Lamont Weekly Report, January 3, 2020

    This week rang in the new year and, some would argue, a new decade. With a three-day workweek having two university holidays in the middle, the campus tempo was more subdued than usual, but between this week and last there were noteworthy signs of progress.

    Last month, the utility company Con Edison issued a report – developed in partnership with scientists at Lamont and staff at the consulting firm ICF – describing the effects that expected climate change will have on design standards and risk mitigation for the local energy infrastructure. A story about the report’s findings and a link to the full report were posted to our web site two weeks ago, and the report received widespread coverage in the media. Radley Horton contributed to the report writing.

    Also last month, Geophysical Research Letters published online a paper coauthored by Patrick Alexander and Marco Tedesco on the atmospheric moisture budget for Greenland. With the use of water tracers in the climate model of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the group – led by Jesse Nusbaumer of GISS, the Center for Climate Systems Research, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research – showed that the North Atlantic is the dominant moisture source for Greenland, except during summers when continental sources can be more important. A long-term increase in more locally sourced moisture over northwestern Greenland is related to loss of sea ice in the Baffin Bay region and a relatively large increase in sea-surface temperatures for the region.

    It’s just possible that not everyone reading this Weekly Report was on the mailing list for holiday cards this year from Columbia University President Lee Bollinger and his spouse, Jean Magnano Bollinger. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that their card last month, on the theme of The Year of Water at Columbia, featured a striking photo taken by Jonny Kingslake and Elizabeth Case of Gilkey Glacier, which drains the Juneau Icefield in Alaska. The photo appeared last year in a story posted by Elizabeth and Jonny on Lamont’s web page.                                                                          

    Media coverage over the past two weeks included a lengthy interview of Adam Sobel posted on IndiaSpend on Monday last week about the expected impact of severe storms on coastal cities, including Mumbai, in a warming climate. That same day, a New York Times story on the limited racial diversity in the geoscience workforce quoted Arianna Varuolo-Clarke, Kuheli Dutt, Jonathan Nichols, and Lorelei Curtin. Radley Horton was interviewed for an Al Roker clip on climate change that aired on NBC News on Tuesday last week. A Los Angeles Times article on Thursday last week about recent California climate extremes quoted Park Williams. A web story last Friday by freelance writer Renee Cho on impacts of climate change that will affect everyone quoted or cited Adam, Radley, Jane Baldwin, and Ethan Coffel. Also last Friday, Robin Bell was quoted in a Gizmodo story about a high rate of ice melting in Antarctica late last month.

    On Tuesday, Ben Cook was quoted in a Bloomberg News story on the advances in climate modeling over the past decade that now permit an assessment of the role of climate change in particular climate extreme events. Also on Tuesday, Jason Smerdon was quoted in an article in Ars Technica about a report by others of a 2000-year record of hurricanes recovered from sediments in a sinkhole on the Yucatán Peninsula. Yesterday, Arnold Gordon answered the question – submitted by a reader to the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog – about what will happen to the Gulf Stream in a warming climate. Also yesterday, Klaus Jacob was quoted in a Curbed New York article about managed retreat as a tool in New York City’s management of rising sea levels. And today, a Paul Voosen story in Science features the work of Nathan Steiger and Ed Cook on evidence from tree rings and other climate proxies for coincident medieval megadroughts in the northern and southern hemispheres, attributed to persistent La Niña conditions.

    This weekend, Earth will be at perihelion, meaning that the Sun will appear slightly larger in the sky than at other times of the year. For the curious, perihelion passage currently follows the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice – the shortest day of the year – by about two weeks, but this offset slowly varies. The northern winter solstice and perihelion last coincided in the year 1246, and somewhat more than 4000 years from now the perihelion will coincide with the spring equinox. In any case, we owe a great deal to the Sun, for our place in the solar system, our generally clement weather, and the oxygen we breathe. May you tip your hat to our star at perihelion.