Director's Weekly Reports
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.
This has been a jumbled week of random activity, interspersed with sleepless nights worrying about the ongoing 3D cruise on Langseth - all is going well out there right now, they have completed their first grid - but there always seems to be an infinitesimally small divide between success and some new and complex setback.
Dean of Engineering Jerry Navratil visited on Wednesday and EVP for Research David Hirsh visited on Thursday. With the migration of Geochemists into the Comer building we need to face some difficult space decisions and I spent some time on Monday with Roger Buck and Pat O'Reilly, walking around, looking at ways to make better use of our available square footage.
I spent a very productive day at NSF on Tuesday - had one-on-one meetings with Julie Morris, the Division director for OCE and the new Assistant Director for Geosciences Tim Killeen. But most of the time was spent with John Diebold, colleagues from the University of Texas and a large group of NSF program managers talking about possible Langseth operations in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
I gave a short speech at a press conference with the Riverkeeper organisation on Thursday morning - down on a windy and rainy Pier 84 in Manhattan. The subject was the results of the water quality work that Greg O'Mullan, Andy Juhl and Ray Sambrotto have been carrying out in the Hudson River. There has been considerable interest - I even heard the story on NPR as I was driving into work this morning!
Thank you to everyone who participated in the blood drive this past week - and especially to the folks who organised it. Mundane stuff, I know, but really important - thank you.
Congratulations to Suzana Camargo - just appointed as a Doherty Associate Research Scientist in Ocean and Climate Physics (OCP). She works on understanding hurricanes and tropical cyclones and how they are influenced by ENSO (El Nino-Southern Oscillation) and is a great addition to our climate group, working to understand short term impacts of climate change.
Thank you to Jason Smerdon - Storke-Doherty Lecturer also in OCP - for agreeing to take over leadership of the Campus Life Committee from Mary Reagan, who has done a tremendous and much-appreciated job over the past four years as the founding chair of this important group.
There was a great turnout for todays Research Life session - an interactive session on working with the media - led by Rich Hayes from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Kevin Krajick and I will be collecting input from folks over the next week or so to determine how effective it was and decide whether we want to repeat the session next summer, or modify it in some way. A week today - Friday July 25th 330pm in Lamont Hall - the next session will be on 'Washington DC and Proposal Writing' - panelists will include Art Lerner Lam, Yochanan Kushnir and a real, live, practicing NSF program manager from the Ocean Sciences Division who has promised to tell ALL the secrets of how decisions are made about our proposals!
Since I was fortunate enough to spend a few days this week sailing on Long Island Sound (what a different place it is on a week day compared with the weekend!), I have little of relevance to report. But I can pass on a couple of items of interest.
Pat O'Reilly has for sometime been leading our search for a replacement for Ray Long (who continues to enjoy his retirement in Virginia). I am pleased to announce that this process is now completed and we have successfully recruited a new Manager of Safety, Security, Communications and Property for the Lamont Campus, Mr. Howard Matza. Howard holds a Masters Degree from SUNY Buffalo in Environmental Studies and has spent 18 years working for the New York City Transit Authority in progressively responsible positions in the field of Environmental Protection and Environmental Management. He is presently certified in Hazardous Materials Incident Response and is a Certified
Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM). Howard lives with his wife and children in Suffern, NY. He will join Lamont on August 4th.
This has been a blessedly quiet week which has allowed some small degree of 'catching-up' to occur in my office. I do not know whether the fact that 'catching-up' seems to be synonymous with filling several recycling bins with paper, should concern me or not.
As we approach the celebration of this nations successful detachment from the power of the English monarchy, it was with particular interest that I received the latest fund-raising request from the alma mater of many members of the British royal family (and me, by the way!) Cambridge - reminding us all that next year 2009 will be the University's 800th Anniversary (it was founded in 1209 by an exodus of scholars from the University of Oxford who got into a dispute with the local townsfolk (it was kind-of-like a Manhattanville situation I think). So presumably Cambridge's 800th will be more than three times larger and grander than Columbia's recent 250th celebration!
As summer settles in, field work activities intensify, undergraduate interns bring new life to the Campus and travel and vacation schedules make it even more difficult to schedule meetings and events.
I am sure there are many many more - but just in my conversations over the last couple of days, I discovered that this weekend there is a remarkable exodus of senior Lamonters to the oceans of the world. Over this coming weekend, John Mutter and Suzanne Carbotte leave to join Langseth in Manzanillo, Mexico to lead a ground-breaking 3D seismic survey of the East Pacific Rise; Bob Anderson and Katherina Pahnke (newly appointed DARS effective July 1st - congratulations Katherina!) leave to join the Knorr in Bermuda for a GEOTRACES cruise, Ray Sambrotto leaves for Dutch Harbor Alaska to be Chief Scientist on the USCG Healey in the Bering Sea, and Mike Steckler and John Diebold
go to Turkey where they have chartered a Turkish research vessel to carry out high res seismics over the earthquake faults in the Marmara Sea. (Not to mention the fact that Robin Bell and her group just returned from Greenland after successfully completing the first operational tests of the new Lamont airborne ice-penetrating radar mapping system.) As I say there is probably much more than this going on that I do not know about, but this is just what I heard about
directly in conversations through the week - an impressive and diverse level of activity.
Unquestionably the most important news this week is that after more than 20 years at Lamont, Doug Brusa has accepted the position of Director of Development for the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS) at Oregon State University (Corvallis). Many of you have known Doug longer than I have. In 1987 he joined Lamont as
Purchasing Manager, and for the last several years has been Associate Director of Development responsible for alumni and community relations, the alumni and friends newsletter, and other aspects of fund raising. In addition he is one of our unofficial historians - perhaps you have heard one of his talks on Thomas W. Lamont or Henry L. Doherty. He has been a great asset to Lamont and we will miss him dearly. He plans to leave very soon - at the end of this month - so I
encourage all of you to attend a farewell gathering this next Wednesday June 25 at 3:30pm in Lamont Hall.
The Geochemistry Division organized a special event this past Wednesday to recognize Bob Anderson's five years of service as Associate Director - Bob steps down on 1st July and Bill Smethie will take on the reins of leadership. Thank you Bob - the Geochemistry Division, and indeed the whole Observatory, owes you a profound debt of gratitude. And Bill - thank you too for taking on this important new responsibility.
Well, it is Friday the 13th and nothing terrible has happened yet... although yesterday my cell phone died, and earlier this week we did discover that carpenter ants are eating the Monell Building... but that seems unrelated to the failure of the phone system in that same building for half a day (which was caused by lightning).
I did an interview for Austrian National Public Radio (in English - so who will be able to understand it remains a mystery).
We received the disappointing news that yet another attempt at hiring a DARS-level glaciologist has been unsuccessful - so we will have to try again.
Our ship, the Langseth remains alongside the Scripps dock in San Diego completing final preparations before sailing south to Manzanillo Mexico in a couple of weeks... Then, under the leadership of Suzanne Carbotte and John Mutter she will carry out the very first industry- quality three-dimensional survey of the volcanic plumbing system
beneath the East Pacific Rise. Another first for Lamont...
A few random news items to begin with:
After a couple of years of dedicated service Andy Juhl has decided to step down from his position on the LDEO Executive Committee and Andreas Thurnherr (who has served occasionally as Andy's backup in the past) has agreed to take his place.
Three Lamonters were inducted into Columbia University's elite cadre of 25 year veterans earlier this week: John Mutter from MG&G, Dave Walker from Geochem and Fernando Uribe from the Marine Dept (Fernando works in the engine room on Langseth - and did on the Ewing... and the Conrad).
In a speech in the Low Library earlier this week Mayor Bloomberg said: "Science in our city also puts New York on the cutting edge in the study of climate change. Columbia University's Earth Institute and its Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are world leaders in understanding and addressing global warming...
So it is nice that he knows our name!
The Commissioner of the New York State Dept of Environmental Conservation (Peter Grannis) and his Deputy Stu Gruskin spent most of the day here at Lamont, learning about the many NYS research activities in which we are involved. This was an extremely productive session that I believe will lead to substantially increased interactions. Other States around the nation, especially California and Florida, provide significant support for University-based research that has relevance to State interests - we must get New York into this same state of mind. The reality is that we do a tremendous amount of research here at Lamont that is of fundamental importance to the healthy future of NYS.