Lamont Weekly Report, January 10, 2020

    The past calendar year, we learned this week from Copernicus Climate Change Service, was the second hottest on record (exceeded by less than 0.1°F by 2016, an El Niño year). Moreover, July last year was the hottest month to date.

    This week the campus welcomed Lamont Postdoctoral Fellow Benjamin Keisling. A glaciologist and paleoclimatologist, Ben obtained his Ph.D. last year from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where his thesis combined climate and ice-sheet models with cosmic-ray exposure and other paleoclimate data to understand glacial response to past climate change. At Lamont, Ben’s research focus will be a two-part study of the dynamics of the Greenland ice sheet on glacial–interglacial timescales during the Plio-Pleistocene. The first part will involve the generation, from long-term ice sheet models, of synthetic cosmogenic nuclide records and geochemical provenance predictions for offshore sediments. The second part will be the development of models for the contribution of the ice sheet to past changes in sea level. Comparisons of model predictions with existing data sets will be key components of both lines of study. Ben’s administrative home will be the Geochemistry Division, but his office will be in Oceanography with the polar science group.

    Last week, Nature Communications published online a paper by Jordan Abell, Lucas Gloege, Gisela Winckler, and their colleagues on what they term wind-albedo-wind feedback in the Gobi Desert. With a Weather Research and Forecasting model, they demonstrated that winnowing of fine-grained surficial sediments by wind and consequent formation of a low-albedo, gravel-mantled desert surface modifies the local atmospheric boundary layer and leads to an increase by up to 25% in near-surface wind speeds, i.e., wind erosion results in faster winds. This landscape evolution mechanism has implications not only for wind speed predictions but for dust production in climate simulations. A press release on the paper’s findings by Sarah Fecht was posted to our web site on Wednesday.

    Late last week, Lamont distributed the January issue of our electronic newsletter. Under the theme “Future Challenges: Understanding the Risks Ahead,” the issue included 10 stories about Lamont science; a link to Kevin Krajick’s obituary for Taro Takahashi; a link to a story about Lamont’s new public lecture series, “Our Changing Planet;” a story about education and outreach activities tied to the 60th anniversary of the onset of the signing period for the Antarctic Treaty; and links to 39 media stories from the past month about Lamont science or with commentary by Lamont scientists.

    On Saturday, Mike Steckler resumed his field blog from Bangladesh, and a second entry followed on Thursday. Mike is leading a project to understand, through geodetic measurements, the relative contributions of subsidence and sedimentation to surface elevation changes in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta region. The findings from Mike’s project will inform the country’s river management program in the face of rising sea levels and long-term changes to river discharge.

    Today, Lamont distributed and posted to our web site our Annual Report for academic year 2019. This report, the result of many hours of writing, editing, and design by Marie Aronsohn and her team, includes 10 stories about Lamont science from the past year, Peter de Menocal’s obituary for Wally Broecker, a summary of major awards and honors accorded to our scientific staff and students last year, an overview of our many education and outreach activities last year, and financial information on fundraising, other revenues, and spending during the year.

    Lamont scientists in the news this past week include Mike Kaplan, Gisela Winckler, Ben Bostick, and alumni Elizabeth Schoenfelt (now Schoenfelt Troein) and Jing Sun, whose work on the role of windborne dust in delivering iron to the oceans was described in a lengthy article in Smithsonian Magazine last Friday on iron fertilization of the oceans as a possible geoengineering tool. On Saturday, a brief clip of Radley Horton commenting on the role of climate change was included in an NBC News story on Australian wildfires, and Marco Tedesco was quoted in a Scientific American story on the biggest climate questions for the coming decade. A Gizmodo story Tuesday quoted Nicolás Young on possible reasons, other than climate change, for the abandonment of Viking settlements in 15th-century Greenland. Park Williams was quoted in stories Wednesday about the Australian wildfires on both Wired and Inside Climate News. An article in Physics World yesterday on microparticles of plastic in the environment cites the work of Emmerline Ragoonath-De Mattos, a Columbia undergraduate who worked in the lab of Joaquim Goes.

    We’re still more than 10 days from the start of classes. May you enjoy the unseasonably warm New York weather forecast for this weekend.