Lamont Weekly Report, May 31, 2013

     Today is remarkable because near-Earth asteroid 1998 QE2 makes a closest approach to Earth ( About 2.7 km in its long dimension, the asteroid is sufficiently large that we do not wish to witness its impact on our planet. Fortunately, the distance at closest approach (4:59 pm EDT) will be nearly 6 million kilometers, or 15 times the Earth-Moon distance, but still within easy range of radio telescopes to provide radar astronomers a good view of the asteroid’s shape and major surface features.

     The R/V Langseth arrived in Vigo, Spain, this Tuesday after a transit from the Azores that included several days of testing of streamers and other equipment in preparation for the coming cruise. On Saturday, she is scheduled to begin a three-dimensional seismic study of the transition between oceanic crust and rifted continental crust in the Deep Galicia Basin west of Spain ( The ship’s international scientific party will be led by Dale Sawyer of Rice University, the chair of the Marcus Langseth Science Oversight Committee, and will include Donna Shillington and James Gibson from Lamont. The German F.S. Poseidon has already deployed 38 ocean-bottom seismometers for the experiment and will add another 18 instruments in the next few days ( A short video report on the cruise has been posted on NSF Science Now (, about 2 minutes into the video).

     I am happy to report that another of our graduate students has been awarded a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship for the coming academic year. Michael Wolovick will be receiving his fellowship for the research project entitled “Ice sheet sliding constrained by assimilation of stratigraphic data.” Michael works in the Marine Geology and Geophysics Division as a member of the polar geophysics group, and he is advised by Robin Bell, Roger Buck, and Tim Creyts.

     Lamont’s Strategic Planning Committee, co-chaired by Robin and by Maureen Raymo, met on Tuesday. The committee has made considerable progress in the articulation of a strategic planning document that argues persuasively for the maintenance of Lamont’s core strengths in basic science, identifies several key research themes that cross-cut the traditional disciplines and divisions, and highlights a number of targeted initiatives for particular focus in research and fundraising. The committee will present the latest draft of the plan to an all-hands town meeting next Friday at 11 am in the Monell auditorium.

     On Wednesday, I attended a meeting hosted by Dean of Science Amber Miller on relations between Columbia University and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Gavin Schmidt from GISS attended, as did Nick White (Director of the Science and Exploration Directorate) and Peter Hildebrand (Director of the Earth Sciences Division) from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Discussion ranged broadly over current scientific and institutional arrangements and opportunities for broadening and strengthening the partnership between GISS and Columbia. A follow-on meeting will be held in June.

     In the news this week is a story posted Wednesday on Live Science on Maya Tolstoy’s work with ocean-bottom seismometers and the potential of such instruments to record small events that may foreshadow a large and damaging plate-boundary earthquake ( A story on a paper in Nature this week by Sharon Hoffmann, Jerry McManus, and collaborators on evidence from radionuclide abundance ratio measurements in Arctic Ocean sediments that deep ocean currents in the Arctic continued more or less uninterrupted through the last ice age ( has been picked up by several online news organizations.

     As we await the asteroid encounter this afternoon, we can celebrate the contributions to Lamont of Ginny Beck, Dake Chen, and Doug Shearer at the party in their honor that will start at 3 pm in Monell. Ginny, our Coordinator for Marine Recruitment and Staffing in the Office of Marine Operations, is nearing the end of her 35th year with us. Dake, a Lamont Research Professor in OCP, has worked at the Observatory for more than 18 years. Doug, a Senior Staff Associate in the Computer Support Group, has been at Lamont for nearly 38 years. Collectively these three have devoted nearly 91 years to the intellectual life of the Observatory, so I hope that you will be able to join the festivities to acknowledge their contributions and wish them well on the passions they will pursue after next month.