The strongest typhoon to date in the 2014 Western Pacific season and a magnitude 6.9 earthquake near the Mexico-Guatemala border reminded us once again this week that an improved understanding of our dynamic planet is amply warranted.
This week has also been a challenging one for our Office of Marine Operations. On Tuesday of last week, the R/V Langseth sailed from her berth at SUNY Maritime College to begin an NSF-sponsored cruise, led by chief scientist Greg Mountain of Rutgers University, to collect three-dimensional seismic images of the upper crust of the continental shelf off of New Jersey. The study area encompasses the three drill holes of IODP Expedition 313, and the expedition aims to place the information from those cores into spatial and temporal context and thereby to improve our understanding more generally of the history of sea level, deposition, and erosion along the eastern U.S. continental margin. Late last week, the Department of Environmental Protection of the state of New Jersey filed a complaint in federal district court against NSF, NOAA, and Lamont to halt the cruise on the grounds that the operation of the ship’s airguns could disturb wildlife and disrupt tourism and local commercial and sports fishing. The case has drawn broad media attention (http://news.sciencemag.org/environment/2014/07/updated-u-s-court-rejects-new-jerseys-request-block-research-cruise-state-appeal). Attorneys from NSF and the U.S. Department of Justice led counterarguments, including the extensive federal permitting procedures that were followed and the extraordinary efforts being made on the Langseth to minimize disruption to marine life. A federal judge rejected the complaint in a decision on Monday but issued a 24-hour injunction against further seismic operations to give the New Jersey DEP an opportunity to appeal. New Jersey filed their appeal yesterday, and an appeals judge continued the district court’s injunction pending a decision by a full appellate court panel. The Langseth took advantage of the injunction period to head into port yesterday to repair a portside winch that had failed early in the seismic operations. In the meantime, we await word from the appellate court.
On Monday, a group from the Palmer Long Term Ecological Research program that includes Hugh Ducklow, Richard Iannuzzi, Doug Martinson, and Sharon Stammerjohn and is led by Grace Saba of Rutgers published a paper in Nature Communications describing how variations in climate and sea ice regulate food chain dynamics along the western Antarctic Peninsula. From a 20-year record, the group found that winters with heavy sea ice tend to be followed by summers with enhanced primary production, high krill recruitment, and penguin breeding success. These conditions are expected to become less frequent with future climate change.
On Wednesday, Bernice Tsai, Senior Executive Director of Alumni Affairs at Columbia College, visited Lamont to tour our campus and to meet with Pete Sobel, Peter deMenocal, Art Lerner-Lam, and me. Our discussions focused on opportunities for Lamont scientists to contribute to programs in lifelong learning for Columbia alumni and more generally on raising Lamont’s visibility among the alumni community.
On Friday, Pete Sobel, Art, and I met with Joe and Ann Tonetti, neighbors of Lamont with a long-time interest in the campus and Lamont Hall in particular. Joe is an architect, and he led a design study nearly 30 years ago of a restoration and expansion of Lamont Hall with major additions on each end. As our plans for the renovation and future use of Lamont Hall mature, the Tonettis have offered to help us reach out to others in the neighborhood who might have an interest in the project.
On the Lamont Log this week is a profile, cast in interview format, of Felix Waldhauser and his research on improving the precision of earthquake locations along major fault zones and in volcanic areas (http://lamontlog.tumblr.com/post/91040808502/profile-felix-waldhauser). There is also a link to an interview of Nano Seeber recorded on Monday by Northeast Public Radio about an earthquake last Saturday, at magnitude 2.5 much smaller than the damaging quake in Mexico, north of Peekskill, New York (http://wamc.org/post/small-earthquake-recorded-putnam-county). What makes the tremor of interest out of proportion to its size is its relation to other nearby fault structures, such as the Ramapo Fault, which is capable of substantially larger events and passes near the nuclear power plant at Indian Point. Among other local media that included stories on Saturday’s earthquakes, The Journal News sought out John Armbruster for a regional and longer-term perspective (http://www.lohud.com/story/tech/science/environment/2014/07/07/micro-earthquake-shakes-hudson-valley/12315739/).
Elsewhere on our web pages, Max Cunningham added two entries this week to his field blog describing his work with Mike Kaplan in Costa Rica to understand the relative roles of tectonic deformation and glacial erosion in determining the morphology of tropical mountains (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/research/blogs/sculpting-tropical-peaks). Kat Allen continues her poetic encapsulations of topical research issues and findings with a piece today on the sources of iron in seawater and the importance of that element for phytoplankton growth (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/research/blogs/geopoetry).
Lamont scientists in the news this week include Suzanne Carbotte, whose seismic imaging studies of the Cascadia subduction zone offshore of Washington and Oregon are among the highlights of ongoing work in that area described in an article in Earth magazine (http://www.earthmagazine.org/article/unlocking-cascadia-subduction-zones-secrets-peering-recent-research-and-findings). And Dallas Abbott appears on a video on the Smithsonian Channel (http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/sc/web/show/3408479/sacred-sites-ireland) on evidence from Greenland ice cores that Earth’s encounter with Halley’s comet in the Sixth Century A.D. may have been punctuated by the impact of a fragment from the comet’s nucleus.
Whether you are following natural hazards, the man-made hazards of acquiring modern marine seismic measurements, or the wisdom of holding a game to decide the third-place finisher in a World Cup tournament, may you find time this weekend for relaxation and personal restoration.