This week has been a time of extraordinary disruption and uncertainty. The coronavirus pandemic has dominated the news and the actions of governments at national, state, and city levels around the world. At Columbia, all classes are now being taught online, most personnel are working remotely, and domestic and international travel on university business has been suspended.
Director's Weekly Reports
This week has been dominated by news of the coronavirus outbreak and its consequences for the global population, international travel, public health and healthcare systems, and our region and university. As of Wednesday, Columbia University classes are now all being taught online.
Christine Chesley has been twice honored for a talk that she gave at the 2019 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting last December.
This week was bookended by new results from solar system spacecraft missions. Nature Geoscience on Monday published the first observations from NASA’s InSight mission to Mars, including confirmation of the occurrence of marsquakes. Today’s issue of Science includes the first in-depth papers from the New Horizons flyby of classical Kuiper-belt object (486958) Arrokoth, a small, peanut-shaped body largely undisturbed since solar system formation.
The U.S. Presidential race continued to provide a backdrop to our scientific activities this week, as the Democratic candidate debate on Wednesday evening provided the longest exchange so far in the campaign on the need for major action on climate change.
This week the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry announced the good news that Sidney Hemming has been elected a 2020 Geochemistry Fellow. The honor is reserved for “outstanding scientists who have, over some years, made a major contribution to the field of geochemistry.” Geochemistry Fellows at Lamont elected in earlier years include Bob Anderson, Steve Goldstein, Alex Halliday, Peter Kelemen, Terry Plank, and Dave Walker.
The first votes in the U.S. Presidential election process were cast this week at the Iowa caucuses. A story in The Verge on Wednesday reports that, according to a recent survey by Yale and George Mason universities, climate change was named as the fifth most important issue that registered voters considered when voting for a candidate, and as the top issue for liberal Democrats.
Notwithstanding the holiday on Monday (or a Presidential impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate), the spring semester officially began this week with the start of Columbia University classes on Tuesday. Scientific progress at Lamont continued at an uninterrupted pace.
The past calendar year, we learned this week from Copernicus Climate Change Service, was the second hottest on record (exceeded by less than 0.1°F by 2016, an El Niño year). Moreover, July last year was the hottest month to date.
This week rang in the new year and, some would argue, a new decade. With a three-day workweek having two university holidays in the middle, the campus tempo was more subdued than usual, but between this week and last there were noteworthy signs of progress.
This week has been an unusually hectic one, sandwiched between the American Geophysical Union Fall meeting last week and next week’s university holidays. This week also marked Final Examinations in Columbia University classes, record-breaking high temperatures across Australia, and even more than the usual political drama in our nation’s capital.
This week, many from Lamont have been in San Francisco for the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union. It has been a week full of new scientific findings, meetings with professional friends and scientific colleagues, and hundreds of side meetings called to advance some aspect of one or more of the subfields of Earth and space science.
The Lamont community was deeply saddened this week by the passing on Tuesday of geochemist and long-time Observatory staff member Taro Takahashi.
This workweek has been shortened by the Thanksgiving holiday, and this weekly report is also briefer than usual.
The U.S. Congress avoided a federal government shutdown this week, but only by a few hours. Yesterday afternoon the Senate passed a continuing resolution, passed two days earlier by the House, that will continue to fund federal agencies through Friday, December 20. The President signed the bill before last night’s midnight deadline.
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.
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.