Lamont Weekly Report, February 28, 2014


    It has been a bittersweet week. The campus was shocked and grieved by the tragic news that CIESIN’s Mark Becker, en route to teach a class at Bard College, was killed in a multiple-vehicle accident on the New York State Thruway on Wednesday morning. Our deepest sympathies go out to Mark’s family and friends in mourning for a life of accomplishment and promise abruptly ended in mid-stride.
    Even as we pause to celebrate the lifetime contributions of a colleague, the pace of our science continues. A colorful glimpse of fieldwork planned by Lamont scientists in the year ahead was posted this week on our website ( From ice sheet to shoreline, from deep sea to boreal forest, our staff and students will again be circling the globe in the pursuit of answers to some of the most challenging questions about the workings of our planet.
    The process of renewal of our staff continues as well. I am pleased to announce that Anne Bécel has been appointed a Lamont Assistant Research Professor, effective next week. A marine seismologist with field experience in Tonga-Fiji, the southeastern Pacific, the Aleutians, the Lesser Antilles, the Mediterranean, and the Sea of Marmara, Anne holds a Ph.D. from the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris and has been an Associate Research Scientist at Lamont for two and a half years. Please join me in welcoming Anne to her new position in the Marine Geology and Geophysics Division.
    In the February issue of The Record, an article on Academic Commons – Columbia’s program to provide open access to scholarly publications – makes double mention of Lamont. A paper by Robin Bell, Bob Arko, and others is cited as an example of what can be found in the repository. And Lamont is lauded as being one of the three units at Columbia, along with the departments of Computer Science and Economics, which have contributed the greatest number of items (
    On Tuesday, Pete Sobel and I met with Lamont Advisory Board chair Sarah Johnson and Fred Van Sickle, Columbia’s Executive Vice President for University Development and Alumni Relations. The goals of the meeting were to introduce Sarah to Columbia’s Office of Alumni and Development and to discuss opportunities to strengthen cooperation in fundraising between development staff at Lamont and the central university office. Later that day, Advisory Board members Gerry Sobel and Julian Sproule joined Robin Bell, Peter deMenocal, and me at the University Lecture by Jeff Sachs, on “The path to sustainable development,” and at the dinner that followed.
    A successful remote detection of a large landslide in a remote part of Alaska by Colin Stark and Göran Ekström was reported in two stories on Live Science. The first story, last week, reported the detection of the seismic signals from the slide, which occurred on 16 February, and the estimation of the size of the event, probably the largest landslide anywhere on the globe since 2010 ( The second story, on Monday, reported photographic confirmation of the location and magnitude of the slide by a commercial pilot who’d been given the information assembled by Colin and Göran ( The tale – also described in an Alaska Public Media radio story posted on Tuesday ( – provides a persuasive example of the power of real-time seismic analysis to characterize a geological event that, had it occurred in a populated area, would have had a catastrophic impact.
    Lamont scientists have also been much sought for comments on recent scientific findings. Jerry McManus was quoted in a Dick Kerr story in Science last week on evidence that the North Atlantic circulation slowed or stopped for centuries at a time during a warm period 100,000 years ago ( Aaron Putnam offered comments in a Justin Gillis story in The New York Times Tuesday on the controlling influence of atmospheric temperature on the retreat of a mountain glacier in Peru ( That same day, Bob Anderson was quoted in a news story in Nature on the release by the GEOTRACES program of a new three-dimensional map of the distribution of iron, a key nutrient for phytoplankton, in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans ( Klaus Jacob and Mike Gerrard, director of Columbia’s Center for Climate Change Law, were cited in a Climate Central story Tuesday about the rate settlement reached between Consolidated Edison and the New York Public Service Commission requiring ConEd to study the effects of climate change on its infrastructure and to adjust its operations to mitigate those effects (
    In today’s issue of Science is a report by Joerg Schaefer and colleagues on geological observations and geochronological measurements indicating that the Pine Island Glacier, an outlet of the West Antarctic ice sheet and a major contributor to modern sea-level rise, experienced high rates of thinning (>1 m/yr) for decades to centuries about 8000 years ago. Because those rates are comparable to those of the past two decades, the current phase of thinning may also have a timescale measured in centuries. The lead author of the work, Joanne Johnson of the British Antarctic Survey, started the project as a Marie Tharp Fellow at Lamont in 2011. Scientific American carried a story on the online version of the article last week (
    On Monday afternoon next week, the Earth Institute will host the first Cross-Cutting Initiative and Earth Clinic Seed Funding Symposium in Lerner Hall. The symposium will feature a selection of projects funded through the two programs. Brendan Buckley and Joerg Schaefer are among the featured speakers. Pre-registration is required to attend the event; those interested should go to
    On Friday next week, Lamont will host the 19th annual Jardetzky Lecture, a series that honors the late Wenceslas S. Jardetzky, a mathematical geophysicist who worked on the Lamont staff from 1949 to 1962 after emigrating from post-war Europe. Our 19th Jardetzky Lecturer will be Harvard geophysicist Jerry Mitrovica, who will speak on “Postmodern geophysics and ice age climate” (
    In the meantime, today’s Earth Science Colloquium will be given by Caltech geochemist John Eiler, who will be speaking on the application of clumped isotope thermometry to the problem of “Reconstructing dinosaur body temperatures.” I hope that you can attend.