Lamont Weekly Report, October 26, 2012


   This week has been sandwiched by extreme natural events. On Monday, four geophysicists, two seismic engineers, and a government worker were given 6-year jail sentences in Italy for failing to provide the public with adequate warning of the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, an event of moment magnitude 6.3 that led to more than 300 fatalities. The case has become a cause célèbre for the scientific community, which has rallied in defense of scientists asked to make statements to the public involving risk and its uncertainty. On Wednesday, the President of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the President of the Royal Society issued a joint statement that concluded, “…we must protest the verdict in Italy. If it becomes a precedent in law, it could lead to a situation in which scientists will be afraid to give expert opinion for fear of prosecution or reprisal. Much government policy and many societal choices rely on good scientific advice and so we must cultivate an environment that allows scientists to contribute what they reasonably can, without being held responsible for forecasts or judgments that they cannot make with confidence.”
   Much better news came on Tuesday. Kerstin Lehnert was notified by the President of the Geochemical Society that she will be receiving the society’s 2012 Distinguished Service Award. The award recognizes Kerstin’s major contributions to the creation and management of online geochemical databases and the important advances in geochemistry that have been enabled by such archives. The award will be presented at the next Goldschmidt Conference in August in Florence, Italy. Please join me in congratulating Kerstin for this well-deserved recognition.
   On Thursday, Art Lerner-Lam and I represented Lamont at the Members Meeting of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership (COL) in Washington, D.C. COL President Bob Gagosian and public affairs director Kevin Wheeler led off with a discussion of the federal fiscal climate, including the possibility of agency budget sequestration to be triggered if Congress and the White House fail to reach agreement on deficit reduction targets by January. Gagosian argued that COL member organizations should express strong support for the funding of “core” science programs at federal agencies, focus on new programmatic funding opportunities, work to increase the visibility of ocean science in Congress, and actively support Administration initiatives in our field. Margaret Cavanaugh, Acting Assistant Director of NSF’s Geosciences Directorate, and Bob Detrick, Assistant Administrator of NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, summarized program prospects in their respective agencies. Other presentations followed on the economics of the ocean, the U.N. World Ocean Assessment, the 2013 National Climate Assessment, and a variety of COL programs on research, education, and governance.
   For this Saturday, An Afternoon of Science Master Classes has been organized by our development office for members of Lamont’s Director’s Circle and their guests. The event will feature a welcoming lunch and special lectures and tours on geological sequestration of CO2 led by Dave Goldberg, ocean-bottom seismology led by Andrew Barclay, real-time monitoring of landslides led by Göran Ekström, and the oceanographic and climate records preserved in Lamont’s core repository led by Maureen Raymo. Hali Felt, the Marie Tharp biographer who will be giving today’s Colloquium, will also host a panel discussion on the continuing exploration of the oceans and polar regions, with panelists Robin Bell, Suzanne Carbotte, and Maya Tolstoy.
   The coming week will feature several events of interest. On Monday, Steve Cohen will host an Earth Institute panel discussion on Adapting to a Changing Climate: Managing Our Cities and Food Supply (, with Mark Cane and IRI’s Lisa Goddard among the panelists. Also on Monday, the second episode of a four-part BBC radio series on the Anthropocene, entitled “The Age We Made,” will feature interviews with Bärbel Hönisch and Maureen Raymo. As noted last week, the 2012 W. S. Jardetzky Lecture will be given by Ellen Mosley-Thompson on Friday. The following week, on 8 November, photographer and filmmaker Joshua Wolfe will lead a workshop on shooting photographs and video footage in support of research fundraising and media and public outreach; those interested are asked to contact Kim Martineau to register for the workshop by Thursday, 1 November.
   As this week draws to a close, many of us have our eyes on hurricane Sandy. Among the media stories on this unusual storm (dubbed Frankenstorm), its large-scale atmospheric context, and its impact on the New York area, was a piece on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show this morning that featured Adam Sobel. A replay is available at May all of you stay safe and dry, with uninterrupted electrical power.