Lamont Weekly Report, December 4, 2020

     Hello Friends, I am prefacing this week’s newsletter with an acknowledgment of the unfathomable suffering happening in our nation this week, as record-setting numbers of citizens are succumbing to COVID.  Indeed, it is hard not to become numb to the scale of the daily deaths.  Please reach out if you need help, or even an ear…to CU resources, to Lamont colleagues, or the Directorate directly.  Our community has escaped relatively unscathed, an outcome I attribute directly to science—to the strong regulations and advice based on scientific data, and to the near universal adoption of our non-pharmaceutical “vaccine” of masks, social distancing, and hand-washing.  It is painful to contemplate that every single leader and citizen in our nation has had access to the exact same scientific guidance.  So, I give my shout-out to science and to the scientists, especially those that have worked around the clock for months to bring us vaccines—vaccines that (hopefully) will start being distributed as early as next week to our clinical workers in CU hospitals.

     The path to becoming a scientist is not an easy one—it is an effort fueled by passion, commitment and years of hard work.  Of the many summits reached over one’s career, none may be more significant than the day one defends one’s PhD thesis.  This past fortnight three of our graduate students reached that pinnacle of achievement and, speaking on behalf of the Lamont community, we could not be prouder of your accomplishment.  Rachel Marzen defended her thesis on Monday, November 23rd, entitled “The role of tectonic inheritance: Mountain-building, rifting, magmatism, and earthquakes in the southeastern United States”.  Next, she plans to start a job at Oxy as a geophysicist.  This past Wednesday, Laura Gruenburg successfully defended her PhD on “Indonesian throughflow heat transport, and spreading within the eastern tropical Indian Ocean.”  I haven’t heard what her plans are but I hope they include a nice long vacation.  Finally, Joshua Russell defended this Thursday, yesterday, his thesis entitled “Structure and evolution of the oceanic lithosphere-asthenosphere system from high-resolution surface-wave imaging.” Josh plans to start an NSF EAR Postdoctoral Fellowship at Brown University to work with Colleen Dalton on oceanic mantle anelasticity.  Congratulations to you all!

     From our most recently minted scientists to some of our oldest and most grizzled (that just means gray-haired!), a number of our Lamont and Earth Institute colleagues were featured in Clarivate’s annual list of Highly Cited Researchers for 2020, including Ed Cook (LDEO), Ruth DeFries (E3B) James W. Hansen (IRI), and Richard Seager (LDEO).  This highly anticipated annual list recognizes “the true pioneers in their fields over the last decade, demonstrated by the production of multiple highly-cited papers that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and year.”  In other words, no small feat.  The website has some inspiring interviews with a number of scientists, with quotes that I thought really hit the mark:

     “Research matters because it puts curiosity and understanding first, and it really puts the greater good first.”  Georgina Long

     “You need to be resilient to failure and to criticism.”  Tamara Galloway

     “By the middle of the 80s I realized: I can do this. I can do science. I have creative energy.  And that’s how it all took off.”  Virginia Lee

     “Many of the novel ideas come about from having people with whom you can exchange ideas.”  Stijn Wuyts

     Congratulations especially to Ed and Richard, Lamont lifers!  I knew both of them when I was here as a wee insecure graduate student in the 1980s.

     This week, a few of the impactful science stories linked in the list below include: Mukund Palat Rao and colleagues’ paper on the long-term history of the Brahmaputra River that suggests a much greater potential for catastrophic flooding as climate warms; a beautiful slide show of foraminifera in a Gizmodo article featuring research by Lamont paleoclimatologists Bärbel Hönisch and Laura Haynes; and a lovely feature article about graduate student Yuxin Zhou, his journey, and his paleoclimate work in the North Atlantic.  Finally, who can resist clicking on an article entitled “The Very Lonely Seismometer”?  Somebody should write a children’s book!

     I had the amazing honor this week to meet both the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the Deputy-Secretary General Amina Mohammed in Low Library. I shared the stage with the Secretary-General after his powerful State of the Planet speech and moderated a Q+A session with a virtual audience of Columbia students on giant Zoom screens.  There were so many inspiring lines in his speech, including “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century.  It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.”  His commitment to and support of youth activism on climate change was also inspiring.  His advice to them: “Assume the leadership that is needed…and give the world what unfortunately my generation was not able to do.”  He called for more institutional channels for youth voices to be heard.

     The Secretary-General’s call to action dovetails nicely with the advice of Special Research Scientist Kim Kastens who was recently on a National Academies of Sciences panel called “Thinking about the Future of Earth Systems Science Education and Training.” Kim advocates that the U.S. “improve Earth system education for the citizenry of the nation, not just the workforce of future research scientists.  Every American needs to bring appreciation and understanding of the Earth system with them into the voting booth and the grocery store and town meeting and the myriad of other occasions on which they will be called upon to make decisions that impact the Earth.”  How true!

     Turning to the next generation that will most certainly be impacted by our decisions, Lamont Associate Research Professor Yutian Wu gave birth to a daughter, Olivia, on November 21st. Everyone is doing well and they are already back at home—probably the safest place to be.  I’d also like to thank Jennifer Lamp and Jeff Turmelle of the Campus Life Committee for taking the initiative and creating a new listserv for parents and caregivers to connect at Lamont.  Information on how to sign up can be found within a recent email from Jennifer.

     I’ll wrap up with a shout-out to Andy Reed, our facilities manager who I now feel I know much better thanks to this article in the December edition of the Lamont Newsletter.   Fun fact: Andy is a professional ski instructor who enjoys teaching pre-schoolers, aka “Little Plebes”,  to ski on the slope at West Point!  Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow….

     Have a relaxing weekend all and please be safe.

     Best, Mo








In Tree Rings, Warning of Brahmaputra Floods

Indian Express

December 2, 2020

Article on study led by Lamont Ph.D. Mukund P. Rao.


Future Brahmaputra River Flooding as Climate Warms May Be Underestimated

Smart Water Magazine

December 2, 2020

Article on study led by Lamont Ph.D. Mukund P. Rao.


These Stunning Miniature Sea Creatures Keep the Oceans in Balance


December 1, 2020

Article features research by Lamont paleoclimatologist Bärbel Hönisch.


The Future Floods in the Brahmaputra River Due to Climate Change Were Underestimated

Nation World News

December 1, 2020

Article on study led by Lamont Ph.D. Mukund P. Rao.


Next Generation Climate Scientists Prepare for the Future by Studying Past North Atlantic Iceberg Melting

Medill Reports

November 24, 2020

Article features Lamont Ph.D. student Yuxin Zhou.


An Iceberg the Size of Delaware Is on a Collision Course with South Georgia Island

Washington Post

November 20, 2020

Article quotes Lamont oceanographer Stanley Jacobs.


Resetting the Earth and Space Sciences to be Diverse and Inclusive


November 19, 2020

Article co-authored by Lamont polar scientist Robin Bell.


An Enormous Iceberg Is Headed for South Georgia Island—Again


November 19, 2020

Article quotes Lamont oceanographer Stanley Jacobs.




A Case for Global Climate Action: U.N. Secretary General Delivers Potent Remarks at Columbia

December 02, 2020

President Bollinger and Lamont-Doherty’s interim director underscore the university’s commitment to solving the climate crisis.


American Geophysical Union 2020: Key Events From the Earth Institute

December 01, 2020

A guide to key talks and other events at the Dec. 1-17 virtual American Geophysical Union meeting.


The Very Lonely Seismometer

December 01, 2020

Out in the middle of the woods in New York’s exurbs, a hiker finds a TV antenna attached to a rotting oil drum. What is this?


Future Brahmaputra River Flooding as Climate Warms May Be Underestimated, Study Says

November 30, 2020

A new study looking at seven centuries of water flow in south Asia’s mighty Brahmaputra River suggests that scientists are underestimating the river’s potential for catastrophic flooding as climate warms.


Introducing Biden's Super Team to Revive NASA

November 25, 2020

Five women and three men were chosen by the U.S. president-elect to restore the world’s most famous agency, counting on the support of the scientific community.


Staff Spotlight: Andrew Reed, Manager of Facilities at Lamont

November 24, 2020

Andrew Reed is a dedicated family man, supportive foster parent and successful ski instructor. He has dedicated his career to the Earth Institute because of his passion for renewable energy.