Lamont Weekly Report, October 11, 2013
As the workweek draws to an end, the federal government remains closed. Even as our elected representatives release statements that offer hope for a short-term agreement, the impact of the protracted shutdown is being felt across the sciences.
On Tuesday, the National Science Foundation announced that the support contractor for its Antarctic operations had been directed to begin transitioning all of its research stations to caretaker status (http://www.usap.gov/). Depending on the duration of the shutdown, the action could mean the loss of the entire austral summer field season. A news story in Nature that same day cites Hugh Ducklow on the potential impact of a lost year of observations (http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/10/united-states-suspends-antarctic-research-season.html), and an interview with Hugh one day earlier was carried by Public Radio International (http://pri.org/stories/2013-10-07/us-government-shutdown-could-reach-far-antarctica). Other stories Monday on National Public Radio (http://www.npr.org/2013/10/07/230170093/even-antarctica-feels-the-effects-of-the-government-shutdown) and Live Science (http://www.livescience.com/40237-antarctic-research-government-shutdown.html) quote Robin Bell on the consequences to long-term monitoring of the Antarctic ice sheets.
On Wednesday I learned that NASA has funds to operate its Deep Space Network of sensitive radio antennas only until the end of the month. Without a green light for the agency to resume operations, none of NASA’s spacecraft beyond Earth orbit would be able to send data home. Even with continued spacecraft operations and optimum use of onboard data storage, critical observations would never be transmitted.
A major deadline for proposals to a number of research programs at NSF is 15 October. Lamont scientists who have completed, or are in the final stages of completion of, proposals in anticipation of that deadline are anxiously awaiting news on whether the agency and its online proposal submission software will be operating next week (http://www.nsf.gov/outage.html).
The R/V Langseth, in Woods Hole this week, was discovered to have a minor but persistent leak from the starboard shaft seal. An inability to find a quick mitigation strategy, coupled with the difficulty in obtaining final approval from NSF during the shutdown, has put on hold plans to conduct a cruise later this month in the Gulf of Mexico with support from Shell TechWorks and in collaboration with scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Shipyard work already planned for later this year will allow us to address the leaky shaft seal.
The Biology and Paleo Environment Division has welcomed several recent additions, including three postdoctoral scientists and two Staff Associates. Postdoctoral Research Fellow Nicholas Balascio, an expert in Arctic paleoclimatology now in Billy D’Andrea’s group, arrived from the University of Massachusetts after completing a 2011 Ph.D. and two years of postdoctoral work there. Paleoclimatologist Heather Ford, now a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Maureen Raymo’s group, obtained her Ph.D. earlier this year from the University of California, Santa Cruz, under the direction of Lamont alumna Christina Ravelo. Mónica Rouco-Molina, a Postdoctoral Research Scientist who followed Sonya Dyhrman from WHOI, works on the interaction of phytoplankton with the environment and holds a 2011 Ph.D. from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. The new Staff Associates include Wei Huang, laboratory manager for Brad Lindsley’s lab, and Naomi Shelton in Hugh Ducklow’s group.
On Friday last week, Lamont hosted a visit by the leadership of the Antarctic Forum, a Chinese non-profit group concerned about the Antarctic environment. AF members are senior Chinese academic, business, and government leaders interested in promoting the preservation of Antarctica and broadening knowledge about the global environment. Robin Bell, Tim Creyts, Arnold Gordon, Art Lerner-Lam, Stephanie Pfirman, Ray Sambrotto, and Xiaojun Yuan met with the group to discuss polar research and education initiatives. On Monday of this week, the AF representatives met with Safwan Masri, Columbia's Vice President for Global Centers, to sign an MOU that promotes education and research collaborations between Columbia and the forum. As first steps, the AF has proposed several joint symposia on the Antarctic environment and global sustainability. Art and Xiaojun are Lamont’s contacts for this collaboration.
Lamont’s Strategic Planning Committee met on Tuesday to fine-tune the science strategy and to discuss strategic planning in the areas of campus diversity, education, and development. The committee is nearing completion of the final version of an overarching strategic plan for the Observatory.
Lamont Advisory Board members Walter Brown and Frank Gumper visited Art, Pete Sobel, and me on Tuesday for a lunchtime discussion of Lamont’s diverse activities in the areas of education and outreach and of the need for better coordination and planning of our efforts in these areas.
Also on Tuesday, Kathy Callahan, Edie Miller, Vicky Nazario, Rachel Roberts, Emily Soergel, Art, and I met at the Earth Institute headquarters with Steve Cohen, Alison Miller, and Paige Lyne to discuss the variety of pressures on Lamont’s budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
On Wednesday, I was interviewed by Bridget O’Brian of The Record. Arranged by Kim Martineau, the video interview was conducted in Peter Kelemen’s lab in the Comer building (I hope with Peter’s prior permission). Throughout the questioning, I feared that Bridget would ask me to explain the provenance of each specimen in Peter’s rock collection.
At Thursday’s meeting of the Council of Deans, Columbia Treasurer Gail Hoffman summarized the university’s program of safety and security for international travelers (http://finance.columbia.edu/departments/global-support). Columbia partners with International SOS, which provides 24-hour medical and emergency security assistance in more than 70 countries. Provost John Coatsworth mentioned that the School of International and Public Affairs requires that its students and faculty register with ISOS prior to any international travel (https://www.internationalsos.com/MasterPortal/default.aspx?membnum=11BSGC000064). Lamont currently has no such requirement, but I would welcome anecdotal reports from any who have utilized ISOS services.
Today’s meeting of Lamont’s Associate Directors’ Council featured discussions of timelines for key reviews of scientists on the Lamont Research Professor track and for the applications and evaluations of next year’s Lamont Postdoctoral Fellows. Major reviews and promotions to full Lamont Research Professor will be initiated earlier in the academic year than in the past to ensure that external letters are received in sufficient time to complete all steps in the processes for review and university approval before 1 July. Applications for postdoctoral fellowships will be due earlier this year (2 December) than in the past, to maximize the likelihood that offers from Lamont will be received by our top applicants earlier than offers from competing institutions.
Other Lamont scientists were featured in news stories this past week on topics other than the government shutdown. On Saturday, the second of a two-part story of Wally Broecker’s contributions to our understanding of global climate appeared on Simple Climate (http://simpleclimate.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/how-ocean-data-helped-reveal-the-climate-beast/). (The first part of the story, published early last week, can be found at http://simpleclimate.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/the-joker-who-brought-climate-science-out-of-the-cold/). Tim Crone was quoted in a story Sunday on Long Island Newsday on the spill rate from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead as an issue in ongoing litigation against British Petroleum (http://www.newsday.com/news/bp-trial-to-focus-on-scientists-spill-estimates-1.6206965). Peter Kelemen and his ideas regarding the possibility of carbon dioxide sequestration in the ultramafic rocks of the Samail ophiolite in Oman are featured in an article in the fall issue of Columbia Magazine (http://magazine.columbia.edu/features/fall-2013/carbon-eaters). On Wednesday, NOVA premiered “Megastorm Aftermath,” a show on the lessons from Hurricane Sandy that included interviews with Klaus Jacob and Adam Sobel; for an online version, see http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/earth/megastorm-aftermath.html.
This afternoon, Lamont and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences will host the fourth quasi-annual Arthur D. Storke Memorial Lecture. This year’s Storke Lecturer will be Robert Hazen, from the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory and George Mason University. Hazen will speak on “Recent discoveries in the co-evolution of the geo- and biospheres: Metallogenesis, the supercontinent cycle, and the rise of the terrestrial biosphere” (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/files/uploaded/image/file/Storke%20Lecture%20Abstract.pdf). I hope to see you there.