Lamont Weekly Report, September 11, 2020

     Hello Friends,  This will be a short newsletter for a short week.  It is also the week we welcome our new cohort of graduate students to Lamont!  Of course, we usually have a lovely picnic behind Lamont Hall, but this year we will have a “Zoom picnic” instead.  Pass the ketchup! With DEES Chair Jerry McManus, I look forward to welcoming everyone to Lamont, online later today.  Lamont is truly one of the great Earth Science research institutes of the world, rich in history, and for you entering at this bizarre time, its special charms, places, and people will unfold slowly over the coming year.  I truly hope we are back to “normal” by next semester.

     In a separate email yesterday, I let Lamont know the unfortunate news that Bright Horizons has decided against reopening the Lamont daycare center this fall.  However, we did develop a local option to support our families, and we hope you can take advantage of this.  Children's Corner operates a daycare facility in Pearl River that has capacity for our children.  The director of the facility will waive the registration fees, and we have verified that the tuition rates will be less than or equal to the rates charged to you at our facility. Children's Corner is also a participating backup care provider with Columbia University, and the director will work with you to best utilize that benefit to manage your tuition costs.  Please reach out to Pat O’Reilly or contact them directly.

     As always, there are wins and losses.  In the win category, we are excited about the recent funding of the  Alliance-Building Offshore to Achieve Resilience and Diversity (All-ABOARD) program.  This is an exciting new project that will utilize intergenerational academic teams, from graduate students through to deans and chairs (and interim directors?), to build and nurture DEI leaders and facilitate long-term institutional change. The project involves virtual team-building and support, combined with an innovative collaborative workshop on board a UNOLS vessel next summer.  The project will be led by Sharon Cooper (who is the Education Manager for the U.S. Science Support Program of the IODP, based at Lamont) and postdoc Benjamin Keisling (who never sleeps?).  Kudos Ben and Sharon!

     In science news, Wednesday’s middle-of-the-night magnitude 3.1 earthquake in New Jersey takes top honors this week.  Numerous local TV stations reported on the event and Lamont seismologists John Armbruster and Art Lerner-Lam ably provided expert commentary both on air and in the New York Times.  I loved reading, in the NYT story, the response of citizen Fernando Bravo who said it sounded like “something big had dropped” – he then went to check on his daughters “who told him it was an earthquake”.  Too funny, from the mouths of babes.

     Of course, the wildfire news is also unrelenting and tragic.  From lightning strikes, to gender reveal parties, to zombie fires, it is apocalyptic – click on the Esquire story to get a sense of how otherworldly California looks right now.  These fires are being fueled by a perfect storm of factors including drought, lightning strikes with no rain, unhealthy forests, heat waves, and of course, climate change which exacerbates all these factors making them more likely to occur.  From the East Bay Times: “Climate change from human activity nearly doubled the area that burned in forest fires in the American West between 1984 and 2015, according to a study in 2016 by scientists at Columbia University and the University of Idaho. ‘No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear,’ said Park Williams, a climate scientist at Columbia’s Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory in New York. ‘Climate is really running the show.’  The solution? More forest thinning, better building codes, more renewable energy, a more robust power grid, experts say. In the short term? Be careful with fire. And pray for rain.”  Or maybe just pray for a more climate-responsive and climate-responsible federal government?

     I could leave the topic of forest fires at that, but I know inquiring minds like your own are asking, “Hey, what is that zombie fire thing?”  Well, they are in fact a thing – zombie fires are smoldering peat fires that lurk under the snow and ice of the Arctic all winter, only to leap to life at the surface with the summer snow/ice meltback.  Apparently, zombie fires are also growing in size and frequency, again due to (no surprise here) climate change. "The destruction of peat by fire is troubling for so many reasons," says Dorothy Peteet, Lamont Adjunct Senior Research Scientist. "As the fires burn off the top layers of peat, the permafrost depth may deepen, further oxidizing the underlying peat."  This leads to additional release of carbon and methane from the peat, a strong positive feedback which of course leads to further warming of the planet.  It is painful to think about these things as the implications slowly sink in.

     Finally, I’ll just say that for me, it has been a busy week filled with diverse activities.  These have included filming soundbites and selfies for upcoming Columbia Giving Day videos, sitting on and chairing committees involved with the new Climate School planning, planning for a virtual Open House, reaching out to donors, working on new research initiatives with Lamont colleagues, thinking about budgets and incentives, trying to get people hired under a hiring freeze, and later today, taking part in filming a science documentary.  And that’s an incomplete snapshot.  In lieu of working late into the night yesterday (I see you things-that-are-falling-through-the-cracks), I chose a mental health break with my friend Nikki instead (aka glass of wine at Sidewalk Bistro in Piermont).  As we parted she said, “Mo, you really need to check out yoga with Adriene online.”  As Nikki appreciates that I am not much of a yoga girl, I figured I should heed her advice and check it out.  And it was good – my seven minutes of pajama yoga this morning with the unpretentious Adriene and her Australian cattle dog Benji (!) did feel good. I didn’t see a “Yoga for overworked scientists” session in her vast catalog of YouTube videos, but maybe it is in there somewhere.  Self-care, people!  Have a lovely weekend!  









Small Earthquake Rattles New Jersey

The New York Times

September 9, 2020

Article quotes Lamont deputy director Art Lerner-Lam.


Magnitude 3.1 Earthquake Shakes New Jersey

NBC 4 New York

September 9, 2020

Segment includes interview with Lamont seismologist John Armbruster.


3.1 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Monmouth County, New Jersey

CBS New York

September 9, 2020

Segment includes interviews with Lamont seismologist John Armbruster and deputy director Art Lerner-Lam.


Apocalyptic Photos of the Wildfires and Smoky Skies on the West Coast


September 9, 2020

Article quotes Lamont bioclimatologist Park Williams.


The Climate Connection to California’s Wildfires

The New York Times

September 8, 2020

Article quotes Lamont bioclimatologist Park Williams.


California Fires: Five Reasons Why This Year Is So Bad

East Bay Times

September 8, 2020

Article quotes Lamont bioclimatologist Park Williams.


'You Couldn’t See Anything’: Harrowing Helicopter Rescues as California Wildfires Rage

The New York Times

September 8, 2020

Article quotes Lamont bioclimatologist Park Williams.


Creating Safe Spaces: Postdoctoral Fellow Fosters Diversity in Geological Sciences

BingU News

September 7, 2020

Article cites article by Lamont diversity officer Kuheli Dutt.


Zombie Wildfires Are Blazing through the Arctic, Causing Record Burning

Live Science

September 7, 2020

Article quotes Lamont paleoclimatologist Dorothy Peteet.


'Rising Risk' Docuseries Examines Alarming Predictions about New York City Flooding

WABC 7 New York

September 4, 2020

Series includes interviews with Lamont climate scientist Radley Horton.


Steadying Mid-Ocean Ridge Spreading Rates


September 4, 2020

Article cites research led by Lamont marine geophysicist Alberto Malinverno.




Deep Channels Linking Antarctic Glacier’s Underside to Ocean Could Hasten Melting

September 09, 2020

Newly discovered deep seabed channels beneath the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica may be pathways for warm ocean water to melt the undersides of the ice, and contribute to sea-level rise say scientists.


A Summer Immersed in the Hudson: Next Generation of Hudson River Educators

September 04, 2020

Interns developed skills in science communication by creating educational materials about the river’s colorful stories, myths, and misunderstandings.


Come Learn in the Earth Institute’s New Non-Degree Programs This Fall

September 03, 2020

Join us for our non-degree programs launching this fall and connect to timely topics around climate and sustainability.