This week was notable for the unseasonably cold temperatures that broke record lows for the date in New York City and hundreds of other locations across much of the country. Notwithstanding this foreshadowing of winter, scientific progress at the Observatory continued.
Director's Weekly Reports
A noteworthy solar system event will occur next Monday: a solar transit by Mercury. Although Mercury’s close approaches to Earth, known as inferior conjunctions, occur often (approximately once every 116 days), Mercury passes across the disc of the Sun as viewed from Earth much more rarely, because of the 7° inclination of Mercury’s orbit to the ecliptic, Earth’s orbital plane. The transit on Monday will be the fourth of only 14 Mercury transits this century.
This week kicked off on Saturday with the final day of the special symposium to celebrate the life and scientific legacy of Wally Broecker. The symposium provided a wonderful two days to remember an extraordinarily impactful colleague, with the formal talks, open-microphone sessions, group dinner, and informal discussions over coffee and lunch all contributing to a heightened awareness on the part of all participants of the unprecedented influence that Wally had on all who worked or interacted with him.
I am saddened to report that physical oceanographer and former Lamont staff member Eli Katz passed away on Thursday last week, at the age of 83. Eli worked at Lamont from 1979 to 1997, initially as a Senior Research Associate and after 1983 as a Senior Research Scientist. He received a Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University in 1962, and he worked at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for 10 years before moving to Lamont.
Yesterday marked the 30-year anniversary of the Loma Prieta, California, earthquake, a magnitude-6.9 event well known not only to seismologists – because of its unusual source characteristics, widespread damage, and 63 fatalities – but also to major league baseball fans, because it resulted in the postponement of the third and fourth games in the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics (https://www.mor-tv.com/artic
This week began with Lamont Open House. The total attendance was 3627, a figure higher than last year or two years before that, but lower than the all-time record of 3891 set in 2017. The official head count was certified by Howie Matza, who logged 350 individuals arriving by automobile to the campus, 658 attendees delivered by bus from the city, 2592 riders on the shuttles from the HNA parking lot, and 27 who came on other buses.
The Lamont campus was deeply saddened this week by the news that alumnus and long-time staff member Walter Pitman passed away on Tuesday, a few weeks ahead of what would have been his 88th birthday.
Last Friday’s Climate Strike N.Y.C. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/20/nyregion/climate-strike-nyc.html) drew many participants from Lamont. A Kevin Krajick story Friday (https://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/scientists-stand-students-climate-march) included photos taken during the march of Daniel Babin, Laura Haynes, Corey Lesk, Kai Morsink, and Adam Sobel, among others.
Next week will be Climate Week NYC (https://www.climateweeknyc.org/climate-week-nyc-2019), timed to include Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations next Monday (https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/).
This was a week in which the Earth remained much in the news.
This week began with hurricane Dorian striking the northwestern Bahamas as an historically devastating storm, Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. After an extraordinarily lengthy pause, Dorian’s path turned northward to follow the U.S. southeastern coast.
The last week before Labor Day and the start of fall classes is a traditional week for vacations at Columbia – indeed the entire university administration is rumored to be away – and I have followed this tradition. Nonetheless, the pace of science is not slowed markedly by the summer getaways of scientists (or administrators), as the following news attests.
Yesterday, the American Geophysical Union announced, in an Eos article by Robin Bell, the good news that two more Lamont scientists are to be honored at this year’s Fall Meeting in December (https://eos.org/agu-news/2019-agu-union-medal-award-and-prize-recipients-announced). Maureen Raymo will receive the 2019 Maurice Ewing Medal, jointly awarded once per year by AGU and the U.S.
Yesterday, the American Geophysical Union announced the good news that Rosanne D’Arrigo and Lorenzo Polvani have been named 2019 AGU Fellows (https://eos.org/agu-news/2019-class-of-agu-fellows-announced). In Robin Bell’s Eos article introducing the 2019 class of Fellows, she wrote, “AGU Fellows are recognized for their scientific eminence in the Earth and space sciences. Their breadth of interests and the scope of their contributions are remarkable and often groundbreaking.
This week began for me in Woods Hole, where I attended a meeting of the Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. As the governing body of the academy, the Council is responsible for stewarding NAS finances and other assets, guiding policies on membership, developing academy positions on scientific issues, and overseeing NAS programs. The Council is also currently completing the first NAS strategic plan and developing procedures for responding to any alleged violations of the academy’s newly adopted Code of Conduct.
I am pleased to report that Arnold Gordon is to receive the 2020 Henry Stommel Research Medal from the American Meteorological Society. According to AMS, the medal is given “in recognition of outstanding contributions to the advancement of the understanding of the dynamics and physics of the ocean.
I am pleased to report that Adam Sobel and Mingfang Ting have been elected Fellows of the American Meteorological Society. According to AMS, Fellows “shall have made outstanding contributions to the atmospheric or related oceanic or hydrologic sciences or their applications during a substantial period of years,” and no more than “two-tenths of 1 percent of all AMS members” may be elected Fellow in a given year. Congratulations, Adam and Mingfang!
Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, when mankind first set foot on another planetary body. The milestone – arguably as important for understanding the Moon and its lessons for the early history of our solar system as was the contemporary plate tectonics revolution for understanding our own planet – has been much in the news this month.
The Earth has been much in the news during the first half of this summer season. Heat waves in India (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/13/world/asia/india-heat-wave-deaths.html) and Europe (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/climate/hottest-june-on-record.html) set new daily and monthly temperature records.
The Lamont Weekly Report is on vacation this week, as am I. May you all have an enjoyable Independence Day tomorrow.