Lamont Weekly Report, November 3, 2017

    It was a week when terrorism hit close to home. Our thoughts and our hearts go out to the injured and the families and friends of those killed.

    Last week, Columbia University’s Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate, led by Adam Sobel and Suzana Camargo, hosted the “2017 Conference on Fire Prediction Across Scales” ( Park Williams organized the conference along with Robert Field from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Katia Fernandes from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, and more than 120 attendees participated in the event. A Rebecca Fowler story on the conference ( has been posted on our web site.

    Also last week, Current Biology published a paper coauthored by Scott LaPoint describing large seasonal changes in body mass and brain size in the Eurasian shrew, Sorex araneus. The team, led by Javier Lázaro of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, tagged recaptured wild shrews and measured decreases in body mass and braincase dimension in individual animals in advance of winter as well as increases in both metrics the following spring. Their findings document the greatest reversible postnatal changes in mammalian skull size and brain mass known to date, and the group suggested that such changes are the consequence of an adaptive over-wintering strategy alternative to hibernation or migration. The paper’s findings were covered widely in the media (

    Lamont’s Rosetta team is back in Antarctica to complete the third and final year of airborne surveying of the Ross Ice Shelf ( Blogs from the field team resumed two weeks ago, after a hiatus of nearly two years, with postings by Julian Spergel ( Nick Frearson wrote yesterday, “They arrived in McMurdo on October 24 and have been busily setting up camp, training, and all the good things that happen when you first arrive on the ice. They had aimed to be flying earlier this week, but a combination of poor weather and plane availability has so far stymied their attempts to get into the air. The IcePod is installed and checked out, so now it's a waiting game.”

    The R/V Langseth was in port in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday and Tuesday this week and sailed on Wednesday to begin the SHIRE (Seismogenesis at Hikurangi Integrated Research Experiment) project to study the structure and mechanics of the convergent plate boundary to the east of New Zealand’s North Island. Experiment leads are Harm Van Avendonk and Nathan Bangs from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (, and other participants hail from New Zealand, Japan, and the United Kingdom. On Thursday, Sean Higgins wrote, “The Langseth started shooting in the Bay of Plenty to ocean-bottom seismometers yesterday and is now moving around to the east coast.”

    The Geochemistry Division this week welcomed the arrival of visitors Wilford Gardner and Mary Jo Richardson, both professors on sabbatical leave from the Department of Oceanography at Texas A&M University. Wilf and Mary Jo held research positions at Lamont more than 30 years ago. The pair will be visiting the Observatory for three weeks to work with Bob Anderson on GEOTRACES data and related observations.

    Also visiting the Geochemistry Division is Rodrigo Soteres, a Ph.D. student at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Rodrigo is at Lamont for three months to work with Mike Kaplan and Joerg Schaefer on the glacial and climate history of Patagonia.

    On Monday, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper by Alessio Rovere, Blake Dyer, Michael Sandstrom, Billy D’Andrea, Mo Raymo, and colleagues from Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and The Netherlands on the interpretation of geological evidence for severe storms during past eras when climate was broadly similar to that of today. The group explored the particular question of whether giant boulders perched on a cliff top in North Eleuthera, Bahamas, and interpreted by others as evidence for “superstorms” of greater intensity than those documented historically that occurred during the Last Interglacial (LIG) 116 to 128 thousand years ago, could instead have been delivered by waves that accompanied storms of historical magnitude. Given the higher relative sea level inferred for the Bahamas during the LIG, the team showed with wave models and boulder transport equations that the perched boulders in Eleuthera could have been delivered during severe storms comparable with those of the modern era. A Kevin Krajick story on the paper’s findings was posted to our web site on Wednesday (

    Also on Monday, our web site gained a Sarah Fecht story on Ben Holtzman’s SeismoDome project that represents seismicity, seismic wave propagation, and the seismic noise field with light and sound ( Ben and his collaborator, sound designer Jason Candler, presented their work as part of a show at the Hayden Planetarium last week on “Exploring Scientific Data.” A full SeismoDome presentation is planned for the planetarium this spring.

    On Tuesday, The ISME (International Society for Microbial Ecology) Journal published a paper by Gwenn Hennon, Sheean Haley, Sonya Dyhrman, and colleagues from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Tennessee reporting the outcome of laboratory experiments on the impact of elevated carbon dioxide levels in the ocean on the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus. The smallest and most abundant photosynthetic organism on the planet, Prochlorococcus plays critical roles in the marine food web and the marine carbon cycle. Moreover, Prochlorococcus depends on other microbial species for key chemical processes. The team’s experiments showed that increased levels of dissolved carbon dioxide increased oxidative stress in Prochlorococcus and decreased gene expression in co-cultured Alteromonas associated with the production of the enzyme catalase, not produced by Prochlorococcus but needed by that organism to catalyze the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide, which otherwise acts to damage cell structure. Their work is the first to show the mechanistic outcome of elevated carbon dioxide for the relation between the two microbes. A Rebecca Fowler story on the paper’s findings ( has been posted on our web site.

    Also on Tuesday, Lamont’s web site gained a photo essay by Kevin Krajick on the fieldwork of Steve Goldstein and Yael Kiro in the Negev Desert and along the shore of the Dead Sea to explore the paleoclimate and paleohydrology of the region ( Yael and Steve had earlier documented episodes of severe drought in the geologic past when the influx of freshwater into the Dead Sea was as low as 20 percent of that at present. The photo essay includes a video shot and directed by Kevin.

    On Wednesday, Farhana Mather and I visited Maurizio Morello, the Executive Vice President and Treasurer of the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation. The Vetlesen Foundation supports climate research at Lamont with a generous gift every year, and their support also enables the awarding of the Vetlesen Prize every two years. Our discussion ranged widely, from highlights of recent climate research at the Observatory to pressures on our climate scientists because of the budget priorities of the current administration in Washington, D.C.

    On Wednesday evening, at the invitation of Lamont’s former Senior Communications Officer, Stacy Morford, I attended a benefit celebrating the 10th anniversary of the founding of InsideClimate News. Stacy had worked at ICN shortly after its creation, and she was persuaded this past summer to return as Senior Editor “to run the news operation.” The highlight of the evening was a panel discussion on “Climate Journalism in the Era of Denial and Deluge,” featuring New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer. Art Lerner-Lam and Kim Martineau, now with Columbia’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs, also attended.

    On Thursday, Congressman Lamar Smith announced that he will not seek re-election ( Rep. Smith, a Republican who represents the 21st Texas district, chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and is an outspoken critic of anthropogenic climate change.

    This morning, at the invitation of Mary Boyce, Dean of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, I gave a presentation to the school’s Board of Visitors on climate research at Lamont and the Earth Institute. My presentation was sandwiched between those of actual Engineering School faculty members (and actual climate scientists) Adam Sobel and Mike Tippett.

    This afternoon’s Earth Science Colloquium speaker will be glaciologist Twila Moon, a Research Associate at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder ( Twila will be speaking on the topic of “Ice sheet to ocean: Ice motion, ice loss, and icebergs.” It will be your loss if your motion this afternoon does not bring you to the Monell Auditorium to join me in her audience.