Lamont Weekly Report, May 15, 2020

    This is an unusual Final Examinations week at Columbia, the capstone to what Lee Bollinger described in a community e-mail yesterday as “one of the most difficult and perplexing semesters in memory.” A large fraction of Columbia personnel spent the week developing plans to reopen university campuses, in a carefully phased manner and at a pace that will be set by criteria to maximize the safety of those returning to the workplace.

    Following ramp-down of campus activities, Columbia University’s Provost office organized working groups on public health, education, facilities and campus life, and laboratory research. The last of those working groups, which includes Art Lerner-Lam and is chaired by Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute Director Rui Costa, formulated a Framework for Restarting Research that has been adopted by the university and was widely circulated by the Provost’s office on Monday. The Framework communicates guiding principles and important issues for consideration, and the university will take on centrally such functions as ordering personal protective equipment and arranging for training materials and resources, but each school and institute has been given the discretion to determine its own strategy for resuming on-site research.

    To plan the ramp-up process for the Lamont campus and to align with the university-wide working groups, the Lamont Directorate, under Art’s leadership, formed working groups on education (chaired by Sid Hemming and Jerry McManus), facilities (chaired by Pat O’Reilly), finance (chaired by Edie Miller and Dave Goldberg), and laboratory research (chaired by Steve Goldstein). Those working groups have begun working on specific plans for resuming research, gradually and safely, on the Lamont campus. We have been asked to provide our research ramp-up plans to Columbia administration by the end of the coming week.

    In other news, Clara Chang recently learned that she will be among the inaugural cohort to receive the Margaret A. Davidson Research Fellowship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management. The two-year fellowship was awarded in response to Clara’s proposal, for work to be conducted under the supervision of Dorothy Peteet, entitled “Developing Novel Methods to Measure Historic Wetland Accretion.” Congratulations, Clara!

    On Friday afternoon last week, Science Advances published a paper by Colin Raymond, Radley Horton, and Tom Matthews from Loughborough University on the emergence of combinations of heat and humidity beyond the limits of human tolerance. For some greenhouse gas emission scenarios, climate models have predicted episodes of extreme humid heat, as measured by a wet-bulb temperature at or above 35°C, by the middle of this century. Colin and his coauthors have shown on the basis of weather station data that such conditions have already been documented in some coastal subtropical locations, that the rate of incidence of such events has doubled since 1979, and that global maximum sea-surface temperatures have recently exceeded this threshold as well. The most extreme humid heat events to date have been highly localized in space and time, so it is understandable that they may be less evident in even regional climate models than in data from individual stations. A Kevin Krajick press release on the paper’s findings was posted last Friday, and the story has appeared in The Washington Post and other media.

    This morning, John Armbruster reminded us that today is the 150th birthday of Henry Latham Doherty, whose name our institution carries. A major gift from the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation in 1969 led Columbia to add Doherty to the Observatory’s title. The Doherty Foundation has continued to support the Observatory to the present, most recently our programs in education and outreach.

    As the weekend approaches, our dynamic planet is much in the news. A magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck the Walker Lane area of the Nevada-California border region this morning and had a source mechanism characterized by the U.S. Geological Survey as shallow strike-slip faulting. A weather system forming over the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida may become the first named tropical storm of the season, and if so it will carry the name of Lamont’s Deputy Director. And Monday will be the 40th anniversary of the major eruption of Mount St. Helens that was the most destructive volcanic eruption in U.S. history.