The National Atmospheric Administration and NASA released official reports this week that 2016 saw the highest global average surface temperature on record, making each of the last three years ones that surpassed an earlier record. The irony that the announcement was made two days before the inauguration today of President Donald Trump and the several climate-change skeptics he has nominated for key positions in his administration was not lost on New York Times writer Justin Gillis, whose story on the announcement includes quotes from Richard Seager and GISS’s Gavin Schmidt (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/18/science/earth-highest-temperature-record.html?_r=1). Jason Smerdon was interviewed by WNYC yesterday about the report (www.wnyc.org/story/earths-temperature-rises-again/).
A David Funkhouser story posted on Lamont’s web page on Tuesday describes a recent $1M gift to the Observatory from long-time patron Jerome Paros for the development of seafloor seismic and geodetic instrumentation that can improve our ability to give early warning of earthquake and tsunami hazards from submarine fault zones (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/lamont-develop-new-earthquake-and-tsunami-warning-system). Two earlier gifts from Jerry contributed to the Jerome M. Paros–Palisades Geophysical Institute Fund for Engineering Innovation in Geoscience Research (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news/2006/01_31_06.htm) and permitted the Observatory to establish the Jerome M. Paros Chair in Observational Geophysics (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/glaciers-deep-ocean-3-million-endowment-will-advance-scientific-measurements). Jerry, who received a graduate degree in physics from Columbia, is the founder of Paroscientific, Inc., Quartz Sensors, Inc., and other high-technology instrumentation companies.
On Wednesday, Science Advances published a paper that Peter deMenocal coauthored with Jessica Tierney of the University of Arizona and Francesco Pausata of Stockholm University on the precipitation history of northern Africa during the “Green Sahara” period between 11,000 and 5000 years ago. The team reconstructed the precipitation record of the western Sahara from leaf wax isotopes in marine sediments collected from 19° to 31°N off west Africa, and they found that Green Sahara conditions extended to the northernmost sampling latitude and likely ended abruptly. Rainfall rates a factor of 10 greater than at present during the Green Sahara period are not well matched by most climate models and point to one or more missing model components, which the authors suggest are strong vegetation- and dust-related feedback processes. A press release on the paper and its findings can be found on Lamont’s web site (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/green-saharas-ancient-rainfall-regime-revealed).
Also on Wednesday, I joined Earth Institute’s Steve Cohen and Mike Gerrard on another in the series of visits scheduled with deans and other academic administrators to discuss opportunities for strengthening ties with Lamont and other EI units. Steve, Mike, and I visited Carlos Alonso and Andrea Solomon at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Carlos is the GSAS Dean and Vice President for Graduate Education, and Andrea (no known relation) is the Vice Dean and Dean of Academic Affairs. Discussion topics included improving the visibility of the range of courses taught by EI-affiliated faculty and broadening the participation in EI activities of faculty from the humanities and social sciences.
Yesterday a Rebecca Fowler story on Ocean Station Obama, a sampling location visited regularly by scientists at the Palmer Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) station on the Antarctic Peninsula, was posted on our web site. The story (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/antarctic-scientists-honor-obama-collecting-climate-data) describes the naming of the station eight years ago, on the occasion of President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, and the visit to the station later this month by the LTER team now on the R/V Gould. High Ducklow is chief scientist on the cruise and was involved in the naming of the station in honor of a President who championed the need for the U.S. to take a global leadership role in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and stimulating renewable energy use without curtailing economic health.
News stories involving Lamont scientists this week had an international feel. Mike Steckler was quoted on earthquake hazards in Bangladesh in a story Tuesday in the Indian magazine The Northeast Today (http://thenortheasttoday.com/impending-quake-may-cause-massive-land-slides-collapse-in-mizoram-and-populated-parts-of-ne-india-as-per-new-research/). Dave Gallo was interviewed for a story in USA Today, also on Tuesday, on the suspension of the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370, lost over the Indian Ocean (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/01/17/failure-find-malaysia-airlines-flight-370-leaves-many-questions-unanswered/96677490/). And Marco Tedesco wrote a story (in Italian) yesterday on 2016 as the hottest year on record (http://www.repubblica.it/ambiente/2017/01/19/news/grido_artico_allarme_cambiamento_climatico-156380147/?ref=HREC1-19#gallery-slider=148692726) for the Italian magazine La Repubblica.
Those of you interested in following federal science agency issues might consider signing up to receive a new weekly science policy newsletter from the American Institute of Physics, to be published under their FYI banner as FYI This Week. The most recent FYI Bulletin, circulated yesterday, includes stories on National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt’s talk at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting last month, the farewell speech of Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and the progress through Congress of the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act. AIP’s FYI web site includes these stories and instructions for how to subscribe to newsletters (https://www.aip.org/fyi?source=email&utm_medium=email&dm_i=1ZJN,4PTBB,E29F2E,HOFAJ,1).
On a related topic, the American Association for the Advancement of Science will host a webinar discussion on Thursday next week that will address the future of science and technology policy in the first 100 days of the Trump administration. The moderator for the webinar will be AAAS CEO and former Congressman Rush Holt. Topics to be covered include the funding outlook for science agencies; how the administration and Congress view science-based policymaking, particularly in the areas of the environment and public health; and issues on which the new administration and Congress are likely to disagree (http://view6.workcast.net/register?pak=7864345977505102&utm_source=membership&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Invite-email&utm_term=outlook-for-science&utm_campaign=Post-Election-Webinar-10472&et_rid=35065476&et_cid=1110567). Note that pre-registration is required.
Also next week, the Earth Science Colloquium will resume for the spring season. Next Friday’s speaker will be volcanologist Esteban Gazel, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~egazel/Esteban_Gazels_Web_Page/Welcome.html).
At my previous institution, located in our nation’s capital, Inauguration Day was an institutional holiday. The rationale was not so much to encourage celebration as to recognize that roadblocks and other restrictions would make forward progress difficult. There is a metaphor in that recollection that seems particularly apt today.