Lamont Weekly Report, February 12, 2016

     The scientific highlight of the week was distant from the Earth and environmental sciences but spectacular nonetheless: the announcement on Thursday of the first clear detection of gravitational waves ( The announcement, tied to the publication of a paper in Physical Review Letters with more than 1000 authors, was made by representatives of the Laser Interferometer Gravity-wave Observatory (LIGO) team. The gravitational waves, which induced Earth strain of only one part in 1021, were attributed to the collision of two black holes more than a billion light years away, and their detection satisfied an important test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

     Closer to home, Ryan Abernathey received welcome news this week: a Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award from NSF. A CAREER grant “offers the Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations” ( Ryan’s grant was made in response to his proposal entitled “Evolution of ocean mesoscale turbulence in a changing climate.” Congratulations, Ryan!

     The Geodynamic Processes at Rifting and Subducting Margins, or GeoPRISMS, Program announced their AGU Student Prizes, given to students who at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting made outstanding presentations “with a topical link [to] a stated aim of a GeoPRISMS Program Initiative” ( Zach Eilon won for his poster presentation on “Seismic attenuation of teleseismic body waves in Cascadia, measured on the Amphibious Array.” And Helen Janiszewski won Honorable Mention in the oral presentation category for her talk on “Surface-wave imaging of the Juan de Fuca plate and Cascadia subduction zone.” Kudos to Zach and Helen!

     On Tuesday, President Obama rolled out his budget for fiscal year 2017, and there was generally good news for federal science agencies, including a 6.7% increase for the National Science Foundation and a 1.3% increase for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with a 1.3% cut for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( The budget is complicated by overall spending limits, however, and the final appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017 is likely to be passed by a new Congress and signed by a new President, so this budget is only the opening move in a long series of political tugs of war.

     At a meeting of the Dean’s Council on Thursday, the Provost reminded those in attendance that Columbia inaugurated a new International Travel Planning Policy at the beginning of the month ( The policy establishes requirements for planning international travel that is organized, funded, arranged, or recognized by the university. Specifically, students are required, and staff members are encouraged, to pre-register international travel through the university’s global travel portal ( The idea behind the new policy is to enable the university to mobilize more quickly and effectively should there be an emergency, such as the bus accident in Honduras last month that resulted in the deaths of three Columbia students and injuries to a dozen others.

In a paper published online Monday by Nature Climate Change, Adjunct Senior Research Scientist Anders Levermann joined a multinational team of more than 20 other coauthors to argue that the consequences to Earth’s climate of human-caused carbon emissions should be placed in a long-term context that is set against the baseline of the last 20 millennia and projected for the next 10 millennia and beyond. That longer timeframe, Anders and his colleagues argued is needed to appreciate the response time of the atmosphere and oceans to increased carbon dioxide levels and underscores the importance of policy decisions to be made over the next few years to decades. A Stacy Morford story on the article ( was posted on the Lamont web site Monday.

     Park Williams was quoted in a story Monday on KQED, a member station of National Public Radio in San Francisco, on the movements of California animal and plant species in response to regional climate change ( The story features a recent report of an extensive study demonstrating that native plants are not moving to higher altitudes as temperatures warm as fast as invasive plant species or animals, a result suggesting that long-stable ecosystems may be disrupted.

     Two of Lamont’s blogs from oceanographic ships were updated on Monday. Sid Hemming wrote about the activities of the R/V JOIDES Resolution on the eve of the first drilling south of Africa to study changes in past climate and coeval changes in major ocean currents in the region ( And Frankie Pavia pondered the volume of Earth’s oceans still to be explored after his cruise across the South Pacific Gyre on the FS Sonne had ended in Wellington, New Zealand (

     The Earth Science Colloquium speaker this afternoon will be geologist and geochronologist Blair Schoene, from Princeton University’s Department of Geosciences ( His seminar will be on “Constraining crustal evolution on very short and very long timescales.” Whether you consider yourself very short or very long, I hope to see you there.