Lamont Weekly Report, June 19, 2020

    Today is a university holiday, to celebrate the freeing of the last group of slaves in the Confederate States 155 years ago. Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, in announcing the holiday on Wednesday evening, acknowledged that “[our institution] is not innocent of the structures of racism that have afflicted America. Yet we also have a history of confronting invidious discrimination and anti-Black racism…, and we need to summon our better traditions as we recognize Juneteenth and commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.”

    The topics of race and racial bias continued to receive considerable attention across Lamont this week. On Monday, a Race Talk discussion drew more than 65 participants. A candid discussion series organized about a year ago by Kailani Acosta, Lorelei Curtin, and Carly Peltier, Race Talk regularly explores the sensitive topics of racism and discrimination. Most previous sessions in the series have been discussions of prominent books on these topics, but Monday’s discussion was focused on the award-winning documentary 13th, by filmmaker Ava DuVernay, on the history of suppression, exploitation, and criminalization of American Blacks from post-Civil-War Reconstruction to today.

    Kailani was also the subject of a web story posted Tuesday, by freelance writer and Columbia alumna Elise Gout. Based largely on an interview, the story describes Kailani’s launch of Race Talk with Lorelei and Carly, her organization of the Seminar Diversity Initiative to increase the number of underrepresented minorities and women among Lamont’s divisional seminar speakers, and how the two programs have advanced inclusion and highlighted the imperative to continue to enhance diversity across the campus.

    Yesterday, Lamont hosted its second annual LGBTQ+ Pride Event, with a special focus on intersectionality. Organized by Elva Bennett, Janine Birnbaum, Roger Creel, Elizabeth Fischer, Spencer Jones, Jennifer Middleton, Julian Spergel, Laura Stevens, and Hannah Sweets, and open to the entire Earth Institute, the event featured a series of well-delivered presentations. After an introduction to intersectionality, Julian described the Stonewall riots that followed a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in June 1969, an early milestone in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in this country. Hannah highlighted stories of several notable LGBTQ+ people of color, including examples from the sciences. Janine and Jenny put together a presentation on the continuing challenges to the LGBTQ+ community in our society today, from harassment to discrimination. More than 150 participated in the virtual event.

    On Monday, Nature Climate Change published a Perspective article by Colin Raymond, Radley Horton, Suzana Camargo, Kai Kornhuber, and their colleagues on connected extreme events in the Earth system. Colin and his coauthors argued that connected extreme events differ from isolated extreme events by their large sensitivity to mean climate conditions and low availability of data on physical characteristics and societal impacts, increasing the likelihood that instances of connected events will cross currently unrecognized tipping points in response capacity. They described the role that climate scientists can play in illuminating decision options in the face of correlated extreme events, including situations with a non-climatic stressor such as a pandemic.

    Also Monday, Sarah Fecht posted a web story on the steps needed to disinfect masks for safe reuse during the coronavirus pandemic developed by Steve Chillrud, Debra Magadini, Beizhan Yan, and Beizhan’s son Roland and published in a paper in the Journal of the International Society for Respiratory Protection two months ago. The story is copiously illustrated with figures from the Earth Institute’s Sunghee Kim.

    On Tuesday, Einat Lev and Terry Plank were featured in an online discussion on “The Volcano Alarm: Anticipating Eruptions,” as part of the Earth Institute Live series. The discussion was moderated by Alex Halliday, who asked questions successively of Einat – under quarantine for a visit to Israel – and Terry – who participated from her kitchen in Nyack. Each spoke on topics ranging from how they were drawn to careers in volcanological research, to some of their formative experiences studying volcanoes in the field, to ongoing research directions.  Einat and Terry are co-leading the AVERT (Anticipating Volcanic Eruptions in Real Time) project, with support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. A video recording of the discussion can be found on the event web site.

    Also on Tuesday, our web site gained a Rebecca Fowler story on the work of Pierre Dutrieux on the thinning of Antarctic ice shelves, particularly by underside melting. Because of their role in limiting the seaward flow of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the ice shelves are critical to future projections of sea-level rise, and Pierre’s study of interactions among ice shelves, ocean water, and land ice was the basis for his selection as a Fellow of the Center for Climate and Life last year. Although not mentioned in the story, Pierre will be cutting short his fellowship, because he will be leaving Lamont at the end of next month to begin a new position at the British Antarctic Survey.                                          

    On Wednesday, NASA announced this year’s FINESST (Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology) program awardees in Earth Science. Caroline Juang is to receive an award for her project on “Building resilience to wildfires in the western United States: Predictive modeling in a coupled climate and human system,” to be completed under the supervision of Park Williams; and Yujia You will receive an award for her project on “Process-based understanding of extreme Asian monsoon rainfall response to anthropogenic forcings,” under the supervision of Mingfang Ting. Another awardee is Ivan Mitevski, whose project on “Understanding past, recent, and future changes in lower stratospheric ozone and impacts on northern hemisphere surface climate” will be completed in the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics under the supervision of Lorenzo Polvani. To Caroline, Yujia, and Ivan, congratulations!

    Also on Wednesday, Ben Bostick teamed with six students from the MS in Sustainability Science Program – Isabela Brown, Jeffrey Fralick, Chandler Precht, Madeleine Tervet, Kevin Webb, and Ashley Ziegler – to write a web story on the program’s Integrative Capstone Project. This year, the Integrative Capstone Project – intended to give practical training on addressing an environmental problem in partnership with an organization from the public or non-profit sectors – focused on microplastic pollution in the Hudson River estuary. In partnership with Riverkeeper, the students studied the literature on the problem, identified sampling sites on the basis of expected sources of microplastics, developed sampling methods, collected and analyzed samples, and created a web site to inform the public and encourage citizen scientists to collect relevant data.

    New to our website is a set of pages celebrating the life and scientific contributions of Walter Pitman. Constructed under the leadership of Bill Ryan, with the considerable assistance of Miriam Cinquegrana and the Earth Institute’s Jeremy Hinsdale, Adrianne Kenyon, Sunghee Kim, and Phebe Pierson, the site includes a summary of Walter’s life and work, remembrances by two dozen of Walter’s friends and relatives, photos of Walter from his “younger years” to more recent time, video and print stories on Walter’s work, and a list of Walter’s publications with links to electronic versions of his papers. The site is well worth exploring at length.

    Also added to our web site this week were two more of Marco Tedesco’s science columns, originally written in Italian for the daily newspaper La Repubblica. His story on Monday described the likelihood that humanity’s response to the coronavirus pandemic will be discernible in future records from the world’s glaciers – at least as long as the glaciers persist. His story today is on destruction of the Amazon rainforest by manmade fires and other practices. Also today, the work of Marco and Carolynne Hultquist with Jesse Keenan at Tulane University is mentioned in a New York Times article on how climate change and sea-level rise are affecting the home mortgage industry.

    The coming week will see the launch of the first phase of returning on-campus research to the Observatory, beginning next Wednesday. Just yesterday, Columbia University posted “Important Details about Recovery Planning and the Ramping Up of On-site Activity.” Distinct guidelines pertain to those named as eligible to return to campus as part of the ramp-up (Group A), those already working as essential personnel on campus (Group B), and those who can continue to work remotely and are not yet eligible to return to campus (Group C). More information specific to the Lamont Campus will be provided early next week.

    In the meantime, may you enjoy the weekend and take time to celebrate Lamont’s fathers and the fathers of everyone in the greater Lamont community.