Lamont Weekly Report, April 30, 2021

Hello Friends,  It has been two very special weeks in a row, first with Earth Week and now with Commencement Week.  Several awards were given at this week's undergraduate Class Day, including the following DEES departmental honors: to Anna Ledeczi, in recognition of her outstanding undergraduate accomplishments as well as participation and leadership in DEES; to Roger Creel, the Best TA Award; and to our professorial colleague Meredith Nettles, the Best Professor Award!  DEES department chair Jerry McManus tells me a few more awards are in the offing, including the Walter Pitman Award, but they must follow the complete submission of grades.  Stay tuned!

     In addition, the impressive accomplishments of DEES graduate student Elise Myers have made it to yet another Weekly Newsletter. Elise is a recipient of the 2021 Campbell award. The Campbell award is presented by Columbia University to a graduating student from each school in recognition of leadership and “Columbia spirit”. Congratulations, Elise!

     As the world continues on its path back to normalcy, I’m happy to report that the on-campus Covid transmission rate is still zero.  Fingers crossed it stays that way.  Last week, Columbia made an announcement that the Covid vaccine will be mandatory for all students. The university is continuing to urge faculty and staff to get vaccinated as well. Looking forward, Columbia is planning for increased campus densities. While we await further announcements regarding returning to campus, an email this week updated our community on spring and summer 2021 travel restrictions and guidelines for visitors participating in academic activities. A “Return to Campus Updates” forum is scheduled for Tuesday, May 4, at 4 PM to inform Columbia faculty and staff on the most recent protocols for accessing campus as well as information on summer and fall terms.  Register here.

     A second Town Hall, this one focused on the Earth Institute and Climate School, will occur on Wednesday, May 5, at 9 AM, hosted by Sir Alex Halliday. Participants will include the fabulous Climate School Co-Founding Deans—Ruth DeFries, Jason Bordoff, and myself—along with Earth Institute Executive Director Alicia Roman.  Bring your coffee and bring your questions (which can be submitted in advance here). Flying pigs, cold hell, hen’s teeth…establishing a new school is a rare event at a university.  Having a ringside seat to the process even rarer.  Being in the ring, rarer still!  The challenges are great, but the opportunities greater.  We have a unique opportunity at Lamont and our vision for the future should be limited only by our imagination. 

     On April 26, Earth Institute LIVEK12 hosted by Cassie Xu, featured “Tropical Tales of Polar Ice” with DEES Assistant Professor Jacky Austermann. The presentation took students on a virtual trip to the Caribbean Islands to learn what rocks and fossils found in this area tell about past and future changes in sea level.  Next week, on May 6 at 4:00 PM, LIVE K12 will present Lights, Camera, Robots: Exploring the Earth’s Final Frontiers, with Senior Research Scientist Vicki Ferrini, focusing on how scientists and engineers study the deep oceans.  Cassie, when I think about what you are doing, my mind always turns to how many young minds and spirits you must be inspiring!  This is truly where the pipeline starts and the scientists and explorers of tomorrow are minted.

     Speaking of the STEM pipeline, on Monday, DEES will host the First Year Graduate Student Colloquium. This is always a fun event which will start with Jerry McManus’s welcoming remarks at 10:00 AM, and close with remarks by me 3:45 PM.  All eighteen first-year students will give presentations on their initial and planned research, as well as offer us glimpses into their backgrounds, hobbies, and motivation to study Earth science.  Please see Kevin Uno’s Friday email for full schedule and Zoom link.

     Our Lamont scientists and students win grants all the time, but every now and again it is particularly special.  Lamont Associate Research Professor Christine McCarthy was awarded two NASA grants this month—an impressive accomplishment! They both were in response to a call for NASA COLDTech: Autonomy, Communications, and Radiation-Hard Devices, specifically for “technology to enable communication through many kilometers of ice” on ocean worlds, such as Europa and Enceladus.  Christine is a co-Investigator on two multi-institution teams, with each grant totaling ~$1.5 million. In both projects, Christine’s group will be testing the mechanical and optical performance of communication tethers under icy moon conditions.  Yup, that’s right—her team can create icy moon conditions, characteristic of the farthest reaches of our solar system, right here on campus.  That is pretty darn cool and a real testament to the sophistication of the labs Christine and her team have been building over the last few years, back behind the pond.

     This has been a prodigious week for successes and I’ll wrap up with two more.  First, the global investment firm AllianceBernstein and the Columbia Climate school have come to a three-year partnership to research the relationship between climate science and investment, a partnership nurtured and brought to fruition through the tireless efforts of Deputy Director Art Lerner-Lam.  This agreement culminates a partnership that began in 2019 with a groundbreaking curriculum that examined the intersectionality of climate change and investment decisions.

     Secondly, Reuters released a hot list of top 1000 climate scientists in the world that included an astonishing number of Lamonters and other Columbia colleagues.  These included Ed Cook, Richard Seager, Park Williams, Yochanan Kushnir, Mark Cane, Mingfang Ting, Suzana Camargo, Rosanne D’Arrigo, Lorenzo Polvani, Radley Horton, and Adam Sobel. Others at Columbia included James E Hansen, Anthony G. Barnston, Upmanu Lall, Xueshun Chen, Stephen E. Zebiak, Michael K. Tippett, and Andrew W. Robertson.  I guess one might say we have a pretty good foundation for a climate school!  #Lamontleads.

     In closing, on Thursday I observed a kettle of about 30-35 black vultures circling in the air right outside of my Monell office.  Standing on the edge of the cliff, they were so close I could hear the beat of the air beneath their wings.  I have never seen anything like it and it seemed ominously prophetic, indeed Hitchcockian.  Well, I made it through the week unscathed and they moved on so maybe all is well in our Lamontian world.  Still no goslings.

     Have a peaceful weekend.  Best, Mo








Why Aren’t More Moon Craters Named for Women?

The New York Times

April 27, 2021

Article references pioneering Lamont geologist Marie Tharp.


Earth Day 2021 – Restore Our Earth

Voice of America

April 23, 2021

Interview with Lamont climate scientist Benjamin Cook.




Tracking the Impact of Climate Change in Alaska

April 28, 2021

Sea ice is rapidly melting off the northwest coast of Alaska, endangering the Indigenous population. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory researchers joined forces with the local community to understand how climate change is affecting their region.


Landmark Program Joins Investors with Scientists to Confront Climate Change

April 28, 2021

A major firm will facilitate the engagement of commercial enterprise with the university’s global climate and sustainability research.


Why Nature Is Good for Us: An Illustrated and Animated Guide

April 22, 2021

Earth Day is a time to celebrate the natural world. Being in nature can improve our mood and our mental and physical health. Plus, natural areas do a lot of work for us.


The Rights of Nature — Can an Ecosystem Bear Legal Rights?

April 22, 2021

And if rivers and lakes had rights, could that help in the fight against climate change?


Columbia University Releases New Plan to Reach Net Zero Emissions by 2050

April 22, 2021

The plan provides a set of strategies and benchmarks, grounded in science, for Columbia to achieve its ambitious sustainability goals.