Lamont Weekly Report, January 13, 2017

          The first full workweek of the calendar year saw an unusually wide range of daily high temperatures in Central Park, from 23°F on Monday to 65°F yesterday, the latter breaking a record set in 1890 (

     Lamont welcomed several new arrivals this month.

     Renata Wentzcovitch joined Columbia University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics as a Professor this month. An expert in computational material physics and mineral physics with broad interests in the crystal structures and thermodynamic and elastic properties of Earth and planetary materials at high pressures, Renata was most recently a Professor in Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Minnesota. She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the Mineralogical Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was recently elected Vice Chair of the American Physical Society’s Division of Computational Physics, a position she will hold for one year, followed by successive one-year terms as Chair-elect, Chair, and Past Chair. At Lamont, Renata is a member of the Seismology, Geology and Tectonophysics Division.

     Kerry Key arrived this week as a Visiting Associate Professor in DEES and Lamont’s Marine Geology and Geophysics Division. An Associate Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Kerry is an expert in marine magnetotellurics and controlled-source electromagnetic imaging of the oceanic crust and mantle to elucidate the electrical conductivity structure of mid-ocean ridges, subduction zones, fresh water aquifers along continental margins, and hydrocarbon reservoirs. Kerry’s visiting appointment will run through June.

     The Geochemistry Division this week welcomed Weihong Han as a part-time Visiting Staff Associate. Weihong, a graduate student at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, is visiting Lamont for 18 months to work with Beizhan Yan on a study of the effects of smoke plumes from the western U.S. and Canada on air quality and public health in New York City. The study will be a collaboration with colleagues at the Columbia University Medical Center and the City College of New York. Xue Liu at CIESIN will co-advise Weihong during his visit.

     On Sunday, the R/V Langseth hosted a one-day workshop, held dockside in Valparaiso, Chile, on earthquake and tsunami hazards along the Chile subduction zone. Participants included Sean Higgins, Art Lerner-Lam, Felix Waldhauser, Spahr Webb, Lamont alumnus Nathan Bangs from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, Anne Tréhu from Oregon State University, and a number of Chilean scientists and earthquake resilience planning experts from local universities and government agencies, including Lamont alumnus Emilio Vera from the Universidad de Chile. Art writes, “We concluded that an offshore, cabled observatory with absolute pressure gauges and strong motion and other sensors could provide necessary data for tsunami and earthquake early warning.”

     On Monday morning, the ship welcomed a number of visitors, including Chilean scientists and government officials and local Columbia alumni. That afternoon, the ship hosted a visit by Chile’s President, Michelle Bachelet; the U.S. Ambassador to Chile, Carol Perez; Scripps Institution Director Margaret Leinen, in her capacity as Science Envoy for the U.S. State Department; the chairman of CONICYT (Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica), Mario Hamuy; and the U.S. Embassy science officer, Chris Nyce. The event, cosponsored by the Columbia Global Center in Santiago, received widespread coverage in Chilean print, radio, and television media (

     On Wednesday, the Langseth left port to begin the CEVICHE (Crustal Experiment from Valdivia to Illapel to Characterize Huge Earthquakes) expedition. The goal of the expedition, for which Nathan Bangs is chief scientist, is to conduct seismic imaging of the source regions of the 2015 Illapel and 2010 Maule earthquakes and the northern half of the rupture zone of the great 1960 Valdivia earthquake. The cruise marks the first use on the Langseth (or any U.S. academic vessel) of a 15-km-long streamer. The streamer and four air gun arrays were deployed yesterday, and data collection was underway last night.

     On Wednesday, Farhana Mather, the Earth Institute’s Steven Cohen, and I attended a meeting at Columbia University’s Office of Alumni and Development to discuss the university’s capital campaign in the area of climate science and climate change impacts. We met with Executive Vice President for University Development and Alumni Relations Amelia Alverson, Deputy Vice President for Development Ryan Carmichael, and Principal Gift Officer Shalini Mimani. Because Casey Supple will be stepping down at the end of the month as the Earth Institute’s Director of Funding Initiatives, Farhana has been invited to fill that role on an interim, part-time basis and to serve as a key member of the capital campaign team for the Climate Response theme.

     On Wednesday and Thursday I joined Steve Cohen on the first of a series of visits scheduled with deans and other academic administrators to discuss opportunities for strengthening ties with Lamont and other Earth Institute units. On Wednesday afternoon, along with Earth Institute Faculty Chair Mike Gerrard, we visited Linda Bell, Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Barnard College. On Thursday afternoon, Steve and I visited Tom James, Provost and Dean at Teachers College.

     Also on Thursday, I joined a small meeting organized by Kathy Callahan and Ajit Subramaniam on strategic approaches to fundraising from foundations. Other participants included Art, Farhana, Julia Eiferman, Edie Miller, Maribel Respo, and Kim Schermerhorn. Topics included how better to identify and publicize opportunities for Lamont scientists to submit proposals to foundations, best practices for contacting and working with foundation program officers, and strategies for including project-related facility and administrative expenses as direct costs in project budgets. A meeting open to all Lamont scientists is being organized to present ideas on these topics more broadly.

     On Monday, Geophysical Research Letters published online a paper by Brad Linsley, Arnold Gordon, Lamont alumnus Chris Charles, and colleagues from France, Germany, and the U.S. on evidence from corals in the Makassar Strait for variability in sea-surface salinity tied to strong teleconnections between the Indonesian Throughflow and Pacific Ocean boundary currents and convergence zones. Brad writes, “In the far western Pacific there is a complex relationship between western boundary currents (WBCs), the Intertropical and South Pacific Convergence Zones (ITCZ and SPCZ, respectively), and the Indonesian Throughflow (ITF). The SPCZ is a persistent high-rainfall band located in the western Pacific and is an important feature of the global hydrologic cycle. Recent studies documented that during some El Niño events, the SPCZ rotates counterclockwise by ~15° of latitude into a zonal position on the equator. However, due to the short instrumental rainfall record, we do not know anything about the occurrence of these ‘SPCZ zonal events’ before 1979. We generated a composite oxygen isotope geochemical record of surface ocean salinity from a set of corals in the central Makassar Strait of Indonesia more than 4000 km west of the SPCZ that has recorded saltier conditions during the SPCZ zonal events back to 1742 AD. Our record indicates that these are regular events happening every 10 to 20 years. The Makassar Strait is the main channel for the ITF, an important current transporting water and heat from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean and then on into the Atlantic. Thus, our coral salinity record indicates that the SPCZ position can act like a switch, allowing saltier WBCs from the South Pacific to drive water through the Makassar Strait, affecting the ITF. This also suggests that the mean position of the SPCZ over a range of timescales will influence the ITF and perhaps global climate.”

     Two weeks from next Monday, at 1 pm on January 30 in the Monell Auditorium, we will host a campus Town Hall to discuss possible federal policy changes under the Trump administration, changes in leadership in Congress, and implications for federal science agency budgets, immigration and workplace equity issues, and related topics. We will be joined by Meg Thompson and Joel Widder from Federal Science Partners, Columbia University’s lobbyists in the nation’s capital. I hope that all of you interested in what we can expect from Washington in the next few years will be able to attend.