Lamont Weekly Report, December 8, 2017

    This week has been both the last full week of fall semester classes and the week before the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union. The AGU meeting is being be held in New Orleans for the first time, and I hope that all of you planning to attend will be able to drop by the reception for Lamont and Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences alumni, staff, and students next week. The event will be on Tuesday evening at the usual time (6:30-8:30 pm) in the Louisiana Ballroom of the Loews New Orleans Hotel. A summary of some of the talks, press briefings, films, and other events during AGU week that feature Lamont scientists has been assembled by Kevin Krajick (

    The R/V Langseth completed work this week on the SHIRE (Seismogenesis at Hikurangi Integrated Research Experiment) project to study the structure and mechanics of the convergent plate boundary to the east of New Zealand’s North Island. On Tuesday, Sean Higgins wrote, “The project has gone extremely well, with all ~5400 km [of multi-channel seismic line] that we could possibly shoot completed and more than the PIs expected to be able to do. The weather was favorable, and we had only ~12 hours of delays due to marine mammal mitigation and ~6 hours of delays for all other technical sources over the 37 days.” Chief Scientist Nathan Bangs, from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, added, “We have lots of excellent data, and we have covered more than we expected. Robert Steinhaus’s real-time planning and adjustments with SurvOpt software saved us quite a bit of time and allowed us to get more data. It looks like we will be going right up to the limit for line km that we are allowed. One thing that has helped us this time is the package of QC [quality control] software tools that Ambrose Mavor-Parker developed. The real-time stack along with tools for looking at RMS [root mean square] amplitude and noise levels is a big help to get a quick look at the data as it is coming in and see what we are getting. It is a good software package and will continue to help us during onshore processing.” The Langseth put into port in Tauranga, New Zealand, on Wednesday.

    On Monday, Nature Ecology and Evolution published a paper coauthored by Maureen Raymo on a “sustainable” model for U.S. beef production. In the sustainable scenario explored by the multi-author group, led by Gidon Eshel of Bard College, beef cattle are raised on pastureland and agricultural byproducts, such as distiller grains and citrus peel. Their scenario can support 45% of current beef production, a figure that drops only slightly (to 43%) if the less productive half of pastureland is allowed to go wild. The 32 million hectares currently used to grow feed for cattle could be repurposed for growing crops or other livestock for human consumption with much higher yields of protein and calories per area than beef, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and lower requirements for water and fertilizer. A Sarah Fecht story on the paper’s findings has been posted on our web site (

    On Tuesday, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences posted an early version of a paper coauthored by Marco Tedesco on measurements of surface meltwater runoff on a portion of the Greenland ice sheet. The author team, led by Laurence Smith of UCLA, showed that the measured meltwater discharges from a catchment in western Greenland during a 72-hour period in July 2015 were lower than predicted by climate models. The group suggested that surface ice ablation is overestimated by models and that there may be unmodeled retention of meltwater in porous, low-density ice. Mario was quoted in a New York Times story that day on the paper’s findings (

    Lamont was visited Tuesday by Meg Thompson and Joel Widder from Federal Science Partners, Columbia University’s lobbyists in Washington, D.C. During an open Town Hall meeting, Meg and Joel spoke on the status of this year’s appropriations bills for federal science agencies, the bills to modify federal income tax policies recently passed by the House and Senate, federal budget cap issues, the prospects for a government shutdown later this month, and other legislative topics of interest to the academic community. For those who missed the meeting in person or via live stream, a video recording of the event has been posted on our web site.

    Also on Tuesday, Columbia University’s office of Facilities and Operations posted an announcement that electric buses will replace the current diesel-powered buses on its campus shuttle network, which includes the Lamont shuttle ( The transition, scheduled to occur as early as next summer, is part of a broader Sustainability Plan ( for the university.

    In the U.S. Senate version of the income tax bill, one of many provisions in the bill unrelated to taxes would open sales for oil and gas drilling rights in a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ( On Wednesday, a Sarah Fecht interview with Natalie Boelman on the possible effects of such drilling on the region’s ecology was posted on our web site (

    On Thursday, Lamont distributed the December issue of the Observatory’s electronic newsletter ( The issue includes links to seven stories about Lamont science and the Lamont campus from the previous month, Julian Spergel’s blog from the Rosetta-Ice team, and eight recent media stories on Lamont science findings or Lamont scientists.

    Today’s issue of Science features an editorial by Robin Bell on sexual harassment and bullying in science. Coauthored by Lora Koenig from the National Snow and Ice Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, the article calls for “efforts in three areas – individuals working to understand the prevalence of harassment, teams developing a code of conduct, and societies providing training toward ethical leadership.” All three types of efforts are underway at Lamont.

    Also today, our website gained a Rebecca Fowler interview of Pratigya Polissar on his research, supported in part through the Center for Climate and Life, on Earth’s climate characteristics during periods in Earth history when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were comparable to those of today (

    Marie Aronsohn has begun posting to our web site a series of articles, taken from our 2017 Annual Report, that capture research highlights from the 2017 calendar year. The first posting last Friday described the work of Kevin Uno and his colleagues on the influence of past climate change in eastern Africa on the evolution of vegetation and the diets of the region’s mammals, including the ancestors of modern humans ( Monday’s story featured the investigations of Joaquim Goes and his group on the invasive species Noctiluca scintillans and its ability to outcompete the native diatoms and other phytoplankton that once anchored the base of the food web in the Arabian Sea (

    Two small earthquakes led to recent media interviews of Lamont scientists. Last Friday, Won-Yong Kim was quoted on CBS New York about the magnitude 4.1 earthquake centered in Delaware and felt in New York City last week ( And Newsweek sought out Paul Richards Saturday after a magnitude 2.6 earthquake occurred in North Korea near that nation’s nuclear test facility, the site of a much larger quake last September (

    In other news stories, Park Williams was quoted on the link between climate change and the frequency and severity of western U.S. wildfires in an article Tuesday on Inside Climate News (, on EcoWatch one day later (, and by Henry Fountain in The New York Times yesterday ( In the Climate Fwd: newsletter of The New York Times, Maureen Raymo was quoted Wednesday on the probable timescale for complete melting of the polar ice sheets if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced (

    This afternoon, our Earth Science Colloquium speaker will be seismologist Eric Dunham, an Associate Professor in the Department of Geophysics at Stanford University Eric will be speaking on “New developments in earthquake simulations.” I hope that it won’t take an earthquake to prise you from your office or lab and that you will join me in his audience.