Lamont Weekly Report, May 25, 2018

    Notwithstanding that the spring semester has ended and Commencement was last week, the impending end of the academic and university fiscal year makes this an especially busy season.

    One of the most pleasant activities that fill this time of year is the completion of academic reviews that lead to promotions for members of our scientific staff. I am happy to report that Angela Slagle has been promoted to Research Scientist and will be a member of Lamont’s Senior Staff, effective July 1. Moreover, as the result of their successful Developmental Reviews this spring, Anne Bécel, Einat Lev, and Yutian Wu will be promoted to Lamont Associate Research Professor, Junior Staff, as of the same date. Please join me in congratulating Angela, Anne, Einat, and Yutian on their new positions!

    Earlier this month, Geophysical Research Letters published online a paper coauthored by Pratigya Polissar and Sam Phelps on the expansion of C4 vegetation into Australia. On the basis of fossil pollen and carbon isotope measurements on plant wax samples recovered from marine sediments off northwestern Australia, Pratigya, Sam, and their Australian collaborators demonstrated that the onset of expansion of plants that utilize the C4 photosynthetic pathway – which now dominate Australian vegetation to a degree unmatched on other continents – occurred ~3.5 million years ago, during the late Pliocene, several million years later than in Asia, Africa, or North and South America. The authors suggest that the change in vegetation was enabled by the late Pliocene development of a summer monsoon climate with a highly seasonal precipitation regime. A Kevin Krajick press release describing the paper’s findings was posted on the Lamont web site on Monday (

    Several groups visited the Observatory late last week. Columbia University's Business School held their staff retreat at Lamont on Friday. The group heard presentations by Radley Horton and Robin Bell and were given tours of the Core Repository and the IcePod laboratory. Staffers and volunteers with Keep Rockland Beautiful visited the Lamont campus on Saturday. Following a welcome and overview presentation by Roger Buck, the group toured the IcePod lab, the aquatic ecology lab, the Tree-Ring Lab, and the Core Repository.

    The “Take a Number” column in Tuesday’s Science Times section of The New York Times called out the recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Dennis Kent, Paul Olsen, Chris Lepre, and collaborators reporting paleomagnetic measurements and uranium-lead dates from a core acquired in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. The core measurements provide empirical confirmation that the 405-thousand-year cycle describing variations in Earth’s orbital eccentricity – driven primarily by gravitational interactions with Venus and Jupiter – has modulated global climate at least as far back as 215 million years ago.

    Also on Tuesday, Einat Lev posted a report on our web site on the ongoing eruption along Kilauea’s East Rift Zone on Hawaii, where she, Brett Carr, and Julie Oppenheimer have been working and assisting local authorities since last week ( Her eyewitness description, particularly of the eruption seen at close hand and at night, makes for good reading, and Brett captured a great photo of Einat backlit by a nighttime fire fountain and steam clouds colored orange by reflected lava glow.

    On Wednesday, Science Advances published an article by Ben Holtzman, Arthur Paté, Felix Waldhauser, Douglas Repetto, and John Paisley from Columbia’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Data Science Institute on the application of machine learning methods to the search for patterns in earthquake characteristics in the Geysers geothermal field in California. From spectrograms of 46,000 small earthquakes collected over a three-year period, Ben and his colleagues identified seasonal changes in spectral properties that correlate with injection rates into the Geysers reservoir. Their methodology opens opportunities for better management of geothermal fields and other sites of fluid injection with induced seismicity, as well as the possibility for identifying precursors to tectonic earthquakes. A Kim Martineau release on the paper’s findings appears on our web site (

    Yesterday, Ethan Coffel successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis on “Extreme heat and its impacts in a changing climate.” Ethan’s thesis committee included his advisor, Radley Horton, as well as Arlene Fiore, Richard Seager, Mingfang Ting, and Bob Kopp from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University. Ethan will soon be moving to a postdoctoral position at Dartmouth College. Congratulations, Dr. Coffel!

    The results of this year’s spring Lamont Fun Run, held last Friday, were released this week by organizers Genevieve Coffey, Chloe Gustafson, and Mike Sandstrom. The event featured, for the first time, a 4x550 m relay – billed as a 4x400 m relay but run on a longer course to keep to paved roads. Six teams from Lamont’s five research divisions competed. One of two teams from Geochemistry – including Jordan Abell, Frankie Pavia, Sean Ridge, and Yuxin Zhou – had the fastest time, on the basis of a scoring system with normalizations for age and gender, and garnered the Golden Running Shoe for the division. The second fastest relay team represented Biology and Paleo Environment and included Jonathan Nichols, Sam Phelps, Mike Sandstrom, and Thomas Weiss. Third-place honors in the relay went to Marine Geology and Geophysics and the team of Chloe Gustafson, Laura Stevens, Martin Wearing, and Laurel Zaima. In the (nearly) 5 km individual race, the fastest women were Chloe, Laura, and Karla Knudson; the fastest men were Mike, Colin Raymond, and Tammo Reichgelt; and the fastest walkers were Donna Lee, Xiaojun Yuan, and Naomi Henderson. On the basis of normalized times, the fastest overall was Chloe, followed by Roseanne Schwarz and then Mike. To all who participated and to all who cheered the runners on from the sidelines, thanks for an enjoyable event!

    Today, we can all look forward to a three-day weekend. May everyone find some pleasure in the changeable spring weather forecast for the next three days.