Director's Weekly Reports
This phenomena - of agreeing to some substantial commitment, because the date was sufficiently far into the future that you never thought it would actually happen - came home to roost for me this week. The week was essentially consumed in preparation for and the running of a major NSF Panel review of the Management practices of the IRIS corporation. IRIS runs the global seismic network among other things. When I agreed to do this last year I did not at all appreciate the magnitude of the commitment. So I have had three full days in DC - Tuesday night through Friday night chairing this panel - a job made easier by the exceptional quality of my fellow panelists.
Langseth arrives in Taiwan tomorrow, after her long Trans-Pacific transit. Rumor is that she will escorted into the harbor with fireboats spraying hoses and greeted on the dock with a traditional Dragon dance - it should be quite a photo op!
We welcomed Connie Class to ExCom this morning for the first time, as the new Geochem representative - she had a magical effect because for the first time in living memory we finished the meeting in under two hours! In the informal information-swapping session, Bruce Huber brought up something that I had not appreciated - something quite
impressive. Lamont has had six separate research teams working in Antarctica this (southern) summer - some on ships, some on the ice and some in the air - but six separate groups. Another Lamont first, I would guess.
I was driving back from Morningside early on Thursday afternoon, with the Leonard Lopate Show on NPR on the background, when I noticed that every sentence that the interviewee spoke in response to Leonard's questions began with the two words "Kelemen says". Needless to say this attracted my attention after a while, and I turned up the volume to find that a fellow by the name of Tim Folger was being interviewed.
He wrote a piece for NRDC's magazine 'On Earth' about Peter Kelemen's ideas on using the peridotites in Oman to take CO2 out of the atmosphere - based upon Peter's publication in PNAS last year. It was a good piece - about nine minutes long - but sadly - as far as I heard, Lamont was not mentioned.
Last Sunday was our first Spring public lecture of the year. We had a very good audience with very good questions for Mark Studinger's remarkable account of the recent Lamont-led international expedition to Antarctica - a wonderful account of technical accomplishment and great discoveries embedded in a story of adventure and survival under incredibly tough conditions. Our next Public Lecture is a week on Sunday - March 29th - when Dorothy Peteet will talk about the 7000 year long archive of climate change that is Piermont Marsh.
Almost six months into the fiscal year, the Federal agencies that support our research finally got their budgets. The president signed HR 1105, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 on Tuesday. NSF gets 7.6 per cent above 2008 (and is directed among other things to spend $10M on Climate Change education); and NOAA gets an increase of 12
percent and there was this very interesting and important directive to NOAA:
"By not providing enough extramural research funding, NOAA risksg discouraging extramural involvement in NOAA's research programs and the concomitant leveraging of external funds in support of mission-oriented research. Thus, NOAA is encouraged to provide additionalg extramural funding in future budget requests"
I hope this week will be the last one in which Dick Greco and his crew will have to brave the winter's morning darkness to keep our Campus safe and accessible in the face of a particularly tiresome snowstorm on Monday. It was a tough call at 5 am that morning to make a decision about whether to stay open or close but it was the fact that we believed that we could keep the bus running from downtown that swung the balance. I hope everyone stayed safe and warm nevertheless.
I was on the 6am shuttle down to DC on Thursday morning, for a couple of days of Ocean Leadership meetings on the Hill. I am sitting in National airport writing this as I make my way home. In the old days (i.e. 6 months ago) National airport at 4pm on a Friday afternoon was absolutely chaotic with crowds and queues - but not anymore - even though this seems to be the only town in the US that has any money!
Lamont received a rare amount of coverage in the CU's Record this week - not only a great photo of Doug Martinson doing his "Ocean Station Obama" thing, but also a good write up on the passage of the Research Professorships though the Senate - marred only by its (incorrect) inference that this was an initiative restricted to the senior staff. Speaking of errors - I was wrong last week when I said that Lamont should be proud that we had won two outstanding student paper awards at the last Fall AGU - the truth is that we won three! I apologize to Jenny Arbuswewski for not previously recognizing her accomplishment - her paper was entitled "Towards a global calibration of the G. ruber (white) Mg/Ca Paleothermometer".
I spent five hours in four different EI meetings downtown on Monday afternoon and had eight appointments in my diary for Tuesday. And on Thursday enjoyed an excellent event in the Rotunda of the Low Library in honor of the great Benefactor and CU Trustee Gerry Lenfest. President Bollinger recognized him as fourth largest donor to CU of all time - and joked that given Gerry's competitive spirit he was sure that Gerry would want to become number 1! Anyhow I promised Gerry an opportunity to drive Langseth when she comes to the east coast - an offer of which he may take advantage!
Whenever I talk about Lamont I always try to remember to emphasize the essential role that our graduate students play in maintaining the quality of of everything we do. We received further testament to how exceptional our students are when we learned that for the SECOND time this year an AGU Outstanding Student paper award will be presented to one of DEES finest, Karen Wovkulich - for her paper entitled "Arsenic remediation enhancement through chemical additions to pump and treat operations" that was presented at the Fall Meeting in San Francisco. I doubt seriously that another institution in the US has received two of these awards this year. This is excellent - and many congratulations
The Federal stimulus package that the Senate-House Conference Committee has agreed to contains a total of $3.5B for NSF, including $2.5B for research and Related Activities (i.e. the Research Directorates), $300M for Major Research Infrastructure and $400M for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction. NSF has to spend this in 120 days (I think that's right) so I expect it will go to programs for which they already have fully reviewed proposals. It will have long term impact over the next 2-3 years as it will relieve pressure on programs - allowing managers to fund the backlog of
activities that have been held back for lack of funding. This is really important and very very good news for us all!
The House passed this earlier today - the Senate may vote as early as this evening. It is almost too good to be true!
So this was a very good week to receive a visit from Tim Killeen, the Assistant Director for the Geosciences at NSF - he had an excellent visit on Wednesday, and I believe went away impressed. Interestingly, he had never before visited Lamont.
Last Friday on the NPR Science Friday web site, the top three video stories, led by Rusty Lotti and Peter Demenocal talking about the Core repository - a great piece, were all Lamont. Many thanks to Kevin and Kim for engineering all this.
Public visibility for the importance of our science is so important - especially as we are (at this very moment, on this very day) fighting against an amendment to the Federal Stimulus package (put forward by Senators Collins and Nelson) to delete all funding for NSF from the Bill.
The visit by NSF Division Directors Julie Morris and Bob Detrick went very well today, though, not surprisingly, their schedules were extremely hectic. Next Wednesday, Feb 11th, their boss, Tim Killeen, Assistant Director for Geosciences at NSF will be visiting and will be giving a talk in Monell in the afternoon. Perhaps we will know about the Stimulus package by then.
As reported last week, I met with the CU Senate Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC) last Friday. Earlier this week I was informed of the result of their vote on the Lamont Research Professorship plan. It was unanimously in favor. This is a major step forward. The FAC will now take this proposal forward to the next meeting of the full Senate - which takes place on February 6th (which creates a scheduling nightmare for me because that is the day that Julie Morris and Bob
Detrick are visiting from NSF). Nevertheless - there is nothing more important than this, so I will attend the Senate meeting in order to handle any questions that come up. If we clear the Senate, then the next step will be the drafting by the Provost's office of the formal language to be added to the University's statutes, establishing these new positions. This language will then have to be approved by the President and the Trustees.
Well - this is one of those weeks that started off very well - Obama's inauguration on Tuesday. And ended very badly (at least for me) because I had to squeeze in an emergency root canal on a very painful tooth - in between an interesting new donor visit on Thursday morning, a CU Council of Deans meeting on Thursday afternoon (at which was
announced the endowment payout rules for FY09/10 - sorry not public info til next week), and most importantly by far, on Friday afternoon (after the exciting root canal experience) the meeting of the CU Senate's Faculty Affairs Committee at which the vote was taken on the Lamont research professor initiative (I do not have the results yet but I believe them to be extremely favorable). This latter meeting caused me to miss the Faculty meeting this afternoon - which I really did not want to do.
The current version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009 that will be chewed upon by the Committee on Appropriations within the House of Representatives over the next couple of weeks includes additional funding of $3 billion for the National Science Foundation, $600 million for NASA Earth Sciences and $600 million for NOAA. Wonderful numbers of course, but this is a long way from becoming law. Nevertheless 'hope' is now a fashionable word - a
Presidential election was fought about it after all - so we should have some (hope that is!).
Speaking of Presidents, next Tuesday is the inauguration of Barack Obama, and this is clearly an historic event that we should not miss. Therefore it will be televised, starting at around 11 am, on the big screen in the Monell Auditorium. With concurrence of your supervisor everyone is welcome to come and enjoy the moment.
I write this from Concepcion Chile where I have been for the last three days at a meeting of the Partnership for Observations of the Global Ocean (POGO). Whenever you get Directors of Ocean Institutes from Russia, Japan, Korea, Germany, UK, Mexico, China, US (SIO and WHOI, as well as NOAA), Chile, South Africa, Canada - all in the same
room - there assuredly is some interesting conversation. The goal of the group is to build the international partnerships to advocate the national and international entities that will organize and support - establish and sustain - an operational global ocean observing system. It is a long and slow and difficult business. Unquestionably, the most rewarding part of the three days is the opportunity for one-on-one conversations with the interesting and diverse set of Directors - some are old friends and some I am meeting for the first time.
Happy New Year - a year that I hope will mark the beginning of a new era for the nation. It will undoubtedly be a tough year for us at Lamont. The global financial crisis will result in reductions in gifts, and at best we expect income from our endowment to be flat at 08 levels. But the Federal scene looks good, and providing the new administration does indeed sign off on the pending NSF appropriations bill as approved by the House and Senate - that will result in a double digit percentage increase - then some of the immediate pressures on our key programs should be relieved. Certainly 09 will be a year of important change, and although I am optimistic that most of this change will be for the good, the reality is that whenever a massive bureaucracy like the Federal Government changes its priorities then some turmoil will result - we must be agile in recognizing the new opportunities and adjusting to them quickly. (What new programs will Jane Lubchenko start at NOAA in 2010? How will DoE reshape its basic research agenda in energy and the environment? How (and/or when) will NSF implement its new emphasis on Economics, Energy and the Environment?) We have the talent and the ability to take advantage of all these possible new programs, which perhaps will more than compensate for possible reductions in private income.
I flew out to AGU on Saturday and have been constrained by a rigid schedule of meetings, dinners and events ever since arrival. I think I managed to make it to three science sessions, and was able to visit poster sessions a couple of times. I was engaged with recruitment efforts, two important meetings with excellent LDEO benefactors, an NSF oversight committee, a couple of meetings with NSF program managers, an OOI Advisory Committee - not to mention the LDEO Alumni Association reception, which was, as usual an unparalleled success. Barb Charbonnet and I had lunch with Oleg
Jardetsky on Wednesday at the Stanford Faculty Club and were amused by his stories of the planned return of Condoleeza Rice to the regular Stanford faculty in the Political Sciences Department. On Thursday afternoon I had a good meeting with Bruno Goffe - the Earth Sciences Director at INSU/CNRS in Paris and arranged a day long visit to LDEO in the spring. Apparently Sarkozy is pushing for more University-based research in France and encouraging international cooperation.
Well, the Campus Life Committee was right, again. Last Friday's Holiday party was one of the best attended and most enjoyable events in years. I thought it was scheduled way too early, but I was wrong - I think everyone had a great time and thank you to the many folks who helped organize it.
It was sad to say goodbye to Karen Bocsusis on Tuesday, as she leaves us for a well deserved retirement, after over three decades of loyal service to several generations of Lamonters. It was the week for 'goodbye' parties: the Geochemistry Division is losing two of its great junior scientists - Katherina Pahnke who is chasing the sun to the University of Hawaii, and Meredith Kelly who will chase the snow to Dartmouth College up in New Hampshire.
We suffered a great disappointment when the Senate Academic Affairs committee had to postpone its meeting at Lamont - previously planned for today. Discussion of the Lamont Research Professor plan was to be the primary agenda item. It will be rescheduled in January.
Just a normal week - no trips - simply 28 separate appointments in my diary - so the week has flown by. One of the most interesting events was a breakfast down in the city on Thursday morning for the Columbia Campaign Committee - an overwhelmingly positive and optimistic occasion. From among the many reports that were presented, I learned that both the Medical School and the Journalism school have reached their campaign fund-raising targets three years ahead of schedule..., (around $1B and $100M respectively) - so folks - yes, there is hope!
I was in DC just for the day on Monday, with Dave Goldberg, meeting with the other members of the US Implementing organizations for the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program - trying to decide upon a good strategy for navigating through the huge funding uncertainties of the next few years. Not sure how much progress we made - often these discussions end up being therapy for the participants more than anything else.
Speaking of funding uncertainties: one of the primary items on the ExCom agenda on Wednesday was a discussion of how the Observatory should adjust its budget to ready itself for the inevitable decreases in revenue from the endowment. No decisions as yet, but one thing is clear - given we are spending - campus wide - substantially more than $1M per year on utilities, then energy conservation is one of the most obvious and effective ways for us to save money. Pat O'Reilly is going to be sending out information in the coming weeks about how to make progress with this. A ten per cent decrease in energy use could have a dramatic impact on our budget woes - as well as decreasing our inevitably-too-large carbon foot-print.
I gave another presentation on the Research Professor initiative to a large group in the Faculty room in Low Library on Tuesday. It was one of Nick Dirks meetings of all the Chairs and Directors within Arts and Sciences. My perception was that it went well - an important factor being the strong and unqualified support received from Steve Goldstein representing the faculty of DEES. So, now the next step is the Senate Faculty Affairs subcommittee on December 12th.
Of course there were many other agenda items at this meeting, the most prominent of which were the cost saving steps that Arts and Sciences is planning to take in response to the economic downturn. Naturally we are engaged in similar discussions internal to Lamont - it is a very difficult and uncertain time - and we must strive to find a path that navigates judiciously between the classic path of denial - doing nothing until the sky falls - and unnecessary over-reaction to a crisis that in fact will impact an institution like Lamont quite differently from most other units within the University.
I ran out of time today.
But it has been a good week. A couple more significant steps forward with the Research Professor initiative.. I met with the co-chairs of the Senate Faculty Affairs subcommittee, and they have decided to schedule their next meeting for December 12th here at Lamont, at which time I will make a formal presentation to them asking for their endorsement as we go forward to the full Senate. I also met with members of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences, and will be engaging in a continuing dialog with them in the coming weeks - again asking for their endorsement of our plans.