vortices and jets. Other work from his group was presented at the American Physical Society and the Ocean Sciences meetings as well as in seminars.

Professor Flierl has participated in many outreach events, using the iGlobe spherical display: these include the MIT Open House (with Senior Lecturer Lodovica Illari), Earth Day with the Environmental Solutions Initiative and also the Oceans at MIT group at the MIT Museum, the Carlson lecture, an event in Princeton at the Hun School, and the MIT Campaign Launch.

Gregory Fournier

Several research projects within Professor Fournier’s lab were continued this year, supported by departmental startup funds, the NASA Astrobiology Institute Foundation of Complex Life Team, and in collaboration with research groups at MIT and other institutions.

Using computational techniques and genome sequence data, their project to “date the Tree of Life” attempts to combine genomic, paleontological, physiological, and geological/geochemical evidence to calibrate the evolutionary histories of major groups of microbes, in order to estimate when they likely evolved, and how their metabolisms influenced the planetary system. So far, the project has focused on the history of Archaea, and Proteobacteria, the latter in collaboration with the Polz lab in CEE. These analyses have been expanded to include additional groups of microbes, including cyanobacteria, other phototrophic bacteria, and sulfate-reducing bacteria. Additional results include the observation that Cyanobacteria likely diversified close to the time of the major rise of oxygen ~2.3 billion years ago, and that sulfate reducing bacteria likely diversified shortly thereafter, in support of a model that oxidized crust weathering delivered large amounts of sulfate to sediments as oxygen levels continued to increase in the early Proterozoic Eon, 2.3-1.8 billion years ago.

Danielle Gruen, a new graduate student in the group, started a project dating the expansion of methanogen substrate usage, specifically mapping the genes associated with reducing acetate, and methylated compounds. These microbes are important to marine geochemistry, and likely co-evolved with algae and bacteria producing these growth substrates. Gruen and Fournier are attempting to construct a biogeochemical narrative across all of these groups.

Fournier’s group also made several methodological advances in estimating these dates, including combining multiple gene histories to use horizontally transferred genes to propagate fossil date calibrations across the Tree of Life, as well as running computer simulations of sets of proposed fossil calibrations at different dates, in order to independently evaluate their plausibility. This approach has led them to predict that a 2 billion year old putative cyanobacterial fossil is likely misidentified, in agreement with a recent paleontological re-assessment of the specimen.

A project studying genomes and the rise of oxygen, a collaboration between NASA Astrobiology Institute’s “Foundations of Complex Life” team at MIT, and “Alternative Earths” team at UC Riverside, CA, together with Roger Summons and Postdoctoral Associate David Gold, investigates the history of the emergence and spread of oxygen-related genes across microbial lineages. Mapping the evolutionary histories of these genes using phylogenies based on genome sequence data reveals how and when major groups of microbes likely first encountered oxygen, and adapted to changing levels of oxygen across 2.5 billion years of planetary change. This year, the Fournier Group performed phylogenetic reconstructions and date calibration estimates for the age of oxygen-dependent sterol biosynthesis enzymes within eukaryotes and some bacteria, identifying that these genes likely originated within the eukaryal stem ancestor lineage relatively early, and were only later acquired by bacterial groups. As part of a funded NASA Director’s Discretionary Fund project, the group also began mapping the acquisition and transfer of other oxygen-dependent genes across different parts of the Tree of Life, to use as an independent proxy for the rise of oxygenated niches following the GOE.

Members of the group have also begun a research project in collaboration with Jack Szostak’s group at Harvard Medical School, investigating the earliest origins of the protein synthesis machinery, by reconstructing ancestral sequences of families of proteins that load specific tRNA with their cognate amino acids (aaRS proteins). First year EAPS graduate student Marjorie Cantine has led this effort, and is working to integrate both protein sequence and structural data to address this problem. The objective of this project is to test the proposed hypothesis that the ancestor of each major group of aaRS proteins was descended from the same gene, only arising from opposite strands. A combinatoric analysis of likely ancestor sequences, guided by their evolutionary history, will allow us to evaluate this controversial hypothesis.

Timothy Grove

Professor Grove with students and collaborators completed an experimental investigation of the melting behavior of two surface lava compositions on Mercury remotely analyzed by the x-ray spectrometer on the MESSENGER spacecraft. These new experiments put constraints on the interior melting processes that occurred within Mercury during its early volcanic history. The two lavas represent the oldest and youngest lava flows on Mercury. The older lava composition records a melting process that began deep in the planet, at 360 kilometers, near the core/mantle boundary at 1,650 degrees Celsius. The younger lava records a melting process that began at shallower depths, 160 kilometers, and at 1,410 degrees Celsius. The experiments indicate that the planet’s interior cooled dramatically, over 240 degrees Celsius between 4.2 and 3.7 billion years ago — a geologically short span of 500 million years: The first time that we have had any estimates of the secular cooling of a planet during its early history.


Brown, S.M., Grove, T.L. (2015), The origin of Apollo 14, 15 and 17 yellow ultramafic glass: evidence for late stage overturn of the lunar magma ocean, Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, 171, 201-215, doi: 10.1016/j.gca.2015.09001

Donnelly-Nolan, J.M., Champion, D.E., and Grove, T.L. (2016), Late Holocene volcanism at Medicine Lake volcano, northern California Cascades: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1822, 59 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/pp1822

Grove, T.L., Carlson, R.W., Donnelly-Nolan, J.M. (2016), Wet and dry mantle melting and fractional crystallization at Newberry volcano, Oregon, Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. (in prep.)

Mandler, B.E., Grove, T.L. (2016), The stability and composition of amphibole in the Earth’s mantle: new experimental data, implications for water storage and a preliminary barometer for metasomatized periodtite, Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. (submitted).

Mitchell, A.L., Grove, T.L. (2016), Experiments on melt-rock reaction in the mantle wedge, Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. (submitted)

Namur, O., Collinet, M., Charlier, B., Grove, T.L., Holtz, F., McCammon, C. (2015), Melting processes and mantle sources of Mercury’s lavas, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 439, 117 – 128, doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2016.6.01.030

Thomas Herring

Professor Herring is using primarily global positioning system (GPS) data to develop geophysically based models of Earth deformations on global, regional, and local scales and changes in the rotation of the Earth. He is also using interferometric synthetic aperture radar to study small surface deformations and geodetic methods to study Earth’s gravity field. His group is using high-precision GPS measurements
in many different study areas, including over much of the southern Eurasian plate boundary and the western United States. They are investigating processes on time scales of years leading up to earthquakes, transient deformation signals lasting days to many weeks, post-seismic deformation after earthquakes on time scales of day to decades, surface wave propagation during earthquakes using high rate GPS data and ice dynamics. All of these measurements have sub-millimeter to few millimeter precision. The group is also monitoring and modeling human-induced deformations in hydrocarbon fields and on tall buildings, including the Green building at MIT.


Herring, T.A., T. I. Melbourne, M. H. Murray, M. A. Floyd, W. M. Szeliga, R. W. King, D. A. Phillips, C. M. Puskas, M. Santillan, and L. Wang, Plate Boundary Observatory and Related Networks: GPS Data Analysis Methods and Geodetic Products, Rev. Geophys., submitted July 2016, 2016RG000529

Jha, B., F. Bottazzi, R. Wojcik, M. Coccia, N. Bechor, D. McLaughlin, T. A. Herring, B. H. Hager, S. Mantica, R. Juanes (2015), Reservoir characterization in an underground gas storage field using joint inversion of flow and geodetic data, International Journal for Numerical and Analytical Methods in Geomechanics , NAG-15-0034, 39(14):1619-1638, 2015. doi: 10.1002/nag.v39.14

Li, J., C. Rude, D. Blair, M. Gowanlock, T. Herring, V. Pankratius, Computer Aided Detection of Transient Inflation Events at Alaska Volcanoes using GPS Measurements from 2005-2015, submitted to Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.

Pankratius, V., J. Li, M. Gowanlock, D. M. Blair, C. Rude, T. Herring, F. Lind, P. J. Erickson, C. Lonsdale (2016), Computer-Aided Discovery: Towards Scientific Insight Generation with Machine Support,IEEE Intelligent Systems, 31, 4, pp 3-10, doi: 10.1109/MIS.2016.60

Stevens, L., M. Behn, S. Das, I. Joughin, B. Noel, M. van den Broeke, T. Herring, Greenland Ice Sheet flow response to runoff variability, GRL, submitted July 2016, 2016GL070414

Oliver Jagoutz

The members of Professor Jagoutz’s group continued their research on the formation and evolution of the continental crust. Jagoutz has been working in northeastern India in the Himalayan mountains, since ~ 2008 to unravel the history of the ocean that separated India and Eurasia before India-Eurasia collision. In a paper published in PNAS in 2016 , together with MIT colleague Leigh Royden, they showed that their pre-collisional scenario, constrained from their fieldwork, could explain the beginning of the Ice Ages in the Cenozoic. Their numerical simulations indicate that when obduction of ultramafic rocks occurs in the inter tropical convergence zone the subsequent weathering of these rocks could sequester significant amount of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Graduate student Claire Bucholz completed her PhD work at MIT and has accepted a faculty position at CalTech. Third year PhD student Benjamin Klein and Jagoutz are studying how magmatic processes in the deep crust of arcs form continental crust. First year graduate student William Shinevar and Jagoutz will work on an algorithm to convert seismic properties to chemical compositions to better constrain the compositional variations in the lower continental crust.


Jagoutz O, MacDonald FA, & Royden L (2016), Low-latitude arc-continent collision as a driver for global cooling. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113:4935-4940, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1523667113

A complete list of Professor Jagoutz’ recent publications can be found at http://eaps.mit.edu/faculty/jagoutz/Publications.html .

John Marshall

Professor Marshall and his research group continued several lines of research. Among them a collaborative project -- with Research Scientist David Ferreira and Professors R. Alan Plumb and Susan Solomon -- on the climatic implications of the ozone hole, led to an important publication in the Journal of Climate. The response of the Southern Ocean to a repeating seasonal cycle of ozone loss was found to comprise both fast and slow processes, rapid cooling followed by slow but persistent warming. This work may account for the observed increase in Antarctic sea ice over the past few decades, in contrast to declining sea ice in the Arctic [Ferreira et al., 2016].


Ferreira, D., Marshall, J., Bitz, C.M., Solomon, S., and A. Plumb (2015), Antarctic Ocean and Sea Ice Response to Ozone Depletion: A Two-Time-Scale Problem, J. of Climate, vol. 28, pp. 1206–1226, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00313.1

A complete list of Professor Marshall’s recent publications is available at http://oceans.mit.edu/JohnMarshall/papers

David McGee

The McGee Group’s research continues to focus on understanding the response of precipitation patterns to past climate changes in order to offer insight into the sensitivity of the hydrological cycle to changing forcings and boundary conditions.

One tool they use in this research is reconstructions of windblown mineral dust deposited in marine sediments, as dust constitutes a unique tracer of past wind patterns and aridity in source areas. Dust also actively impacts climate through direct effects on incoming and outgoing radiation and indirect effects on cloud optical properties and precipitation, and it supplies limiting nutrients to the surface ocean and some terrestrial ecosystems.

Group members have mapped past dust emissions and transport from North Africa using an array of marine sediment cores from the North Atlantic Ocean [McGee et al., 2013; Williams et al., in revision] demonstrating that the African dust plume can be reconstructed coherently across thousands of kilometers. Led by graduate students Ross Williams and Christopher Kinsley, this work places quantitative bounds on changes in emissions from the world’s largest dust source over the last 20,000 years, finding factor-of-four changes in long-range dust transport between maximum emissions during high-latitude cooling events during the end of the last ice age and minimum emissions during the early Holocene African Humid Period ~5,000-11,000 years ago.

The team also finds no evidence for significant anthropogenic changes in dust emissions from North Africa over the industrial era [Hayes et al., submitted]. Related work has tested and refined methods used for dust flux reconstructions [McGee et al., 2016], and research by postdoctoral fellow Christopher Hayes has constrained modern dust inputs and iron cycling in the ocean [Hayes et al., in prep.] They have also begun to examine the climatic impacts of past changes in Saharan dust emissions, demonstrating that dust-driven cooling of subtropical North Atlantic sea surface temperatures is likely an important amplifier of regional climate variability.

Ongoing collaboration with climate modelers incorporating prognostic dust emissions and transport into models of current and past climates offers a new avenue to test interpretations of dust records, quantify past changes in iron delivery to the oceans, and identify areas for model improvements [Albani et al., 2016, 2015]

In other research, members of the McGee Group have developed records of regional precipitation patterns using lake deposits and stalagmites. Their particular focus is in the use of uranium-thorium disequilibrium dating to offer precise and accurate chronological control, which is essential for comparing independently dated records from around the world. Recent, and ongoing research led by graduate students Christine Chen, and Gabriela Serrato Marks and research scientist Ben Hardt documents past precipitation changes in Madagascar [Burns, et al. 2016], Brazil [Wortham et al., submitted], Vietnam, Mexico and the central Andes.


S. Albani, N.M. Mahowald, L.N. Murphy, R. Raiswell, J.K. Moore, R.F. Anderson, D. McGee, L.I. Bradtmiller, B. Delmonte, P.P. Hesse, P.A. Mayewski, 2016. Paleodust variability since the Last Glacial Maximum and implications for iron inputs to the ocean, Geophysical Research Letters 43, doi: 10.1002/2016GL067911

Stephen J. Burns, Laurie R. Godfrey, Peterson Faina, David McGee, Ben Hardt, Lovasoa Ranivoharimanana, and Jeannot Randrianasy (2016), Rapid human-induced landscape transformation in Madagascar at the end of the first millennium of the Common Era, Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 134, Pages 92–99, doi: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2016.01.007

L.I. Bradtmiller, D. McGee, M. Awalt, J. Evers, H. Yerxa, C.W. Kinsley, P.B. deMenocal (2016),Changes in biological productivity along the northwest African margin over the past 20,000 years, Paleoceanography 31, doi: 10.1002/2015PA002862

C.T. Hayes, D. McGee, E.A. Boyle, S. Mukhopadhyay, A.C. Maloof, Stable deposition of African dust to the Bahamas over recent millennia. Submitted to Earth and Planetary Science Letters

D. McGee, G. Winckler, A. Borunda, S. Serno, R.F. Anderson, C. Recasens, A. Bory, D. Gaiero, S.L. Jaccard, M. Kaplan, J.F. McManus, M. Revel, Y. Sun (2016), Tracking eolian dust with helium and thorium: Impacts of grain size and provenance, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 175, 47-67, doi: 10.1016/j.gca.2015.11.023

D. McGee, P.B. deMenocal, Climatic changes and cultural responses during the African Humid Period recorded in multi-proxy data. Invited chapter for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science, submitted to Oxford University Press.

B.E. Wortham, C.I. Wong, D. McGee, E.T. Rasbury, L.C.R. Silva, I.P. Montañez, Potential decoupling between the regional monsoon intensity and local moisture conditions 
during last millennium in central Brazil, submitted to Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

R.H. Williams, D. McGee, D.A. Ridley, C.W. Kinsley, S. Hu, A. Fedorov, I. Tal, R. Murray, P.B. deMenocal, Glacial to Holocene changes in trans-Atlantic Saharan dust transport and dust-climate feedbacks, in revision for Science Advances.

J. Taylor Perron

Professor Perron and his group study the processes that shape the surface on Earth and other planets. Their efforts are currently focused on understanding widespread patterns in landscapes, climate’s effects on erosion, and the landscapes of Mars and Saturn’s moon Titan.

A new effort by Perron’s group came to fruition in 2015-16. MS student Mirna Slim and postdoctoral researcher Seulgi Moon led studies of how stresses created by ridges and valleys on Earth’s surface affect the breakdown of rock below those landforms. The thin layer near Earth's surface where rocks break down to form soil is so essential to life that it has been dubbed the "critical zone". The extent of fracturing and weathering (physical and chemical breakdown) in this zone controls how erosion sculpts bedrock into mountains, and the chemical reactions that weather rocks help regulate Earth's climate by consuming carbon dioxide. Yet they cannot currently predict how deep the weathered zone extends, or how extensively the rock is weathered, in a given location.

One idea is that stresses (forces) imposed by landforms like valleys and ridges can, depending on their shape, either accelerate the fracturing of rock – mountains breaking their own foundations – or inhibit fracturing, creating different depths and extents of

weathering beneath different parts of a landscape. Using computational stress models and field surveys that probed the mechanical integrity of rocks beneath Earth's surface, they discovered that rocks appear to be damaged in spatially variable patterns just like the ones the "topographic stress" idea predicts [Slim et al., 2015; St. Clair, Moon et al., 2015].

Possible implications of this work include: understanding feedbacks between topography and rock weathering (in which mountainous topography affects how the underlying rock breaks down, which in turn influences how mountainous topography erodes); predicting the characteristics of reservoirs that hold groundwater, fossil fuels, or even injected CO2; mapping unstable slopes in which fractured rock is more likely to form landslides; and mapping the depth of the life-sustaining "critical zone".


Slim, M., J.T. Perron, S.J. Martel, and K. Singha (2015), Topographic stress and rock fracture: A two-dimensional numerical model for arbitrary surface topography and comparisons with borehole observations, Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 40, 512–529, doi: 10.1002/esp.3646

St. Clair, J., S. Moon, G., W.S. Holbrook, J.T. Perron, C.S. Riebe, S.J. Martel, B. Carr, C. Harmon, K. Singha and D. deB. Richter (2015), Geophysical imaging reveals topographic stress control of bedrock weathering, Science, 350, 534–538, doi: 10.1126/science.aab2210

Fig. 1. Former MIT postdoctoral researcher Seulgi Moon, now an assistant professor at UCLA, maps bedrock fractures in Gordon Gulch, Colorado.

Ronald G. Prinn

Over the past year, Professor Prinn notes that the Center for Global Change Science (CGCS), its Joint Program on the Science & Policy of Global Change (JPSPGC); and its Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE) produced 66 peer-reviewed scientific papers, with 13 authored or co-authored by him and members of his group. Through a combination of federal grants, industry donors and foundations, research spending continued at about $9M annually. NASA funding for the AGAGE network was renewed in 2015 for 2016-2021.

The new MIT-led Rwanda Climate Observatory, that is joining AGAGE, has recorded the first simultaneous high frequency measurements in Africa of the climate forcing species carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, ozone and black carbon aerosols. The first high frequency measurements of the isotopic composition of the greenhouse and ozone-depleting gas nitrous oxide, have been obtained at the Ireland AGAGE station. EAPS doctoral students Jimmy Gasore (African station) and Michael McClellan (Irish station) are involved in this AGAGE activity. MIT’s Climate Action Plan ( http://climateaction.mit.edu) announced a new study to be led by the JPSPGC, which will define the scientific, economic and technological pathways needed to restrict global warming to 2ºC (3.6ºF) above preindustrial levels.

Paola Rizzoli

Professor Rizzoli and her collaborators from the National University of Singapore, Drs. Pavel Tkalich and Bijoy Thompson, have continued in the investigation of the dynamical and thermodynamical balances of the South China Sea (SCS), specifically focusing on the transition in the sea surface temperatures (SST) from the climatological conditions of the 1980s to those of the late 1990s [Thompson et al., 2015; Thompson et al., 2016].

Together with collaborator Professor Jun Wei of the University of Beijing the investigation has been extended to the decomposition of the changes in the SCS induced either by surface fluxes or by boundary conditions. A further study has focused on the interactions between the SCS and the Indonesian Through Flow (ITF) and the contrasting variabilities induced by the two into the Sulawesi Sea [Xue et al., 2014; Wei et al., 2016 I and II].

The second major objective of the research has been the further improvement of the coupled ocean/atmosphere climate model developed by Rizzoli in her collaboration with Professor E. Eltahir 's group (in CEE). The model has been used to identify negative feedback mechanisms between the atmosphere and the ocean to correct for negative/positive biases in oceanic/atmospheric variables. Presently the model has been implemented to allow for anthropogenically induced warming over the Asian Maritime Continent.


B. Thompson, P. Tkalich and P. Malanotte-Rizzoli, B. Fricot, and J. Mas (2015),

Dynamical and Thermodynamical analysis of the South China Sea winter cold tongue, Climate Dynamics, doi: 10.1007/s00382-105-2924-3

B. Thompson, P. Tkalich, and P. Malanotte-Rizzoli (2016), Regime shift of the South China Sea SSR in the late 1990s, Climate Dynamics, doi: 10.1007/200382-016-378-4

J. Wei, P. Malanotte-Rizzoli, A. Gordon, M.T. Li, and D.X. Wang (2016), Opposite variability of the Indonesian Through flow and South China Sea Through flow in the Sulawesi sea, J. Phys. Ocean. (under revision)

J. Wei, P. Malanotte-Rizzoli, M.T. Li, and H. Wang (2016), Decomposition of thermal and dynamic changes in the South China Sea induced by boundary forcing and surface fluxes during 1970-2000, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans (under revision)

Xue. P, E.A.B. Eltahir, P. Malanotte-Rizzoli, and J. Wei (2014), Local feedback mechanisms of the shallow water region around the Maritime Continent, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 119, 6933–6951, doi: 10.1002/2013JC009700

Daniel Rothman

Professor Rothman and his group continue to study the coevolution of life and the environment. These efforts currently seek an understanding of the mechanisms via which the carbon cycle may lose its stability, potentially leading to mass extinction. The group's empirical studies suggest the existence of a threshold beyond which instability can occur; work during the last year seeks to interpret this threshold theoretically in terms of the processes that control the flow of carbon through the atmosphere, oceans, and rocks. To help develop this project into a major Lorenz Center activity, significant philanthropic support is being pursued with the assistance of the Science Philanthropy Alliance.

Rothman's group also continues its work on pattern formation in fluvial systems. Accomplishments in the past year include publication of a paper in PNAS that shows that the direction in which a river grows derives from the same mathematical theory that describes path selection in fracture mechanics [Cohen et al., 2015].


Y. Cohen, O. Devauchelle, H.F. Seybold, R.S. Yi, P. Szymczak, and D.H. Rothman (2015), Path selection in the growth of rivers, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1413883112

Hilke Schlichting

Professor Schlichting’s research focuses on planet formation theory, extrasolar planets and solar system dynamics. She studies the solar system, since it is the only place where we can examine the outcome of planet formation in detail and uses the diversity and statistical properties of extrasolar planets to test planet formation theories. Her research over the past year has focused on understanding the formation of a new class of planets discovered by the Kepler Space mission, bodies that are typically several times more massive than the Earth but that orbit their host stars well inside the orbit of Mercury. Understanding the origin of this new and very ubiquitous class of planet is crucial for determining the key processes of planet formation and for assessing the suitability of these bodies to harbor life.

Together with Sivan Ginzburg, a graduate student, and Re’em Sari, a professor of astrophysics at the Hebrew University, Schlichting investigated the self-consistently atmospheric accretion and retention of gas envelope by protoplanetary cores. They showed that close-in exoplanets quickly shed large fractions of their accreted envelopes as the gas disk dissipates, and that in cases in which the thermal energy budget is dominated by their cores (typically planets that have less than 5% of their total mass in their atmospheres), all the atmospheres can be blown off [Ginzburg, Schlichting, and Sari, 2016].

With her graduate student, Niraj Inamdar, she also investigated atmospheric mass loss due to giant impacts and suggested that one or two late giant impacts may be be responsible for the large diversity in bulk densities observed among planets residing in multiple systems [Inamdar and Schlichting, 2016].


Sivan Ginzburg, Hilke E. Schlichting, and Re’em Sari (2016), Super-Earth Atmospheres: Self-consistent Gas Accretion and Retention, ApJ, submitted arXiv: 1512.07925v1

Niraj Inamdar and Hilke E. Schlichting (2016), Stealing the Gas: Giant Impacts and the Large Diversity in Exoplanet Densities, ApJ, 817, L13, arXiv: 1510.02090v2

Susan Solomon

Professor Solomon’s research focuses on atmospheric chemistry and its interactions with climate change, as well as environmental science and policy.

In a paper published in Science, her group showed that the Antarctic ozone hole is beginning to heal. Industrial chlorofluorocarbons that cause ozone depletion have been phased out under the Montreal Protocol. A chemically-driven increase in polar ozone (or “healing”) is expected in response to this historic agreement. Observations and model calculations taken together indicate that the onset of healing of Antarctic ozone loss has now emerged in September. Fingerprints of September healing since 2000 are identified through increases in ozone column amounts, changes in the vertical profile of ozone concentration, and decreases in the areal extent of the ozone hole. Along with chemistry, dynamical and temperature changes contribute to the healing, but could represent feedbacks to chemistry. Volcanic eruptions episodically interfere with healing, particularly during 2015 (when a record October ozone hole occurred following the Calbuco eruption) [Solomon et al. 2016].

In a paper accepted for publication in Marine Policy, Solomon and her colleagues have shown that the ocean noise levels produced by commercial shipping can be expected to double by 2030. Ocean noise levels are thought to be increasing as a result of major growth in global shipping activity, but data quantifying those changes are limited in space and time. As an alternative approach, this study examines the current and future maximum noise capacity of three segments of the global commercial shipping fleet – container ships, oil tankers, and bulk carriers. Their work shows that continued growth in number of ships, the quantity of goods carried and the distances traveled could increase the maximum noise capacity of the global shipping fleet by up to a factor of 1.9 by 2030, with major growth in particular in the container and bulk carrier segments. Thus, in the absence of operational or manufacturing changes to such ships, the contribution of commercial shipping to ambient ocean noise levels can be expected to dramatically increase [Kaplan et al. 2016].

Together with international collaborators members of the Solomon Group contributed to a highly cited paper published in Environmental Research Letters that addressed whether countries’ climate change pledges met the challenge of being ‘fair and ambitious’ in view of policy makers calls for a ‘fair and ambitious’ global climate agreement. Scientific constraints, such as the allowable carbon emissions to avoid exceeding a 2 °C global warming limit with 66% probability, can help define ambitious approaches to climate targets. Peters et al. (2015) found that, combined, the EU, US, and Chinese pledges left little room for other countries to emit CO2 if a 2 °C limit is the objective, essentially requiring all other countries to move towards per capita emissions 7 to 14 times lower than the EU, USA, or China by 2030. The authors argued that a fair and ambitious agreement for a 2 °C limit that would be globally inclusive and effective in the long term will require stronger mitigation than the goals currently proposed. Given such necessary and unprecedented mitigation and the current lack of availability of some key technologies, the paper suggested a new diplomatic effort directed at ensuring that the necessary technologies become available in the near future [Peters et al. 2015]


Kaplan, M., and S. Solomon (2016), A coming boom in commercial shipping? The potential for rapid growth of noise from commercial ships by 2030, accepted for publication in Marine Policy.

Peters, G., R. Andrew, S. Solomon, and P. Friedlingstein (2015), Measuring a fair and ambitious climate agreement using cumulative emissions, Env. Res. Lett., doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/10/10/105004

Solomon, S., D. J. Ivy, D. Kinnison, M. J. Mills, R. R. Neely III, A. Schmidt (2016), Emergence of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer, Science, 353, 269-274, doi: 10.1126/science.aae0061

Roger Summons

Members of the Summons geobiology laboratory continue to query geochemical records of early life on the Earth and the co-evolution of life with its environment. Collaborating with a diverse group of researchers interested in the earliest records of life, they made significant advances in perfecting chemical and isotopic analyses of fossilized organic matter at micron spatial scales [Williford et al., 2015; Ferralis et al., 2016]. They documented multiple sulfur isotope signals of diagenetic pyrite in a continuous sedimentary sequence in three coeval drill cores in the Transvaal Supergroup, South Africa, data that precisely constrain the timing and duration of the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE), the name given to geological and geochemical phenomena that record the earliest permanent presence of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. Their data suggest this happened 2.33 billion years ago and that it was a rapid process (geologically speaking) taking between 1 and 10 million years [Luo et al., 2016]. Oxygen is an absolute requirement for the development of complex life on Earth.

Moving forward in time, to the geological epoch where the first fossil evidence of animal life is preserved in rocks ~650-550 million years old, members of the Summons Lab conducted a bioinformatics and molecular clock study for enzymes required for the biosynthesis of unusual steroids that are attributed to sponges. Their results suggest that sponges had the biochemical capability to make such steroids as long ago as 600 million years while algae, which make similar steroids, did not acquire that capability until about 100 million years later. Their findings are consistent with the hypothesis that sponges were the first multicellular animals to appear on the Earth [Gold et al., 2016].

Group members also conducted analog experiments in support of the Mars Science Laboratory mission that is currently operating the Curiosity Rover at Gale Crater on Mars. These studies are placing constraints on the types of organic compounds that could be responsible for the chlorinated hydrocarbons so far detected by Curiosity [Miller et al., 2016].

Summons Group research is funded by grants from NASA, The Simons Foundation Collaboration on the Origins of Life, and the National Science Foundation.


Ferralis, N. Matys, E.D., Knoll, A.H., Hallmann, C. and Summons, R.E. (2016), Rapid, direct and non-destructive assessment of fossil organic matter via microRaman spectroscopy, Carbon (In Press).

Gold D.A., Grabenstatter J, de Mendoza A., Riesgo A., Ruiz-Trillo I. and Summons R.E. (2016), Sterol and Genomic Analyses Validate the Sponge Biomarker Hypothesis, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1512614113.

Luo G., Ono S., Beukes N.J, Wang D.T., Xie S. and Summons R.E. (2016), Rapid oxidation of Earth’s atmosphere 2.33 billion years ago, Science Advances 2, No, 5, e1600134, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1600134

Miller K.E, Eigenbrode J.L., Freissinet C., Glavin D.P., Kotrc B., Francois P. and Summons R.E. (2016), Potential precursor compounds for chlorohydrocarbons detected in Gale Crater, Mars, by the SAM instrument suite on the Curiosity Rover, JGR Planets, 121, 296-308, doi: 10.1002/2015JE004939.

Williford, K. H., Ushikubo, T., Lepot, K., Kitajima, K., Hallmann, C., Spicuzza, M. J., Kozdon, R., Eigenbrode, J. L., Summons, R. E. and Valley, J. W. (2015), Carbon and sulfur isotopic signatures of ancient life and environment at the microbial scale: Neoarchean shales and carbonates, Geobiology, doi: 10.1111/gbi.12163

Robert D. van der Hilst

Professor van der Hilst has been head of Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences since January 2012. His research continues to focus on regional tectonics in SE Asia and North America, imaging of Earth’s deep interior using dense seismograph arrays, in collaboration with Visiting Professors De Hoop (Rice University) and Campillo, (Univ. of Grenoble, France) and colleagues at Imperial College London, and development of algorithms for high-resolution seismic imaging with natural earthquakes (in collaboration with De Hoop). Last year, van der Hilst’s team discovered that the height of mountains and other topographic features in the western USA are determined not only by variations in crustal thickness (that is, through the classical concept of isostasy) but also by dynamic processes and variations in composition in the mantle. They also developed a method for determining contrasts in mass density and seismic wavespeed across interfaces deep in Earth’s interior (beneath the Central Pacific), which will help determine the composition and temperature at depths that are well outside the reach of direct observation and measurement.

Jack Wisdom

Professor Wisdom has been studying the early evolution of the Earth-Moon system after the giant impact that is presumed to have formed the Moon. Isotopic similarities of the Earth and Moon suggest that the Moon-forming impact was more severe than previously thought, but this would leave the system with too much angular momentum. It has been suggested that if the system were caught in the evection resonance then the required angular momentum could be drained from the system.

Last year, Wisdom and graduate student ZhenLiang Tian reported that they had found an alternative mechanism to remove the excess angular momentum: the Earth-Moon system can be captured into a limit cycle associated with the evection resonance [Wisdom and Tian, 2015]. The advantage of the limit cycle over the previously suggested evection resonance is that the eccentricity attained during the limit cycle is smaller than that attained during the evection resonance. This is important, as an order of magnitude calculation shows that the proposed evolution in the evection resonance would generate enough heat (from the high orbital eccentricity) to vaporize the moon. Still it was necessary to model the effects of the heating. In a subsequent investigation of the coupled thermal-orbital evolution of the early Earth-Moon system the pair find that the evection resonance no longer drains angular momentum from the system, because system parameters change too much due to the tidal heating. On the other hand, the limit cycle extracts about the same amount of angular momentum in the coupled model as in the uncoupled model. The limit cycle thus provides a possible route from the formation of the Moon with a giant impact to the present Earth-Moon configuration.


Wisdom, J. and Tian, Z. L. (2015), Early evolution of the Earth-Moon system with a fast-spinning Earth, Icarus, vol. 256, pp. 138-146, doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2015.02.025