Lamont Weekly Report, October 4, 2019

    The Lamont campus was deeply saddened this week by the news that alumnus and long-time staff member Walter Pitman passed away on Tuesday, a few weeks ahead of what would have been his 88th birthday. A giant in the field of marine geology and geophysics, Walter published in 1966 – in a Science paper coauthored with Jim Heirtzler – the first thoroughly convincing demonstration that seafloor magnetic anomalies are symmetric about a mid-ocean ridge and can be well simulated by a simple model in which the upper oceanic crust is magnetized either along or opposite to the direction of the ambient global magnetic field, depending on the polarity of Earth’s dipole field at the time that portion of crust formed at the ridge. Walter’s many other scientific contributions have advanced our understanding of plate kinematics; marine magnetic anomalies; the subsidence of continental margins and basins; the causes, rates, and effects of sea-level change; and Pleistocene climate change. A Kevin Krajick obituary for Walter was posted on Wednesday (

    Walter joined Lamont in 1960 as a Technician, with a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from Lehigh University earned four years earlier. After a year spent mostly at sea on the R/V Vema, he became a graduate student here, and he earned his Ph.D. in 1967 (one year after the publication of his first and most famous paper). On graduation, he was made a Research Associate, and he was promoted three years later to Senior Research Scientist, a position he held until 1994, when on his formal retirement he was named a Special Research Scientist and a Special Lecturer in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

    Walter received many honors during his career. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of both the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America. He received the Francis P. Shepard Medal for Marine Geology from the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists (now the Society for Sedimentary Geology) in 1984, the Maurice Ewing Medal from AGU in 1996, and the Alexander Agassiz Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1998. In 2000, Walter shared the Vetlesen Prize with Lynn Sykes and Jason Morgan from Princeton University. In 2011, DEES established a Walter C. Pitman Award, which is given annually to an undergraduate departmental major and provides travel support to attend a major national or international scientific meeting.

    According to Walter’s family, a celebration of his life will be held sometime this spring.

    Even as we mourn the loss of a good friend and colleague, most of us can pause only briefly as we prepare for Lamont’s annual Open House tomorrow. The tents that began to appear on our campus Tuesday morning reminded us of this weekend’s festivities. A Marie Aronsohn story on Open House was posted Monday (, and our main Open House web site is ready for tomorrow’s visitors ( Updates are regularly posted on Lamont’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Rockland County Times promised that our Open House would unveil “a dazzling private world of scientific discovery far beyond the understanding of most of us” (

    Yesterday, Lamont distributed the October issue of our electronic newsletter to our current subscriber list ( The issue includes eight stories on Lamont science and campus events, an article and video on Columbia University’s Giving Day on October 23, and links to 27 media stories from the past month that mention or feature Lamont scientists.

    Also yesterday, Jonny Kingslake and Kirsty Tinto spoke at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, as part of a program “From the bottom of the world: The art and science of Antarctica” ( Also on the program was a presentation via Skype by biological oceanographer Kim Bernard, from Oregon State University but based this week at the Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research station on the Antarctic Peninsula.

    On Sunday, ABC News interviewed Jason Smerdon on the contributions to, consequences of, and steps needed to mitigate climate change ( Pensions & Investments ran a story Monday on Lamont’s partnership with AllianceBernstein to train investment professionals about climate change and its impacts on investments ( On Wednesday, WRCR posted a story on the opening of Lamont’s newly renovated Hudson River Field Station, with audio clips of interviews with Margie Turrin and former Piermont Mayor Chris Sanders ( For her Earth Matters column yesterday in Nyack News & Views, Susan Hellauer interviewed Joaquim Goes, on the contributions of textiles and laundry detergent to microplastic pollution of our waterways and oceans ( Also yesterday, a Gothamist story featured the floating data-visualization sculpture of Wade McGillis and Columbia alumna and former Lamont researcher Shawnee Traylor, a device now emitting signals on water quality in the East River (

    Next week, our annual Diversity Seminar will be given as our Earth Science Colloquium. Our speaker will be Valerie Purdie Greenaway, an Associate Professor in Columbia’s Department of Psychology and Director of the Laboratory of Intergroup Relations and the Social Mind ( Valerie will be speaking on the topic, “We know about bias, what’s next? Leveraging social psychology interventions to build inclusive classrooms and institutions.”

    In the meantime, this afternoon’s Earth Science Colloquium will be given by biogeochemist and marine biologist Gregory Dick, from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan ( Greg will be speaking about “Longer days for more oxygen? What modern cyanobacterial mats tell us about the oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere.” If your preparations for Open House are leaving you feeling oxygen deprived, I hope that you will join me, before the day becomes too long, in today’s audience.