Lamont Weekly Report, May 3, 2019

    A highlight of the week was the announcement Tuesday morning that Göran Ekström had been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences. A Marie Aronsohn story on Göran, his work, and his election is posted on our web site (öran-ekström-elected-national-academy-sciences). To celebrate this recognition of Göran’s scientific contributions, a special reception will be held this afternoon in the lower lobby of Monell following today’s Colloquium. Please join me there to raise a toast to congratulate our newest academician!

    Last Friday, Mike Purdy’s office announced the good news that a project of Marco Tedesco and Radley Horton is one of several selected for funding under the 2019 Research Initiatives in Science and Engineering (RISE) program. Entitled “Quantifying the impact of sea level rise and floods on the house market,” the project will be conducted collaboratively with Geoffrey Heal from the Columbia Business School.

    On Monday, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper by Frank Pavia, Bob Anderson, Sebastian Vivancos, Marty Fleisher, and their colleagues on carbon sequestration in the deep ocean. In particular, along a GEOTRACES transect in the tropical South Pacific Ocean, the group measured the depth scale over which sinking particulate organic carbon (POC) – the product of carbon dioxide fixation by phytoplankton in the surface ocean – is converted back to inorganic carbon by the respiration of deeper aerobic microbes. Frank and his colleagues found a shallower depth scale than previously estimated for the oligotrophic South Pacific subtropical gyre. They also showed that regeneration of inorganic carbon is strongly inhibited and the downward flux of POC is nearly constant in oxygen-deficient zones. Frank and his colleagues argued that in a warming climate expanding oligotrophic gyres will reduce carbon storage in the deep ocean, but the competing changes to respiration and ventilation that will accompany the expansion and shoaling of suboxic waters will require more study to assess the net effect on carbon storage. A Kevin Krajick press release on the paper’s findings was posted Monday (, and the story appeared on and other media ( 

    On Wednesday, Art Lerner-Lam, Pat O’Reilly, and I – together with Alex Halliday and Alison Miller from the Earth Institute – met with Columbia’s Executive Vice President for University Facilities and Operations David Greenberg, Vice President for Capital Project Management Edward McArthur, and Executive Director for Space Planning Eugene Villalobos to discuss the steps needed to develop a new master plan for the Lamont Campus. The process is a lengthy one, and we expect to gather ideas from everyone interested as we develop a vision for the future campus.

    Yesterday’s issue of Nature included an article coauthored by Ben Cook, Jason Smerdon, and Park Williams reporting on an analysis of tree-ring records to study the influence of greenhouse-gas emissions on droughts over the twentieth century. The paper’s authors, led by Kate Marvel of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, compared the time series for a common soil moisture index derived from drought atlas data compiled by Ed Cook and others at Lamont’s Tree-Ring Laboratory with the time series predicted by climate models. They found evidence for an influence of greenhouse-gas emissions on droughts during the first half of the twentieth century, an indication that more than 100 years ago human activity was already affecting global climate. A Kevin Krajick press release on the paper’s findings was posted to our web site on Wednesday (, and the story was carried by National Geographic and other media (

    The Cooks featured in two other stories this week. The lead article in the science pages of The New York Times on Tuesday, an overview of tree-ring research, included a quote from Ed Cook ( Also on Tuesday, Kevin Krajick posted an interview with Ben Cook about his new book, Drought: An Interdisciplinary Perspective (

    Yesterday morning, Art Lerner-Lam, Edie Miller, Kim Schermerhorn, Karen Lai, and I joined Alex Halliday, Alison Miller, Hayley Martinez, and Rafayel Nagdimov from the Earth Institute at a meeting with Provost John Coatsworth, Executive Vice President for Finance and Information Technology Anne Sullivan, Vice President for Budget and Financial Planning Nancy Johnson, and members of their staff. At the meeting we presented a financial and strategic overview of the Earth Institute and the Observatory and summarized budget projections and financial challenges for the current and coming fiscal years.

    Also yesterday, the Lamont Campus was visited by about 20 members of the City Gardens Club of New York City. The group was treated to a tour of the Lamont Core Repository led by Nichole Anest, heard a brief overview of Lamont from me and a lecture on the impact of climate change on the flora and fauna of the Antarctic Peninsula and adjacent ocean waters from Hugh Ducklow, and took a tour of the Tree-Ring Laboratory led by Mukund Rao and Milagros Rodriguez. John Halpin, Marian Mellin, and Stacey Vassallo provided staff support for the visit.

    Hugh has been doing more than his share of public engagement recently. On Saturday, he participated in a workshop on How Climate Change Is Shifting Ocean Ecosystems, held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and co-sponsored by the University of Rhode Island’s Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting and the New England Science Writers Association ( One week earlier, he spoke at the Columbia Undergraduate Science Journal’s Spring Symposium, which brought together members of the journal’s student editorial and faculty advisory boards as well as current and incoming Columbia and Barnard freshmen. Hugh, who chairs the journal’s faculty advisory board, spoke about his career in science and the field sites around the world where he has worked.

    Yesterday afternoon, Caroline Leland successfully defended her Ph.D. dissertation on the topic of “Impacts of partial cambial dieback on tree-ring records from ancient conifers.” Caroline’s committee included her thesis supervisor, Ed Cook, as well as Laia Andreu Hayles, Kevin Griffin, Pierre Gentine from the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, and Daniel Druckenbrod from the Department of Geological, Environmental, and Marine Sciences at Rider University. After her defense, Caroline will be staying at Columbia to teach in the Frontiers of Science Program at Columbia College. Congratulations, Dr. Leland!

    This morning featured two bike-to-work events organized by Andrew Goodwillie and Yael Kiro and sponsored by our Campus Life Committee in recognition of Earth Day last week. One group of bike riders rode to campus from Nyack and Piermont, and another rode from Manhattan. All cyclists were offered a free breakfast in the Lamont Café.

    Today, the May issue of Lamont’s electronic newsletter was sent out to a broad audience ( The issue includes six stories on the Observatory’s science or scientists, an education story, and links to 20 television, print, or online media stories from the past month that featured the work of or commentary by Lamont scientists.

    Also today, Columbia Spectator published a long article on “Remembering Wallace Broecker, the Prophet of Climate Change” ( The article’s author, Katie Santamaria, spoke with and quoted Elizabeth Clark, Bärbel Hönisch, Jerry McManus, Dorothy Peteet, Aaron Putnam, and Moanna St, Clair. Wally’s offices figure prominently in the story.

    The Earth Science Colloquium this afternoon will feature isotope geochemist and cosmochemist James Day, an Associate Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography ( James will be speaking on “Delivering and retaining volatile elements during the birth of planets.” May even the more volatile among you deliver yourselves to his audience before the birth of his talk so that you can retain everything he has to say.

    I hope to see you at the Colloquium and at the champagne reception for Göran that will follow.