Lamont Weekly Report, May 1, 2020

    The coronavirus pandemic and the directives to shelter in place have had very different effects on different segments of our community. Of course, those who have experienced COVID-19 symptoms or whose immediate family members have done so have understandably focused on testing, treatment, and recovery. Health-care providers who have selflessly devoted their time and attention to those most severely ill have earned our sustained gratitude, and the families of health-care workers are no less in our debt for the continuing support they provide. The members of the Lamont community deemed essential to the operation of our campus and its facilities are spending many workdays per week to ensuring that, when conditions permit, the rest of us can return to our labs and offices in the confidence that the campus will function as needed to support new scientific work, and they, too, deserve our collective appreciation.

    For most of us, sheltering in place has meant little more than inconvenience – disruption of routine, limited opportunity for direct social interaction, and greater difficulty securing some grocery and pharmaceutical products. Among the Lamont scientific staff, some find the extended time at home or other locations to be an opportunity for focusing on research and writing papers and proposals, but the extent of that opportunity depends strongly on whether school-age children are sharing the same space. Moreover, the responsibilities for home schooling and child care are not always divided equally by parents. Across the scientific community, these differences in family responsibilities are measurable by different rates of submission of new journal papers by women and men, the topic of an article last Friday in The Lily that was based on interviews with Einat Lev and women academics in other fields. How to take the pandemic period into consideration in future promotion and hiring decisions will be a topic of discussion for some time.

    The past week has nonetheless hosted a number of notable scientific milestones by the Lamont community. Bar Oryan learned this week that he has been awarded a Chateaubriand Fellowship in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Biology-Health. The fellowship, awarded by the French Embassy in the U.S., is given to “outstanding Ph.D. students from American universities who wish to conduct research in France.” With the support of his fellowship, Bar plans to spend several months working on models of the earthquake cycle with Jean-Arthur Olive, a former Lamont Postdoctoral Fellow now at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.

    Annie Leal, who will be a member of the incoming class of graduate students in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences this fall, learned this week that she has been awarded a three-year National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship by the U.S. Department of Defense. Currently a chemistry major at the University of California, Berkeley, Annie plans to work with Bob Anderson once she begins her graduate research at Lamont.

    The journal Metallomics last month published a paper by Kathrin Schilling, Alex Halliday, and others on the use of metal concentrations and isotope ratios in urine as non-invasive indicators of a common form of pancreatic cancer. Kathrin and her colleagues drew particular attention to lower than normal urine levels of calcium and magnesium and higher than normal levels of copper and zinc as indicative of the metal imbalance associated with such cancer. Another biomarker of the cancer is isotopically light zinc in urine, which points to impairment of metalloprotein regulation. A press release on the paper’s findings was posted to our web site last Friday.

    The R/V Marcus Langseth is in the eastern Pacific this week, on transit to a port stop next week in Newport, Oregon. Along with most other ships in the U.S. academic fleet, the ship will then stand down until at least early July, or whenever coronavirus testing protocols are put in place and other criteria are met that will permit the vessel’s crew and science party to again put out to sea.

    About two months ago, Kuheli Dutt was interviewed by Alan Alda on the topic of unconscious bias and diversity in the sciences. The interview, more than three-quarters of an hour in length, aired Tuesday as part of Season 7 of Clear + Vivid with Alan Alda, under the headline “How lack of diversity and inclusion in science hurts us all.” Their discussion is well worth your time.

    Also on Tuesday, our web pages gained a story by freelance writer and Columbia University alumna Elise Gout on a project led by Róisín Commane to measure the greenhouse gas emissions and other atmospheric pollutants from the New York City area. The project began with the installation of a cavity ring-down spectrometer on the rooftop of a City University of New York building in Harlem, first as part of a pilot project beginning in January 2019 and regularly since January of this year. The instrument was in place in time to document reductions by 10 percent in the emission of carbon dioxide and methane and a drop by 50 percent in the emission of carbon monoxide this spring compared with one year ago, the result of the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Models for atmospheric winds, analyzed by Luke Schiferl, are needed to separate the effects of changes in atmospheric motions from changes in local emissions. Plans are underway to establish a network of similarly instrumented sites around the metropolitan area.

    On Wednesday, the journal Geology published online a paper led by Ben Keisling on the canyon system that underlies the Greenland ice sheet. Submitted shortly before his arrival at Lamont and constituting a portion of his Ph.D. thesis research at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst under the supervision of Rob DeConto, the paper describes a model of the early ice sheet, including the influence of climate history, bedrock topography, and isostatic adjustment. On the basis of model results, geological evidence for major flood events that eroded the landscape elsewhere in North America following the Last Glacial Maximum, and temporal variations in marine sediment flux north of Greenland, Ben and his colleagues argued that the largest of the canyons underlying the ice sheet in Greenland may have formed by repeated catastrophic glacial outburst floods. A press release describing the paper’s findings was posted to our web site yesterday.

    Also on Wednesday, the May line-up of shows on EI Live, a series of science videos aimed at K-12 students and educators, was posted by Cassie Xu. Presenters this month will include Cari Leland (on tree-ring science), Sheean Haley (on phytoplankton), Josh Russell (on data visualization and sonification), and Margie Turrin (on the Hudson River estuary).

    As we ended yesterday the first full month of working remotely, we are becoming used to a new era of all-virtual meetings. At the beginning of the week, the National Academy of Sciences held their Annual Meeting as a virtual meeting for the first time in the organization’s 157-year history, and the event set records for member registration and public participation. The European Geosciences Union General Assembly next week has been reconstituted as Sharing Geoscience Online, “a week-long series of virtual interactions.” Whatever virtual meetings you anticipate for the coming week, may you find a way to enjoy the first weekend in May and remain safe and healthy at the same time.