Lamont Weekly Report, April 29, 2016

    It is worth a few moments to celebrate the birthday today of chemist Harold Urey, whose discovery of deuterium in 1932 while on the Columbia faculty was recognized with a Nobel Prize two years later. Following his work on the Manhattan Project, Urey made seminal contributions that helped to establish the fields of cosmochemistry, planetary science, and what is now called astrobiology. 

    This week marked the retirement of James O‘Loughlin, captain of the R/V Marcus G. Langseth, after 34 years of service on Lamont’s research vessels. After graduating from the California Maritime Academy in 1981 and a brief stint at the University of Southern California Marine Facility, Jim joined the R/V Robert Conrad as 3rd Mate in June 1982. By 1985, Jim was Chief Mate, and in May 1988 he became Captain of the Conrad. Since then, he’s served as Captain of both the R/V Maurice Ewing and the Langseth. Sean Higgins writes, “From his very first recommendation letter from USC to LDEO until now, [Jim’s] performance at every level, and especially as Captain as documented by all, has been extremely positive. Jim’s Southern California roots have always been a big part of his personality in getting along with all onboard, but his attitude of keeping all the ships he’s managed clean and in good condition for operations is just as important a legacy and example.” All of us at Lamont owe Jim a huge vote of thanks for the science that was enabled by his decades of leadership on our ships! 

    On Monday, Nature Geoscience published online a paper coauthored by Marco Tedesco and colleagues from the University of Georgia, Rutgers University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology on the fate of meltwater runoff from the ice sheet in southern Greenland. The team employed a high-resolution ocean model to show that whereas only 1–15% of the surface meltwater runoff originating from southwest Greenland is transported westward, but as much as 50–60% of the meltwater runoff originating from southeast Greenland is transported westward into the northern Labrador Sea, where it can influence deep convection and the strength of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC). Increased rates of Greenland ice sheet melting could have a disproportionate affect on the AMOC and global climate in the future. A Stacy Morford story on the paper’s findings and implications was posted Monday on our web site ( 

    From Monday to Wednesday I was in Austin, Texas, as a member of the External Review Committee to the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin. As appropriate to an institution in Texas, most metrics are extra large: 54 faculty, 90 research scientists, 110 research staff and postdoctoral scientists, 140 support staff, more than 250 graduate students, and more than 300 undergraduate majors. With two campuses, a mix of instructional and research faculty, and recent sharp downturns in its discretionary budget, the school presented an interesting source of comparison and contrast with the Earth science community at Columbia and Lamont. 

    On Wednesday Lamont hosted the annual First-Year Colloquium, which included presentations by 16 first-year graduate students from across the Observatory’s research divisions as well as the American Museum of Natural History. A video of the event may be found at

    On Thursday, Kathy Callahan, Art Lerner-Lam, Edie Miller, and I joined Steve Cohen, David Dvorak, and Alison Miller from the Earth Institute at a meeting with Provost John Coatsworth, Executive Vice President for Finance and Information Technology Anne Sullivan, and members of their staff. The purpose of the meeting was to present a financial and strategic overview of the Earth Institute and the Observatory and to summarize budget projections for the current and coming fiscal years. 

    Columbia University’s Data Science Institute has announced a competition for ROADS (Research Opportunities and Approaches to Data Science) Provost Ignition Grants ( Open to Columbia faculty and research staff, proposed projects should be “aimed at advancing research that combines data science expertise with domain expertise...[The evaluators] are particularly drawn to faculty teams whose proposed project will enable them to develop successful proposals for large-scale grants…[and] will look for applications that propose unique and novel approaches to bring scholars together to work on projects that cross traditional discipline boundaries.” Natalie Boelman won an award last year by teaming with Dan Ellis in Electrical Engineering on a project entitled “Listening to the Arctic fauna.” The proposal deadline this year is May 26. 

    This week, Natalie continued her blog posts from Alberta, Canada, where she and a team of scientists are catching robins, attaching tiny GPS transmitters to them, and letting the birds loose to track their migration. Natalie engaged fourth and fifth graders at her daughter's school, Cottage Lane Elementary, in Blauvelt, New York, to help name the birds. Her blogs, aimed at those students, are posted on NASA's Earth Observatory site ( 

    Several Lamont scientists were featured recently by Scientific American. A story last week on the link between the fate of polar ice sheets and sea level rise quoted Maureen Raymo on the lessons to be learned from the geological record of past sea level changes ( In a story published Monday one year after the deadly earthquake in Nepal, Colin Stark described how near-surface fracturing by a large earthquake can result in amplified ground motion during later aftershocks and a consequently enhanced likelihood of landslides ( In a blog yesterday, Kyle Frischkorn wrote about the impact and promise of robotic vehicles for making measurements and collecting samples in the oceans ( 

    Peter deMenocal has been busy in front of cameras. He appeared last week on an episode of the Public Broadcasting Service show “SciTech Now” on the topic of “the climate innovation gap” ( This week Peter’s talk on “Why climate matters” was added to the postings from Season 2 of Talks@Columbia ( 

    Lamont received mention in a news article Tuesday for a reason other than our scientific work. A story in The Journal News on the Palisades Free Library ( and its 125th anniversary mentions a performance by the local, then-new rock group Kiss, held on the Lamont grounds as a benefit for the library in May 1973. The band went on to sell more than 100 million records worldwide and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

    Two events next week are particularly notable. On Wednesday through Friday, Lamont will host and serve as one of multiple cosponsors for the 2016 Polar Prediction Workshop ( The workshop, to be held in Monell Auditorium, will feature presentations on subseasonal to seasonal forecasts, predictability, process studies, statistical modeling and methodology, and Antarctic studies. Xiaojun Yuan serves on the international Organizing Committee that has arranged the program. 

    On Friday next week, Lamont alumnus and Crafoord Laureate Peter Molnar will give the annual W. S. Jardetzky Lecture ( Peter will be speaking on "Laurentide ice sheets, the emergence of the isthmus of Panamá, and the Great American Biotic Interchange: A red herring inserted between climatic cause and biological effect." A reception will follow, but we promise that no red herrings will be served. 

    In the meantime, immediately following this afternoon’s Earth Science Colloquium will be Lamont's annual Research as Art event, held in the Lamont Café. Images from past events in the series ( should entice your participation. 

    Today’s Colloquium speaker will be glaciologist Christian Schoof, an Associate Professor in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of British Columbia ( Christian’s seminar will be on the topic of “Ice streams: Patterning and oscillatory dynamics in ice sheets.” Whether your attendance at Lamont’s colloquium series is patterned or oscillatory, I hope to see you there.