Lamont Weekly Report, April 24, 2020

    The greater Lamont community was saddened to learn of the death last week of geologist and former Lamont postdoctoral scientist Maarten de Wit, at the age of 73. Born in the Netherlands, Maarten obtained his Ph.D. in 1972 from the University of Cambridge. He then spent four years at Lamont, during which he focused his fieldwork and research on the structural evolution of the southern Andes and geological links between South America and Antarctica. For much of his career he worked in South Africa, including 10 years at the Bernard Price Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, 22 years as the Phillipson Stow Chair of Geology and Mineralogy at the University of Cape Town, and the last 9 years as Earth Stewardship Professor at Nelson Mandela University. The Southern Africa Association for the Advancement of Science in 2013 awarded Maarten the South Africa Medal (gold), given “to recognize exceptional contributions to the advancement of science on a broad front or in a specific field by an eminent southern African scientist.” A fellow of the Geological Society of America and an honorary fellow of the Geological Society of London, Maarten was described by the latter society as “one of Africa’s most distinguished Earth scientists, whose research interests [spanned] geodynamics, tectonics and stratigraphy, early Earth processes, and the evolution of the Gondwana supercontinent. Despite his European birth, he [became] an ambassador for the entire continent.”

    On Tuesday, Sean Ridge successfully defended his thesis on the “Effects of ocean circulation on ocean anthropogenic carbon uptake.” Sean’s thesis committee included his supervisor, Galen McKinley, as well as Ryan Abernathey, Hugh Ducklow, Jerry McManus, and Matthew Long from the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Sean writes that he hopes to transition from working with climate models and climate data to a career in data science. Kudos to Dr. Ridge!

    Also on Tuesday, the Journal of the International Society for Respiratory Protection published a paper by Roland and Beizhan Yan, Steve Chillrud, and Secondary School Field Research Program researcher Debra Magadini on methods to improve the effectiveness and reusability of face masks during a pandemic such as the one now in progress. Roland – Beizhan’s son, a worker in Steve’s lab, and a student at Clarkstown South High School in West Nyack – and his colleagues reported experiments on the effectiveness of masks at filtering black carbon particles in the same size range as coronavirus after repeated instances of heating for 30 minutes at 70°C, a treatment shown by others to destroy SARS, influenza, and the novel corona viruses. The group found that there is no reduction in filtration efficiency for tight-fitting masks even after 10 disinfection cycles, but filtration efficiency decreases for loosely fitting masks. The latter problem can be mitigated, the team showed, by the use of a simple nose clip they designed. What is particularly remarkable about the paper is that the time between the original concept for the work and final publication was only about four weeks.

    Wednesday, of course, was Earth Day and the 50th anniversary of the day our planet was first so celebrated, and the milestone provided an occasion for widespread attention at Columbia. Lamont and the Earth Institute prepared a video Earth Day Message that included portions of interviews – conducted by a communications team under the leadership of Marie Aronsohn – with Robin Bell, Peter de Menocal, Dave Goldberg, Sheean Haley, Alex Halliday, Radley Horton, Jonny Kingslake, Art Lerner-Lam, Einat Lev, Galen McKinley, Terry Plank, Mo Raymo, Park Williams, and several Earth Institute colleagues. Longer versions of these interviews, and others, are also available. In celebration of Earth Day, Columbia University shared images – on twitter and on the web – from locations and projects around the world, including photos by Elizabeth Case and Jonny Kingslake, Winnie Chu, Tim Kenna, Jen Lamp, Marco Tedesco, and Margie Turrin. A photo essay by Sarah Fecht, posted Wednesday, is filled with images of Lamont scientists and scientific milestones.

    Media stories that featured Lamont scientists this week included a mix of Earth science and coronavirus coverage. Radley Horton was interviewed for a Today Show segment Saturday on the marked reduction in atmospheric and environmental pollution during the pandemic-induced global shutdown of cities and industries. Jason Smerdon was interviewed on Earth Day by Berkeley, California, radio station KPFA on comparisons between the ongoing drought in the western U.S. and medieval megadroughts in the region. Also on Earth Day, National Public Radio station KQED in San Francisco asked Park Williams what we’ve learned from the coronavirus pandemic that might be applicable to the climate change crisis. And Robin Bell provided one of the “12 reasons” we celebrate Earth Day for a Live Science story. Suzana Camargo was quoted in an AZO Cleantech story yesterday on the impact of climate change on the rate of horizontal movement of hurricanes. Finally, Lamont itself and our work on climate change are the focus of a New York Times article today by Richard Schiffman, who came to our Open House last fall, pitched his idea for a story to his editor, and was thereafter introduced by Marie Aronsohn to the Observatory and many of our scientists.

    Tomorrow, at EarthX Expo 2020, an event timed in celebration of Earth Day and staged virtually this year, Robin Bell, Chia-Ying Lee, Galen McKinley, and Mo Raymo will be panelists in a public discussion as part of a Women in the Environment Summit. The panel discussion will be moderated by Lamont Advisory Board chair Sarah Johnson, and additional panelists will include Ruth DeFries from the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology and Elisabeth Ilboudo-Nébié from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. I hope that you will join me in listening.