Interpretation of the Effects of Climate Change in the Middle East

Climate Change, Dust Storms, Vulnerable Populations, and Health in the Middle East: A Review

Muge Akpinar-Elci, Brenda Berumen-Flucker, Hasan Bayram, Abdullah Al-Taiar

Summarized by Ethan Penner, who is a geology master’s student at Binghamton University. He graduated in May 2021 with a BS in geology and is currently working on a thesis concentrated on the tectonic geomorphology of the McGregor fault, located in east-central New York. After graduate school, he plans to apply to the USGS or look for environmental consulting positions and hopes to teach in the future. Some of his hobbies outside of geology include gardening, exercising, hiking and sight-seeing.

What data were used: The data that was used in this study includes articles detailing how climate change and climate variability impact the frequency and severity of dust storms, as opposed to the more common effects of increased sea level and global temperatures, worsening air pollution, and increasing extreme weather rates, on human health. The covered articles themselves deal with data ranging from dust and air samples to illness statistics.

Methods: The authors use a systematic review to determine how dust storms affect the Middle East and its populations and searched for literature on the topic through Google Scholar as well as MEDLINE/PubMed. Articles that were utilized were  published between 2008 and 2019, written in English, and had to be full texts from scientific journals. Their search involved the keywords of “Middle East,” as well as “dust storm” and “health.” They also included individual country names following their initial review of articles (ex. “Iran, dust storm, health”). Countries were identified using the U.S. CIA’s World Factbook. Defining the “Middle East region” is difficult since the official number of countries is not set and not all resources offer the same definition of the territories. Because of this detail, Egypt was included as a part of the Middle Eastern region by the authors. The reviews studied by the authors only discussed health conditions, health outcomes, or diseases that currently affect human populations, especially those that have a strong correlation with local dust storms in the predetermined Middle Eastern region. Not all articles involving dust were included, meaning that articles discussing volcanic activity or human-induced dust production were excluded since these do not have to do with the scope of the authors’ analysis. The articles that did discuss dust exposure or dust levels but did not consider the effects on human health were also excluded. The health of animal populations was not considered when reviewing articles. The main extraction process for the utilized articles involved a review of the title and abstract, and then a review of the full text to check eligibility.

Flowchart detailing the process of selecting, then screening, and finally including texts on dust storms for the analysis, where arrows lead towards the end goal of analysis unless a text is excluded for inadequate content and the number of articles under scrutiny becomes smaller
Figure 1 shows the authors’ method of interpreting whether articles on climate change are related to dust storms and health impacts, and the number of articles goes from 534 to 31 based on full-text availability, and then from 31 to 16 based on quality.

Results: In total, 534 articles were checked for eligibility, but only 31 matched the necessary criteria. Of these 31 articles, 15 were excluded because of a lack of clarity concerning the impacts of dust on human health and the use of animal subjects. Therefore, 16 of the articles were used in the study, most (10) of which focused on Iran. Two of the studies focused on Kuwait, one focused on Kuwait and Iraq, one focused on Turkey, and the final study focused on Israel. The subjects of the articles ranged from threats to human health resulting from dust composition to measurable health impacts attributable to dust storm events. Leski et. al (2011) focuses on airborne particles within collected dust samples from Kuwait and Iraq. Nourmoradi et al. (2015) deals with similar data from Iran, and both studies detected potentially hazardous airborne bacteria and fungi in the air samples. Alavi et al. (2014) details the relationship between dust and pulmonary tuberculosis and found that dust had the potential to impact TB relapse and treatment outcomes. Al-Hemoud et al. (2018) found that dust impacted respiratory diseases in humans, as well as morbidity. These are just a few of the articles that were analyzed in depth to understand a large range of data and impacts, and the overall conclusion from these texts is that dust particulates, often carrying harmful bacteria and fungi, in a region of increasing climate change leads to more severe health effects as more populations are exposed, leading to more people suffering from deadly diseases, more hospitalizations, and possibly even increased mortality.

Why is this study important? This study is vital to the conversation of climate change because it highlights the issue of dust storms, which many likely do not consider as a severe impact when compared to rising sea levels and temperatures. The hidden threats within the air and dust strewn around arid regions affected severely by climate change can cripple populations and drastically impact ways of life in the same ways as conventional ideas of climate change effects.

Overall, the authors discuss how more research should be conducted to understand the relationship between climate change, air pollution, dust storms, and health conditions. Comprehending the scope of the impacts can lead to faster and more efficient solutions to health crises across the Middle East, and further analysis of dust storms/air pollution can help scientists mitigate climate to the best of their abilities.

Citation: Akpinar-Elci, M., Berumen-Flucker, B., Bayram, H., & Al-Taiar, A. (2021). Climate Change, Dust Storms, Vulnerable Populations, and Health in the Middle East: A Review. Journal of Environmental Health, 84(3), 8-15.


Fossilized Mollusks used to determine Cenozoic climate and elevation of the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau

Clumped isotope thermometry of modern and fossil snail shells from the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau: Implications for paleoclimate and Paleo-elevation reconstruction

Yang Wang, Benjamin Passey, Rupsa Roy, Tao Deng, Shijun Jiang, Chance Hannold, Xiaoming Wang, Eric Lochner, and Aradhna Tripati

Summarized by Brynn Crocker, pursuing a master’s in teaching at Binghamton University with a bachelors in Geology. 

What data were used: Both fossilized and modern aragonite mollusk shells were collected from seven different lakes within the Tibetan Plateau. The fossils collected from these sites were dated to be of Cenozoic age. Clumps of carbon 13 and oxygen 18 (isotopes of carbon and oxygen) were measured to determine paleo-temperatures. The formation of the Himalayan Mountains is thought to have had a large impact on the regional climate during the time. Mollusk fossils are great archives for determining paleoclimate.

Methods: This study used X-ray diffraction to determine the values of C13 and 18O bonds (clumps) within the shells. These clumps help determine paleo temperatures and elevations. Modern shells both alive and dead were collected from the lakes in the Tibetan Plateau. The fossil mollusks were collected from fine grained sandstone, indicating that they were not transported there but lived in the freshwater lakes. These shells were then analyzed to find their clump values, which were then compared to modern temperatures. Intact Cenozoic fossil shells were then collected and analyzed to find their clump values. Intact shells were used to avoid using shells that have gone through any diagenetic alteration (changes to the fossils through heat,  pressure, and chemistry). Shells that contain calcite indicate diagenesis. Trace amounts of calcite yield temperatures of an average ~10º C lower than those with no calcite from the same strata. Shells were cleaned using HCl (hydrochloric acid) solution and then rinsed with distilled water. Modern shells were soaked in 30% H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) to remove any organic matter. The isotope clump data was reduced using both the Henkes calibration and the Eagle calibration.

Black and white map showing the location of the study areas.
This figure shows the region of study and the basins within the area.


Results: After analyzing the 13C-18O clumps it was determined that southwest Tibet was warmer 4-5 Ma than today and paleo-elevation was similar to today. Using the Henkes calibration of temperatures calculated from the clump values, the temperature of the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau ranges from 1ºC to 17ºC, with a mean of 10ºC. Using Eagles calibration, the temperature values range from 8ºC to 21ºC, averaging 16ºC. The Henkes calibration is better used for freshwater shells. There were no former long term temperature records for the lakes within the Tibetan plateau. The difference in the modern shell clump values and the fossil clump values can be explained by a change in global climate. The temperature difference between fossil shells and modern shells, after adjusting for temperature change due to sampling elevation difference, is similar to the change in the global mean temperature since the Pliocene warm period. This result tells us that the elevation during the Cenozoic was similar to today. These findings have important implications for paleoclimate and paleo-elevation reconstructions using clumped isotope data from aragonite fossil shells.

Why is this study important? This study provides additional paleo-temperature data that can be used for future paleoclimate research. The affect that tectonic events have on our climate can be significant and the significance of the Himalayan Orogeny on the climate is still disputed. This study can provide more insight on the temperatures of the surrounding areas during that time. Understanding the paleoclimate of our planet can help us better understand how it will react to things in the future.

Chart with water oxygen 18 values on the y-axis and study sites on the x-axis.
This figure represents the calculated d18O values using the Henkes calibration vs the Eagles calibration vs the actual d18O values of the water from the lake sites. The error bars indicate 1 standard deviation.

Citation: Wang, Y., Passey, B., Roy, R., Deng, T., Jiang, S., Hannold, C., … & Tripati, A. (2021). Clumped isotope thermometry of modern and fossil snail shells from the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau: Implications for paleoclimate and paleoelevation reconstructions. GSA Bulletin133(7-8), 1370-1380.

Anoxic Conditions in the Northern Gulf of Mexico Predicted to Increase as Climate Change Continues

Climate change projected to exacerbate impacts of coastal eutrophication in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Arnaud Laurent, Katja Fennel, Dong S. Ko, John Lehrter

Summarized by Kristina Welsh, who is currently a junior at Binghamton University pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Science with a concentration in Natural Resources and a minor in GIS. Kristina hopes to pursue a job involving field work and travel opportunities. In her free time, Kristina enjoys camping, biking, and hanging out with her dog, Bailey.

What data were used: This study uses data from past published articles to compare present and future conditions intheGulf of Mexico. A present condition model was created using data from the Intra-Americas SeaNowcast-Forecast System. The future model was constructed using data from MPI-ESMRPC 8.5.

Methods: This study uses two 6-year physical-biogeochemical model simulations from the Regional Ocean Modeling System to represent present and future conditions in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Initial and open boundary conditions, river discharge, atmospheric temperature and pCO2 (atmospheric carbon dioxide) were variable in both models; all other factors were kept constant. The present simulation, which covers the period of 2005-2010, uses data from the Intra-Americas Sea Nowcast-Forecast System. The future simulation represents a 6-year period at the end of the century. The future model parameters were set with a 10% increased discharge from the Mississippi River, an air temperature increase of 3 ºC, and an atmospheric pCO2 increase to 935.85 µatm. Although conditions of river nutrient load were kept the same, the increased river discharge in the future model will dilute nutrient concentration results.

Four models (present on left, future on right) that show modeling results.
This figure illustrates the pH decrease in bottom waters that is predicted to occur in the future simulation. The bottom row shows how oxygen concentrations are expected to decrease.

Results: The future models predict a summer surface and bottom water temperature increase by 2.69ºCand 2.23ºC, respectively. The salinity of surface waters decreases by 0.48 due to an increase in freshwater river discharge in the model. As salinity in bottom waters is controlled by the saltier offshore water, only a decrease of 0.02 was observed. The reduced density of the warmer and fresher water lead to an increased stratification in summers by +12.35 J m^-3. These warmer waters cause lower oxygen saturation levels and thus lower oxygen concentrations, with summer surface oxygen concentrations 3.4% lower than the present average. The decrease in surface water oxygen saturation leads to a 9.4% decrease in oxygen concentrations in bottom waters. 60-74% of the decrease in oxygen concentration is a result of saturation-dependent effects, while the other 26-40% is a result of changes in biological rates and stratification. Lower oxygen concentrations in the Gulf of Mexico leads to an increase in extent and duration of future hypoxia conditions. Hypoxic areas increase by 26% and volume increases by 39%, resulting in more frequent anoxic surface and bottom waters. The future model increased surface pCO2 and alkalinity, causing a decrease in bottom water pH range of 0.37-7.58, with large spatial and temporal variability. Hypoxic waters in the Gulf predict an average pH 7.39. Present and future conditions vary year to year due to different along shore wind directions, upwelling, and river discharge, but overall follow the same trend.

Why is this study important? This study implies how human-induced climate change will exacerbate hypoxic conditions and eutrophication-driven acidification in the northern Gulf of Mexico by the end of the century. Future hypoxic conditions will create growth and reproductive impairment to many sensitive species living in the Gulf. Changes in atmospheric CO2 can influence ocean pH and air temperatures, producing other negative effects on water chemistry, and plant, and animal life, creating a positive feedback system that will exacerbate these changes. 

The big picture: This study adds to our understanding of the risks of climate change. As this model interprets the impacts of climate change on nature and human sustainability, we can visibly see how the Earth’s oceans will change globally as well as locally. This article gives us evidence as to why we need to take action now so these changes do not occur.

Citation: Laurent, A., Fennel, K., Ko, D. S., & Lehrter, J. (2018). Climate change projected to exacerbate impacts of coastal eutrophication in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 123(5), 3408–3426.

Colonization and Sea Level Rise Effects on Carbon Storage in Freshwater Wetlands of Southeastern United States

The Impact of Late Holocene Land Use Change, Climate Variability, and Sea
Level Rise on Carbon Storage in Tidal Freshwater Wetlands on the Southeastern United States Coastal Plain

Miriam C. Jones, Christopher E. Bernhardt, Ken W. Krauss, Gregory B. Noe

Summarized by James Myers who is a graduate student at Binghamton University earning his masters in teaching for earth science. As an undergraduate he majored in environmental
chemistry. Not long after he decided he wanted to become an educator and work towards
creating the next generation of environmental scientists. In his downtime he enjoys playing
guitar, camping, and watching hockey.

What data were used: Sediment cores were collected along the Waccamaw River in South Carolina and the Savannah River in Georgia. The sites were chosen because they have similar landscapes, ranging from freshwater, to moderate salinity, and oligohaline marsh. Four piston core samples were taken from the Waccamaw River, one that was found in freshwater, one in moderately salt-impacted water, and two from the Sampit River, one from a heavily salt-impacted area and one from an oligohaline marsh. Four other cores were collected along the Savannah River using a peat corer. These core sites were also from freshwater, moderately salinated, highly salinated, and an oligohaline marsh.

Three maps of the Savannah river, Waccamaw River, and an inset map showing the location of both rivers along the southeastern United States.
Maps designating the locations of the sites sampled. The sites are roughly 150 km away from each other, along the southeastern coastline of the United States. The Savannah River sites are found further upstream compared to the Waccamaw River sites. The cores at both locations were assigned numbers from one to four. The lower numbers are further upstream and are lower in salinity.

Methods: The cores were dated using radiocarbon analysis on macrofossils and bulk sediment which helped determine which samples were from the colonial era. Time scales were reported with calibrated years before present from 1950. Core compression was apparent within the samples, and bulk density (weight of sediment in a given volume) and accretion rates (how fast sediment accumulates) were adjusted to account for this. Carbon content was calculated using the loss on ignition method. Carbon accumulation rates were calculated by multiplying the percent carbon by the bulk density and accretion rate determined from an age-depth model. Pollen analyses were run to understand which plant species lived at these sites over time, as this method revealed what the environment must have been like if certain plants and trees were able to survive.

Results: The core samples from the Waccamaw river dated between the last 1,100-4,200 years. The oldest sample was the heavily salt-impacted site, which began as a back swamp environment, where fine silts and clays settle after flooding which create a marsh-like landscape. This was determined from the presence of Nyssa, Taxodium, and Poaceae pollen. The accumulation rates are low, but still higher than the freshwater sites. Upper freshwater and oligohaline sites were also found to have been back swamps due to the presence of Alnus in the freshwater core, and Liriodendron tulipifera seeds found at the oligohaline marsh site, as well as Nyssa, Taxodium and Alnus pollen found at both sites. The accretion and accumulation rates are similar to the heavily salt-impacted site. Freshwater environments are characterized by low accretion and carbon accumulation. Higher accretion and carbon accumulation rates are found around 1700-1400 calibrated years before present, and can be seen in the cores with a decrease in hardwoods and increasing Nyssa, Taxodium, and Liriodendron evidence. The largest observed changes happened around 400 years ago, the same time of colonization and the increase in agriculture within the regions. The changes are marked in the cores by large increases in accretion, organic matter, and carbon accumulation. Another indicator of this is the increase of Poaceae, while evidence of Nyssa, hardwoods, and Taxodium diminish. Poaceae pollen and the presence of Scirpus and Carex seeds suggests a change to oligohaline marsh in relation to the increase of land use in the area. Reforestation efforts over the last 100 years show a decrease in accretion and carbon accumulation in all sites. The Savannah River cores were found to be roughly five to six thousand years old. The results from the cores along the Savannah River were found to be very similar to those from the Waccamaw River.
The study revealed that the same zones were also back swamps and that the freshwater core showed low accretion and carbon accumulation. The presence of Alnus designated this back swamp environment. Around 2,000 calibrated years before present, the sites show various changes in biota, but very little change in accretion and carbon accumulation rates. The largest change in the Savannah samples are found around 400 years ago, as was seen in the Waccamaw cores. All sites showed a decline in Nyssa, and an
increase in Poaceae, and what the researchers call weedier taxa, such as Scirpus, Sagittaria, and Polyganum. Both the Savannah River and the Waccamaw River both show stark increases in carbon accumulation and accretion rates right at the start of when colonization and agriculture increased in these regions dramatically, as well as when sea-level rise began to increase during the Holocene. The lowest accretion rates were found further inland, which is tied to an expansion of the marsh. Reforestation efforts coincided with lowered accretion rates, which increased the vulnerability with a rise in sea level. The tidal freshwater forested wetlands are vulnerable to the smallest of salinity changes.
Why this study is important? Wetlands like the ones studied in this research, are important for coastal communities because they help mitigate flooding and support many organisms, as well as fisheries, which provide millions of dollars in commercial and environmental goods and services. Wetlands are also important carbon sinks and help control the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Sea level rise today will affect these ecosystems and the people living near them. The results of this research are important for understanding the future long-term resilience of these ecosystems and what measures will be best suited to support these environments.
The big picture: The paper looked at evidence within sediment cores to understand the changes in carbon accumulation and accretion within two southeastern United States rivers. Core evidence indicated that there were increases in accretion and carbon accumulation rates with the emergence of colonization and agriculture in the area. Reforestation efforts in the last 100 years showed a decrease in accretion. The findings were then compared to sea level rise data to show that these environments become more vulnerable with increased sea level rises over the last 200-100 years. This research will be helpful in understanding the effects sea level rise in the future will have on this environment and the surrounding communities.
Citation: Jones, M. C., Bernhardt, C. E., Krauss, K. W., & Noe, G. B. (2017). The impact of late Holocene land use change, climate variability, and sea level rise on carbon storage in tidal freshwater wetlands on the southeastern United States coastal plain. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 122(12), 3126–3141.

How global warming is changing the ecosystem in the Alps and Apennine Mountains

Assessment of climate change effects on mountain ecosystems through a cross-site analysis in the Alps and Apennines

Rogora M., Frate L., Carranza M.L., Freppaz M., Stanisci A., Bertani I., Bottarin R., Brambilla A., Canullo R., Carbognani M., Cerrato C., Chelli S., Cremonese E., Cutini M., DiMusciano M., Erschbamer B., Gogone D., Iocchi M., Isabellon M., Magnani A., Mazzola L., Morra di Cella U., Pauli H., Petey M., Petriccione B., Porro F., Psenner R., Rossetti G., Scotti A., Sommaruga R., Tappeiner U., Theurillat J.-P., Tomaselli M., Viglietti D., Viterbi R., Vittoz P., Winkler M., and Matteucci G.

Summarized by Agnes Wasielewski, who is an MAT Earth Science Graduate student at Binghamton University. She loves Geology so much that she decided to share her passion with middle and high school students by becoming a teacher. When she’s not studying Geology or the psychology of teenagers; she spends a lot of time with her husband, three children, and three dogs. When free time becomes available, she loves to read, hike, drink tea, and take naps with her dogs.

What data were used? Researchers collected data from twenty research sites across the Alps (Italy, Switzerland, and Austria) and Apennines Mountains (Italy). All sites were located between 1300 and 3212 meters above sea level. Fourteen sites are in forests, grasslands, alpine tundra, and snow-covered areas. Six sites are in lakes and rivers. All sites considered for the paper experienced an increase in air temperature over the past two decades (1991-2015) compared to a base period of 1961-1990. A combination of data analysis on already existing datasets, projects, and new collection of data to determine results.

Methods: Temperatures taken in June were used to determine snow melting rates, the timing of the beginning of the growing season, and timing of ice-break in lakes and rivers. To analyze regional snow cover duration, data loggers combined with thermistors (special resistors used  for temperature measurements) were placed at a soil depth of 10 cm and measured hourly. If the temperatures measured remained within a certain range, the day was considered a “snow cover day”. On days where the daily mean soil temperature dropped below and rose above 0 degrees Celsius, they were labeled as a freeze/thaw cycle. The snow melting date is identified by counting the days since October 1st to the start of the freeze/thaw cycle or melting period. Soil samples were collected in September at the end of the growing season and tests are run to determine water content, carbon content, and nitrate concentrations. 

Changes in vegetation cover were calculated by estimating the percentage of each plant species in permanent grids over time. These estimates are used as a proxy for above-ground biomass. Biomass is positive when vegetation cover increases and negative when cover decreases. 

Surface water samples for chemical analysis were obtained from lakes in late summer/early autumn. May to October is considered open water season, and water temperatures combined with chlorophyll-a concentrations and zooplankton abundance are recorded. Weather stations were used to collect average air temperatures. Biologic samples were analyzed from rivers at varying distances downriver of melting glaciers to correlate community composition and diversity.

Location of research sites where data was collected throughout the Alps and Apennine mountains in central and northern Italy, southern Switzerland, eastern and central Austria.
Location of research sites used for analysis within Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. Degree of temperature change from the baseline reflecting global warming.

Results: At lower altitudes (~1500 meters above sea level) and latitudes (Lat. 41 degrees N), there are shorter snow cover duration (less than 100 days/year) and snow starts to melt earlier in the year. At higher altitudes (~2800 meters above sea level) and latitudes (Lat. 46 degrees N), there are longer snow cover duration periods (~250 days) and snow starts to melt later in the year. Less snow-covered days allow for increased soil temperatures and more areas for plants to grow and thrive. When more plants can grow and thrive, there are more resources available to local wildlife such as the Alpine ibex (mountain goat) and helps support their population growth. Overall, increased air temperatures and soil temperatures showed a general tendency towards increased vegetation cover for treeline, subalpine, and alpine belts but not in the snow (nival) belts. Over the last fifteen years, it is noted that plant species have been migrating from lower elevations to higher elevations in a process called thermophilization.

An increase in nitrogen deposition has positive effects on tree growth and promotes carbon sequestration (the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide). However, reduction in rainfall can override the positive effects. In the forests tested, a significant increase in the growing season length and a general increase in the annual net carbon sequestration was detected.

During warm and dry years, alpine streams transport concentrated solutes into the lakes and in the runoff water. Over the past decade, there has been a common trend in decreasing nitrate concentrations. Nitrogen uptake in the lake catchments has increased due to the increase in primary productivity (algae and vegetation growth). There has an overall negative trend in NO3 concentration level in rivers and lakes due to decreasing Nitrogen deposition. 

Changes in water mineral and chemical concentrations also affect the diversity and population of algae and plankton that live and thrive in mountain lakes and streams.

Why is this study important? Climate warming effects, changes in rainfall seasonality, and water availability have proven to be important for ecosystem productivity. Snow cover duration affects soil carbon and nitrogen cycling and Alpine ibex population dynamics. Warming climate change has shown to lead to an increase in vegetation cover in grasslands and carbon uptake in forests which helps remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Climate drives changes in water chemistry, lake thermal dynamics and plankton phenology can inform us of the health of the water ecosystems. High-elevation ecosystems may also be affected by extreme climatic events such as heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall, and floods. Both long-term and short-term (extreme) events can affect mountain ecosystems. Mountain ecosystems, if properly studied and monitored, can serve as early indicators of global changes.

The big picture: Global warming affects high mountain ecosystems by increases in temperature, early snowmelt, and a prolonged growing season. With ecosystem productivity, more plant growth helps reduce global climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In mountain ecosystems, carbon sequestration depends on both water availability (precipitation) and air temperature. The understanding of hydro-ecological relationships is essential for the development of effective conservation strategies for alpine rivers. Long-term observations on benthic communities help with the assessment of the potential impacts of global change on stream ecosystems. There is a great need for strong partnerships in mountain ecosystem observation and research for multidisciplinary approaches, encompassing the distinction between different types of ecosystems. There is great potential for further scientific advances that rely on international collaboration and integration.

Citation: Rogora, M., Frate, L., Carranza, M. L., Freppaz, M., Stanisci, A., Bertani, I., Bottarin, R., Brambilla, A., Canullo, R., Carbognani, M., Cerrato, C., Chelli, S., Cremonese, E., Cutini, M., Di Musciano, M., Erschbamer, B., Godone, D., Iocchi, M., Isabellon, M., … Matteucci, G. (2018). Assessment of climate change effects on mountain ecosystems through a cross-site analysis in the Alps and Apennines. The Science of the Total Environment624, 1429–1442.

Society of Vertebrate Paleontology 2021 Annual Meeting & their Paleobiology Database Workshop

Ibrahim here – 

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) is an organization with a goal of advancing science in the field of vertebrate paleontology worldwide. It was founded in the United States in 1940 and consists of approximately 2,300 members internationally. Every year SVP arranges an annual meeting with vertebrate paleontologists, writers, students, artists, and fossil preparators to share the latest research techniques, opportunities, workshops and also includes a prize giving ceremony. 

In 2021 I was lucky enough and won the Tilly Edinger travel grant of the Time Scavengers to attend The 81th annual meeting of Society of vertebrate paleontology (SVP). In 2020 it was my dream to attend the SVP annual meeting and the next year my wish was fulfilled, for this I especially thank the Time Scavengers team for providing me this opportunity. 

Due to Covid-19 the SVP annual meet has been held on an online platform since 2020 otherwise it would have occurred physically. Consequently I attended the 2021 online meet and it was quite easy and comfortable to attend . The event was held from 1st to 5th November and the virtual platform website became available from 25th October. The virtual platform had a simplified page by which one can easily click and view and attend the meeting they want. The talks , Romer prize and posters were recorded and uploaded on that site. Only networking sessions were done live. From the recorded talks I listened to the talk of Albert Chen et al. about phylogenetics insights from the pectoral girdle and forelimb skeleton of crown birds.

The coffee break session was interesting. The Remo app worked like a virtual hall room where anyone can walk around and have a sit and can talk to each other. 

On November 1st I attended the Paleobiology Database Workshop on Zoom, it was guided by professional group leaders (Mark D. Uhen, Evan Vlachos, Matthew Carrano, Pat Holroyd). It was my first time to visualize data from a systematic database. I enjoyed it very much as they were very helpful to show how to use the data from the Paleobiology Database (PBDB). PBDB is an online resource that includes data on fossil occurrences all over the globe. It is a community resource that is added to daily by scientists from around the world. The most iconic of the PBDB website was the navigator, where fossil discoveries are represented by dots in map view. If someone wants to study the fossil record of a taxa over chronological order it is also possible to view and collect data. It can show the diversity plotted on the map overtime. 

More data can be accessible if someone is an approved user. Everyone in the workshop was an approved user. The benefit of an approved user is that one can add data on the website. “Taxonomic name search form” can help to find out necessary data about a taxa and from where you can download the whole database about the taxa in Microsoft Excel file. Another helpful feature of the PBBD is you can find images from a ePanda API system of your required data to retrieve images from the iDigBio system. 

As a student of Geology with a great attraction to vertebrate fauna (especially dinosaurs), I enjoyed the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting and would love to join an in person meeting in future if I get an opportunity.

Life Decisions

Anieke here–

It took a while, but I finally no longer feel like an imposter. My postdoc is going well. I’m confident, I know what I’m doing and I’m loving it. But the project is coming to an end and I have to think about the next steps. I’ve been in my current institute for nearly nine years, a mind-bogglingly long time in Early Career Researcher world, so a new job likely means a new institution. Quite possibly in another country, given the tight job market. Career-wise, I really like the idea of moving around the world for a few more years, work in different labs and do cool research with cool people.

Life-wise, I want to settle down, buy a house, and figure out if I want kids.

I’ll be 33 this year. After the age of 35 a woman’s chances to get pregnant decrease rapidly. These next few years, that career-wise are best spent hopping across continents, are also my last chance to have a family.  

That is, if I want kids at all. Which right now I really don’t know. I’ve always liked kids but never thought of myself as a mum. The time constraints are making this topic an increasing source of stress but I’m no closer to an answer. So what do I do with my job? Rule out major career options in favour of life question that I’ve not figured out yet? Or just go ahead with the postdoc route, likely involving some long-distance relationships with my partner and hope that life will sort itself out eventually? If I went with option 2 and changed my mind, I could always quit the post early to move back to my partner and try and start a family. But it won’t look great on my cv to walk away from a fellowship half-way through. In the hyper-competitive academic world, the tiniest drawbacks can cost you grants and job interviews.

Alternatively, my partner and I could both move. He’s super kind and supportive and would be up for it if I asked. But it would mean dragging him away from his job and life here for a temporary stay abroad. Plus, moving country is hard. It’s enriching, exhilarating and fantastic, but also terrifying, draining and lonely. If that’s how I felt moving for a job I loved, moving country for no reason other than that your partner is going will be even harder. What it would be like while at the same time trying to start a family, I don’t even want to know.

Early-career researchers hoping to balance work and life have to jump through nearly impossible hoops. I’m fully sympathetic to anyone, with women being statistically more likely, ending up leaving academia for this reason. There just aren’t any good solutions. All we can do is figure out which one is the least bad for us.


Brittany’s AGU Fall Meeting 2021 Experience

Brittany here – 

In December of 2021 I was able to attend the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting, my first in-person conference in the last two years, thanks in part to Time Scavengers Tilly Edinger Travel Grant. This was the first AGU Fall meeting presented in a hybrid format, with sessions accessible to those who attended in person, as well as those who chose not to, or could not travel to attend. As the completion of my PhD studies is fast approaching, I saw attending in person to be a beneficial experience for my continued growth as an early career scientist.

The AGU Fall Meeting banner, which reads 'AGU Fall Meeting, New Orleans, LA & Online everywhere 13-17 December 2021'

This year’s fall meeting was different in other aspects than just going hybrid. AGU prioritized safety measures for those attending in person. Masks were to be worn at all times while inside the conference hall, and proof of vaccination needed to be submitted to attend. It was the first meeting where I have experienced an outside coffee hour, which provided a means of social distancing while still getting a much-needed hot drink. Treats local to New Orleans were also served, such as beignets and bread pudding. More importantly, AGU used a new format for oral sessions, where a longer format talk was uploaded to the meeting portal for attendees to watch in advance, and a shorter format talk was presented live during the hosted session. While this format did not appeal to all, it did provide a more equal opportunity for posing questions to the presenters via the mobile app. In this manor session chairs were able to promote engagement between the audience and the presenters, with a much larger diversity of questions being submitted.

A few of the sessions I particularly enjoyed included: Human Responses to Late Quaternary Paleoenvironmental Change, Novel Applications and Technique Advances of Cosmogenic Nuclides, Advancing Research on the Hydroclimate of South America, and Unlearning Racism in Geoscience (URGE) to name a few. As I have been a participant in Northern Illinois Universities URGE pod I was very interested to see how other pods from different universities and colleges across the nation were tackling systemic barriers to those traditionally excluded from the geosciences, and particularly how these issues were being addressed in different sized departments. I really enjoyed watching the panel presentation hosted by members of the URGE leadership team and seeing the changes that so many departments across the country have been able to achieve in only a year. In the associated poster session, it was simultaneously encouraging and frustrating to see that many pods from similarly sized departments as my own often ran into the same issues my pod had experienced in the preceding year. 

A returning feature from previous meetings that I found engaging were the eLightning presentations. In these sessions presenters had three minutes to give an overview of their research, after which attendees were able to circulate amongst the presentations from the session, discussing aspects of the research presented while being able to interact with the presentations on touch screens. One particular presentation where I chatted with the presenter extensively involved computed tomography (CT) scans from soft sediment cores collected from around Antarctica. As I employ the same technique for portions of my own research, I was interested in hearing their experience with the processing software, as well as what other potential complimentary proxies could be used to further assess the data. 

To me, one of the most important facets to attending conferences is the accessibility to connect and network with other scientists. During the pandemic I joined an early career reading group focusing on cosmogenic nuclides, and this meeting provided an opportunity for many of us to gather for the first time. I truly enjoyed meeting these individuals who I had only ever shared a zoom screen with. What made the experience even more fruitful was getting to attend their presentations during the meeting and see how they were applying cosmogenic nuclides to solve various questions involving ice sheet dynamics, geomorphology and even human migration patterns. Furthermore, attending AGU provided a prime opportunity to sit down with collaborators to discuss various projects, as well as meet up with potential post-doctoral mentors.  

Brittany, a woman with brown hair in a green dress, is pictured next to her poster presentation titled “Chlorine-36 Surface Exposure Dating and Glacial Sensitivity Analysis of late-Holocene Moraines, South-Central Chilean Andes (38°S).” (photo credit: Mary Sorensen)
Brittany is pictured next to her poster presentation titled “Chlorine-36 Surface Exposure Dating and Glacial Sensitivity Analysis of late-Holocene Moraines, South-Central Chilean Andes (38°S).” (photo credit: Mary Sorensen)

My presentation was hosted in the Friday afternoon poster session, a notoriously under attended time spot. As in person attendance was much lower than previous AGU fall meetings, the sheer size of the poster hall made it feel rather empty. However, this made for the unusual opportunity to visit the other posters in my session (Changes and Impacts of Climate Variability in South America II), and see other scientific work being done across the Andes and beyond. The work I presented represented the first chapter from my dissertation and a paper that has since been submitted for peer review. Within, we presented the first Chlorine-36 ages of late-Holocene moraines from the South-Central Chilean Andes to compare the timing of southern hemisphere mid-latitude glacial variability with low and high latitude regions. These data were coupled with a tree-ring chronology and are interpreted to represent progressive phases of glacial retreat over the late-Holocene. Additionally, we modeled an envelope of possible forcing parameters based on the location of these glacial moraines and the chronology of glacial abandonment. These results suggest that local glacial fluctuations are sensitive to variability of both temperature and precipitation. 

While the AGU fall meeting may have had a fraction of it’s normal in person attendance, the science presented was just as rigorous, exciting, and motivating as I have grown accustomed to!

Workshop Hosting & Planning: Considerations from an Early Career Researcher

Adriane here–

For the past year and a half, I have been a steering committee member, with the purpose of the committee to develop a series of workshops. In this post, I’ll give some background of the initiative, outline the purpose of the workshops, but mainly focus on factors to think about if you, the reader, are considering creating your own workshop or participating on a workshop committee. 

The International Ocean Discovery Program IMPACT Workshops

The steering committee of which I am a part was formed with significant support from the International Ocean Discovery Program, or IODP for short. IODP is a wonderful program in which scientists from participating countries in the program get to sail for two months at sea on a research vessel, which is currently the JOIDES Resolution (JR), and drill sediment cores from the seafloor (click here to learn more about the JR, where it has most recently sailed, where it currently is, and to read blogs written by scientists currently sailing on the ship). 

Every few decades, the scientific ocean drilling community (the general name used for the community of scientists, artists, science communicators, and others who make the program work) come together to write a science framework. The framework outlines the major approaches and important scientific frontiers for the next phase of scientific ocean drilling. Included in the framework are also some broader impact goals. The new science framework was recently published, which outlines such goals and aspirations through 2050; thus, it is aptly named the 2050 Science Framework. Within the broader impacts section of the 2050 Science Framework, sections are included such as ‘Inspiring Educators and the Public through Discovery’, ‘Training the Next Generation of Scientists’, ‘International Collaboration’, ‘Advancing Diversity and Inclusion’, ‘Knowledge Sharing’, and ‘Engaging with Other Fields’.  

My colleagues and I, who are all passionate about these topics, outlined in the 2050 Science Framework broader impacts section and decided to create a series of workshops to chart the future course of science communication and education outreach for scientific ocean drilling. Such efforts are in direct support of the goals outlined in the 2050 Science Framework. Our steering committee is composed of educators and scientists with various experiences and backgrounds in education, science, and policy, all of whom are passionate about education outreach and science communication. 

We decided to name the workshops the IMPACT Workshop Series, which comprises three workshops that ran this past summer 2021, and a larger workshop to (hopefully!) be held in person in June 2022. We decided to focus on three main topics from the 2050 Science Framework: Engaging the Public, Informing Policymakers, and Preparing the Next Generation. Our main steering committee split into three groups to function as smaller steering committees to create each workshop. Specifically, I was on the Preparing the Next Generation sub-committee with three other steering committee members. 

Factors to consider when hosting workshops

Currently, I am a postdoctoral fellow at a large research university. This means I have lots of responsibilities, the most important of which is to support the students working in my lab and keep doing activities that build my experiences as a researcher, scientist, advisor, and science communicator. In other words, I have a busy schedule with lots to do and keep up with! So, before taking on any tasks or saying ‘yes’ to any opportunities, I need to consider very carefully if such opportunity will be hurtful (take up too much of my time without leading to huge outcomes and do not help build up my experiences), or advantageous (take up my time but lead to very exciting opportunities and build my experiences). In addition, before saying yes to opportunities, I also consider if the opportunity is fulfilling to me and aligns with my passions, self-interests, and goals. This bit is likely true for most early career researchers who are currently looking for permanent employment, are pre-tenured faculty, and others who have limited time but want to be involved with their communities. Thus, the advice below is tailored to help folks who may want to create a workshop or join a workshop steering committee think through the benefits of such an endeavor. 

Carefully consider time commitment and workload

In my opinion, time is the most important factor to consider when thinking about creating a workshop. The IMPACT steering committee met about once a week over a year prior to our first workshop, which ran in June 2021. We met for approximately an hour during our meetings, and because we have members from the east coast of the continental U.S. to Hawai’i, these meeting times were outside of normal workday hours for some of us (e.g., 6 pm EST) — which is not uncommon for projects such as this.

As the Next Generation workshop date approached, our sub-committee began meeting sometimes twice a week, for 2–3 hours per meeting. Such longer meetings were essential to finish outlining, planning, and organizing the workshop. Often, all sub-committee members would walk away from the meeting with a ‘To-Do’ list to accomplish before a deadline we all agreed on. Such tasks outside of meetings included things like drafting and sending emails, writing text for the workshop web pages, gathering resources for our web pages, setting up Google Drive folders, and creating slide shows for the day of the workshops. We also set up meeting times with our speakers prior to our 2-day workshop. All of these small tasks and meetings really added up to a large amount of time. About two weeks prior to the Next Generation workshop, I was spending a good chunk of my time in the office dedicated to planning. 

So, careful consideration should be given to how much time you are willing to contribute to creating a workshop, as the time invested can be immense to make the workshop run as smoothly as possible. Looking back, my time and that of my colleagues’ was a good investment, as I am quite passionate about the topics the workshop touched on and know the information we have gathered will help shape the scientific ocean drilling community. 

Fostering a supportive environment for the team

From the above section regarding time commitments, it should be clear that workshop planning takes a lot of work! It is quite easy to join a committee, board, or group and just jump in without being mindful of our behaviors and simple ways in which we may be excluding others (or being excluded ourselves by others’ behaviors), and working and/or communicating in ways that are ineffective .Thus, it is imperative to consider how you can and will create an environment that is comfortable for everyone to talk, listen, and plan together as a team. 

Along those same lines, it is also important  that the team itself is efficient, mindful of others, and works well together. I feel very fortunate that the IMPACT Steering Committee is composed of folks who have previous leadership experience, and bring a lot of different perspectives to the table. These differing perspectives, experience working with groups, and leadership capabilities have created a space where every committee member’s opinion is heard, and it is a comfortable place to voice my own concerns and opinions. This isn’t to say we always agree with one another (we are human, after all), but having a team that knows how to communicate, compromise, and listen is very valuable. 

When building your own team or committee, it is important to have folks involved who have prior leadership experience and are highly organized. In this way, those who may not have had prior leadership experience can learn from this person, and begin to develop their own methods of and style of leadership. For example, one of our steering committee members has had extensive experience organizing and planning workshops. She suggested we have our speakers meet virtually prior to our workshop in order for them to meet one another, for us to more thoroughly explain the workshop goals, and walk them through the schedule. Even though I have leadership experience, this was a new method to me, and it worked wonderfully! I have also learned a ton of other leadership and organizational tips and tricks from the more experienced members on our committee. 

It is also imperative to build a team of people who represent different identities, life experiences, stages in their careers, and specialities. Our IMPACT workshop steering committee decided from the start that we would conduct the meetings and workshops within a JEDIA (justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility) framework. Breaking down barriers within STEM, or anywhere, to create a more equitaqble, inclusive, and accessible environment for everyone, is a hard and persistent task, and one that is best done when folks from different identities and backgrounds come together and work hard. This is why it is of utmost importance to be sure you are including folks from different identities on your team. For example, I have had to advocate a few times to my group to please include more early career researchers. Other times, folks have pointed out that all of our speakers on our list of potential invitees were white folks. Every time someone on the team has pointed out an observation that does not align with our JEDIA principles, we have worked hard to correct our actions. Thus, when building your team, think about who is not in the room, and whose voices are being excluded. And it is not enough to simply include folks from different identities; ensure, as a leader, they are being heard and respected by all members of the committee. 

Be prepared to be an effective communicator and listener 

As touched on above, communication is key to any successful relationship of any nature. Working with your colleagues on a steering committee to plan a workshop is no different. Clear and concise communication is imperative to make workshop planning as smooth as possible, and can even translate to a more positive experience for your workshop speakers and attendees. Often, such workshop committees are composed of an array of folks from different backgrounds, life experiences, and ages. This means that everyone’s level of comfort with different means of communication will vary, and the best means of communication should be discussed and respected from the start. For example, the IMPACT committee uses email as our primary way of group communication, but we also set up a Slack channel. In addition, the Steering Committee chairs create an agenda for each meeting, and we take Minutes. In this way, if one of our team members is not able to make a meeting, they can easily see what we discussed and the major points of the meeting.

Good communication also includes speaking up when you don’t understand someone’s ideas or thoughts, or are uncomfortable with the direction in which an initiative is heading. But, good communication is more than talking- it also includes good listening skills. Personally, I am trying to teach myself to be a better active and mindful listener to really hear my friends, family, and colleagues. So, when thinking about planning a workshop or joining a workshop committee, get comfortable with good communication (easier said than done, I know), and be open to being more open with your colleagues. 

Acquiring funding for your workshop 

Often, workshops require some level of financial support. Other workshops, if held virtually, may not require funds. If your workshop does require funding, it is important to think about how much funding (approximately) your workshop will require, and how funding will be obtained prior to the initiation of the project. In my opinion, it is totally okay to reach out to other organizations, non-profits, societies, etc. whose missions align with the goals of your workshop and ask for financial support. In addition, there are pots of money available to support workshops, such as the U.S. Science Support Program and the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling’s MagellanPlus Workshop Series Programme (both to support endeavors related to scientific ocean drilling).

Abdur Rahman, Biogeochemist

Hi everyone! I am a postdoctoral candidate at the Geosciences Division, Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, India. I have recently submitted my thesis and am now waiting for the final defense/viva. My primary research interest is in the field of biogeochemistry in different ecosystems (terrestrial and aquatic) using stable isotopes.

Man and girl in a lab with a yellow wall, looking at vials.
Trying to explain what we do in our lab to a 6th grade student on National Science Day (NSD) in GeoSIL, Physical Research Laboratory. (We were posing for the pic.)

My current research revolves around the biogeochemical study of the early ocean during the late Neoproterozoic-Cambrian transition period. I obtained limestone rock samples from Marwar Supergroup (Rajasthan, India) and am extracting the remnant of ocean life (organic matter) from those rock samples for stable isotope analysis. I will use carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotopes of organic matter to address the outstanding questions about the early Earth’s biology and associated biogeochemical processes. I am a curiosity driven early career researcher, always motivated to learn new techniques/methods and gain knowledge that would help develop a better understanding of the Earth’s environment. To expand my expertise, I am also involved in various parallel works. In one of my ongoing projects, I am using black carbon in Himalayan lake sediments (produced during the partial combustion of biomasses) to decipher the paleofire events and vegetation history of the region. I am also involved in the establishment of the clumped isotope measurement of carbonate (speleothems) in our lab. Clumped isotopes are a newly introduced technique to reconstruct the temperature of the water body in which carbonate precipitates.

Man walking in a shallow lake holding a tube, with cloudy sky in the background.
Taking a break to pose for photographs during sample collection for the biogeochemical study.

During my Ph.D., I have focused on the reconstruction of the Himalayan environment and lake biogeochemical evolution using stable isotopes in live- and paleo- lake sediments. My Ph.D. work has covered the last 45 ka of Himalayan environmental history and highlighted various extreme cold periods in the region. In one of the studied western Himalayan lakes, the carbon isotopes of occluded organic matter within diatom frustules have shown the influence of catchment geology on the lake carbon-biogeochemical cycle during 45-29 ka. The nitrogen isotopes of bulk sediments and carbon isotopes of authigenic carbonate and diatom in the western Himalayan lake sediments (Manasbal Lake, Kashmir, India) have shown the influence of climate on the lake stratification and associated biogeochemical cycles. Apart from the impact of natural stress, my Ph.D. also focused on the impact of the increasing human population and associated urbanization on the biogeochemistry of Garud Lake, Nainital, Uttrakhand during the last 70 years. This study has been performed using the stable carbon isotopes of organic matter and black carbon along with the nitrogen isotope of bulk sediments.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?

After receiving my high school degree, like any other kid from my village, I was told to go for an early job and get settled. But the rebel child under the guidance of a few wise cousins ended up enrolling for a Bachelor’s degree in Geology at a reputed Central University. Being an avid reader, I connected with the subject in no time. Geology turned out to be more than a mere paper, it took me back to my early village days where I would take several breaks from school to roam around the banks of Ghaghra River (A major tributary of the Ganges, that flows through Uttar Pradesh, India), along with my friends. The little observations made out of sheer curiosity, the colored rocks, the ripples on the sands, the meandering river, all of those childhood observations, all of those many questions and crazy theories made sense then. The time spent in the university and the several departmental field trips brought me a bit closer to nature. Looking at things, sedimentary structures to predict the dip and strikes, it was a fun journey of learning and falling in love with the subject.

Three men in a lake, with their heads just above the blue water, with a blue, clear sky in the background.
Getting relaxed and enjoying the lake with my lab colleague after completing the sample collection.

I eventually followed the course and joined the Masters of Science with Geology as the major. Me and my batchmates were now quite familiar with academia. Like in several other Indian hostel dorms, famous for heated debates and loud late-night discussions we would often end up talking about the career ahead. I still remember that after several long hours, we did manage to agree on a single point, that the most beautiful element a career in research would constantly provide, was the uncertainty in the knowledge acquired and the constant pursuit for truth. For me, pursuing a scientific career means to be a curious student forever in the class of nature.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists?

Based on my personal experience, I would encourage you to be patient, have faith in yourself, be bold and fierce, and always inspire yourself. In this profession, setting a major goal for a long period of time can be frustrating, so I propose defining small objectives for a day or a week and ticking them off as you move ahead. When you reach your objective, you will feel inspired and happy, which is necessary in our field. Another point I’d want to make is that you should be open to criticism, suggestions, and comments from people both inside and beyond your field of expertise. It aids us in our professional development.

Learn more about Abdur by following him on Instagram, Twitter (@shant_admi), and Facebook!