Lamont Weekly Report, May 15, 2015


    The week began with the sad news that Jim Simpson, an aqueous geochemist whose affiliation with Lamont and Columbia University spanned 50 years, passed away on Sunday. With a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Caltech, Jim first arrived at Lamont as a graduate student in 1965. In 1970 he completed a Ph.D. thesis under Wally Broecker's supervision on "Closed basin lakes as a tool in geochemistry." After one year as a Postdoctoral Research Associate with NOAA’s Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry Laboratory at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hilo, Hawaii, Jim returned to Columbia and Lamont in 1971 to join the faculty of what was then the Department of Geological Sciences. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1977 and full Professor in 1982, and he served as department chair from 1986 to 1989. Twice named Senior Fulbright Research Scholar, Jim held visiting appointments in Egypt, Italy, and Australia. He transitioned to Emeritus Professor in 2008, and was named a Special Research Scientist at Lamont in 2009.

     Bob Anderson writes, “Jim Simpson’s deep concern about the environment was expressed throughout his professional and personal life alike, from tracking the fate of contaminants released by the Indian Point reactor to installing energy-saving features into his own home. He was a grand master at exploiting natural variability among aqueous systems in the design of studies to establish the chemical controls of contaminant transport in the environment. At one time his network of lakes and groundwater systems used as natural laboratories stretched throughout western North America, from Saskatchewan to New Mexico. Jim was a perpetual asset to young colleagues, students and junior scientists alike, long before ‘mentoring’ achieved its current profile in academia. When I first arrived at Lamont, Jim more than anyone provided valuable guidance in preparing my first NSF proposals. He sought ways to provide young colleagues with opportunities for visibility and networking with peers at other institutions, a valuable asset in their career development. Jim was a role model as a scientist, as a mentor, and as a citizen concerned about the environment. It’s an honor to have had the opportunity to work with him for many years.”
     Martin Stute offers, “My office in the old geochem building was located directly across from Jim's and every day when I saw his door was open, I just needed to stop by for at least a quick hello. These short chats often expanded to a longer discussion, not only about common projects, but also about life's many persistent questions. Jim was such a phenomenal mentor and friend, he seemed to have endless time to talk to me and so many others. His dedication to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as Lamont staff, in my mind was unparalleled. When I close my eyes, I can still see his great warm smile that I hope will stay with me for the rest of my life."
     Steve Chillrud, a former student of Jim’s, adds, “The great thing about graduate school under Jim’s mentorship was that you had a great mixture of free rein and support. Jim gave me his lab to run and just expected me to get on with it, and that experience has served me well over the years. Yet at the same time, Jim always had time to talk to me in his office and the field, ever with his tall thermos of tea at hand. This open-door policy was not only true for me but for all of his students, and for those of us who stayed in academia, I don’t think we fully appreciated how much time he spent until years later, after having multiple students of our own. His concern for Lamonters was not just focused on his own students; Jim went out of his way to help new faculty get established and exiting graduate students from other divisions find jobs. Another example of his mentorship, at least for those of us who came to Lamont challenged by the act of putting words on paper, was Jim’s legendary manuscript editing, where each draft could run with blood from his red editing pen. I remember coming across an old abstract of a former student that had more red ink than black type, with Jim’s encouraging words at the top: ‘Much improved. Looking forward to the next draft!’ Jim’s editing, more than any English class, taught me how to write. Jim was a friend who was always available to share the triumphs and tribulations of life, and he will be missed.”
     Notwithstanding the loss of a long-term and broadly influential colleague, the week was a busy one as the university prepared for commencement exercises next week.
     On Monday, Lamont welcomed Lisa Connolly as our new Purchasing Inventory Asset Coordinator. Lisa will be responsible for working with PIs on export control compliance and field and transit insurance, as well as maintaining our asset inventory and assisting science teams with the tagging of capital equipment and disposal of surplus items. Lisa, who brings more than 20 years of experience with Verizon Wireless, will also be available to assist with general purchasing needs. I hope that you will join me in welcoming Lisa to the Observatory.
     Also on Monday, the Geochemistry Division welcomed new Staff Associate Maxi Castrillejo. A third-year Ph.D. student at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Maxi is currently working on the use of artificial radionuclides as tracers of ocean circulation. Hosted by Tim Kenna, Maxi will be visiting Lamont through early July.
     On Tuesday, Arlene Fiore and coauthors published a paper in Nature Communications on periods of elevated surface ozone levels in the western U.S. caused by deep stratospheric intrusions into the lowermost troposphere. Arlene and her team showed that more frequent deep intrusions are seen in the late spring following La Niña winters, a relation that can provide a basis for forecasting and then monitoring extreme ozone events and their effect on the implementation of U.S. ozone air quality standards. A Kevin Krajick story on the paper appears on our website (
     On Wednesday, many of you may have noticed that the Google Doodle celebrated the 127th birthday of Inge Lehmann, the Danish seismologist who discovered Earth’s solid inner core ( In a series of visits to Lamont that began in 1952 and spanned several years, Lehmann collaborated with Maurice Ewing and Frank Press on the study of the seismic structure of Earth’s upper mantle. The American Geophysical Union gives a Lehmann Medal for “outstanding contributions to the understanding of the structure, composition, and dynamics of the Earth’s mantle and core,” the only AGU medal named for a woman. Happy birthday, Inge!
     Also on Wednesday, I met with Ryan Carmichael, Columbia University’s Deputy Vice President for Development, along with Art Lerner-Lam, Pete Sobel, and the Earth Institute’s Casey Supple. We held a wide-ranging discussion of Lamont’s mission and strategic plan as well as early concepts for Columbia’s next capital campaign, after which Pete and Casey gave him a tour of the Observatory.
     In today’s issue of Science, Sonya Dyhrman, Kyle Frischkorn, Monica Rouco, and their colleagues reported the results of experiments documenting the role of marine microbes in reducing phosphorus from the +5 to the +3 oxidation state. With the use of incubation and ion chromatography applied to North Atlantic seawater samples and concentrated colonies of the nitrogen-fixing cyanobacterium Trichodesmium, the group showed that Trichodesmium plays a critical role in phosphate reduction, but other classes of plankton are also involved. Their results illuminate important aspects of a global oceanic phosphorus redox cycle. A media release on the work by Kevin Krajick was posted yesterday on the Lamont website (
     Today seems to be a day for visitors to the campus. Art and I met this morning with B. K. Bansal from the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences, which provides national services in response to earthquakes, severe storms, and other natural disasters. Carl Brenner and David Goldberg hosted the visit, which also included discussions with Roger Buck, Jim Gaherty, Nano Seeber, and Mike Steckler.
     This afternoon, Art, Brendan Buckley, Steve Goldstein, and I will meet with George Veni of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute, located in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Dr. Veni is visiting Lamont to discuss the research being conducted at NCKRI and possibilities for future collaboration with Lamont researchers.
     I will meet later today with Eric Hand, a news writer for Science magazine. Eric’s visit, arranged through Kevin Krajick, has also included discussions with Robin Bell, Mark Cane, Jerry McManus, Terry Plank, Mo Raymo, and Adam Sobel.
     The news this week included several stories on the research of Lamont scientists. An article Monday in The Antarctic Sun featured the work of Trevor Williams, Sid Hemming, Tina van de Flierdt, and Adi Torfstein sampling rocks from the margins of Antarctic glaciers for comparison with ice-rafted debris found in marine sediments seaward of the ends of the glaciers to understand the ice dynamics during past episodes of glacial retreat ( A Climate Central story on Tuesday described climate models by Suzana Camargo and alumnus John Dwyer on the consequences of global warming for the frequency of tropical cyclones and the duration each year of the Atlantic hurricane season (
     Last week marked the end of Lamont’s Earth Science Colloquium series. That this year’s series included a broad spectrum of engaging talks by a diverse group of scientists is the result of the enthusiasm and creative energy of the colloquium team, including graduate students Natalie Accardo, Olivia Clifton, Kassandra Costa, Jonathan Gale, Ruthie Oliver, and Hannah Rabinowitz and overseen by Alberto Malinverno. Thanks, guys!
    For those of you receiving degrees in the coming week, congratulations! And may everyone enjoy the warm, if wet, weekend.