Lamont Weekly Report, March 13, 2020

    This week has been dominated by news of the coronavirus outbreak and its consequences for the global population, international travel, public health and healthcare systems, and our region and university. As of Wednesday, Columbia University classes are now all being taught online. In his latest e-mail to the university community yesterday, Lee Bollinger announced that students who are able to move out of residence halls for the remainder of the semester are being encouraged to do so, and that all Columbia business travel – domestic as well as international – is suspended. Nonetheless, the university remains open and functioning.

    At Lamont, many actions have been taken in response to university policies and guidance, and we monitor new information several times daily. We have cancelled or postponed “non-essential” meetings of more than 25 people, and we are experimenting with virtual meetings where feasible. Our staff and contractors have improved cleaning protocols across the campus and on the shuttles. Our campus administrative groups are testing their ability to function in situations in which all group members are working remotely. Art Lerner-Lam, Pat O’Reilly, and I participate in regular meetings of Columbia and Earth Institute leadership to discuss the coronavirus landscape and how best to protect the health of our students and employees while continuing to function as a university, including maintaining key laboratory activities. As most of you know, a Columbia website is one of the best resources for keeping up with university directives and advice for preventive measures as well as for actions to take if you suspect that you’re ill.

    In much better news, Yuxin Zhou learned recently that he has been awarded a Schlanger Ocean Drilling Fellowship for the coming academic year from the U.S. Science Support Program of the International Ocean Discovery Program. Yuxin’s successful fellowship project is entitled “Heinrich event ocean circulation and iceberg melting in the North Atlantic during the last glacial period.”

    On Monday afternoon, Lamont’s Advisory Board met in the Kennedy Board Room in the Comer Building. The Board was given a brief update on plans underway for Columbia’s new Climate School and the possible role of Lamont within such a school, a summary of Observatory highlights over the past six months, and an overview of development progress over the same period. The high point of the meeting was a set of three presentations on scientific projects recently enabled by major gifts and private foundation awards. Ryan Abernathey spoke about the PANGEO project to provide a community platform for large geoscience data sets, and particularly the Climate Data Science Lab now being developed with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Terry Plank and Einat Lev gave a presentation on the AVERT (Anticipating Eruptions in Real Time) project, also funded by the Moore Foundation, to instrument two particularly active volcanoes in the Aleutians. And Park Williams finished with a summary of a project, funded by a gift from the Zegar Family Foundation, to apply machine learning to develop an improved model for wildfire occurrence in the western U.S. that incorporates fire management, land use, and climate change information.

    Also on Monday, Adam Sobel and Melanie Bieli, Columbia alumna and now a postdoctoral scientist in Tapio Schneider’s group at Caltech, posted to our web site an introduction to their Deep Convection web site, which features conversations between Adam and prominent climate scientists. As mentioned last week, the first two such conversations are with Michela Biasutti and MIT’s Kerry Emanuel.

    Yesterday, Eos published an obituary for Taro Takahashi written by mineral physicist and Columbia University alumnus Bill Bassett of Cornell University. What distinguishes Bill’s article from most obituaries for Taro is his emphasis on the portion of Taro’s career devoted to the development of the field of mineral physics, particularly the measurement in tetrahedral presses and early diamond-anvil cells of the physical properties of Earth materials at elevated pressures and temperatures.

    Other Lamont scientists in the news this week include Sonya Dyhrman, the subject of an OZY article Monday on her career and her work in marine microbiology. On Wednesday, Lynn Sykes was quoted in a Newsweek story on earthquakes in the New York City area.

    Whereas Weekly Reports this time of year usually end with a shout out to the day’s Earth Science Colloquium, the colloquium originally scheduled for this afternoon has been cancelled in the hope of rescheduling it for a later date. Moreover, given the current university policies and recommendations on travel and large gatherings, there will be no further in-person colloquia this semester. As Tim Crone wrote this morning, however, his colloquium team is looking into the option of virtual presentations, so please stay tuned for further announcements. In the meantime, may you all remain healthy.