Lamont Weekly Report, August 26, 2016

    This week was punctuated by the magnitude 6.2 earthquake that hit central Italy on Wednesday. A normal faulting event, the quake was located 10 km southeast of the town of Norcia in the central Apennines, and casualties numbered in the hundreds. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the event occurred in a gap between the aftershock zones of a magnitude 6.0 earthquake in 1997 and the magnitude 6.3 earthquake near L’Aquila in 2009. The Washington Post sought out Nano Seeber for comments on the earthquake hazards of the region ( 

     Closer to home, the Lamont community and the Geochemistry Division in particular was saddened this week by the passing Saturday of James Protus, the younger son of long-time Senior Electronic Technician Tom Protus. Moanna St. Clair wrote, “James…(who used to work in Geochemistry)…inherited his father's open and friendly personality. He leaves behind his wife Ann and his 14-year old daughter Sydney, who many of you may also know since Tom sometimes brings her into Comer.” James was Director of Maintenance at The Salvation Army in Suffern. Visitation will be held this evening from 4 to 8 pm at the Smith, Seaman & Quackenbush, Inc. Funeral Home, 117 Maple Avenue, Monroe, NY. A funeral mass will be celebrated tomorrow morning at 10 am at Sacred Heart Church, 26 Still Road, Monroe. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be made to the American Cancer Society, 121 Executive Drive, New Windsor, NY 12553, or to Sydney's college fund c/o the Protus family. 

     Geochemical research of the type enabled by the often unsung but nonetheless vital contributions of Tom and James continued to yield new insights. 

     A paper by Lex van Geen, Jing Sun, Ben Bostick, and colleagues from MIT and Vietnam National University on arsenic concentrations in aquifers adjacent to the Red River near Hanoi, Vietnam, was recently posted online by Water Resources Research. High rates of groundwater withdrawal in the region have changed the sign of the flux of water between floodplain aquifers and the river, with the result that river water is now recharging many of those aquifers. The group found that the delivery of arsenic during this recharge process depends on the interaction of the river with riverbank sediments. Along portions of the river where sediments have recently been deposited, levels of arsenic in the water entering the adjacent aquifer are high, whereas along stretches of the river where sediments are being eroded, the nearby aquifer water is low in arsenic. A Stacy Morford story on the paper and its implications for water management in the area appears on our web site ( 

     In a paper in next month’s issue of Environmental Research Letters, Michael Previdi and Lorenzo Polvani examined records of the surface mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheets, essentially the difference between snowfall and sublimation. Whereas global and regional climate models predict that surface mass balance should have progressively increased over the last several decades, observations indicate that there has been no significant change over that time period. The explanation for the apparent discrepancy, they argued, is that natural variability – primarily in snowfall rates – has masked the signal of climate change. Moreover, they’ve shown that the effects of climate change should be evident by the middle of this century, and that increases in Antarctic surface mass balance will partially mitigate future increases in global sea level. A Stacy Morford story on their findings was posted Wednesday on our web site ( 

     The National Science Foundation circulated announcements this week that the agency is beginning the process of updating its Strategic Plan. As part of that process, the Foundation has invited feedback on the Vision, Core Values, Strategic Goals and Strategic Objectives described in their most recent plan, issued a bit more than two years ago ( You are encouraged to provide comments on their current Strategic Plan through a feedback site set up on their web site ( If you have any questions for the Foundation on this process, you may send them to

     Elections for officers of the American Geophysical Union open next week. Robin Bell is a candidate for AGU President-Elect, and Kerstin Lehnert is a candidate for one of the positions on AGU’s Board of Directors. As they used to say in Chicago, vote early and vote often. 

     Several Lamont scientists were featured by the media recently. A National Geographic article on algal blooms, posted late last week, quoted Joaquim Goes and described his work on understanding the growing dominance of Noctiluca scintillans in the ecosystem of the Arabian Sea ( Adam Sobel was interviewed Monday by KQED radio, a public radio station in San Francisco, on the recent flooding in Louisiana and the role of climate change in such extreme rainfall events ( On Tuesday, an Associated Press story on the work of the environmental group Riverkeeper mentioned the decade-long studies of bacterial pollutants and other measures of water quality along the Hudson River by Andy Juhl and Greg O’Mullan ( 

     Also in the news this week was the discovery, reported in a paper in Nature magazine, of an Earth-like planet in the so-called “habitable zone” around the nearest star to the Sun ( The planet is at least 1.3 Earth masses in size, and its orbital period is slightly more than 11 days. But the host star, Proxima Centauri, is a red dwarf, so any water on the planet’s surface could be stable as a liquid. Moreover, the star and its planet are only four light years away, and the possibility that a spacecraft could be sent to explore that system in the near future is under active study. Stay tuned.