Lamont Weekly Report, September 20, 2013

     The autumnal equinox will occur this Sunday, and, more importantly, the end of the federal government’s fiscal year is only 10 days away. The prospects for a government stalemate over the wording in a continuing resolution or lack of agreement on a new debt ceiling renew the sense that following Congress ranks high among this nation’s premier spectator sports, albeit with a fan base substantially smaller than those of most college and professional sports teams.
     The Seismology, Geology and Tectonophysics Division recently welcomed two new postdoctoral scientists. Hsien Hsiang (Denny) Hsieh – who received a Ph.D. from National Central University, Taiwan, and holds a postdoctoral appointment at the Institute of Earth Sciences, Academia Sinica – will be working for one year with Lamont seismologists on methods to jointly invert seismic, gravity, and magnetic data to image plate boundary structures in the vicinity of Taiwan. Vikram Singh – who obtained his Ph.D. from Cornell University and most recently held a position at ConocoPhillips – will work with Ben Holtzman, Heather Savage, and Hannah Rabinowitz on the development of constitutive models for the deformation of rocks near the brittle-ductile transition. Vikram is here only until early 2014, when he leaves for a faculty position at the India Institute of Technology in Delhi.
     The division is also hosting the visit of two South Korean scientists to work with Jim Davis and Meredith Nettles. Kwan-Dong (Kwan) Park, an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil/Environmental/Geoinformatic Engineering at Inha University and now on sabbatical leave, is a former postdoctoral scientist of Jim’s at the Center for Astrophysics. Dong-Hyo (Hyo) Sohn is Kwan's graduate student and holds degrees in astronomy. While at Lamont, Kwan and Hyo will work on records of ionospheric storms recorded at Helheim Glacier and the impact of such phenomena on interferometric synthetic aperture radar measurements of glaciers and ice sheets.
     On Tuesday, Pete Sobel and I visited with Amber Miller, Columbia University’s Dean of Science, and David Madigan, Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. We discussed the interconnections between development efforts recently inaugurated for the science initiatives in Arts and Sciences and the development activities at Lamont. Follow-on meetings are planned to ensure that our respective efforts are well coordinated.
     On Wednesday, the second Lamont Postdoctoral Symposium was held in the Comer Seminar Room. Thirty-seven of Lamont’s current cadre of 45 postdoctoral scientists gave talks or posters on their research, and the reviews from the standing-room-only audience lauded the novelty of the research described and the caliber of the presentations. A colorful abstract book, with a rogue’s gallery of photos of our postdoctoral scientists, was produced by Kuheli Dutt and Miriam Cinquegrana and is available to any who missed the occasion.
     Also on Wednesday, Lamont’s Advisory Board met at Aquavit restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. The meeting included an overview presentation on Lamont’s nearly completed scientific strategic plan by Robin Bell and Maureen Raymo, co-chairs of the Strategic Planning Committee. The Board meeting was followed by engaging talk by Mark Cane on “Climate and conflict” to an audience of Board members, Director’s Circle invitees, and Lamont colleagues.
     A notable milestone at the Advisory Board meeting was the passing of the chair’s gavel from Frank Gumper to Sarah Johnson. Board members collectively and individually thanked Frank for the passion, loyalty, and energy with which he has served as chair for the past two years. Frank will continue as a member of the Board and will be leading that group’s efforts to advise the Observatory on our programs in education.
     On Thursday, I met with Bauke (Bob) Houtman, head of the Integrative Programs Section of NSF’s Ocean Sciences Division, along with Dave Goldberg, Sean Higgins, Art Lerner-Lam, and Kathy Callahan. The discussion focused on funding models for continued support of the R. V. Langseth and its seismic data acquisition system in the next fiscal year and beyond. The Langseth, by the way, left Reykjavik earlier this week and is now in transit to the U.S. east coast.
     Yesterday and today, Lamont was visited by Victor Zykov, representing the Schmitt Ocean Institute ( and the Marine Science and Technology Foundation (, and Marian Carlson, who was representing the Simons Foundation ( but is also a Professor of Genetics & Development and Microbiology at Columbia. Ajit Subramaniam arranged for the two to visit with a number of Lamont scientists whose research interests overlap those of the two sets of foundations.
     Several Lamont scientists were quoted in news articles this week. Roger Buck was cited in a Live Science article Tuesday on the relation between rifting and magmatism in the Afar ( An interview with Michael Previdi in The Guardian Wednesday was on the topic of feedback mechanisms in climate change processes and a recently published paper he led in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society ( Maureen Raymo was quoted in a news article in Thursday’s issue of Nature on prospects for rising sea level as indicated by the evidence from warm intervals in our planet’s past (
     I hope that most of you will be able to attend today’s Earth Science Colloquium. Allison Steiner from the University of Michigan’s Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences will be speaking on “Regional-scale aerosol-climate feedbacks of anthropogenic and biogenic aerosols.”
     To my regret, I will miss Allison’s lecture. The change of seasons for me will be marked in London. This morning I boarded a plane to fly to a meeting at the Royal Society next week on the origin of the Moon. Perhaps the British tabloids will provide fresh wisdom regarding the actions next week by our Congress.