News & Events


Warm Water Causes Extra-cold Winters


Tapio Schneider, Frank J. Gilloon Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, and Dr. Yohai Kaspi have found a mechanism that helps explain why average winter temperatures in northern Europe are at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than similar latitudes on the northeastern coast of the United States. Using computer simulations of the atmosphere, they have found that the warm water off an eastern coast will heat the air above it and lead to the formation of atmospheric waves, drawing cold air from the northern polar region. The cold air forms a plume just to the west of the warm water. In the case of the Atlantic Ocean, this means the frigid air ends up right over the northeastern United States. [Caltech Press Release]

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Caltech Receives $10 Million in Gifts to Help Launch New Terrestrial Hazard Center


The Terrestrial Hazard Observation and Reporting Center (THOR) has been launched in an effort to find ways to minimize the damage caused by natural hazards. THOR will span two academic divisions at Caltech, Engineering and Applied Science (EAS) and Geological and Planetary Sciences. "The interdisciplinary and interactive nature of engineering at Caltech allows us to translate scientific knowledge and discovery into applications with direct societal impact," says Ares Rosakis, Theodore von Karman Professor of Aeronautics and Professor of Mechanical Engineering; EAS Chair. "One of the areas of pioneering research and innovation made possible by THOR is seismo-engineering. The boundaries of seismo-engineering are fuzzy ones and lie exactly in the interface between seismology and earthquake engineering. We are delighted to have the opportunity to explore these boundaries." [Caltech Press Release]

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Professor Wennberg is the Principal Investigator on the MATMOS Instrument


Paul O. Wennberg, R. Stanton Avery Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Engineering; and Director of the Linde Center for Global Environmental Science is the principle investigator on the Mars Atmospheric Trace Molecule Occultation Spectrometer (MATMOS) instrument to be flown aboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. This instrument is being built through a partnership between Caltech and the Canadian Space Agency. [Caltech Press Release]

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Tapio Schneider and Colleagues Discover Storms in the Tropics of Titan


Tapio Schneider, Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, and his colleagues have discover storms on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, which is generally "a very bland place, weatherwise," says Mike Brown, Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor and Professor of Planetary Astronomy. "The first cloud was seen near the tropics and was caused by a still-mysterious process, but it behaved almost like an explosion in the atmosphere, setting off waves that traveled around the planet, triggering their own clouds. Within days a huge cloud system had covered the south pole, and sporadic clouds were seen all the way up to the equator." Schneider, an expert on atmospheric circulations, was instrumental in helping to sort out the complicated chain of events that followed the initial outburst of cloud activity. [Caltech Press Release]

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Paul Wennberg and John Seinfeld Show How Organic Carbon Compounds Emitted by Trees Affect Air Quality


Paul Wennberg, the R. Stanton Avery Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Science and Engineering and director of the Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science, and John Seinfeld, the Louis E. Nohl Professor and professor of chemical engineering, have shown that biogenic emissions—organic carbon compounds given off by plants and trees— affect air quality. Wennberg states that, "if you mix emissions from the city with emissions from plants, they interact to alter the chemistry of the atmosphere." Seinfeld adds, "particles in the atmosphere have been shown to impact human health, as they are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs of people. Also, aerosols impact Earth's climate through the scattering and absorption of solar radiation and through serving as the nuclei on which clouds form. So it is important to know where particles come from." [Caltech Press Release]

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Simona Bordoni and Tapio Schneider Offer New Explanation for Monsoon Development


Tapio Schneider, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, has come up with a new explanation for the formation of monsoons. Schneider and colleague Simona Bordoni, who will start as an assistant professor at Caltech in 2009, propose an overhaul of a theory about the cause of the seasonal pattern of heavy winds and rainfall that essentially had held firm for more than 300 years. [Caltech Press Release]

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Chemistry of Airborne Particulate—Lung Interactions Revealed by Agustin Colussi and Colleagues


Agustin J. Colussi, senior research associate in environmental science and engineering, and colleagues have found that airborne particulates impair the lungs' naturaldefenses against ozone. Their research focused on what happens when air meets the thin layer of antioxidant-rich fluid that covers our lungs, protecting them from ozone, an air pollutant that pervades major cities. "We found new chemistry at the interfaces separating gases from liquids using a technique that continuously monitors the composition of these interfaces," Colussi says. Under normal physiological conditions, ascorbic acid instantly scavenges ozone, generating innocuous byproducts. However, the researchers discovered that when the fluid is acidic, a pathological condition found in asthmatics, ascorbic acid instead reacts with ozone to form potentially harmful compounds called ozonides.

Tags: research highlights health ESE Agustin Colussi

Uncovering Genetic Underpinnings of Wood Digestion


Wood is made of three tightly intertwined compounds; taking it apart is a challenge, and termites are among the few known animals that can do it. Professor Jared Leadbetter led a team of researchers from other universities, private industry, and the Department of Energy (DOE) in uncovering the genetic underpinnings and the roles of bacteria in wood digestion by "higher termites." These insects abound in tropical and subtropical ecosystems. What the team found, says Leadbetter, is "a comprehensive set of blueprints for the bacteria that help dismantle wood." This has recently become a focus of interest for those interested in developing an effective, industrial method to convert wood into ethanol. [Caltech Press Release]

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