Lamont Weekly Report, January 18, 2013

It is the last week before classes resume at Columbia, but it was a busy week nonetheless. 

On Monday, the university announced that Susan Solomon of MIT and Jean Jouzel of the Commisariat à l’Énergie Atomique will share the 2012 Vetlesen Prize ( Solomon is being recognized for identifying the physical and chemical processes that produce the Antarctic ozone hole, and Jouzel is cited for pioneering the development of methods to extract climate records from polar ice cores. The two scientists will receive their prizes at a black tie ceremony in the Low Library Rotunda in February.

On Tuesday, the Lamont Strategic Planning Committee held its second meeting. In a lively two-hour discussion, committee members responded to an assignment given earlier by co-chairs Robin Bell and Maureen Raymo to highlight areas of commonality across the strategic plans of Lamont’s research divisions, to identify cross-cutting scientific issues for the Lamont community, and to articulate the grand challenges that face the Earth sciences as a field. A town-hall-style meeting is planned for next month to engage the broader Lamont community in the strategic planning process.

On Wednesday, Lamont announced that Louise Rosen had agreed to be the Observatory’s new Director of Strategic Initiatives, Development, and External Relations ( Louise is currently the Deputy Vice-President for Alumni Relations at Columbia’s Office of Alumni and Development, but she is better known to many at the Observatory for her 10 years of work at the Earth Institute in the areas of education and development. She is currently the Associate Director of Columbia’s M.P.A. Program in Environmental Science and Policy and M. S. Program in Sustainability Management. Louise holds degrees in economic and political geography and journalism; she worked as a reporter and feature article writer for Newsweek, Forbes, and several other periodicals; and she co-founded and edited a magazine that focused on art, music, and pop culture. She will start her new position on 11 February.

On Thursday, it was my pleasure to host a lunch for those on this campus who have completed 10 years of service to Columbia University. Those recognized included Jim Gaherty, Bärbel Hönisch, and Rob Kakascik from Lamont, Sally Odland from DEES, John Del Corral, Lisa Goddard, and Madeleine Thomson from IRI, and Sylwia Trzaska from CIESIN. Ten-year veteran Shiv Someshwar from IRI was unable to attend. Collectively, these individuals have contributed nearly a century of effort toward the intellectual life of this campus, and they have earned our collective appreciation. The lunch, at The ’76 House in Tappan, also included Art Lerner-Lam, Marc Levy, Virginia Maher, and Edie Miller.

Also on Thursday, Sonya Dyhrman completed her move to Columbia and Lamont from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. A marine biologist, ecologist, and biological oceanographer, Sonya begins her appointment as an Associate Professor in DEES this month. A large van unloaded laboratory equipment in advance of a move into soon-to-be-completed laboratories on the second floor of the New Core Laboratory. Sonya will be assisted as she settles in by her laboratory manager, Sheean Haley. Others from her group will be arriving later this winter and spring.

Thursday’s issue of Nature features a paper by Jason Smerdon, Richard Seager, and former Lamonters Jessica Tierney and Kevin Anchukaitis on the causes of long-term variations in rainfall in East Africa. On the basis of proxy indicators of relative moisture balance over the past millennium and climate model simulations, the team showed that the primary influence on variations in East African rainfall on multidecadal and perhaps longer timescales are variations in sea-surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean.

In a DEES Town Hall Meeting today, Steve Goldstein, Art Lerner-Lam, Carol Mountain, Sally Odland, Rachel Roberts, and I met with of group of 16 DEES graduate students to discuss a list of issues the students had drawn up. Among the issues focused particularly on Lamont were the uneven quality of office space, especially for some of the new students; timely completion of a new graduate student lounge in Guest House 6; better visibility of opportunities for student interaction with and participation on Lamont committees relevant to the graduate school experience; uneven knowledge of student academic requirements by Lamont Research Professor advisors; and greater opportunities to showcase student research through colloquia and perhaps student research awards. All of these issues will be addressed over the coming term.

In the news this week, Robin Bell was quoted in a James Gorman article in Tuesday’s Science Times on British, Russian, and American efforts to drill through the thick ice that covers large lakes in Antarctica to recover and characterize microbial life forms from the lake water ( Another story on the same topic that day, also quoting Robin, was published by The Weather Channel ( On Wednesday, an op ed piece by Geoff Abers on the possibility that natural gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing could trigger damaging earthquakes was published by the Albany Times Union ( On Thursday, the first part of a two-part interview of Klaus Jacob on lessons for New York City from Hurricane Sandy appeared in the Gotham Gazette (

Just as classes resume again at Columbia next week, so do Lamont’s Earth Science Colloquia. Next Friday’s Colloquium will feature a workshop on the use of social media to communicate science, led by Rebecca Fowler and IRI’s Brian Kahn. I hope to see you there.