Lamont Weekly Report, September 4, 2020

     Hello Friends,  It is always bittersweet to end the last real week of an academic’s summer—a regret tempered by the excitement of the new school year ramping up.  But students are returning to campus and next week classes get underway.  The challenges this fall will be enormous and it will require all of us to adjust our habits and patterns of learning and working and being.  The news from other campuses around the nation is sobering, however, I am deeply hopeful we will continue to prevail in safety, health, and caring for those in our community.  What a long, strange (and continuing) trip it’s been. 

     Some weeks I look at the list of news outlets where Lamont scientists have been quoted or reported on and I am gobsmacked.  This is one of those weeks.  Our scientists’ expert opinions and outstanding research on wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, melting polar ice sheets, climate change, Covid-19, as well as racism and exclusion in STEM fields was highlighted in many of the top science and print outlets across the nation this week—including National Geographic, CNN, Forbes, Discover Magazine, Washington Post, Scientific American, New York Times, and more.  For so much impactful work and thought-leadership to be coming out of our modest campus is inspiring and should make us all proud. 

     Robin Bell, one of our senior researchers (who also happens to be the President of the AGU—you go girl!) wrote a wonderful article about the lessons learned from the current pandemic and how they can be applied to the problem of climate change.  “The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of trusting in science, taking collective action, and thinking globally,” Robin says.  We can only hope these lessons will stick.  At the opposite end of the career spectrum, Lamont postdoc Ching-Yao Lai, working with Jonny Kingslake and graduate student Julian Spergel, published a paper in Nature this week that was also widely reported.  Ching-Yao and her colleagues showed how meltwater seeping down from the ice surface could undermine the ice shelf bulwarks holding back Antarctica's interior glaciers.  These walls of ice “serve as dams to prevent much of the continent's snow and ice from flowing toward the ocean.”  The obvious concern is with sea level rise and the potential for rapid acceleration of that rise due to faster ice loss.  I wonder how many more Larsen B ice shelf disintegration events I will witness in my lifetime?  I particularly liked Ching-Yao’s analogy of surface meltwater, because it is heavier than ice, behaving like a knife that can cut down through the ice.  Fascinating and depressing in equal measure.

     Other tidbits: For the first time, Forbes magazine has included climate risk in its Top 25 List of most desirable retirement towns (and quotes Lamont Associate Research Professor Radley Horton).  Hint, beach towns are pretty far down the list.  Duluth anyone?  Postdoc Benjamin Keisling also published an article in GSA Today entitled “Does Our Vision of Diversity Reduce Harm and Promote Justice?” which is topical and thought-provoking.  He no doubt pivoted to running some cutting-edge ice-sheet model experiments after hitting that “submit” button.  And please check out this short video of grad student Elise Myers talking about the intersectionality of her research on water quality and pollutants and her work on diversity and inclusion.  Watch for the photo-bomb!  Many more great research stories can be found in the September issue of the Lamont Newsletter that came out yesterday. 

     “Quietly devastating”, “Fascinating and frightening examination of bias”, “Sweeping in scope yet intimately compelling” are just a few reviews that may pique your interest in an invitation to a special screening of the film “Picture A Scientist”, a documentary that explores harassment in STEM.  I watched the trailer last evening and recognized three people I know.  Not know of, but know personally.  To me, this speaks volumes: about how small the community of women geoscientists is and how rampant sexual harassment/discrimination has been over the years.  I also know, again personally, that there are people on campus who are tired of, and indeed even resentful of the ongoing spotlight being shone on DEI issues at this time.  I understand.  This is hard and it is everywhere.  But I would beseech you to remember the idiom “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” which of course is a reminder to practice empathy.  A quote from Ben’s article above speaks volumes, “We must not conflate being uncomfortable with being marginalized. Harm is inseparable from, and central to, marginalization.”  Many uncomfortable truths are now being faced, and we need to open our minds and hearts to understanding the ongoing and systemic harm to careers and dreams that have been, and are still, experienced by historically under-represented groups in STEM.

     Rather than being shown at a fixed time, “Picture a Scientist” will be available during a screening window for the Lamont/EI community from September 21-24th.  You can log in and view the film from the comfort of wherever is comfortable for you.  The licensing fee for this event was generously covered by the Heising-Simons Foundation.  Register early!  Because our license only allows up to 500 registrants, we will stop accepting RSVPs either once we reach 500 registrations or on September 15th, whichever is earlier.  Log in instructions will be sent out after you register for the event.  Thank you to Kuheli for organizing this event.

     I’ll end with another thank you and a congratulations.  A big shout-out to Andy Reed of the Facilities team who for almost half a year (!) has been diligently circling our campus watering our desk and office plants.  Apparently, there are even some fish that owe Andy a debt of gratitude?  Thanks Andy!  And congratulations to Lamont Associate Research Professor Indrani Das who has been invited to be on a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine committee for a mid-term assessment of NSF progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research.  Indrani, I am sure you will represent Lamont and your research community with insight and aplomb.

     Wishing you all a safe and restful weekend.



“Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”
Chadwick Boseman







Elise Myers, on COVID-19 and Race

Rockland/Westchester Journal News

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Interview with Lamont graduate student Elise Myers.


An Extraordinary Summer of Crises for California’s Farmworkers

National Geographic

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Article by Lamont graduate research fellow Alejandra Borunda.


Choosing a Place to Retire? Factor In Climate Change


August 31, 2020

Article quotes Lamont climate scientist Radley Horton.


A Pandemic of Wildfire, Part 1

Discover Magazine

August 29, 2020

Article cites research led by Lamont bioclimatologist Park Williams.


Our Focus Has to Be on the Victims of Hurricane Laura


August 28, 2020

Article by Lamont climate scientist Adam Sobel.


Applying the Lessons of Covid-19 to the Climate Crisis


August 27, 2020

Article by Lamont polar scientist Robin Bell.


The Fires May Be in California, but the Smoke, and Its Health Effects, Travel Across the Country

Inside Climate News

August 27, 2020

Article cites research led by Lamont bioclimatologist Park Williams.


Hurricane Laura’s Rapid Intensification Is a Sign of a Warming Climate, Scientists Say

The Washington Post

August 27, 2020

Article quotes Lamont climate scientist Suzana Camargo.


Antarctica’s Ice Shelves May Be at Growing Risk of Collapse

Scientific American

August 27, 2020

Article cites research by Lamont scientists Ching-Yao Lai, Jonathan Kingslake, Julian J. Spergel, and colleagues.


Antarctica Ice Shelves Vulnerable to Meltwater That Could Cut Ice 'Like a Knife,' Study Finds

The New York Times

August 26, 2020

Article cites research by Lamont scientists Ching-Yao Lai, Jonathan Kingslake, Julian Spergel, and colleagues.


New Map Shows Vulnerability of Antarctic Ice to Self-Fracking

Ars Technica

August 26, 2020

Article cites research by Lamont scientists Ching-Yao Lai, Jonathan Kingslake, Julian J. Spergel, and colleagues.


Antarctica’s Hydrofracture Risk

The World

August 26, 2020

Article cites research by Lamont scientists Ching-Yao Lai, Jonathan Kingslake, Julian J. Spergel, and colleagues.




Interns Find Links Between Climate and Arsenic Levels in Rice

September 02, 2020

The research, from students working with the Center for Climate and Life, also identifies ways to potentially limit arsenic contamination in rice.


Greenland Ice Sheet Reached Tipping Point 20 Years Ago, New Study Finds

September 02, 2020

The massive ice sheet is now locked into a certain amount of decline. But reducing emissions remains critical to preventing catastrophic loss of the entire ice sheet.


Environmental Justice Through the Eyes of The Next Generation of Hudson River Educators

August 31, 2020

In a summer program, students learned about and discussed the science of the Hudson River watershed, as well as the social issues present in their daily lives.


Our Focus Has to Be on the Victims of Hurricane Laura

August 28, 2020

Atmospheric scientist Adam Sobel writes that yes, Hurricane Laura is about climate change, but first it’s about people.


Academics and Activism: Where Global Warming and Racism Meet

August 28, 2020

A new student-driven course explores race, climate change, and social justice.