Lamont Weekly Report, August 17, 2018

    There’s a George Harrison song with the lyrics, “Here comes the Sun, and I say it’s all right.” This week the Sun featured in two important news items.

    On Sunday, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft now en route to complete multiple passages through the outer corona of the Sun and characterize the processes that accelerate the solar wind, including the energetic particle events that give rise to space weather (

    Three days later, we welcomed the Commercial Operation Date for Lamont’s two solar farms. Since Wednesday, we have been effectively supplying 75% of the electrical power usage on our campus from solar energy ( Lamont’s dual 2-MW solar farms in Orange County, operated by AES Distributed Energy, are now fully connected to the electrical grid operated by Orange and Rockland Utilities. The operation of the solar farms has cut the carbon footprint of the campus in half, a move that will contribute substantially to the sustainability plan released by Columbia last year that committed the university to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35% within three years (

    On Sunday last week, Art Lerner-Lam, Chris Small, Mingfang Ting, and Beizhan Yan joined Bob Chen and Xiaoshi Xing from the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at a Columbia University alumni outreach event in Shanghai, China, facilitated by the Columbia Global Center in Beijing. The group lunched with students from the center’s New Frontiers in Earth Science Program (, and they then partnered in a panel discussion on climate change, risk management in government and the private sector, urban growth and implications for agriculture in China, air pollution and public health, and sustainable urban land use and population change. An alumni reception followed the panel discussion. The panel discussion drew an audience in excess of 150, and 45 Columbia alumni attended the reception.

    On Monday this week, Nature Geoscience published a paper coauthored by Pierre Dutrieux and Stan Jacobs reporting ocean measurements near the Dotson Ice Shelf off the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to estimate net changes to basal melting of the ice shelf. The multi-author group, led by Adrian Jenkins of the British Antarctic Survey, showed from observations of ocean temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and ocean current taken from 2000 to 2016 that a decadal cycle dominates the ocean record, and basal melting on that timescale varies by a factor of four because of a non-linear relation with ocean temperature. Ocean variability leads to discontinuous ice retreat, and the non-linear dependence of melting on ocean temperature combined with the generally high subsurface ocean temperatures in the Amundsen Sea impart a particular vulnerability to ice sheet stability in this region. A press release on the paper has been posted on the Lamont web site (, and Pierre was quoted (in fluent Spanish) in a story Monday from Europa Press (

    The August issue of the inaugural volume of Nature Sustainability, published on Tuesday, includes an essay by an international group – including Richard Seager – that draws attention to developing food crises in Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. Led by Michael Puma of the Center for Climate Systems Research, the group drew on historical data to forecast potential migration fluxes from these countries to individual destination countries. Their work focuses attention on how these food crises could become regional and international refugee crises, and how prompt efforts to reduce food insecurity can serve to prevent such crises.

    Also on Tuesday, Mike Purdy’s office announced that applications for funding under Columbia’s Research Initiatives in Science and Engineering (RISE) program would be open from September 5 through October 8. The RISE program has supported a number of investigations by Lamont scientists in the past. Last year’s RISE projects included one with Natalie Boelman, Jonathan Nichols, and Dorothy Peteet; the 2017 projects included one co-led by Einat Lev; and the 2016 projects included one involving Ben Holtzman, Douglas Repetto, and Felix Waldhauser and another co-led by Christine McCarthy and Colin Stark. Please consult the program web site for proposal information (

    A Sarah Fecht interview of Alex Halliday and his plans for the Earth Institute – a reworking of a story originally posted on the State of the Planet blog last month – appeared on the Columbia News site on Tuesday ( If you missed the original story, you should read this one.

    On Wednesday, Lamont’s web site gained a Roz Cummins article on the work of Bärbel Hönisch and Brad Lindsley on ocean health supported by the Center for Climate and Life ( Bärbel’s research project, as highlighted in the article, is on quantifying changes to ocean acidification driven by past climate change and exploring how specific foraminifera responded to the changing conditions. Brad’s research project described in the story is on reconstructing the history of ocean temperature, salinity, and other environmental parameters over the past 500 years from the characteristics of large living corals and relating those chronologies to past climate change.

    On Thursday, The ISME Journal published a paper by Matthew Harke, Kyle Frischkorn, Sonya Dyhrman, and colleagues reporting coordinated gene expression between a genus of diatoms and their nitrogen-fixing cyanobacterial symbionts. The group sequenced surface samples in the nutrient-poor North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG) to reconstruct patterns of gene expression for the diazotrophic symbiont Richelia intracellularis and its diatom host (Rhizosolenia) over the day-night cycle. Nitrogen fixation genes in Richelia showed substantial diurnal signals and were co-expressed with host nitrogen uptake and metabolism and possibly with carbon transport, implying that strong physiological connections between host and symbiont are important to both types of organism in nutrient-poor waters such as the NPSG. A Marie Aronsohn story on the paper’s findings ( appears on our web site.

    An interview with Art Lerner-Lam appeared on Xinhuanet Tuesday on the value of scientific exchanges and cooperation between U.S. and Chinese scientists, particularly on such topics as environmental sustainability ( On Mother Nature Network and other media sites Wednesday, Peter Kelemen was quoted on a report by Canadian scientists at this week’s Goldschmidt Conference in Boston that elucidated the low-temperature formation of magnesite, magnesium carbonate, by air capture of carbon dioxide and described a mechanism to accelerate crystallization over low natural rates by several orders of magnitude (

    May those of you remaining locally this weekend enjoy the mid-August New York weather. And as you experience the warm, moist daytime atmosphere, may you think occasionally about the science of the heliosphere and the contribution that solar power now makes to our campus operations.