News | Research

INSTAAR research is featured in thousands of news stories and more than 10,000 social media posts per year. Outlets include the New York Times, Washington Post, PBS NewsHour, National Public Radio, and as well as more regional news outlets like High Country News, 9News, and the Denver Post. Selected highlights are listed below. Additional stories are noted @INSTAAR on Twitter.

Underwater view of dolphins swimming near the surface, Mexico

Long-term emissions cuts are needed to slow ocean acidification (

Jan. 4, 2021

During the first half of 2020, global greenhouse gas emissions dropped by about nine percent in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. People around the world reported seeing signs that “nature was healing” as a result of a steep decline in human activities such as transportation and production. However, a new study from UC Boulder has shown that the positive changes seen in natural ecosystems were not reflected throughout Earth’s oceans.

 Fish near the sea bottom in Sipadan Island, Malaysia

Impacts of COVID-19 emissions reductions remain murky in the oceans (CU Boulder Today)

Dec. 11, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic resulting shutdowns resulted in a 9% drop in the greenhouse gas emissions at the root of climate change. Unfortunately, any silver lining from the pandemic remains murky in the oceans. INSTAAR researchers Nicole Lovenduski delved into the data and found no detectable slowing of ocean acidification due to COVID-19 emissions reductions. Even at emissions reductions four times the rate of those in the first half of 2020, the change would be barely noticeable. Lovenduski shared the results Friday, Dec. 11 at the American Geophysical Union 2020 Fall Meeting. The findings will also be submitted to the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

A sweeping view of Niwot Ridge in the Rocky Mountains.  Moon visible above the clouds.

Colorado mountains bouncing back from ‘acid rain’ impacts (CU Boulder Today)

Dec. 8, 2020

A long-term trend of ecological improvement is appearing in the mountains west of Boulder. Researchers from CU Boulder have found that, thanks to vehicle emission regulations, Niwot Ridge is slowly recovering from increased acidity caused by vehicle emissions in Colorado’s Front Range. Their results show that nitric and sulfuric acid levels in the Green Lakes Valley region of Niwot Ridge have generally decreased over the past 30 years, especially since the mid-2000s.

Producing oil well on grasslands

US methane “hotspot” is snapshot of local pollution (CIRES on Wayback Machine)

Nov. 20, 2020

A giant methane cloud caught by satellite in 2014 looming over the U.S. Southwest wasn’t a persistent hotspot, as first thought when it made national news. Instead, the methane cloud was the nightly build-up of polluted air that trapped emissions of the potent greenhouse gas near the ground, according to a new CIRES- and NOAA-led study with INSTAAR participants.

Sarah Crump and Darren Larsen ski seven miles up to their field site, carrying coring equipment

The secret life of glaciers: Lake sediments reveal a 10,000 year record of climate and ice

Nov. 20, 2020

A team of past and present INSTAAR researchers have reconstructed the history of Teton Glacier, Wyoming, by analyzing sediment from alpine lakes. Their work is documented in a new study published this week in Science Advances.

Scientists with skis travel on a snow covered lake with dramatic Teton mountain peaks behind them.

New research illuminates how glaciers have responded to past climate changes (Occidental College)

Nov. 19, 2020

Current and former INSTAARs Darren Larsen, Sarah Crump, and Aria Blumm analyzed sediment from a glacial lake to learn about glacier fluctuations and climate shifts over the last 10,000 years.

NASA image of the Crab nebula, a supernova remnant

How trees can track history of supernovas (9News)

Nov. 17, 2020

A 9News interview with Bob Brakenridge, author of a new paper suggesting that supernovas have impacted Earth's atmosphere and climate, leaving traces that can be seen in tree rings. Watch a 2-minute video.

Cross section of a log, showing the tree's growth rings.

Tree rings may hold clues to earthly impacts of distant supernovas (CU Boulder Today)

Nov. 12, 2020

Massive explosions of energy happening thousands of light-years from Earth may have left traces in our planet’s biology and geology, according to new research by CU Boulder geoscientist Robert Brakenridge. The study, published this month in the International Journal of Astrobiology, probes the impacts of supernovas, some of the most violent events in the known universe. To study those possible impacts, Brakenridge searched through the planet’s tree ring records for the fingerprints of these distant, cosmic explosions. While not conclusive, his findings suggest that relatively close supernovas could theoretically have triggered at least four disruptions to Earth’s climate over the last 40,000 years.

Closeup of fish heads at a fish market

After a nuclear war, the world’s emergency food supply could be seafood—if overfishing stops now (The Conversation)

Nov. 12, 2020

Scientists working with Nikki Lovenduski write: "As scientists who study the global marine fishery, we are particularly interested in the future supply of seafood. So when some colleagues approached us with the idea of studying the response of the global fishery to nuclear war, we thought it would be a fascinating, though grim topic. As expected, our research showed that nuclear war would have a negative impact on marine fish, although not as bad as we had initially thought. Surprisingly, we also found that marine fish could serve as a crucial global emergency food supply in times of crisis if marine ecosystems were in a healthy state to start with."

The Castle Bravo nuclear weapons test off Bikini Atoll in 1954. (Credit: U.S. Department of Energy)

Scientists explore how to protect fisheries, food supply in event of nuclear war (CU Boulder Today)

Nov. 9, 2020

A new study reveals the damage that a nuclear war might take on wild-caught seafood around the world, from salmon to tuna and even shellfish. The aftermath of such a conflict could put a major strain on global food security, an international team of scientists reports. The group estimates that a nuclear war might cut the amount of seafood that fishing boats are capable of bringing in worldwide by as much as 30%. In short span of time, in other words, those impacts could rival the toll that climate change is taking on fisheries across the globe, said study coauthor Nicole Lovenduski.