Lamont Weekly Report, May 1, 2015


     This week began with the tragic earthquake in Nepal, a magnitude-7.8 event that affected one-third of the country’s population and left thousands of fatalities. Colin Stark quickly penned a piece for CNN on the seismic and tectonic history of the region and the consequences of increases in population and lack of adherence to building construction codes in urban areas ( Other media stories on the quake, its aftershocks, and fostering grater resilience to such events in the developing world included additional comments by Colin ( and Art Lerner-Lam (

      Local news was far more positive. This past weekend, Wally Broecker was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society. Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743, the American Philosophical Society is America’s oldest learned society and “promotes useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, publications, library resources, and community outreach.”
    This past weekend also kicked off the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. Peter Kelemen participated on Saturday in the induction ceremony for members elected in 2014. Elected as new NAS members this year were Lamont and Columbia alumni Jeff Severinghaus and Lisa Tauxe, both now on the faculty of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
     Neil Pederson, Kevin Anchukaitis, and their coauthors have received the 2015 Henry C. Cowles Award for Best Publication from the American Association of Geographers Biogeography Specialty Group. The team won the award, which is given annually for the best biogeographical paper or book of the year, for their paper last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on “Pluvials, droughts, the Mongol Empire, and modern Mongolia.”
     On Thursday, the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences shared the news that seniors Maya Becker and Ana Lobo will be initiated into Phi Beta Kappa later this month.
     Also on Thursday, Rui Pei successfully defended his thesis on “New paravian fossils from the Mesozoic of East Asia and the troodontid evolution.”
     To Wally, Peter, Jeff, Lisa, Neil, Kevin, Maya, Ana, and Rui, congratulations!
     The R/V Langseth completed its collection this week of two-dimensional multi-channel seismic data as part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s study of the extended continental shelf of the eastern U.S. The scientific party completed more than 3000 km of two-dimensional multi-channel seismic reflection profiling along with multi-beam swath mapping and underway geophysical measurements. The ship is scheduled to arrive at the Brooklyn Navy Yard this evening.
     Chris Zappa is in Oslo, Norway, this week after returning from fieldwork in Svalbard with his Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), or Drone, team. Chris writes, “We arrived in Ny Alesund, Svalbard, a few weeks ago and have been flying our newly developed instrument payloads on drones over the fjord and nearby by Fram Strait. Special Ops Engineers Scott Brown and Tej Dhakal have worked for the last year and a half toward this goal and are finally seeing their diligence pay off with successful flights of all six different payloads. The integration of the instrument packages, for which size and weight are critical, has been a truly commendable team effort, with significant contributions from Ryan Harris and John Contino. The goal of our grant from the Moore Foundation is to demonstrate the UAS capabilities for measuring sea ice processes, including sea ice concentration, size distribution, ice thickness, multi-year age, ice type, and surface albedo as well as ocean properties, such as sea surface temperature and salinity, via microbuoys deployed and remotely monitored from the UASs. Another payload measures the turbulent air-sea fluxes of momentum, heat, and mass. These same technologies can be used to study a multitude of physical, chemical, and biological ocean processes and will next be flown on UASs from the R/V Falkor in 2016 to study the dynamics of the sea-surface microlayer that is important to the exchange of gases between the ocean and the atmosphere. The beauty of UASs is the capability to launch from land or ship, to gather data over vast regions very quickly, and to explore regions where not many ships or scientists want to or can go."
     Recently posted online by Nature Geoscience is a paper by Dake Chen, Mark Cane, and their colleagues on the diversity of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. On the basis of a fuzzy clustering analysis and model experiments, they’ve suggested that the asymmetry, irregularity, and extremes of El Niño events may result from the interplay between westerly wind bursts and the basic ENSO cycle. Their findings provide a basis for improvements in ENSO prediction. 
     On Thursday, the MESSENGER spacecraft completed orbital operations at Mercury with an impact onto the planet’s surface, the inevitable result – once onboard propellant was exhausted – of the cumulative perturbations to the probe’s orbit by the gravitational tug of the Sun ( I spent yesterday afternoon at the MESSENGER Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in Laurel, Maryland, along with many current and past members of the MESSENGER science and engineering teams. The mood at the gathering was celebratory, in keeping with the end of a mission that had achieved much more than envisioned when originally conceived and proposed. Among the salutes to the spacecraft is a geopoetry piece posted today by Kat Allen (
     Today, our graduate students staged a daylong First-Year Symposium in the Monell Auditorium. Seventeen first-year DEES graduate students from across Lamont’s research divisions presented their work in 15-minute oral presentations. Organized by Bridgit Boulahanis and Daniel Rasmussen, participants also included fellow graduate students Kira Olsen, Daniel Sousa, and Yen Joe Tan from Marine Geology and Geophysics; Elizabeth Min, Mukund Rao, Michael Sandstrom, and Jan-Erik Tesdal from Biology and Paleo Environment; Weston Anderson, Cai Cai, Bor-Ting Jong, Colin Raymond, and Takaya Uchida from Ocean and Climate Physics; and Runti Choudhury, Frank Pavia, and Ting Zhang from Geochemistry. 
     The Lamont website has seen many new postings this past week. There is a Kevin Krajick story ( on the announcement, made on campus by Congresswoman Nita Lowey last Friday, that Lamont will be managing scientific support services for the International Ocean Discovery Program for the next five years. There is a link to a PBS interview aired last week with Christine McCarthy on her research and her work with Science Cheerleaders to interest more women in the STEM professions ( The May issue of Discover magazine has a feature article on Paul Olsen, his stratigraphic and paleontological work with long drill cores, and his long-term goal to tie global climate and biological history to the orbital evolution of the solar system (
     Other news stories in the past week that mention the work or comments of Lamont scientists include an article last Friday in The Independent on the role of drought in political upheaval ( that cited Richard Seager, an NBC News story on Saturday on the drought and increased wildfire risk in California that quoted Park Williams (, and a Nature World News article Wednesday that described Maya Tolstoy’s work linking variations in mid-ocean ridge volcanism to global climate change (
     Several events next week warrant mention. Next Wednesday, the Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate will host a Lamont co-sponsored workshop on “Hazards, Impacts, and Actions” (, to be held from 8 am to 5 pm in Lerner Hall on the Morningside Campus. Pre-registration is required. That evening, at 6:30 pm, Alan Alda will be giving a public lecture on “Getting Beyond a Blind Date with Science” in Columbia’s Miller Theater; seating for the lecture is on a first-come, first-served basis.
In the meantime, may you enjoy the arrival at last of spring weather this weekend.