Director's Weekly Reports
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.
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.