Lamont Weekly Report, March 27, 2020

    This has been the first week of New York state’s Policies Assure Uniform Assurance for Everyone (PAUSE) order, and also the first full week during which nearly all of us on the Lamont campus have worked remotely from homes or other off-site locations. Most of us are becoming increasingly familiar with Zoom and other group communication software, and we wrestle with the challenges of conducting research and educational activities with strong new constraints on interpersonal interactions. Notwithstanding these challenges, some progress continued.

    The March issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface includes a paper by Indrani Das, Robin Bell, Kirsty Tinto, Tej Dhakal, Nick Frearson, Isabel Cordero, and colleagues reporting new estimates of basal melting of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. From ice-penetrating radar images of the ice shelf structure obtained during the ROSETTA-Ice survey in 2015-2017, Indrani and her coworkers converted measurements of the thickness of a lower layer of shelf ice interpreted to have originated from the grounded ice sheet together with ice velocities and a model for strain-induced thickness variations to estimate rates of basal ice melting averaged over one to several decades. Their results are similar to those derived from satellite-based altimetry over intervals of years, implying that rates of basal melting have largely been stable on decadal timescales. Indrani and her team identified five hotspots of elevated melting rates, all located near the shelf front, indicating pathways beneath the ice for warm water from the surrounding ocean and potential sites of ice shelf weakness in a warming world.

    Also recently published was a paper coauthored by Marco Tedesco in Journal of Glaciology on winter persistence of supraglacial lakes on the Greenland Ice Sheet. The paper’s authors, led by Robert Law of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, presented a new one-dimensional model for lake persistence, including the effects of snowfall, snow and ice melting, water influx from the surrounding catchment, ice lid formation, basal freeze-up, and thermal stratification. Model results suggest that supraglacial lakes at least 1-3 m deep, depending on winter temperature and snowfall, can persist through winter and would provide a substantial source of water at the start of the annual melt season.

    Dave Walker reported early this week that the community effort he co-led to block the approval of a new construction and development waste processing plant in Greene County, New York, was successful. The application for the proposed facility was withdrawn in the face of opposition by Keep it Greene and other community representatives. Media stories on the successful community opposition were carried last Friday by HudsonValley360 and on Tuesday by the Albany Times Union.

    Many similarities have been noted between the coronavirus outbreak and other disasters. Adam Sobel, in a New York Times piece late last week, drew lessons for the coronavirus pandemic from government, community, and individual responses to Superstorm Sandy and other severe storms. Former Earth Institute Executive Director Steve Cohen, in his weekly blog Monday, compared the COVID-19 crisis with the 9/11 terrorist attack in our need to rely on shared community action. A Temblor story Wednesday by John Mutter listed parallels with major wildfires, the Deepwater Horizon blowout, and great earthquakes. And a web story yesterday by freelance writer Renee Cho, written from interviews with Earth Institute faculty members Scott Barrett, Mike Gerrard, and Jeff Shaman, explored parallels between the impacts of, and responses to, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

    The impact of widespread sheltering in place during the coronavirus outbreak on the emission of greenhouse gases and other atmospheric pollutants has continued to receive widespread media coverage this week. A Kevin Krajick article on recent work under this theme in the New York City area by Róisín Commane, Wade McGillis, and Steve Chillrud was posted to our web site on Wednesday. Róisín was quoted in an earlier New York Times article on this topic, and Dan Westervelt was quoted in a story Wednesday on air quality in the New Jersey region.

    In other media coverage, Jordan Abell was interviewed for a Climatewire story posted Monday on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting scientific fieldwork. And Robin Bell was featured in a one-page Where I Work piece in Nature on Monday, along with a portrait taken alongside IcePod.

    As Alex Halliday announced yesterday, Maureen Raymo will be the Interim Director of Lamont as of July 1, and I am delighted to add my personal welcome and congratulations to her. She will take the reins at a time when the scientific and academic communities around the world are severely challenged by the profound sociological and financial consequences – many still to be discerned – of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, but I am confident that Lamont will emerge from this global crisis in a position of sustained scientific strength under Mo’s leadership.