Lamont Weekly Report, June 26, 2020

    When I arrived at Lamont eight years ago, the tradition of a Director’s Weekly Report, posted to our web site and distributed by e-mail, was several years old and seemed worth preserving. More than 400 reports later, I am glad that I kept up the tradition. The reports give the Director a regular opportunity to ensure that noteworthy scientific, professional, and personal milestones of Lamont community members are widely known, and to inform the campus of important upcoming events and changes in procedures and policies. The posting of these reports on our web site provides a record – now more than 12 years long – of week-to-week activities across the Observatory, frequently in the context of major natural or human events that affect our work interests and our lives. I usually have no idea how many individuals read each report. Occasionally I’ve heard from an alumnus or colleague that they follow and value these messages, and I’ve always appreciated such news. More often I learn from a same-day e-mail that I’ve written something in error or omitted mention of something important, and in such cases I correct the archival web version of the report or make up for the omission the following week. But as this is the final report I will send out, I do so in the hope that this week there are no major omissions.

    Luckily, I am able to lead off with good news. Several promotions of Lamont scientists have recently been approved by the Office of the Provost. Natalie Boelman, Ben Holtzman, Radley Horton, and Andy Juhl have been promoted to full Lamont Research Professor and Vicki Ferrini has been promoted to Senior Research Scientist, all as of July 1. For several additional promotions, we await Provost approval as of the writing of this report. In the meantime, please join me in congratulating Natalie, Ben, Radley, Andy, and Vicki on their new rank!

    This week, two Lamont scientists learned that their proposed projects are to receive funding from highly competitive university programs. On Tuesday, the Office of the Provost announced that Dan Westervelt is to receive support from the President’s Global Innovation Fund, established to foster new collaborations in research and education with the Columbia Global Centers. Dan’s project is entitled “Towards closing the air pollution data gap in sub-Saharan Africa through international collaboration and capacity building.”

     On Wednesday, the Office of the Executive Vice-President for Research announced that one of four awards from the university’s Research Initiatives in Science and Engineering (RISE) program this year will go to a project co-led by Einat Lev. Entitled “Take a look inside – Magnetic resonance imaging of magma analogues to study volcanic eruptions,” Einat’s project is a partnership with Christopher Boyce from the Department of Chemical Engineering to develop techniques to conduct three-dimensional imaging of opaque analogues to magmas that contain gas, liquid, and bubbles under a range of conditions.

    To both Dan and Einat, congratulations!

    Wednesday marked the beginning of reopening of the Observatory for on-campus research. A new set of pages  on the Lamont web site describes procedures for those newly returning to campus, those who have been working on campus as essential personnel during the first three months of the pandemic, and those working remotely and not yet eligible to return to campus. Wednesday’s research opening was confined to the Comer Building, but Wednesday of next week will see the opening of the Tree-Ring Laboratory, the New Core Laboratory, the Polar Geophysics Laboratory, and the Ocean-Bottom Seismology Laboratory. Other work areas will open in successive weeks.

    Yesterday, Lamont held its first transgender awareness event. Organized by Spencer Jones, Roger Creel, Elva Bennett (International Research Institute for Climate and Society), and Elizabeth Ashley Fischer (Center for Climate Systems Research and now at the University of Alaska), and postponed from an original date in March, the event was entitled “Trans: Stories from Personal Experience” and drew more than 100 participants. Spencer led off with a video on gender identity, and then he, Elva, and Ashley fielded questions from the other participants. The attendees broke into small groups to discuss a set of questions prepared by the organizers, and then everyone returned to a brief closing plenary session. There seemed to be general consensus that the conversations provided an instructive learning experience for many and a supportive event for all.

    Also yesterday, our web site gained a story by freelance writer Renee Cho on the impact of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic on climate change issues. Her list of negative impacts included a one-year delay in the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), delays in other international meetings on the environment, accelerating deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, rollback of environmental regulations in the U.S., reductions in state and city funding for climate resilience and renewable energy projects, disruptions in scientific fieldwork, increases in plastic pollution, and a likelihood of more automobile traffic as carpooling is reduced and many commuters move from urban centers to suburbs after current workplace restrictions are lifted. Partially offsetting are such positive impacts as green recovery plans in a number of countries in Europe and Asia, an extension of tax credits for renewable energy projects in the U.S., greater reliance on walking and biking, less international airline travel, recognition by many of the effectiveness of working remotely, and increased public reliance on scientific information. Jacky Austermann and Galen McKinley received mention in the story.

    Media stories over the past week that mention Lamont scientists include a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation story Friday on the work of Park Williams and others demonstrating that the ongoing drought in southwestern North America rivals the worst megadroughts of the past millennium. Ben Cook, one of Park’s collaborators on that study, was quoted Tuesday on the same topic in a Mashable story. An opinion piece Sunday on “The whiteness problem in Earth sciences” by Humboldt State University geophysicist Lori Dengler in the Times-Standard, a northern California newspaper, cites a 2019 paper by Kuheli Dutt. Also Sunday, a SciTechDaily article focused on the paper earlier this month by Galen McKinley and colleagues on the dependence of the rate of carbon uptake by the oceans on the rate of change of atmospheric carbon dioxide. A story Monday in The Third Pole was devoted to the work of Joaquim Goes on connections among climate change, the snow and ice budget in the Himalayas, regional wind characteristics, and algal blooms in the Arabian Sea. Also on Monday, a Nature article on what Black scientists would like to see from their White colleagues and academic institutions more broadly included a contribution by Abdulhakim Abdi, a former member of Robin Bell’s group now at Lund University in Sweden.

    Next Tuesday will be the final day on the job for Jeff Rupert, Manager of Technical Services for Lamont’s Office of Marine Operations. Jeff has worked at Lamont for 13 years, and as lead of OMO’s technical team for the last 10. Sean Higgins wrote, “[Jeff] was the first personnel change I made after I took over [OMO] in 2010, [and the move] remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made at OMO. Jeff has had a long career that included about 8 years at the USGS and then 25 years at Western Geophysical before his time at Lamont. Jeff worked hard at OMO to align the marine technical staff with science community objectives and brought in a lot of great people who helped ‘professionalize’ the ship’s performance and raise expectations of what science support can deliver. He took the time to introduce me to the chaos of the seismic industry and the people who make it run, and his endless list of contacts helped lead us to multiple ‘donations’ of marine seismic equipment that further improved the vessel. Jeff’s been an incredible colleague and friend who’s left an indelible mark on OMO, the Langseth, and UNOLS, and he’s made great contributions to support science at sea. He’s now retiring to Napa, California, and is already well on his way to helping stomp grapes and joining wineries as a ‘consultant.’ As a charter member of the Scotch Whiskey Society, he’s well prepared for his retirement, and he’ll be sorely missed at OMO.” Congratulations, Jeff, on your move and your new endeavors!

    One day later, Maureen Raymo will begin her appointment as Lamont’s Interim Director. Please join me wishing her a thoroughly successful tenure at the Observatory’s helm.