Wally Broecker, one of the leading intellectual engines of scientific innovation at Lamont for 67 of the institution’s 70 years, passed away on Monday. His loss is keenly felt by his family and his friends and colleagues across the campus, the university, and the global scientific community.
Wally came to Columbia in 1952 to complete the final year of his bachelor’s degree, and he stayed on for his Ph.D., awarded in 1958. He joined the faculty one year later, and he remained at Columbia and Lamont for the remainder of his career. His myriad fundamental contributions changed our views of ocean chemistry, paleoclimate, the global carbon cycle, and climate change. His many honors included the Crafoord Prize, the Vetlesen Prize, the Balzan Prize, the Tyler Prize, the Blue Planet Prize, and the National Medal of Science. An obituary by Kevin Krajick, posted on the Lamont web page on Tuesday (https://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/wallace-broecker-early-prophet-climate-change), now includes a Comments section at the bottom to which anyone is free to add a remembrance or remark. Wally’s passing was widely noted in the media (https://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/tributes-continue-pouring-lamont-mourns-loss-wally-broecker-grandfather-climate-science), including obituaries in The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/19/obituaries/wallace-broecker-dead.html) and the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/wallace-broecker-who-helped-popularize-term-global-warming-dies-at-87/2019/02/19/3f8bd7e0-3458-11e9-854a-7a14d7fec96a_story.html?utm_term=.2eb9d281836e). The Geochemistry Division hosted a midday gathering today, organized by Steve Goldstein, to permit Wally’s colleagues and students to share personal stories and reactions.
Even as we mourn the passing of a scientific icon, a remarkably stimulating colleague, and a friend to all, normal activities across the Observatory continued as well.
A paper coauthored by Kyle Frischkorn, Sheean Haley, and Sonya Dyhrman and published last week in Frontiers in Microbiology demonstrated the role of phosphorus in fueling blooms of the common alga, Aureococcus anophagefferens, responsible for ecosystem-disrupting brown tides that recur regularly along the U.S. east coast and elsewhere. With the use of metatranscriptome sequencing and incubation experiments, the team – led by Louie Wurch at James Madison University – showed that gene markers of phosphorus deficiency in A. anophagefferens were expressed and modulated by the addition of phosphorus in a manner consistent with growth rate response. Their work demonstrates that, contrary to the inference from earlier work that the algae are principally nitrogen-limited, phosphorus is also important in the dynamics of brown-tide blooms, a result that can guide management strategies. A Marie Aronsohn story on the paper’s findings was posted to the Lamont web site late last Friday (https://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/what%E2%80%99s-really-feeding-long-island%E2%80%99s-destructive-brown-tides).
On Wednesday, I met with Lamont’s Associate Directors and Division Administrators to hear summaries of the financial health of each division and early estimates of federal and private grant income for the coming fiscal year. Attending the meeting were Nina Aguilar, Bonnie Bonkowski, Roger Buck, Rosanne D’Arrigo, Peter deMenocal, Nicole deRoberts, Jean Economos, Jim Gaherty, Dave Goldberg, Steve Goldstein, Toshiba Jones, Karen Lai, Art Lerner-Lam, Jean Leote, Lori McCaleb, Edie Miller, Vicky Nazario, Linette Sandoval-Rzepka, Kim Schermerhorn, Moanna St. Clair, June Tallon, Mingfang Ting, and Sandra Tiwari. Projected grant revenues for the coming year still have considerable uncertainty, so much work remains to be done before a scheduled budget presentation to Columbia University administration in April.
Also on Wednesday, Margie Turrin posted another segment of the field blog from Dave Porter, currently in Antarctica with colleagues from the British Antarctic Survey as part of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (https://thwaitesglacier.org/). The latest segment describes moving the team from the science base to a deep field camp on the Thwaites Glacier and the start of airborne surveying of the glacier (https://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/deep-field).
Yesterday, Art Lerner-Lam and I co-hosted a lunch at Madeleine’s Petit Paris in Northvale for 11 Lamont Campus employees whose 10th anniversary of service to Columbia University fell sometime during the 2018 calendar year. Those from the Observatory who marked that milestone last year include Kuheli Dutt, Jeremy Frisch, Ryan Harris, Haibo Liu, David Martinson, Howie Matza, Masha Pitiranggon, and Arlene Suriani, as well as George Cereno and Hervin McLean Fuller from the Langseth, and Rémi Cousin from IRI. Marc Levy attended in honor of the 10th anniversary of CIESIN staff member Sandra Baptista, and Miriam Cinquegrana and Virginia Maher joined the event. Collectively, the career time devoted to Columbia University by the individuals feted amounts to more than a century. Please join me in thanking them for their many contributions to the Lamont Campus!
Lamont scientists in the news this week, in addition to the widespread stories about Wally, included Jonny Kingslake, quoted in a Scientific American story Monday describing work by others on the flexural bending of ice shelves in response to loading by surface meltwater lakes (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/antarctica-rsquo-s-ice-shelves-get-a-bounce-from-ephemeral-lakes/). Also on Monday, Muscat Daily quoted Joaquim Goes on long-term changes to monsoon wind directions and precipitation totals in Oman predicted by climate models that include melting of Himalayan glaciers (https://muscatdaily.com/Archive/Oman/Oman-to-get-more-rainfall-in-future-5d52). Adam Sobel offered comments in a CBS News story Tuesday on the atmospheric dynamics that produced record jet-stream wind velocities in the northeastern U.S. early this week (https://www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/record-breaking-jet-stream-accelerates-air-travel-el-nino-polar-vortex/?__twitter_impression=true). Also on Tuesday, Jonathan Nichols was quoted in an Inside Climate News story on the climate implications of thawing permafrost regions in the Arctic (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19022019/arctic-bogs-permafrost-thaw-methane-climate-change-feedback-loop).
This afternoon’s Earth Science Colloquium will be given by biogeochemist Valier Galy, an Associate Scientist in the Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (https://www.whoi.edu/profile/vgaly). Valier will be speaking on “Revisiting the reactivity of terrestrial organic matter along the land–sea continuum: Implications for the global budget of organic carbon burial.” May you unbury yourself from your work and transport your personal organic matter to a revisit of Monell Auditorium so that you can join me for his lecture.