Lamont Weekly Report, May 14, 2021

     Hello Friends,  I’d like to use the next month or two to update the campus on activities being guided by the Lamont Strategic Plan.  Lifting heavily from the text of the plan, I’ll start with the core values that were set out as our guiding principles.  They are:

  • Excellence in Earth system science research
  • Leadership in innovation and discovery
  • Community-wide commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and equity
  • Foundational science that informs societal solutions
  • Education at all levels of society

     Our strategic vision outlines the Observatory’s institutional commitment to lead the science and create the transdisciplinary partnerships needed to address urgent environmental challenges such as global warming. The plan outlines a bold approach that maintains our commitment to fundamental science as the engine of new discoveries so vital for practice-oriented solutions.  The plan also makes clear that the research and education ambitions of Lamont cannot be considered independently from structural issues such as diversity, inclusion, equity, anti-racism, financial security, and sustainability.

     To the above ends, the strategic plan outlined four main themes: Diverse and Collegial Lamont focused on diversity, inclusion and equity; Secure Lamont focused on financial stability of the observatory and its people; Sustainable Lamont, focused on moving us toward a net-zero campus; and Impactful Lamont, focused on promoting research excellence, especially across the ten priority research themes identified in the plan.

     This week I will focus on Diverse and Collegial Lamont, coincident with the release of the Directorate response to the DEI Task Force report.  Our shared mission is to “build and maintain the most diverse, welcoming, innovative geoscience research and  teaching community through evidence-based methods.”  This is the stated DEIA goal, an ambition that will only be achieved through leadership at all levels of the Observatory combined with engagement across our community. 

     The DEI Task Force report is optimistic and forward-thinking in scope, articulating a dream of Lamont that is inclusive, free of bias, and welcoming—a campus where everyone can achieve their full potential. It is our roadmap moving forward.  And, while the Task Force was doing its work, the Directorate too was at work.  We have made numerous meaningful changes to our campus, to regulations, procedures, and guidelines, and more over the past ten months.  Examples include: changing protocols such that more people will have the opportunity to serve in leadership roles on committees such as Excom and the Associate Directors Council; changing internal forms to be gender-inclusive; including disability access info on campus maps and on-line; changing guidelines for search committees in ways that maximize the possibility of finding the best, most diverse talent; establishing the JEDI award; working with DEES to nominate and support URM candidates for diversity hiring programs at the university level; modifying guidelines for promotion pathways in ways that lead to improved job satisfaction outcomes; successfully competing for multiple university level grants to promote DEIA activities on our campus.  And more.  Our planned actions for the future, following the recommendations of the task force, are outlined in the document circulated earlier this week.

     You wouldn’t have to be a genius to surmise that the role of Lamont Director is challenging and often requires hard choices and unpopular decisions to be made.  These decisions need to be guided by scientific considerations and financial considerations, balancing the needs of individuals with the collective needs of the Observatory, but they also need to be fair and just.  More than anyone, the team in the Directorate sees the full scope of what happens on campus—what individuals are achieving, the status of everyone’s grants and finances, the contributions and leadership roles people make and play in a myriad of different obvious and not-so-obvious ways.  In the end, the highest goal I can aspire to is having the trust of my colleagues, your confidence that I am committed to the goals of a just, equitable, impactful, and secure Lamont and working every day to make that happen.

     Turning to the news of the week and continuing in the DEIA theme. This past Monday we had the EI anti-racism talk and panel discussion: What Comes Next? Addressing Racism in Our Workplace. Panelists included: Cassie Xu (EI), Jenny Middleton (LDEO), and Yohana Tesfamariam Tekeste (IRI), with opening remarks by Alicia Roman and closing remarks by Alex Halliday. Kuheli Dutt gave a presentation and moderated the panel in front of 160 virtual attendees, a testament to how many want to engage and learn more on this topic.  Next week, on May 18 at 5:30 PM the Columbia Center for Science and Society will be hosting an event titled “Indigenous Activism and Environmental Justice in the 21st Century” with University of Montana Professor Rosalyn LaPier and chaired by Robin Bell. You can register here

     The Directorate also hosted a Town Hall event yesterday to update the campus on Covid protocols, initial return to work planning, and the Lamont annual budget. I’d like to thank Ben Bostick, Art Lerner-Lam, and Edie Miller for giving great presentations that were packed with information. We hope many more start returning to campus this summer as we build back the vibrant engaging research community that is the hallmark of Lamont.

     In more DEI news, the NSF-funded All-ABOARD project, under the leadership of Lamonters Sharon Cooper and Benjamin Keisling, is a project that uses off-shore experiences on ships to advance STEM training and DEI goals. All-ABOARD just announced its selection of four inaugural teams that will be participating: Coastal Carolina University, University of South Florida, Salisbury University and West Virginia University. Through a series of innovative and interactive webinars and a unique sea/land retreat, these teams will work to build community and resilience while advancing DEI initiatives at their institutions. 

     Additional DEIA work is being undertaken by Cassie Xu, Dannie Dinh and Suki Wong who created a new group AAPI@EI, open to anyone who wants to join (you don’t need to identify as Asian-American Pacific Islander). The goal is to continue the conversation about the Asian-American experience, both from personal perspectives as well as within academia, and provide an ongoing safe community space where all Earth Institute staff, faculty, and students can come together. Through different media forms (books, papers, poetry, movies, art, etc.), the group hopes to create opportunities to have meaningful conversations on a monthly basis, virtually. If you are interested in joining this informal group, please fill out this short Google Form by Friday, May 14. All are welcome.

     I imagine some might be wondering at this point where our scientific research stands with all this seemingly relentless focus on DEIA?  The answer is that we are all enriched, including our science, by the progress we are collectively making towards our goal of a more diverse and inclusive campus. Optimism, career satisfaction, ambition, risk-taking, headspace for creative endeavors all increase when one feels valued, seen, and included.  Indeed, data presented by Edie yesterday showed our proposal submission rate increased substantially over the last year.  Likewise, the impactful research of our scientists continues to be highlighted in myriads of ways in the media, week in and week out.

     I know this missive is getting quite long but I want to give a shout-out to two publications this week that illustrate the enormous power of noble gases to illuminate climate and earth science. The first study was led by Yaakov Weiss (ex-Lamont Fellow and ARS, now faculty at Hebrew University) who wrote a beautiful paper about using helium isotopes in diamonds to understand the history of the Earth billions of years ago.  Just out in Nature Communications, it is also accompanied by a nice write up by Kevin Krajick. Who doesn't love diamonds, messengers from the deep Earth?

     The second study was led by Alan Seltzer (a Lamont/CU undergrad '14, now at WHOI) who used noble gases from groundwater as a paleo thermometer to point to greater cooling in low latitudes during the last glacial maximum (thus inferring higher climate sensitivity).  This paper is just out in Nature, and is featured in another of Kevin's write-ups.  Indeed, two noble efforts!

     And lastly, for readers of this newsletter who might not have received yesterday’s all-campus email, John G. Goddard, a long-term Geochemistry employee (1965 - 2001), passed away on May 6th.  John was a wonderful colleague and a great human being.  An obituary (which will be updated as the family finalizes funeral plans) can be found here.  You may send cards, etc. to Mary Goddard (John's wife) at 214 North Broadway, Nyack, NY 10960.

     Have a peaceful weekend, Mo








Deep-Earth History Hidden within African Diamonds

The Nation

May 12, 2021

Article on study co-authored by Lamont geochemists Yaakov Weiss, Cornelia Class, Gisela Winckler, Steve Goldstein, and colleagues.


Cheap Sensors Provide Missing Air Quality Data in African Cities


May 11, 2021

Article on study co-authored by Lamont climate scientist Dan Westervelt.


Notes from an Author: Marco Tedesco on Climate Change in Greenland

National Geographic UK

May 11, 2021

Article by Lamont polar scientist Marco Tedesco.


Scientists Find a New Way to Tell Ages and Origins of Diamonds


May 11, 2021

Article on study co-authored by Lamont geochemists Yaakov Weiss, Cornelia Class, Gisela Winckler, Steve Goldstein, and colleagues.


A Billion-Plus Years of Deep Earth History Hidden Within Diamonds

SciTech Daily

May 11, 2021

Article on study co-authored by Lamont geochemists Yaakov Weiss, Cornelia Class, Gisela Winckler, Steve Goldstein, and colleagues.


Deep Convection Episode 8: Suzana Camargo

Deep Convection

May 11, 2021

Interview with Suzana Camargo by fellow Lamont climate scientist Adam Sobel.


The Sun May Offer Key to Predicting El Niño, Groundbreaking Study Finds

Washington Post

May 8, 2021

Article quotes Lamont climate scientist Mark Cane.


'Megadrought' Persists in Western U.S., as another Extremely Dry Year Develops

National Geographic

May 7, 2021

Article quotes and cites research by Lamont climate scientist Benjamin Cook with Park Williams, Edward Cook, Jason Smerdon, Kasey Bolles, Seung Baek, and colleagues.


Water Temperature Continues to Rise with Ocean Fever; Climate Change Worsens the Situation

Nature World News

May 6, 2021

Article quotes Lamont physical oceanographer Hillary Scannell.


Is the Red Sea Really the Red Ocean?

Atlas Obscura

May 6, 2021

Article quotes Lamont geophysicists Roger Buck and Mike Steckler.




During the Last Ice Age, the Tropics Were Colder Than We Thought. Bad News for Us.

May 12, 2021

Gases collected from ancient groundwater provide a compelling portrait of how much past temperatures have swung back and forth.


Hidden Within African Diamonds, a Billion-Plus Years of Deep-Earth History

May 11, 2021

Fluids trapped within the stones are helping researchers reconstruct the deep history of the continent, and eventually maybe others.


All-ABOARD: Changing Minds and Hearts at Sea

May 06, 2021

Pilot project aims to build diversity, equity, and inclusion in the geosciences via a unique ship-based professional development model.