Lamont Weekly Report, January 8, 2021

     Hello Friends,  It is so hard to know what to write in this moment.  Many of us had two lovely weeks in our family bubbles, with a blissful decrease in Zoom meetings and email, and came back excited (I hope) to reconnect with our students, colleagues, and co-workers.  But on Wednesday we were assaulted with yet another egregious example of the racism and hypocrisy that is so woven into the fabric of our society.  It is painful to think about.  It is painful to watch.  Although I know that there is a segment of society that will be apologists—saying the equivalent of “boys will be boys”—we all know that only white boys can get away with the terrorist meetings and planning and weapon stockpiling that occurred over the last weeks, culminating in Wednesday’s shocking attack on the seat of U.S. government.

     Which brings me to Lamont.  The twin scourges of racism and sexism imbue all of society, including our workplaces, in ways we consciously appreciate (Wednesday) but also often don’t consciously appreciate.  Certainly, women, the LGBTQ community and racial minorities are more conscious of the subtle and not so subtle behaviors and signs of disrespect, including condescending explanations, pompous declarations, being ignored, etc.  If there was ever a time to be a little humble and self-reflective, it is now.  I know many of my white colleagues are keenly aware of the “invisible backpack of privilege” we carry and are allies, even if flawed, in this struggle to build a better, more equitable world.  In just this past fortnight, three of my male colleagues have pulled together proposals to advance diversity programs and hiring on our campus.  There will be many more opportunities for us all to pull together, in the same direction, in the year ahead.

     For the last six months, I have been on the sidelines watching the work of our DEI Task Force.  They have mindfully approached their task guided by the question “What is the Dream?”.  That report will be delivered soon and I hope we can all pitch in and use it as a roadmap to turn The Dream into The Reality—to continue to evolve our campus culture towards one that is actively anti-racist, fully inclusive and always respectful.  A place where Lamont is the best scientific playground in the world, for all of us.


     Other news of the week:

     A few months ago, I was remembering a paper by the famously creative geochemist Cesare Emiliani who wrote decades ago about how viruses might have been responsible for many of the extinctions in the geologic record.  Imagine my delight when receiving this paper from Special Research Scientist Enrico Bonatti giving a shout-out to Cesare’s newly topical hypothesis—very interesting.

     In another paper published this week in Nature, graduate student Jordan Abell, with Gisela Winckler, Bob Anderson and Tim Herbert, use sediments from the North Pacific Ocean to reconstruct variability in the Northern Hemisphere westerlies during the Pliocene. By quantifying dust fluxes to two sites separated by thousands of kilometers, they find that during the warm Pliocene, the westerly winds were located closer to the poles and were weaker than during the later Pleistocene glacial period. These findings suggest that observed poleward shifts in the westerlies over the last several decades may continue with anthropogenically-induced global warming.  As Shakespeare so eloquently said, “Past is prologue”.  The press release can be found here.

     We may not have the famous Lucy Jones, but we do have up-and-coming seismology graduate student Theresa Sawi!  Theresa was recently interviewed by Audrey Puente on Fox5 about earthquakes in the NY region.  The segment aired six times, three each on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Folks who missed it can see it here.  Theresa, you were terrific!

     In other news, the newly formed Lamont Education Advisory Group, led by CU alumnus and friend of Lamont Frank Gumper, is about to have its first meeting. Their charge is to further the educational mission of the LDEO by providing valuable and necessary input for educational research, programming, and outreach. The committee will guide and advise the development and implementation of K-to-grey educational initiatives at Lamont, as well as the Columbia Climate School. These education and outreach activities reflect an intrinsic and broadly acknowledged need to bring our science message to the world outside of Lamont's gates. Such activities contribute to the public's awareness of the environmental challenges faced by society, and contribute to the education of the next generation of citizens and scholars.  I could not be more supportive of this effort.  

     I also want to give a shout-out to another volunteer effort being led by Carol and Greg Mountain and Hannes and Mary Ann Brueckner, all long-time members of the Lamont community.  They have volunteered to help excavate and catalog the decades of archives stored on the third floor of Lamont Hall in anticipation of that building’s eventual renovation.   Lamont is indeed fortunate to have so many people willing to pitch in and contribute, in so many ways, to our continued success and growth. 

     Finally, I’ll end with one last shout-out and a request.  First, thank you to all the B+G staff, especially Andy Reed and Howie Matza, who worked on campus through the holidays keeping an eye on things.   And second, please don’t hesitate to send news of notable goings-on in 2021.  I write about the events I hear about, so please send word of successes and milestones, large and small.

     Please have a safe and peaceful weekend.   Mo








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Article on research co-authored by Lamont ecologist Natalie Boelman, wildlife ecologist Scott LaPoint, and Ph.D. Ruth Oliver.


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Interview with Lamont geophysicist Klaus Jacob.


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Article on study led by Lamont Ph.D. Mukund P. Rao.


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Interview with Lamont climate scientist Jason Smerdon.


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Saturday, December 26, 2020

Article quotes Lamont climate scientist Jason Smerdon.


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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Article quotes Lamont graduate student Theresa Sawi.


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Article on research by Lamont Ph.D. student Janine Birnbaum and colleagues.


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Article on study led by Lamont Ph.D. Mukund P. Rao.


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Article features research led by Lamont intern and Columbia undergraduate Elaine Chen.




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Columbia students and faculty consider the lessons that can be learned from this year to move toward a more equitable and sustainable future.


Spring 2021 Earth Institute Research Opportunities for Undergrads

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Undergraduates from Columbia and Barnard will be able to work with distinguished faculty on research projects related to sustainable development and the environment.