Lamont Weekly Report, November 8, 2013

    On Monday, a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported the results of calculations, derived from observations made by the Kepler spacecraft, indicating that about 20 percent of the Sun-like stars in our galaxy host a planet about the size of Earth in the so-called “habitable zone,” that is, at a stellar distance at which liquid water would be stable at the planetary surface ( In an odd juxtaposition of news stories, our own planet seemed to become less habitable this week. A draft report of the Intergovernmental Planet on Climate Change, leaked to the media, concludes that global food production will decline by as much as 2 percent per decade over the rest of this century as a result of Earth’s changing climate ( Perhaps we will see the emergence of a new generation of moving companies that charge by the light year.
    Fortunately, we continue to train the next generation of leaders in both basic and applied Earth science. Last Friday, Ivan Mihajlov successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis on “The vulnerability of low-arsenic aquifers in Bangladesh: A multi-scale geochemical and hydrologic approach.” And yesterday, Colin Kelley followed suit with the defense of his thesis on “Recent and future drying of the Mediterranean region: Anthropogenic forcing, natural variability and social impacts.”
    This week the Seismology, Geology and Tectonophysics Division welcomed Peter James as a new Postdoctoral Research Scientist. Peter holds a B.S. degree in physics and mathematics from Brown University and a Ph.D. degree in geophysics from M.I.T. His thesis combined convection models with observations of topography and gravity in studies of lithospheric compensation and mantle dynamics in Venus, Mercury, and the Moon.
    Also new to Lamont this week is Angela Marusiak, a Technical Assistant who is working in the Borehole Research Group with Gerry Iturrino on technical projects and equipment inventory. Angela holds a B.S. degree from Boston University, where she majored in geophysics and planetary sciences and minored in mechanical engineering.
    On Monday, I attended another in a series of meetings on strengthening the partnership between NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and Columbia University. Hosted by Executive Vice President for Research Mike Purdy, the meeting was also attended by Peter Schlosser, Dean of Science Amber Miller, and Adrian Hill from Mike’s office. Representing NASA were Gavin Schmidt from GISS and Peter Hildebrand and Piers Sellers, respectively the Director of the Earth Sciences Division and the Deputy Director of the Science and Exploration Directorate at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The focus of the meeting was on a draft Space Act agreement between NASA and Columbia that would serve as a basis for more focused collaborative projects.
    On Wednesday, the R/V Langseth sailed from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to the naval shipyard in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. The move was triggered by a combination of repairs to the WHOI dock and the imminent arrival of the R/V Knorr. The Langseth will continue its current maintenance period with a reduced crew until scheduled shipyard work begins in January.
    Alex Evans, Peter James, and I spent Wednesday in Annapolis, Maryland, at a meeting of the Science Team for NASA’s GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) dual-spacecraft mission, which ceased flight operations late last year after mapping the Moon’s gravity field in spectacular detail. The meeting was one day after India launched that nation’s first spacecraft bound for Mars, a measure of the increasingly international complexion of solar system exploration (
    Columbia University’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs posted excerpts from interviews with three Lamont scientists late last week. The more scientific of the interviews were with Sonya Dyhrman on the interaction of marine microbial communities with their geochemical environment during climate change ( and Mo Raymo on the geological record of sea level during the Pliocene warm period ( The third was from my interview by Bridget O’Brian on Lamont’s future directions for The Record (
    A story on a paper by Lamont alumna Patience Cowie, Chris Scholz, and colleagues from the United Kingdom, Norway, and France published online this week in Nature Geoscience was posted today by Kim Martineau. The paper documents a relation between seismic slip on normal faults in the Italian Apennines and local surface elevation, from which the authors infer that fault slip during earthquakes is being driven by viscous flow in localized shear zones at depth ( The study area was the site of the magnitude 6.9 L’Aquila earthquake in 2009 that produced more than 300 fatalities and led to the conviction of half a dozen Italian earthquake seismologists and engineers on the “crime” of failing to warn the public adequately of the seismic risk in the region
    Two interesting events will punctuate next week. On Tuesday evening, as part of the Marfa Dialogues series, Lamont and IRI are hosting a panel discussion on “Climate: Past Present and Future” at the Rauschenberg Project Space in Chelsea. Panelists, all from the pages of the Climate Models calendar, will include Michela Biasutti, Dorothy Peteet, Richard Seager, Jason Smerdon, and Kátia Fernandes from IRI ( Next Thursday, Maya Tolstoy will be featured in the Earth Institute lecture series Toward a Sustainable Earth. Maya’s talk, to be given at the Lotos Club on the Upper East Side, will be on “The next wave: Tsunami warnings from the deep sea floor.”
    In the meantime, this afternoon’s Earth Science Colloquium features a lecture by Duke University’s Avner Vengosh ( on the timely topic of “Myth and reality associated with risks of water contamination from shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing in the USA.” I hope to see you there.