It has been a workweek shortened by national and university holidays, and a week during which the federal government was partially shut down, the third federal shutdown this calendar year (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/26/us/politics/government-shutdown-wall.html). This latest shutdown began at the end of last Friday and affects nine government departments and a number of independent federal agencies, including NASA and NSF. Those two agencies have each posted descriptions of activities that will be curtailed for the duration of the shutdown (https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/181218_revised_shutdown_plan.pdf; https://www.nsf.gov/shutdown/grantees.jsp).
Last Friday brought good news as well. Alejandra Borunda successfully defended her Ph.D. thesis on “Tracing dust in the southern hemisphere over the last glacial cycle.” In addition to her thesis supervisor, Gisela Winckler, Ale’s committee included Steve Goldstein, Mike Kaplan, Jerry McManus, and Anders Svensson from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen. Ale has already started work at her next position, that of a staff writer at National Geographic.
Last Saturday, a tsunami struck western Java and southern Sumatra in Indonesia, leaving more than 400 dead (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/25/world/asia/indonesia-tsunami-warning.html). No advance warning was issued, because the tsunami was not the result of an earthquake but may instead have been generated by a submarine landslide triggered by the actively erupting volcano Anak Krakatau. The U.S. Geological Survey, which normally provides information on such hazards worldwide, had just been closed by the shutdown (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/us-geological-survey-unable-to-provide-tsunami-data-due-to-government-shutdown_us_5c1fd6c7e4b0407e907c331d).
Media stories featuring Lamont scientists continued over the holidays. An interview with Park Williams, focused on his study of the severity of the drought now affecting western U.S., appeared Monday in Scientific American (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/western-drought-ranks-among-the-worst-of-the-last-millennium/). Mike Steckler was quoted in a Business Insider story, also on Monday, on a new global assessment of earthquake hazards (https://www.businessinsider.com/most-earthquake-prone-countries-in-the-world-2018-12).
The next workweek will be similarly shortened, as we welcome 2019. NASA will mark New Year’s Day with a flyby of an object in the Kuiper Belt, the circumstellar disc of small primitive bodies that extends from the orbit of Neptune outward to about 50 AU from the Sun (https://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/new-horizons-approaching-ultima-thule/). The target object, about 30 km across, is 2014 MU69, informally called Ultima Thule by the New Horizons spacecraft team.
A New Year calls for resolutions, and here are several offerings:
May we at Lamont maintain a welcoming and collegial campus, supportive of all, where everyone is encouraged to fulfill their personal aspirations and achieve their full professional potential.
May we live in a nation that sets policy on the basis of factual evidence, rejoices in the strengths of a diverse and multicultural workforce, and recognizes the importance of scientific research to the health and economic livelihood of its citizens.
May our global society acknowledge the perils posed by human-induced changes to our environment and to the other species with which we share our planet and take the collective steps needed to adapt to, mitigate, and ultimately reverse those changes.
And may everyone, worldwide, find ample reasons for a Happy New Year.