Lamont Weekly Report, February 28, 2020

    This week was bookended by new results from solar system spacecraft missions. Nature Geoscience on Monday published the first observations from NASA’s InSight mission to Mars, including confirmation of the occurrence of marsquakes. Today’s issue of Science includes the first in-depth papers from the New Horizons flyby of classical Kuiper-belt object (486958) Arrokoth, a small, peanut-shaped body largely undisturbed since solar system formation.

    The American Geophysical Union this week announced the winners of their Outstanding Student Presentation Awards from the 2019 Fall Meeting. Among the winners are Lamont graduate students Jordan Abell for his presentation in Global Environmental Change, Xiaomeng Jin for hers in Atmospheric Sciences, Joshua Russell for his in Study of the Earth’s Deep Interior, and Lucy Tweed for hers in Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology. To Jordan, Xiaomeng, Josh, and Lucy, congratulations!

    Last Friday’s issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education included an article by Ryan Abernathey provocatively entitled “The scientific paper is outdated.” In the article, Ryan argued that scientists may be better off devoting time to the development of software – with suitable documentation, examples, and tests – than maximizing their output of formal papers.

    Today, Nature Communications published a paper coauthored by Ryan and by Galen McKinley and led by former Lamont student Takaya Uchida on the mechanism of vertical transport of micronutrient iron, a key limit to primary productivity, in the Southern Ocean. On the basis of high-resolution coupled physical–biogeochemical simulations, Takaya and his colleagues have shown that mesoscale and submesoscale turbulence, or eddies, can be a leading mechanism for supplying iron to open-ocean phytoplankton ecosystems in the Southern Ocean. They also showed that continuing upward transport of iron over summer months can sustain productivity without the need for significant iron recycling. Their findings open opportunities for improved modeling of the Southern Ocean biological pump on the timescales of climate change.

    On Monday and Tuesday this week, I was at Harvard University, as a member of the Committee to Visit the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. I find visiting committees to be brief but intensive opportunities to learn how another institution handles common academic issues. For instance, Harvard is now completing a new campus across a river from its main campus, its Earth and Planetary Sciences department includes a number of faculty whose primary appointments are in an engineering school, Harvard’s graduate students recently voted to unionize and are in negotiation with the university over stipends and benefits, and Harvard is considering a new cross-school initiative in climate science and global change that would incorporate climate education more broadly into the university curriculum. As Yankee legend Yogi Berra is reputed to have said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

    On Wednesday afternoon, I met with Lamont’s Associate Directors and Division Administrators to hear summaries of the financial and scientific health of each division and early estimates of federal and private grant income for the coming fiscal year. Participating in the meeting were Nina Aguilar, Robin Bell, Bonnie Bonkowski, Rosanne D’Arrigo, Jim Davis, Peter de Menocal, Nicole deRoberts, Jean Economos, Dave Goldberg, Steve Goldstein, Sean Higgins, Toshiba Jones, Karen Lai, Art Lerner-Lam, Jean Leote, Lori McCaleb, Edie Miller, Vicky Nazario, Pat O’Reilly, Maureen Raymo, 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 budget presentation­ to Columbia University administration scheduled for April.

    Also on Wednesday afternoon, in a first for Lamont, a reception in the Monell Lobby was held to celebrate Black History Month. Organizers Kailani Acosta, Elise Myers, and Arianna Varuolo-Clarke prepared a running slide show that featured prominent African-American scientists, and the mix of food and drink offerings added novelty to the well-attended event.

    Media stories mentioning Lamont scientists over the past week included an article last Friday in The Conversation that quoted Kuheli Dutt on the common use of inflated language in professional letters of recommendation. Also last Friday, Climate Facts ran a video interview with Radley Horton on why melting Arctic sea ice may reduce the temperature contrast between the Arctic and middle latitudes and the stability of the jet stream. A Radio Ecoshock show and story posted yesterday on agricultural impacts of climate change cited the work of Nathan Steiger and quoted Kai Kornhuber and Mingfang Ting.

    This afternoon’s Earth Science Colloquium will be given by mantle dynamicist Magali Billen, a Professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of California, Davis. Magali’s seminar will be on “A plate tectonic perspective on earthquakes occurring 600 km beneath the Earth’s surface.” In the interest of improving your own perspective on deep earthquakes, I hope that you can join me in her audience.