Lamont Weekly Report, October 19, 2018

    This week began with Open House on Saturday. The total attendance was 3452, a good showing given that morning rain darkened the skies and turned the fields soft with mud. The official head count was certified by Howie Matza, who logged 425 individuals arriving by automobile to the campus, 665 attendees delivered by bus from the city, 2324 riders on the shuttles from the HNA parking lot, and 38 who came on other buses. This year’s attendance was down from last year’s record of 3891. A few highlights from the day have been posted on the Earth Institute’s blog page (

    At the day-ending barbecue for Open House volunteers, two representatives from the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) presented the Observatory with an award to recognize Lamont as a Clean Air NY Campus ( The designation was made for our “exceptional work towards improving air quality in the Lower Hudson Valley by offering electric shuttle buses for [our] student and employee commuters, establishing a bus stop at the campus entrance, providing showers and bike racks for a more bicycle friendly campus, encouraging teleworking, and creating preferred parking for carpools to incentivize staff employees to choose sustainable transportation.” Presenting the award on behalf of the NYSDOT were Columbia University alumni Modou Cham and Heliana Higbie. Modou had worked throughout the day at the Sustainable Columbia exhibition tent, where he described the NYSDOT’s sustainability initiatives to thousands of our visitors.

    The American Geophysical Union this week announced the results of their most recent election of Section and Union officers, and Lamont’s two candidates this year both prevailed. Suzana Camargo will be the new Secretary of the Natural Hazards Section, and Suzanne Carbotte will be the new Secretary of the Tectonophysics Section ( Congratulations to both!

    The R/V Marcus Langseth is completing the final week of the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Seismic Experiment, led by Donna Shillington, Tony Watts, and Rob Dunn from the University of Hawaii. As of yesterday morning, the ship had completed approximately 3200 line-km of multi-channel seismic (MCS) profiling and had recovered successfully all 70 ocean-bottom seismometers deployed for the experiment. The ship is scheduled to collect one last MCS line before returning to Honolulu on Sunday morning. Sean Higgins reports, “The cruise has gone extremely well, with essentially no downtime of any kind. The latest blog [from the ship] includes a nice shout out to techs and crew (”

    Doug Martinson’s textbook on Quantitative Methods of Data Analysis for the Physical Sciences and Engineering has recently been published by Cambridge University Press ( Doug writes that the book is now available on Amazon, either in hardcover or a Kindle edition.

    Earlier this month, the Journal of Climate published online a preprint version of a paper by Deepti Singh, Richard Seager, Ben Cook, Mark Cane, Ed Cook, and Michael Davis from the University of California, Riverside, on the Great Drought of 1876-78, which caused widespread crop failures on multiple continents and led to more than 50 million fatalities. Deepti and her colleagues showed through observations, paleoclimate reconstructions, and climate model simulations that the extreme severity, duration, and extent of this event was associated with an unusual combination of cool tropical Pacific conditions for the prior six years, a record-breaking El Niño in 1877-78, a record strong Indian Ocean dipole in 1877, and record warm North Atlantic conditions in 1878. The team argued that because the climate conditions that caused the Great Drought arose from natural variations, they could recur, but with global warming their hydrological impacts on global food security could be intensified. A story on the paper’s findings, reworked by Kevin Krajick from a press release issued by Washington State University (where Deepti is currently a faculty member in their School of the Environment), was posted to our web site on Monday (

    The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper Monday by Elizabeth Shoenfelt, Gisela Winckler, Bob Anderson, Ben Bostick, and Frank Lamy from the Alfred Wegener Institute reporting new measurements of iron speciation in dust deposited in the Southern Ocean during glacial periods. From the application of K-edge X-ray absorption spectroscopy to sediment cores from the South Atlantic and South Pacific, Elizabeth and her colleagues showed that glacially derived Fe (II) freshly weathered from bedrock and delivered by wind dominated the iron deposited in the Southern Ocean during glacial periods. This form of iron is more readily taken up by phytoplankton than Fe(III) from secondary minerals, and consequent phytoplankton growth can influence climate during glacial periods by an increase in carbon dioxide fixation into organic matter that is exported to the deep ocean.

    Also on Monday, Lamont was visited by Scott Sleyster, Senior Vice President and Chief Investment Officer for Prudential Financial, along with 10 of his senior Prudential colleagues. The visit, hosted by Alex Halliday, included presentations by Robin Bell, Dave Goldberg, Radley Horton, Richard Seager, Adam Sobel, Park Williams, and IRI’s Lisa Goddard. Others participating from Lamont and the Earth Institute included Art Lerner-Lam, Meghan Fay, Noelle Bannister, and Susan Holgate.

    On Tuesday, Lamont teamed with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program for the 16th Annual Day in the Life of the Hudson and Harbor ( Margie Turrin led Lamont’s contributions to the planning and coordination of the day’s events. Nyack Patch covered the event ( Margie writes, “110 students from four local high schools participated out on our Field Station on Piermont Pier. Ably supported by many Lamonters, the students joined with close to 6000 students and educators throughout the estuary in sampling and data sharing. This was our 16th annual event and the most anomalous for Hudson River salinity. Students found the salt front (measured as 100 ppm salinity), generally found between Newburgh and Poughkeepsie this time of year, was [instead] here at Piermont, the result of a saturated watershed!"

    On Wednesday morning, Meghan Fay and I visited Maurizio Morello and Ambrose Monell, two of the three Directors of the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation. The primary purposes of the visit were to thank the Vetlesen Foundation for their continued generous support of the scientific work at Lamont and to brief them on some of the particular scientific advances that their support has enabled. We also discussed the cadence of future awards of the Vetlesen Prize they support ( and learned the wish of the foundation that the prize be given next in 2020 and at three-year intervals thereafter. Nominations for the 2020 prize will be sought approximately six months from now.

    On Wednesday, I attended a meeting of the Climate Task Force for Columbia University’s capital campaign. It was the first meeting of the group since Alex Halliday had been named Director of the Earth Institute, and much of the discussion – led by Alex and task force chair Roy Vagelos – was on planning for future meetings and for the campaign. Also attending from our development team were Meghan Fay and Noelle Bannister.

    Next Wednesday, October 24, will be Columbia University’s 7th annual Giving Day, a 24-hour online fundraising event ( I invite you to join me in supporting Lamont and sharing information about Giving Day with your network through e-mail and social media. Our development team has created several social media posts (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Instagram) to promote the day. Your participation and your assistance with raising awareness of the event will help us secure matching funds offered by the University Trustees.

    In the meantime, this afternoon’s Earth Science Colloquium will be given by structural geologist Marcia Bjornerud, Professor of Geology at Lawrence University and a science writer for The New Yorker. Marcia is the author of Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth, published in 2005, and Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, published this year by Princeton University Press ( Today Marcia will be speaking on “Writing about science for the public: Merging mythos and logos.” Following the colloquium, she will sign copies of her latest book. I hope to see you at her talk.