Director's Weekly Reports
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.
It is not possible to comment upon the events of this week without talking about Tuesday -we should all be forever proud of this day - no matter our political inclination. Our democratic system - so often the source of delay, inaction and frustration - worked the way it should.
Washington is now awash with the transition process, but it will be sometime before we know much of decisions that are important to us. Non-cabinet level political appointments (like for example the Administrators of NOAA and NASA) on average take 8-12 months to be filled - Senate ratification being one key source of delay. But we may see some early decisions on the structure and authority of any new White House science advisory structure - which should provide insight into the role that research and education will have within the new President's inner circle.
The Obama transition team is trying to move quickly - they have already approached our representative organizations in DC (principally UCAR and Ocean Leadership) with a deadline of November 12th for input and advice on key climate-ocean-environment leadership positions.
We hosted the MARGINS Program national steering committee on Monday, under the leadership of Geoff Abers - they are preparing for a major review in the coming months that will shape the size and direction of the program for the next decade. Needless to say everyone is hopeful that the arrival of a marine geophysicist (Bob Detrick) as the new Division Director for the Earth Sciences Division (he starts on Monday) will result in renewed interest from the solid earth side of NSF in the support of ocean margin research.
I was fortunate to spend time with Lee Goldman on Tuesday ( Exec VP for Health Sciences and Dean of the Faculties of Health Science and Medicine) - he runs the Medical center which constitutes something close to half of the whole of CU. The subject of the meeting was exclusively our initiative to establish research professorships at LDEO - we share many of the same issues (though on a slightly different scale!) - and I was very pleased by how much understanding and support that I received - a very positive step forward.
It was our privilege to entertain Stephanie Comer and her husband on Campus on Monday afternoon - Taro gave an update on the successful pCO2 measurements that are being made continuously from the Comer family motor yacht - Turmoil - as she travels the world's oceans, and it was a great opportunity to show off the Comer Building now it is
populated and beginning to function as a real research facility.
Scheduling conflicts forced me to miss the Chilli cook-off - apologies to everyone - I am confident it was more fun that whatever it was I was doing on Wednesday afternoon!
The Effort reporting education session on Wednesday morning - presented by Naomi Schrag, Associate Vice President for Research Compliance and Richard Ruttenberg, Associate Controller - was attended by only two folks who were not part of Admin. I hope (naive soul that I am) that this means that all questions pertaining to this important process have been satisfactorily answered!
The press release went out yesterday announcing that Walter Alvarez of UC Berkeley is the winner of the 2008 Vetlesen Prize (see our web page for details). I am extremely pleased with this selection - Walter is a wonderful person (and an ex-Lamonter - Doc Ewing's last post doc apparently) - and we greatly look forward to hosting him for the medal
ceremony, to be presided over by Lee Bollinger in Low Library on November 21st. It is a testament to his continued active involvement in geological research and education that it took me a week to track him down and give him the good news - because he was in the field outside cell phone coverage.
It has taken too long for me to live up to a promise that I made to everyone at a Lamont-wide meeting in early 2007 - but finally we now have a new full-time position in the Director's office with the title Assistant Director for Academic Affairs and Diversity. Dr Kuheli Dutt joined us on Monday of this week to take on this new role. She will have a steep learning curve in the coming months as she learns the unique characteristics of this complex organism that is Lamont, and I hope everyone will offer help and support as appropriate. Kuheli's appointment is one of the most substantial steps we have taken in our mission to continuously improve the quality of the work environment on campus. Naturally she will be working closely with Robin Bell and the ADVANCE program.
There was a great fire in Rome in 64 AD, and Nero was in the city at the time, but whether he actually played some kind of musical instrument while the fire was raging is somewhat uncertain. (He certainly did not play a fiddle - they were not invented for another thousand years or more). In stark contrast, however, it seems quite certain (because it was reported in Nature [Global Carbon Project, 2008] and who doesn't believe everything they read in Nature?) that the rate of increase of CO2 levels in our atmosphere is increasing - I repeat - the rate of increase is increasing - (2.2ppm per year in 2007 versus average 2.0ppm per year for 2000-2007 versus average 1.5ppm per year for 1980-2000). While this is going on (and the world financial markets are collapsing), our nation is debating whether the husband of a vice presidential candidate engaged in vengeful action against the supervisor of the ex-husband of his wife's sister.
Sometimes I worry about our future.
Open House last Saturday was a great event. Despite the cold early start to the day the afternoon was beautiful and we had over 3200 folks exploring our campus. Attendance was down from last year. I do not know anybody who knows why - but it was nevertheless a wholly successful day. The only organizational crisis of which I was aware was the lack of bottle openers and cork screws at the post-event party. This omission served to emphasize another of Al Queda's
destructive impacts on our world - the significant reduction in the number of air-travel-weary researchers who routinely carry a Swiss army knife in their pocket.
The dinner to celebrate the award of the Vetlesen Prize for 2008 will be held (in the Low Library) on November 21st. I am not free to announce the identity of the awardee (who will receive a cheque for $250,000) for another week or so, but as in previous years we have identified a great leader in our field whose name will add further prestige to the Prize and to the great Foundation that supports it.
Speaking of awards, I was extremely pleased to learn this week that our own Won-Young Kim has won much deserved recognition from the Seismological Society of America for his outstanding contributions to observational seismology by winning the Jesuit Seismological Association Award. The Jesuits played a substantial role in the early development of global observational seismology, and to have Won-Young honored by such an historic group is indeed a testament to his contributions.
I met with the Executive Committee of the Engineering School on Monday - presenting our plans for the Research Professor initiative - a very good meeting - many shared issues. Dean Gerry Navratil deserves our thanks for enabling these conversations to take place.
It is Open House a week tomorrow - let us hope for more suitable weather than that experienced presently, and look forward to the usual great turn out of folks from around the region.
Earth Institute Academic committee meeting on Thursday followed on Friday by ExCom in the morning and a Faculty meeting in the afternoon - at both vain attempts were made to understand the possible impacts of the Wall Street melt-down upon our lives in academia. It is indeed a very worrying time - with no previous comparable events upon which to base a prediction of how the economy will evolve. We are obviously very concerned by possible changes to the income from our endowment.
On Tuesday we had a visit from Anne Taylor from the senior leadership of the CU Medical Center - the primary agenda was concerned with our Research Professor initiative - there is interest in this because, not surprisingly, the issues that we have at Lamont are not completely unique. I have a significant meeting with the Executive Committee of the Engineering School on Monday for this very same reason.
I met briefly with the Campus Life Committee on Wednesday - something I must do on a more regular basis, but in this case specifically to welcome Jason Smerdon into his new role as Chair of
this important group.
I spent a large part of Friday on the Cross Bronx Expressway as an inevitable consequence of the need to attend a day-long meeting at Stony Brook. It was the inaugural meeting of the NY Marine Science Consortium - we are one of the founding members, and I am on the Executive Committee - 26 full members so far - academic institutions
around the state. The goal is to get the State better educated about the resource it holds in its world class universities - that are capable of generating the knowledge that the State so desperately requires if it is to tackle its many marine environmental issues with wisdom and effectiveness.
The leadership of the US components of the Ocean Drilling program were here at Lamont Monday and Tuesday of this week - discussing how we can adjust to the new budgetary realities that have forced NSF to reduce funding below the level required to keep the drill ship JOIDES Resolution in operation for 12 months each year. The new leadership
from Texas A&M, including their Dean of Geosciences Bjorn Kjerve, along with Bob Gagosian from Ocean Leadership in Washington DC joined Dave Goldberg and I in two days of difficult but productive deliberations. Everyone will be relieved when the Resolution gets out of the shipyard in Singapore later this year and gets back to drilling.
The happiest news of the week was that of Wally Broecker's receipt of yet another hugely prestigious international prize - again very appropriately recognizing his contributions to climate science. It is the Balzan Prize (for details see
http://www.balzan.it/Default.aspx?lang=3Den) - Wally will be traveling to Italy later this year for the ceremony.
Another set of congratulations are due to Suzanne Carbotte - selected to give the highly prestigious Birch Lecture at AGU this Fall - many congratulations, Suzanne.
The crew and technicians on board Langseth are taking a well earned break in Astoria Oregon right now. They sail on Wednesday next week, north to Alaska, for a cruise led by Sean Gullick and Gail Christeson of UTIG - the last cruise of the year.
Steve Goldstein and I had a very important meeting on Wednesday morning with the chairs of the basic science departments within Arts and Sciences - talking about our research professor initiative. I think we made good progress - there is a growing understanding of the uniqueness of Lamont, and of the priority associated with the development of new positions for our superb research staff.
I had a wonderful long weekend spent soliloquizing beneath the starry Adirondack sky. It is important to look at the Milky Way from time to time - it gives one an appropriate sense of scale. So it has been difficult getting back into the routine but the forthcoming Labor Day long weekend will help cushion the shock.
The high point of this past week was the welcoming of 57 new graduate students to the Campus - 16 PhD students, 39 Climate and Society Masters students and 2 Earth and Environmental Science Masters students - the next generation of leaders begin their graduate careers.
I got into science in the beginning via a misguided interest in high energy nuclear physics. So I was fully embroiled in quantum mechanics and all its bizarre predictions - several of which Einstein himself did not believe. One of the more intriguing predictions of quantum mechanics is that, given the right conditions, a particle can change the properties of another particle, no matter how far apart they are, and it can do this instantaneously - repeat instantaneously. The
August 14 issue of Nature reports an experiment that claims to prove this (over a separation distance of 18 km) - establishing that, within their experimental resolution, the definition of 'instantaneously' is at least four orders of magnitude faster than the speed of light. The closing sentence of the paper (by Salart et al on p861, and, I repeat,
this is in Nature) states "To maintain an explanation based on spooky action at a distance we would have to assume that the spooky action propagates at speeds even greater than the bounds of our experiment" i.e. faster than four orders of magnitude faster than the speed of light. (Please note that neither italics nor quotation marks were used
in this sentence). Apparently 'spooky action' was a phrase used by Einstein to dismiss this phenomena (which he believed revealed a failing of quantum mechanics). I am glad we do not work on this stuff at Lamont - I would never know when to take folks seriously... but I have to admit, this is indeed... spooky.
Summer is ending - classes begin September 2nd and we welcome the 57 new graduate students (yes - 57) joining the Department at a party behind Lamont Hall, 5 pm Wednesday August 27th. All are welcome - please join Steve Goldstein, the new Chair of DEES, and me to help make the new students feel at home.
I used to carry all kinds of valuable things in the trunk of my car - tools, jumper cables. Back in the day - when I had a 1965 MGB - it was even necessary for me to carry a spare cylinder head gasket - which on more than one occasion I had to replace on the road side.
But on Monday night when I went out to the parking lot and found my car with a completely flat battery, I opened my trunk to find nothing but a magnificent smooth, noise-dampening carpet, without any sign of useful paraphernalia. So I had to buy some jumper cables, believe it or not, and then suffer the annoyance of being told by the dealership that there was nothing wrong with the car which, with 20K miles on it 'just needed a new battery'. I don't think so.
Other than this piece of automotive excitement, and ExCom on Friday - which was the typical three hour marathon - the high points were a visit by newly recruited E3B professor Ruth DeFries, and word from our ship, the Langseth, that they are hauling gear this weekend and heading for Manzanillo having completed a really tough but very successful first 3D cruise. I am sure Chief Scientists John Mutter and Suzanne Carbotte and all the science and technical complement will be glad to get home.