Lamont Weekly Report, March 15, 2013

    This week began with the loss of an hour’s sleep, as the onset of Daylight Savings Time was ushered in by the second Sunday in March.

    The week ended with the sad news that Karl Turekian passed away this afternoon. A giant in geochemistry, Karl was both an alumnus (Ph.D., 1955) and a great friend of Columbia and Lamont. A note from his department chair at Yale directs Karl’s friends and colleagues to an autobiographical article in Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Science:

    Lamont’s Strategic Planning Committee is seeking feedback from the community on their progress to date. Late last week, the committee circulated a synthesis of the grand challenges for the Observatory contributed by attendees at the Town Hall meeting held three weeks ago. That document is intended as a possible framework for the final strategic plan. The committee encourages comments and suggestions from all as they continue to craft a communal vision for the scientific directions that will guide Lamont through the next decade.

    On Tuesday afternoon this week, Lamont’s Advisory Board met at the Columbia University Club. The meeting featured considerable discussion about how Lamont can exploit opportunities in communication, education, and development. The Observatory’s strategic plan will inform the priorities in these areas, and our board members expressed enthusiasm for advising and assisting us in these endeavors as program elements are developed and implemented.

    The board meeting was followed by a Lamont Director’s Circle event at which Aaron Putnam spoke on “Climate clues from the Silk Road to Shangri La: Uncovering links between water and climate in Asia’s deepest deserts and highest mountains.” Punctuated by spectacular photography, Aaron’s talk was a masterful blend of field geology, precise radiocarbon and exposure-age dating, glaciology, hydrology, ecosystem evolution, history, and culture, all interconnected by changes in the climate and water resources of Asia.

    On Wednesday, a farewell party was held in the Comer atrium for Jürg Matter and his family. After more than a decade at the Observatory, Jürg has accepted a position as a Reader in Geoengineering at the School of Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton. His many colleagues here wish him well on the next stages of his career.

    At about the same time, Richard Seager, Jason Smerdon, and Gavin Schmidt of GISS presented the fourth in the Earth Institute’s Sustainable Development Seminar Series in Low Library. The topic of the seminar was recent trends in temperatures, extremes, and hydroclimate.

    Also on Wednesday, members of the team implementing Columbia’s new financial system, Accounting and Reporting at Columbia (ARC), hosted a training session at Lamont on the new system. Focused on commonly used financial reports and retrieval of grant information, this interactive meeting drew broad participation from the campus.

    On Thursday, I was in Washington, D.C., to pitch a MESSENGER Second Extended Mission to a special peer review panel convened by NASA. In an experience closely parallel to an oral exam, several of us from the MESSENGER team described the scientific rationale for another two years of orbital observations of Mercury. We argued that our spacecraft is healthy, there are a broad array of new scientific measurements that address important questions raised by discoveries made to date and that can be accomplished within the proposed time frame, and there are special aspects of the timing (the maximum in the solar cycle later this year) and mission design (observations at closest-approach distances as much as 10 times nearer Mercury’s surface than any spacecraft has yet ventured) that will make the new observations novel. The review was staged only one day after the NASA Administrator issued new restrictions on travel and other spending by its employees in response to sequestration of the agency budget, so it will be interesting to see the outcome of our proposal in such a funding environment.

    Yesterday and today, Adam Sobel and Michael Tippett of IRI hosted a workshop at Lamont on “Severe Convection and Climate.” The meeting brought experts on the science of tornadoes and violent thunderstorms together with a number of representatives from the risk management and reinsurance industries. Discussions on methods and timescales for the prediction of severe storm activity as well as on the assessment and mitigation of risk provided a fruitful basis for a continuing dialog between the scientific and business communities on these topics.

    This morning, a number of us met to kick off planning for the renovation of the first floor of the New Core Laboratory to create five new laboratories for the Biology and Paleo Environment Division. At the meeting were two representatives from the architectural firm that will be designing the new labs and Karri Rivera from Columbia University’s Capital Project Management office. Lamont colleagues who participated with me included O. Roger Anderson, Nichole Anest, Rosanne D’Arrigo, Peter deMenocal, Solange Duhamel, Sonya Dyhrman, Helga Gomes, Andy Juhl, Brad Linsley, Ray Sambrotto, Art Lerner-Lam, Kathy Callahan, and Pat O’Reilly. Specifications for the laboratories will be developed over the next month, and architectural designs and drawings will be completed later this spring. Current plans call for contractor selection and initiation of construction by this summer and completion of the labs in time for occupancy in fall 2014.

    In the news this week are stories on an article posted late last month in JGR by Ben Cook and Richard Seager that the heaviest summer rains in the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico are predicted, on the basis of climate models, to arrive as much as two months later in the year over the coming decades than in the past, with multiple implications for agriculture, water management, and regional ecosystems ( Robin Bell was cited in an article in USA Today and local papers on what can be found along the bottom of the Hudson River (

    Looking more than two weeks ahead, I am pleased to pass on the news that Wally Broecker has been tapped to give the Tannenbaum Lecture at the University Seminars 69th Annual Meeting on 3 April. An RSVP ( by 25 March is required to attend.

    In the shorter term, we can celebrate that next week marks spring break.