Lamont Weekly Report, October 8, 2021

    Hello Friends, It is shaping up to be a lovely weekend and you hopefully can find some time to catch up on all the great science stories in the October edition of the Lamont Newsletter.  I always enjoy hearing about the projects going on around campus and was struck this week by the wide variety of topics that are incorporating machine learning and artificial intelligence into data analysis.  I’d like to take a campus census on this and will send out an email request next week. 

    In the meantime, I was pretty amazed at the story about the undergraduate research project of Jasper Baur who is now a graduate student with LRP Einat Lev at LDEO.  Jasper uses drones with various imaging capabilities to search for and identify land mines, at a fraction of the cost of typical minefield remediation.  With their miniaturized sensors they can even find insidious plastic landmines, like the Russian-made PFM-1 mine which apparently can be dropped en masse from airplanes and flutters gently to the ground.  Setting aside how horrific it is to drop explosive toy-like objects from the sky, thank goodness scientists like Jasper are thinking deeply about this problem.  With his co-authors, he published a paper in the Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction, possibly a first at Lamont.  And what is even more amazing, his team used machine learning to train their systems to be as accurate as possible.  Jasper, I’m not sure I’d recognize you on campus given the small picture in the story—please introduce yourself if/when we cross paths.

    The stories in the newsletter complemented some great talks this week.  From Geoff Green’s inspiring Summer Stars lecture to the recording session in Monell Auditorium for some of the terrific science talks being prepared for Open House at Home next week.  Ahoy Christine McCarthy, does Earth generate paperclip heat?  If you want to understand that question you will have to listen to her talk about the search for life on the outer planets!  Open House is on October 13 – 14th, with programming that includes an exciting virtual and interactive lineup of events, including K-12 activities, panel discussions, lectures, and more.   Visit the Open House website for details.  While the event is free and open to the public, we greatly appreciate a $5 suggested donation. Learning from world-renowned researchers about their latest discoveries….priceless!

    Two more notable lectures happened yesterday, on October 7th.  I hosted and moderated a presentation by renowned artist Mark Dion on his latest art installation opening today on Governors Island, The Field Station of the Melancholy Marine Biologist.  (sigh…)  Mark’s new “folly” transforms one of the island buildings “into an abandoned research outpost, filled with scientific objects, instruments, artifacts, and samples. As visitors peer through the building’s windows, they witness a scene preserved in time—a moment, Dion explains, ‘where somebody studying the natural world realizes that the future is not looking so good…that we are going to lose a great amount of the natural wonders that have been here in previous centuries.’ The work invites reflection on the tools and methodologies through which audiences seek to understand the world around them, while inviting visitors to imagine the life of a solitary researcher faced with the realities of a dark future with declining ocean health impacted by climate change.”  It’s not so hard for me to imagine.

    Lamont Research Professor Mike Kaplan also gave a lecture yesterday at the Eighth Annual Scarsdale High School Global Citizenship Day, in Westchester County.  Mike shared his billing with me:   "Mr. Kaplan, of Columbia University, will explore the changing climates in the Arctic and Antarctic and the connections to global climate change."  Indeed—well done Mr. Kaplan!  And thank you to Mike and everyone who engages in the critical work of educating the next generation of global citizens.

    I am also pleased to officially announce the opening of Lamont’s Lightboard Studio on the first floor of the Geoscience building (opposite the DEES office). The Lightboard Studio was created to help faculty, researchers, and staff produce high-quality videos of their lectures, presentations, and tutorials. The lightboard is “a glass chalkboard pumped full of light. It’s for recording video lecture topics. You face towards your viewers, and your writing glows in front of you”.  A huge thanks goes to the IT department, especially Phil Fitzpatrick and Golam Sarker; to the B and G crew for creating a cool black studio room; to post-doc Oana Dumitru and graduate student Claire Jasper for building a website and making the studio user-friendly; and finally, to DEES Professors Jonny Kingslake and Bärbel Hönisch, for their two engaging sample presentations "Ice Shelf Melting” and "The Other CO2 Problem", respectively, that can give you a sense of what is possible.  Please visit the Studio website for more details.

    Lastly, a few bits of news-you-can-use.  Columbia University will be offering free flu vaccines from October 4 –29.  More details and schedule here.  Bright Horizons is planning to reopen on October 18th. And we are hoping that COVID testing will be back at Lamont next week.  Thank you very much to Howie Matza and his team for helping to make that happen.  Finally, the Lamont Climate Center is accepting submissions for the fall 2021 Requests for Proposals until Monday, November 1. For detailed information and updated guidelines please visit the Climate Center website.

    In closing, I hope you can all join me today for the Friday colloquium presenting “A close look at Earth’s largest carbon isotope excursion”, by Jon Husson of the University of Victoria.

    Have a peaceful weekend.  Best, Mo








Why the Nobel Prizes in medicine, physics, chemistry, and economics are flawed


October 6, 2021

We’ve done episodes in the past about Vera Rubin and Henrietta Leavitt and Marie Tharp. They all made huge contributions to science, and none of them ever won Nobels. Which is obviously part of a larger, longer-term problem of sexism in science, but the Nobels don’t help.


As Climate Changes, Floodplain Maps a Potential ‘Weak ‘Link’

Scripps TV

October 5, 2021

“There are a lot of people who may be underestimating their risk,” said Radley Horton, a research professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University’s The Earth Institute. “With climate change, there's more heat in the atmosphere and a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture.”


Welcome to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Columbia News,

October 4, 2021


NYC’s Old Buildings a Source of Historical Data

Frontiers in Ecology and Environment

October 4, 2021

Article on research by Lamont scientists Caroline Leland and Mukund Rao.


The Megadrought in the Western US Is Entering Its 22nd Year. The Causes Are Partly Natural, Partly Produced by Humans.

Neue Zurcher Zeitung (Germany)

October 1, 2021

Features Lamont scientist Jason Smerdon.


Drought and Wildfire Concerns Worsen at California’s Largest Reservoir

September 30, 2021

Quotes GISS scientist Ben Cook.


Impacts of Ida Expose Underlying Environmental Health Disparities

Columbia Spectator

Sep 30, 2021

Quotes Lamont professor Art Lerner-Lam and EI professor John Mutter.


Risk of oil spills may rise as climate change creates more monster storms

ABC News

Sep 29, 2021

The Greenland ice sheet, the biggest contributor to sea level rise, has added about 10 millimeters to ocean levels over the last 15 years alone, Marco Tedesco, a polar scientist specializing in Greenland for the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, told ABC News.



Now-Extinct Giant South American Sloth Likely Devoured Meat With Its Vegetables

October 7, 2021


Attribution Science: Linking Climate Change to Extreme Weather

October 4, 2021



Recap of Climate Week NYC 2021 at Columbia

October 4, 2021


EI LIVE K12 Is Back for the Academic Year

September 30, 2021