Lamont Weekly Report, June 5, 2020

    Prompted by the widespread protests this week over the killing last week of George Floyd, for Wednesday’s issue of Climate Fwd: – the climate-focused newsletter of The New York Times – writer Somini Sengupta interviewed three prominent black climate activists about the connections between racism and climate change: Sam Grant at, Robert Bullard at Texas Southern University, and Heather McGhee at Demos. A common theme of their remarks was that climate change is inextricably linked to environmental racism and environmental justice, and that racial and economic inequities must be addressed fully in concert with climate mitigation and the development of sustainable societies. The story is worth reading as background to the many discussions now underway across Columbia on how the university should address these interwoven topics, as highlighted in an Earth Institute statement written by director Alex Halliday and faculty chair Ruth DeFries and posted on Tuesday.

    One of those discussions, led by Kuheli Dutt, was a Zoom meeting yesterday on the topic “Lamont/Earth Institute Stand Together” and organized, in Kuheli’s words, “to express solidarity with our Black colleagues and the Black community at large.” For the first half of the meeting, which drew 300 participants, Kuheli gave a presentation on the many facets of race relations and racism. The second half was given over to comments from participants, who shared candid summaries of experiences and a broad range of constructive ideas for supporting all of our students and staff and moving more rapidly to an inclusive and equitable community that is more nearly representative of society at large. A workshop on racial bias awareness and open to everyone across the Earth Institute is being put together by Kuheli for next month.

    Three days earlier, Kailani Acosta, Ben Keisling, and Jacky Austermann gave a Zoom seminar, attended by about 100 participants, on Lamont’s Seminar Diversity Initiative. Kailani led with a summary of  the demographics of the geosciences, including our faculty and graduate students, emphasizing that women and individuals of color are often underrepresented in our field, as presenters at national meetings, and as seminar and colloquium speakers. To address this last issue, Kailani and several other students last year organized the Seminar Diversity Initiative and secured funding from the Lamont Directorate and an anonymous donor to cover the travel costs for as many as three underrepresented minority (URM) presenters per year for each of Lamont’s five divisional seminar series. Increasing the number of women speakers in the seminar series was another goal of the initiative. Although the seminars were cut short by the shutdown of the campus in March, Kailani reported that the initiative made substantial progress. The fraction of women presenters in the division seminars increased to 46% from 43% in 2018. Of the speakers who provided information, 39% were non-white and 25% were underrepresented minorities. The URM speakers were best represented in the Biology and Paleo Environment, Ocean and Climate Physics, and Geodynamics Seminars, so in Kailani’s words, “There is still more work to be done!” In his part of the presentation, Ben Keisling described programs similar to the Seminar Diversity Initiative at other universities, including a graduate-student-led program that he helped launch at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which successfully increased diversity, equity, and inclusion among seminar speakers invited to their campus. In her part of the presentation, Jacky encouraged our principal investigators to consider committing to host URM scientists to present seminars on project-related topics as a Broader Impact in their future proposals to the National Science Foundation, and she offered assistance with the text and budget justification for such proposal sections. She also described plans to organize and fundraise for a URM visiting scholar program that would be named for Columbia alumna Marguerite Williams, the first African American woman to receive a geology Ph.D. in the U.S.

    Among other news items from the Observatory this week, I am pleased to report that four of our scientists will be promoted to Lamont Associate Research Professor, Junior Staff, as of 1 July, on the basis of the successful completion of their Developmental Reviews earlier this spring. The four are Indrani Das in our Marine Geology and Geophysics Division, Pierre Dutrieux in our Ocean and Climate Physics Division, and Reinhard Kozdon and Kevin Uno in our Biology and Paleo Environment Division. To Indrani, Pierre, Reinhard, and Kevin, congratulations on your new rank!

    Ben Holtzman learned recently that he has been selected as a Distinguished Lecturer for 2021 by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology and the Seismological Society of America. The selection was approved by the Boards of Directors of both IRIS and SSA, in response to Ben’s proposal to give his lectures on the topic of “Seismic Sounds: Listening to Patterns of Tectonic, Volcanic and Human-Induced Earthquakes.” May Ben hear the seismic sounds of colleagues clapping!

    Last Friday, Einat Lev, Chris Zappa, and alumna Ruth Oliver gave virtual public lectures as part of a “Meet the Experts” event, aimed at teachers, students, and their parents and sponsored by the Office of Sustainability in New York City’s Department of Education. Ruth (now at Yale University) spoke on “To the Arctic and Back: How Small Birds Make Their Way to the Edge of the World.” Einat spoke on “Using Drones to Study Volcanoes.” And Chris’s presentation was on “A Virtual Ride of Discovery: Exploring the Earth’s Climate Using Drones.”

    This was a week in which tropical cyclones have been much in the news. Cyclone Nisarga made landfall on India’s west coast on Wednesday as the strongest storm to threaten the city of Mumbai in more than 70 years, one week after Cyclone Amphan struck eastern India and Bangladesh. Adam Sobel, who has worked on quantifying the cyclone threat to Mumbai with Chia-Ying Lee, Suzana Camargo, and others for several years, described the significance of the storm in a web story posted this Tuesday and in an interview on New Delhi Television on Wednesday. Closer to home, tropical storm Cristobal in the Gulf of Mexico this week became the earliest third-named storm of an Atlantic hurricane season on record and is projected to make landfall along the U.S. Gulf coast this weekend. And overall this year’s Atlantic storm season promises to be more active than normal, as a Marie Aronsohn story on the work of Suzana and her colleague described yesterday. Whether in India or on the U.S. Gulf coast, evacuation and sheltering in advance of imminent storms is complicated by public health procedures in place to mitigate COVID-19 spread.

    On Wednesday, AGU Advances (in only the second issue of the journal) published a paper by Galen McKinley, Amanda Fay, Lucas Gloege, and coauthors on the recent decadal variability in the ocean carbon sink. With an idealized upper ocean model, Galen and her collaborators were able to account for the pattern and magnitude of sink variability since the mid 1980s, including a global-scale reduction in the decadal-average ocean carbon uptake in the 1990s, with two forcing components, a dependence on the rate of change of the atmospheric partial pressure of carbon dioxide, and the response of global sea-surface temperatures to the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. A prediction of their model is that reductions in anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide will be accompanied by an immediate drop in ocean carbon uptake. A Rebecca Fowler press release was posted to our web site on Wednesday, and the story was carried yesterday by Oceanographic Magazine. Also yesterday, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere last month was 417 ppm, the highest monthly average on record, notwithstanding a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions during the coronavirus pandemic, so when the prediction of Galen and her team might be measurable remains an interesting but open question.

    Today, Xiaomeng Jin successfully defended her Ph.D. thesis on “Observing the distributions and chemistry of major air pollutants (O3 and PM2.5) from space: Trends, uncertainties, and health implications.” Xiaomeng’s thesis committee included her supervisor, Arlene Fiore, as well as Róisín Commane, Park Williams, Susanne Bauer from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Daven Henze from the Environmental Engineering Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. Xiaomeng has received a NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship, which she plans to take to the University of California, Berkeley, to join the research group of Ronald Cohen and work on the impact of wildfires on atmospheric chemistry.

    Also today, the June issue of Lamont’s electronic newsletter was broadly distributed. Under the banner headline, “When Crises Converge,” the issue includes nine stories from May about or by our scientists, postings and links to upcoming education and outreach events to be presented by Lamont and Earth Institute staff, and links to 32 Lamont-related media stories from last month.

    May you find a safe and healthy way to enjoy the good weather forecast for the New York City region this weekend.