The Earth and Planetary science community mourned the death this week of Jerry Wasserburg, isotope geochemist and cosmochemist, Crafoord Laureate, and long-time member of the faculty at Caltech. Jerry’s laboratory largely defined the history of the Moon and established the timescale between nucleosynthesis and solar system formation.
Director's Weekly Reports
This week included World Oceans Day (http://www.worldoceansday.org/), “a global day of ocean celebration and collaboration for a better future.” The theme for the day, which fell on Wednesday, was “healthy oceans, healthy planet,” worthy goals for all of us.
Although shortened by a Monday holiday, the week was one in which scientific progress continued at the usual pace.
A second week in a row began with sad news for the extended Lamont family, with a belated report that Columbia and Lamont alumnus Charles Officer, Jr., had passed away last month (http://www.vnews.com/Obituaries/Charles-Officer-Obituary-Hanover-NH-1518946). A theoretical geophysicist with broad interests, Chuck was well known as the author of several textbooks and a number of popular books in Earth science.
The week began sadly for the extended Lamont family with the news that one of our most distinguished members, John Imbrie, passed away last Friday. Considered one of the founders of modern paleoceanography, John taught at Columbia's Department of Geological Sciences (now the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences) from 1952 to 1967 and served as department chair. The recipient of many awards and honors, John shared the 1996 Vetlesen Prize.
This week began with a transit of Mercury, an event that occurs only about 13 times per century (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/11/science/mercurys-colorful-path-across-the-sun.html?_r=0). The passage of Mercury between the Sun and Earth permits novel measurements of Mercury’s tenuous atmosphere and serves as an observational analog to extrasolar planets that transit their host stars.
The highlight of the first half of this week for the Lamont community was the election on Tuesday morning of Maureen Raymo to the National Academy of Sciences (http://www.nasonline.org/news-and-multimedia/news/may-3-2016-NAS-Election.html).
It is worth a few moments to celebrate the birthday today of chemist Harold Urey, whose discovery of deuterium in 1932 while on the Columbia faculty was recognized with a Nobel Prize two years later. Following his work on the Manhattan Project, Urey made seminal contributions that helped to establish the fields of cosmochemistry, planetary science, and what is now called astrobiology.
The week began Saturday with large, damaging, and deadly earthquakes on opposite sides of the Pacific. The first was a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in central Kyushu, Japan, a shallow strike-slip rupture that had been preceded by a magnitude 6.2 foreshock two days earlier (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/17/world/asia/more-than-40-in-japan-are-confirmed-dead-in-earthquakes.html).
Today’s date makes me think of income taxes. This year, as with the past several, the hectic spring schedule forces me to throw up my hands and file for extensions on federal and state taxes so I can finish gathering the needed information over the summer.
The spring schedule, of course, sometimes brings good news. This week, Peter Schlosser learned that he has been elected to membership in the German National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1652, the organization is the oldest continuously operating scientific academy in the world. Congratulations, Peter!
Late last week, the Observatory was saddened by the news that a member of the Lamont extended family had passed away. Michael Vitelli, who worked as a Systems Analyst for Columbia University for nearly 10 years, first on the Morningside Campus and then at Lamont, died at the age of 52 on March 30 in Nyack after a long illness (http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/lohud/obituary.aspx?n=michael-j-vitelli&pid=179474380&fhid=14974).
The week was notable for the announcement yesterday by President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China that the two nations would both sign the Paris climate change agreement on Earth Day, three weeks from today at a signing ceremony at the United Nations (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/01/world/asia/obama-and-president-xi-of-china-vow-to-sign-paris-climate-accord-promptly.html?_r=0).
Margie Turrin learned last week that she is to receive this year’s Distinguished Service Award from the Rockland County Municipal Planning Federation. Margie was recognized for her leadership of the Rockland Planning Land Use for Students (RPLUS) program (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/edu/plus/). A milestone event for the program was a symposium last Friday, held at SUNY Rockland Community College, at which the RPLUS students presented their community project to mentors from the county. Congratulations, Margie!
The week began with a double dose of sad news: the loss from the Lamont family of Jay Ardai and Arnold Finck, both of whom passed away on Sunday.
The week we were reminded that Earth shares the solar system with other objects. The Moon passed between the Sun and Earth on Tuesday night (our time) and produced a solar eclipse visible in its totality from Indonesia. And one day earlier, asteroid 2013 TX68 – 20 to 50 m across – passed within about 4 million kilometers of Earth (http://earthsky.org/space/asteroid-2013-tx68-uncertain-trajectory-closest-earth-mar-5-2016), about 10 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.
Arriving at Lamont this week was Jonathan Kingslake, a new Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Jonny received his Ph.D. in glaciology in 2013 from the University of Sheffield, where he studied subglacial water flow and outburst floods with Felix Ng and Grant Bigg. As a glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey between then and now, he led field expeditions to West Antarctica to document annual changes in ice sheet structure and longer-term ice flow patterns with phase-sensitive radar measurements.
This week the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation announced that Ryan Abernathey has been selected as a Sloan Research Fellow for 2016 (http://www.sloan.org/sloan-research-fellowships/2016-sloan-research-fell...).
The Weekly Report this week is shorter than usual because I spent much of the week off campus. From Wednesday to Friday I attended a meeting of the GRAIL Science Team hosted by the University of Hawai’i. The highpoint of the meeting was a daylong field trip, led by Jeff Taylor and Peter Mouginis-Mark of the university’s Hawai’i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, of the deposits and structures of the Ko’olau volcano in southeastern Oahu.
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 (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/12/science/ligo-gravitational-waves-black...).
Once again we experienced a week bookended by a snowstorm, this one at the end rather than the beginning. Once again, our Buildings and Grounds crew were in early today to clear roads, paths, and parking lots even as the snow continued to fall.