Lamont Weekly Report, September 11, 2015


     A week shortened by a holiday seemed long nonetheless, perhaps because of the start of classes and a change in weather appropriate to the impending change in season. News of the discovery of a new branch in the family tree of our species hit the front pages (, but stories sharing those pages on the refugee crisis in Europe, the debate on the Iran nuclear deal, and today’s anniversary suggest that our evolution may not have progressed as far as we generally prefer to imagine. News from our campus, at least, has been more positive.

     The Association of American Universities announced yesterday that Chris Small and the Earth Institute’s Joel Cohen are to receive the Golden Goose Award for their pioneering work on hypsographic demography, the science of how human populations are distributed with altitude ( The Golden Goose Award, created three years ago by a coalition of business, university, and scientific organizations, “honors researchers whose federally funded work may have seemed odd or obscure when it was first conducted but has resulted in significant benefits to society.” The award will be given next week at a ceremony at the Library of Congress. Congratulations, Chris!

     Lamont and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences welcomed Andy Cohen this week as a Visiting Professor for the fall semester. A paleolimnologist, sedimentologist, and paleoecologist, Andy is a Professor in the Departments of Geosciences and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona ( He is co-teaching a seminar with Peter deMenocal this term on Environmental Change and Human Evolution.

    The Geochemistry Division this week welcomed two new arrivals. Flinders University graduate student Stacey Priestley is a part-time Staff Associate working with Martin Stute. Visiting from the University of Chile, also as a part-time Staff Associate, is Scott Reynout, whose Ph.D. thesis is on glaciological and climate change in Patagonia during the Holocene. At Lamont, Scott will work with Mike Kaplan and Joerg Schaefer.

     Reports from the R/V Langseth indicate that the ship’s ongoing cruise to conduct electromagnetic imaging of the continental shelf sediments off the eastern U.S. is progressing well. Towed electromagnetic array surveys and deployments and retrievals of ocean-bottom electromagnetic systems have been completed off New Jersey, and the ship has moved to a second survey area off Martha’s Vineyard. The cruise is scheduled to be completed on Monday, when the Langseth will return to Woods Hole.

     Einat Lev has added a field blog to our web site this week describing her recent work and that of Elise Rumpf documenting factors that control the physical nature of a young lava flow in Iceland ( Einat and Elise are studying how the characteristics of the pre-existing land surface affect the rate of advance and detailed morphology of a lava flow, using as a type example the 2014-2015 Holuhraun flow in Iceland because of its recency and large areal extent.

     Tim Kenna continued his blog this week from the GEOTRACES cruise to the Arctic Ocean on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. This week’s entry describes efforts to recover undisturbed samples of the upper tens of centimeters of soft sediments from the Arctic seafloor ( Marty Fleischer is also participating on the cruise.

     Also onboard the Healy is one of Taro Takahashi’s instruments to measure the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in ocean water. Taro writes, “[Our] instrument reached the north pole (89.997°N) on September 6. The partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) in seawater is found to be 343.3 micro-atmospheres at the water temperature of –1.438°C. This is about 50 micro-atmospheres below the atmospheric pCO2 of 392.7 micro-atmospheres and indicates that Arctic Ocean water is a strong CO2 sink. The measurements confirm that the Arctic Ocean is helping to slow down the accumulation of greenhouse gases in [the atmosphere]."

     Taro is also coauthor of a paper in today’s issue of Science reporting that carbon dioxide uptake by the Southern Ocean, which had slowed relative to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide late last century, began accelerating in 2002. The multinational coauthor team showed that by 2012 the surface ocean CO2 levels regained the strength expected on the basis of growth of atmospheric CO2. The large decadal variations in Southern Ocean CO2 uptake indicate a more dynamic ocean carbon cycle than previously recognized. A Kevin Krajick story on the work appears on our web site (

     Tim Creyts was interviewed for a story this week in Hopes and Fears, entitled “Earth’s bucket list: Your last chance to hike a glacier, be a cowboy, and more” ( Tim’s comments were on retreating glaciers rather than being a cowboy.

     WNYC is partnering in a study by Steve Chillrud and his colleagues from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, on the effect of air pollution on cyclists in New York City. The group is specifically working to document the effect of volumetric breathing rate on the inhaled dose of fine particles. A story quoting Steve, including a link to an audio piece on “All Things Considered,” was posted yesterday (

     Jason Smerdon was quoted today in an story on the challenges to terraforming on Mars, joining a discussion prompted by an off-hand remark by Elon Musk to Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” Wednesday night (

     On Monday next week we will hold the 11th annual Excellence in Mentoring Award Ceremony. The Excellence in Mentoring Awards are open to mentors at any of the four Earth Institute units on the Lamont Campus, and representatives from all units serve on the selection committee. This year a record number of nominating and seconding letters have been submitted for ten nominees: Natalie Boelman, Louise Bolge, Wally Broecker, Steve Goldstein, Bob Newton, Pratigya Polissar, Dave Walker, Gisela Winckler, Alessandra Giannini from IRI, and Xiaoshi Xing from CIESIN. The ceremony will begin at 3:30 pm in the Monell Auditorium, and a reception in the Monell lobby will follow.

     Lamont’s Advisory Board will meet on Wednesday next week in the Comer Building. Having heard once about each of Lamont’s scientific strategic initiatives, the Board will now devote a portion of each meeting to a discussion of progress made to date on one of those initiatives as well as near-term and longer-term priorities for fundraising needed to maintain or accelerate that progress. Peter deMenocal will lead the first such discussion on the initiative on Climate and Life.

    On Friday next week, the Earth Science Colloquium series will kick off a new season. Our Colloquium Committee – Olivia Clifton, Kassandra Costa, Ruthie Oliver, Kira Olsen, Frank Pavia, Daniel Rasmussen, and Ajit Subramaniam – has already lined up an impressive slate of speakers for the fall and much of the spring. The lead colloquium will be by biogeochemist Adina Paytan, from the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz (

     Following the colloquium, at 4:30 pm next Friday, our Tree-Ring Laboratory will be hosting a party in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the laboratory’s founding. Everyone from Lamont is invited, and for those who rely on the shuttle to return to the city, an extra shuttle has been scheduled for the 7 pm departure slot.

     In the meantime, DEES is hosting a party this afternoon to welcome the 18 new graduate students who began classes this week. The party will begin at 3 pm behind Lamont Hall. Come meet your newest colleagues!