Lamont Weekly Report, August 7, 2020

    Hello Friends,  Unfortunately, this has been another extremely challenging week on the Lamont Campus. We are now in the fourth day without power after Tropical Storm Isaias took down trees and power lines across the region.  As Rockland residents drive around (now futilely) looking for ice and inverters, our dedicated facilities team has been working on shifts, around the clock, keeping the generators going for essential services.  This includes our instruments under vacuum, our cultures in refrigerators, and, of course, the computer servers.  Due to the length of the outage, B&G crews are having to go on fuel runs to gas stations to keep the generators going.  As Pat commented the other day, “It is a crisis within a crisis”.  Thank you so much to Pat’s team for rising to yet another extreme challenge, and a big raspberry to Isaiah.

    As a follow-up to the story of Marie Tharp’s dog Inky and its place in history, Chris Scholz wrote me that he once saw a proof copy of a Heezen-Tharp (ahem, Tharp-Heezen) map in which a group of seamounts near Antarctica had been named for the pets of the group members – Inky being among them.  He was told that the Navy's committee on geographical place names took a dim view of this jest and that those names didn't make the final map.  This story was confirmed by Michael Rawson who, after reading last week’s newsletter, wrote me with a similar story about Marie and Bruce naming a seamount (ultimately in vain) after his daughter Tutu.

    August tends to be a quiet month in academia, however, OCP welcomed Postdoctoral Research Scientist Jamie Harrison to the Lamont family this week.  Jamie received a PhD in Biology at Boston University. She will be working with Roisin Commane on a project to examine seasonal fluxes of carbonyl sulfide at Harvard Forest, MA to better constrain estimates of terrestrial gross primary productivity and mercury fluxes.

    Richard Seager, also in OCP, reminded me this week of another important “100th anniversary”—namely that of the publication of Milutin Milanković’s Mathematical Theory of Heat Phenomena Produced by Solar Radiation. This seminal work provided the mathematical basis that showed how small changes in the rotation and paths of planets around the Sun could systematically influence the amount of solar radiation that Earth received through time.  It was these time-varying changes in solar radiation that Milanković proposed caused the ice ages on time scales of thousands of years.  It was not until 1976, in Science magazine, that our very own Jim Hays, working with colleagues John Imbrie and Nick Shackleton, was finally able to prove Milanković’s hypothesis using a great core, a great timescale, and great data—the holy trinity of paleoclimate work.  The truly inspiring part of Milutin’s story is that much of his ground-breaking work was carried out in a prisoner-of-war camp and later under house arrest.  You can read this story that Richard describes as “a great tale of science triumphing over adverse working conditions” in Nature Geoscience.

    In other news, I’d like to call out an article about the work of Joaquim Goes which focuses on the intersection of two great creative endeavors, science and fashion.  With a team of inner-city high school students working in the field and on campus, he investigated the amount of microplastics shed by different types of fabrics when washed.  This article was truly revelatory to me. First, the very worst offender, maybe not surprising in retrospect, was fleece made from recycled plastic bottles.  Essentially this “ecofriendly” recycling strategy serves as a mechanism to take large bottles and create zillions of microplastic particles to be shed over the course of the clothing’s lifetime.  Synthetic clothing being washed and dried can lose up to 2% of its weight, largely in microplastics, with each washing!  And of course, most of this ends up in our waterways.  The students followed up their work by examining the intestinal tracts of shrimp and oysters and found that they too were packed with microplastic particles.  People…devein your shrimp!  But, oy, at this point I have completely lost my appetite for seafood.  

    There is more.  Beizhan Yan and Andy Juhl’s groups have also been able to demonstrate that plastic microparticles provide the perfect surface for pharmaceuticals in waste water to adhere to.  This includes one of the most commonly used drugs, blood pressure medication.  So if you see a very relaxed looking fish…

    The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which went into effect in 2018, banned microbeads in cosmetics, toothpaste, and personal care products but it specifically omitted laundry detergents which, you guessed it, are also packed with microplastic particles!  These microplastics in the detergent are in addition to those that come off of the clothing they are washing!  This loop hole has got to be closed.  One bright spot in the article was learning about a “washer ball” that can help trap the microplastics in the washer before they are ejected with the waste water.  Given that I consider myself a pretty savvy laundress (have you seen my felted wool dryer balls?) and had never heard of this product before, my immediate thoughts were, a) in twelve months everyone worthy of the title environmentalist will need one of these, and b) this is a huge market opportunity. Can our scientists build a better washer ball?  Nick Frearson’s maker space and CU patent application support stand by.

    I’ll end by stating two obvious points.  First, our scientists are amazingly creative, impactful, and inspiring.  And second, it may be time to take a hard look at our single use plastic consumption on campus.  I know a number of individuals have mentioned this issue to me over the past year and care passionately about this.  All, please feel free to share your thoughts on this issue with me.  And lastly, Joaquim, what an exciting project to have undertaken with these students.  I hope many of them are inspired to go on in science, or sustainable fashion!

    Have a peaceful weekend, Mo



High School Students from Uncommon Charter Schools in Brooklyn conducting research in the LDEO Core Repository on shrimp imported from overseas, all of which contained microplastics. The feed being used in one fish farm was identified as a probable source for the high amount of microplastics in the shrimp. Microplastics are added to the food pellets to prevent them from sinking rapidly to the bottom of the farms. Photo courtesy Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.






What Can You Do to Fight the Climate Crisis? 
The Guardian 
August 5, 2020
Article quotes Lamont geophysicist Klaus Jacob.

Earth Matters: The Plastic Pollution in Our Laundry
Nyack News & Views 
August 5, 2020
Interview with Lamont biogeochemist Joaquim Goes.

Bryan Norcross talks with Dr. Adam Sobel of Columbia University about Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaias
The Bryan Norcross Podcast 
August 4, 2020
Interview with Lamont atmospheric scientist Adam Sobel.

Hurricane Makes Landfall in North Carolina
The New York Times 
August 3, 2020
Article quotes Lamont atmospheric scientist Adam Sobel.

Africa’s Skies Are Badly Polluted
The Economist 
August 1, 2020
Article quotes Lamont climate scientist Dan Westervelt.



Iceland’s Most Active Volcano Is Likely Headed for Another Eruption
August 04, 2020 
Monitoring and data suggest the next eruption of the glacial volcano could be anywhere from days away to within the next year. Grímsvötn last erupted in 2011.

Summer Stars Lecture Series Begins with a Message of Hope
August 03, 2020
In a talk last week, celebrated conservationist and photographer Cristina Mittermeier shared her quest to save the sea.

The Planet Has a Fever
July 31, 2020
A recent study shows heat waves are growing longer and more frequent in almost every part of the world. The findings emphasize the need to take action against climate change.