Lamont Weekly Report, March 22, 2013


    This week Congress finally passed budgets for the government fiscal year now nearly half over. Almost as if to reward themselves, they promptly took a two-week recess. 

    Peter Kelemen received the good news this week that he has been elected a Geochemistry Fellow of The Geochemical Society and The European Association of Geochemistry. This honor is bestowed on “outstanding scientists who have, over some years, made a major contribution to the field of geochemistry.” Please join me in congratulating Peter on this latest recognition by his peers.
     This week has been a good one for Lamont in Science magazine. Today’s issue includes a report by Göran Ekström and Colin Stark describing how catastrophic landslides, even in remote areas, can be detected and characterized in near real time from global seismic network observations. On Science Express, a paper posted this week on which Paul Olsen and Dennis Kent are coauthors presents new and unprecedentedly precise U-Pb dates for the age and eruption history of flood volcanism in the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province, including a convincing correspondence between the earliest volcanism and the mass extinction at the end of the Triassic that opened the 136-million-year era when dinosaurs dominated our planet (
    A few details are emerging on funding levels for federal science agencies this year. The omnibus appropriations bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday was approved by the House Thursday morning and sent to the White House for signing. The omnibus bill includes the sequester, a 5.1% reduction for non-defense agencies, that went into effect at the beginning of the month. The Commerce-Justice-Science Act included in the omnibus bill sets overall budgets for NSF and NOAA somewhat higher than 2012 levels ($7.4B and $5.1B, respectively), and it is from these higher levels that the sequester fraction will be taken. Even though agencies will have some flexibility in how to apply the sequester, the cuts will be broadly felt. On Wednesday, Mike Purdy’s office circulated the “unusual request” that members of the Columbia community write to “your Senators and Members of Congress in opposition to further spending cuts to federally funded research.”
    Pat O’Reilly has asked me to draw attention to the latest issue of the newsletter Safety Matters from Columbia’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety ( The lead article on the culture of laboratory safety should be required reading for every laboratory scientist.
    I spent all of this week off campus at the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, which featured five days of oral and poster sessions on the latest results from planetary spacecraft missions and extraterrestrial sample research. Much of the hallway discussion focused on possible effects of the sequester on NASA’s budget, a topic underscored by the large number of civil servants and NASA contractors who were denied approval to attend the meeting following changes in agency travel policy set in place last week.
    Lamont’s Spring Public Lecture series begins this Sunday with a lecture by Sean Higgins on “Ships, scientists and the sea: Exploring Earth’s last frontier.” This annual lecture series began 14 years ago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Observatory. Other lecturers in this spring’s series include Adam Sobel, Emily Klein, and Maya Tolstoy. Two of the four lectures will be in New York City, and two will be given on the Lamont campus, including the opening lecture by Sean (
     On Monday of next week, Lamont will host a delegation of oceanographers and paleoclimate experts from the Instituto Oceanográfico da Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil. Discussions with the visitors will explore opportunities for research collaborations and exchanges of students and researchers between the two institutions.
    Enjoy the last day of spring break. Classes resume next week, as does our Colloquium series.