Director's Weekly Reports
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.
Kevin Griffin gave the last talk in this years public lecture series on Sunday and we had a small dinner afterwards with a few special friends of Lamont. As always, Kevin's talk was tremendous and elicited a seemingly unending string of good questions.
Monday morning I left for San Diego and stayed aboard Marcus Langseth alongside at the Scripps Pier at Point Loma for two days - the NSF mandated Oversight Committee was meeting there and giving us important advice concerning how we can continue to improve the quality of the services that Langseth offers for the community. Her first three
cruises, off Costa Rica and in the equatorial Pacific have been unqualified successes (and we made the front page of the local newspapers in Manzanillo Mexico!)
Langseth sails on June 26th (or thereabouts), with Chief Scientist John Diebold for a last shakedown of her multi-streamer towing systems, immediately prior to the groundbreaking East Pacific Rise cruise, led by Suzanne Carbotte and John Mutter, that will for the first time in academia carryout a three-dimensional imaging experiment
using multiple (4) six-kilometer-long hydrophone streamers.
It has been a very busy week with a particularly crazy schedule. A day trip to DC on Wednesday to participate in an interagency discussion on the issue of marine mammals and sound in the ocean was followed by a successful Advisory Board Meeting on Thursday and Don Forsyth's Jardetzky lecture on Friday.
This Sunday is the last of Spring public lecture series - Kevin Griffin at 3pm in Monell, and on Monday I leave for San Diego to participate in the NSF Oversight Committee meeting for the Langseth. She will be alongside at the Scripps Marine Facility so both the Committee and representatives from NSF will have an opportunity to go on board and review her status first hand.
Even though the weather last Sunday afternoon was glorious, Robin Bell's Public Lecture - talking about places much colder and ice-covered - was well-attended and was the third in this year's series - another highly successful series that continues to bring new faces and friends to the Observatory.
Next Friday - in place of the regular colloquium - is our annual Jardetsky Lecture - this year the speaker is Don Forsyth, a world-leading seismologist from Brown University. Undoubtedly this will be a great talk - all are invited and of course there will be a reception afterwards.
Sarah Huard and I had lunch with the Vetlesen Foundation's George Rowe on Wednesday, the one time each year I get to eat in the Rainbow Room overlooking Rockefeller Plaza. The support that the Vetlesen Foundation gives Lamont each year is critical to our health and long-term security.
The Earth Institute's External Review Board, commissioned by the Provost, was in town at the beginning of the week, and they triggered a number of excellent discussions about the structure and future of the EI. It is always so enlightening to listen to perspectives from 'outside' - it was clear that the Board members perceived CU as
playing the major leadership role within US academia on matters pertaining to earth and environmental research and sustainable development. Very heartening.
Our own Michael Studinger is featured on the front page of the CU home page (one of the several photos they have cycling through) - looking like the quintessential field geophysicist surrounded by snow and ice and equipment boxes and earnestly recording observations in a field note book! I think I need to enact a new policy requiring large and legible Lamont logos on all our equipment boxes so when photos like this are taken we are guaranteed visibility. (There is also a picture in the sequence taken at our Open House.)
We received nine proposals for the Advisory Board Innovation Fund - all of them excellent and relevant. I would like to make a speedy decision about the results so that I can report them to the Board at their next meeting on May 15th. Whether I am successful in this will depend upon how quickly I can get reviews.
Our vessel the Langseth was on the front page of the US Embassy (Costa Rica) web page (maybe still is) following on from her very successful port visit there at the end of the Steve Holbrook expedition. Already she is at sea again - working in the equatorial Pacific for PI McGuire from WHOI.
Attended a 'going away' party for Ellen Smith in the Low Library on Monday - very sad to see Ellen leave Columbia as AVP for Government Relations. I have worked with her closely and she has done a lot of good work for LDEO on the Hill over the years - we will miss her greatly.
Last Sunday we held a successful Alumni Association Board Meeting and lunch, along with a several of the Observatory's special friends, before Greg Mountain's great lecture at the second Spring Public lecture event - again to a capacity crowd in the Monell Auditorium. I had to leave early from the reception to get down to Newark airport in time to catch a plane to Houston with Dave Goldberg, rolling in to College Station substantially after midnight. So Monday was spent talking with the TAMU folks and with Ocean Leadership about how to keep the Ocean Drilling Program thriving and successful, through these difficult times of rocketing fuel costs and decreasing NSF support. After losing Tuesday to the return trip from Texas, and Wednesday to day-long interview sessions with a candidate for our new Academic Affairs and Diversity position, and Thursday morning to a very educational visit to the Liberty Science Center (to talk about a possible MoU), Friday arrived - the pinnacle of which was the annual budget meeting with Provost Brinkley - always a positive joy.
Langseth arrived in port in Costa Rica this week - at the end of her first two legs of science operations for Steve Holbrook - which were by all accounts highly successful - absolutely fabulous data from the 8 km long streamer.
The April issue of the Rockland Magazine listed the ten best places to work in Rockland County - Lamont was, of course, not included on this list because we do not qualify - we all come here because it's fun... which was made clear by Eliot Tozer's article in this same issue - an article about the impacts of global warming on the county that inevitably featured several Lamonters including Dorothy Peteet, Beate Liepert, Juerg Matter.
Rockland Magazine aside, we also made it onto the 6 o'clock news on NBC on Thursday - Paul Olsen and Dave Walker were featured talking about the geology of the Palisades sill.
And while on the subject of television Sarah Huard and I were extremely pleased on Wednesday when we asked the discerning critic of TV programming Bill Baker, LDEO Advisory board member and most recently President of Channel 13, to review the final cut of our 8 minute Lamont promotional DVD - he thought it was exceptional - told us it was a quarter million dollar production (Of course it was not, by any means!) - but that was good, because a lot of effort by many folks has gone into that over the past months.