Lamont Weekly Report, September 24, 2021

    Hello Friends,  The back-to-school vibe is all around us, turbo-charged by the back-from-the-pandemic vibe.  As I walked around campus this week, I’ve had numerous conversations with folks and nearly all touch on some aspect of “I didn’t expect to feel so moved by coming back to work”.  Many of us didn’t appreciate how much we were missing our colleagues and extended human contact. 

    And this is not just the start of a new school year, this is the start of a year that promises to bring an almost unimaginable increase in funding sources at the federal level for climate and resiliency research.  For a soft-money institution like Lamont, this means attention must be given.  Nearly every federal agency that touches on Earth and climate science, resiliency, and environmental justice is expecting a huge budget increase.  The NSF budget alone could increase by an additional $30 billion!  Topics ranging from blue carbon research, to applications of artificial intelligence, to civilian climate corps, to coastal and ocean resiliency programs, to clean energy investments and carbon capture, to environmental health, to ecosystem health, to ocean charting and mapping are all seeing a huge bump in potentially available funding.  Investments in STEM training, underserved communities, and facilities are also being written into the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would could be signed into law as early as next week.  Following on that is the even larger Reconciliation Bill, in the trillions.  All of which is to say that in my forty-year career as a scientist I have never seen an emerging opportunity like this for Earth researchers.  If you have a dream, now is the time to make it a reality.   

    I don’t have to tell you our world is facing a crisis of almost unimaginable proportions.  Our research has never been more relevant or crucial to society.  This is a moment when we should all be thinking big about our science.  What could I do with a million dollars?  What could a highly skilled team do with $10M?  How can I marshal the full might of Columbia University and the new Climate School to achieve something at a scale that I might never have imagined before?  And, perhaps quite logically, what resources are there to help me go big?  As Director and Dean, I can answer the last question.  We are actively working to build out the pre-award admin support teams needed to get proposals written, through the system, and submitted—we know we are understaffed.  This includes a goal of bringing more help to the divisional level, the Observatory level, and the school level.  Indeed, we are in the process of building out a Climate School Office of Research which will be based both on the Lamont campus and downtown.  In the coming weeks we will continue to communicate the changes underway and the new resources being made available, along with regular Washington updates.  Please also remember we all have access to the EVPR Office which also facilitates the submission of large ambitious proposals like the LEAP STR proposal that just got funded.  But most importantly, if you have an idea and want some feedback, please come talk to me!   

    As we wrap up climate week, I was inspired by so many great events and talks. On Wednesday, the Columbia Climate School hosted “Plan 2030: Pathway to Decarbonize Columbia University's Campuses” moderated by Dan Zarrilli, Special Advisor for Climate and Sustainability, and panelists that included Jason Smerdon, Lamont Research Professor.  Along with an updated decarbonization plan, Columbia University pledged that all future Campus construction and renovations will be fossil-free.  I spent almost two hours today talking with Dan Zarrilli about the future of our campus (after he toured the Ida damage with CU’s Dave Greenberg, Executive Vice-President of Facilities, and Gerry Rosberg, Senior Executive Vice-President of the University).  It is my sincere hope that Lamont can become a proud centerpiece of Columbia’s ambitions to transition to a net-zero campus. 

    Two other tremendous Climate Week talks were “The Great Pivot: Climate Action and the Financial Sector” moderated by Alex Halliday and including Satyajit Bose, Professor of Practice, Columbia University, Michelle Dunstan, Chief Responsibility Officer, AllianceBernstein, and Radley Horton, Lamont Research Professor, and "Code Red: Vulnerability to Extreme Heat, Floods, and Displacement" with CIESIN researchers Alex de Sherbinin, Carolynne Hultquist, and Cascade Tuholske, and moderated by Bob Chen, CIESIN’s Director and Senior Research Scientist.  I’m reminded every day how central our research is to the full spectrum of societal issues including finance, health, security, and of course, climate justice. 

    I have some congratulations to pass on.  On Thursday, Bill Ryan, Special Research Scientist in the Marine Geology and Geophysics Division and mentor extraordinaire, was elected a Foreign Member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the world’s oldest (1603!) scientific society.  Amongst its earliest members was Galileo GalileiHe will be honored at a ceremony on November 12 at the Academy headquarters in Rome (also known as the Corsini Palace).  Dig out the tux Bill, I think it is going to be fancy! 

    Congratulations also to Elise Myers who on Monday successfully defended her PhD thesis on “Improving Modeling and Monitoring of Waterborne Sewage Contamination: Particle Association and Water Transparency Impacts on Fecal Pollution Persistence”.  Elise will be working as a consultant in the Washington, D.C. office of the Boston Consulting Group, specializing in climate change, development, and public sector work with the long-term goal of working on water quality and human health issues. 

    Finally, congratulations to Gisela Winckler who was selected as a “Seeding Diversity Fellow” as part of an NSF-funded project led by Prof. Jason Chen at the University of William and Mary. “The program aims to embed DEI in the core values and practices in the Geosciences in general, and in academic departments and institutions in particular. This program is a customized learning experience to teach skills that can help effect change in organizations. The team at Lamont includes Vicki Ferrini and Jenny Middleton.” 

    I’ll share that a highlight of my week was hosting Jorge Otero-Pailos, Professor and Director of Historic Preservation, and Mark Rakatansky, Adjunct Associate Professor, and their graduate students from the Joint Architecture-Preservation Advanced Studio at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation on a tour of our campus.  Thank you to Billy D’Andrea and the group of Lamont graduate students who also helped facilitate the visit. Our campus is the focus of their semester project “Enacting Our Environmental Entanglements: Innovation/Renovation at the Columbia Climate School’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory”.  This studio usually focuses somewhere old and fabulous in the world (like the Corsini Palace?) but the pandemic brought them to us!  I’m really looking forward to seeing how this group reimagines a Lamont campus of the future. 

    I’ll wrap up by thanking Róisín Commane, Assistant Professor in DEES, for a terrific colloquium talk, Combustion in cities: Not all plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will improve air quality”.  I am going to spend my weekend on two projects: investigating induction cooktops and perfecting the acronym generator that we are going to need with all the amazing and ambitious research projects I see in Lamont’s future.   

    Have a peaceful weekend.  Mo 









September 24, 2021


EcoDebate (Brazil)

September 24, 2021 

Article on research by Lamont researcher Corey Lesk. 



September 23, 2021 


Smart Water

September 22, 2021  

Article on study led by Lamont researcher Corey Lesk.  


Columbia Daily Spectator

 September 21, 2021  

“I think [storm surge and torrential rainfall] have to be treated separately, [as] they affect different localities of the transportation system,” professor Klaus Jacob, who has been affiliated with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory for over 50 years and serves as a special research scientist, said. “And in the case of the subway system, it affects entirely different entrances and stations of the subway system, so they should be handled by the same department within the MTA, but they need to be considered separately in their nature to be effective.”  Jacob has many ideas for simple strategies that can mitigate the impact of rainfall.  “For instance on entrances, you don’t just go down into an entrance, you would first step up a couple of steps, [making] a mini levee system that surrounds this entrance,” Jacob said.  


West Side Rag

September 21, 2021  

Q&A with Climate School professor Jason Smerdon.  


Global Banking and Finance 

September 21, 2021  

Cites AllianceBernstein project with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.  


Nature World News

September 21, 2021  

Article on study led by Lamont researcher Corey Lesk.  


Nature Food

September 2021  

Article on research led by Lamont researcher Corey Lesk.  


The New York Times

September 17, 2021  

Dendrochronology has been a critical tool in climate research for more than a century, allowing scientists to study long-term changes in weather by measuring the size of tree rings. At Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, dendrochronology has been used to study the impact of climate change on tropical trees in the Andes and evergreens in the Alaska tundra, among other things.  Over time, computer technology has vastly increased the amount of data that can be used to analyze ring patterns, making the process much more accurate, said Edward R. Cook, a research professor at the observatory. 





September 23, 2021  

Join us for fun, informative events and activities right from home!  


September 21, 2021  

Rainfall extremes this year affected millions.  


September 20, 2021  

Staple crops may see magnified adverse effects when warming climate drives away soil moisture.  


September 20, 2021