Lamont Weekly Report, September 9, 2016

     Late this morning, a note from Enrico Bonatti brought the sad news that Dee Breger passed away yesterday. With a degree in studio art from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Dee joined Lamont in 1964 as a scientific illustrator. She quickly gained expertise in electron microscopy, and for 22 years she managed Lamont’s scanning electron microscope and X-ray microanalysis facility. She also participated in more than 30 field expeditions, most at sea. Among her publications is a book that combined her loves of science and art, Journeys in Microspace: The Art of the Scanning Electron Microscope, published by Columbia University Press in 1995. A number of Dee’s particularly stunning photographs grace the corridor outside of Lamont’s Core Repository. In 2004 Dee left Lamont to take the position of Director of Microscopy at Drexel University, and in 2009 she moved to Saratoga, New York, to devote more time to her company, Micrographic Arts, but her collaborations and communications with Lamont scientists continued throughout. She will be missed by many in the Lamont community.

     The week began, in contrast, with a three-day weekend that was filled with news of our planet. The generally northeastward track of hurricane and tropical storm Hermine along the U.S. east coast was foreshadowed in New York by a front-page Justin Gillis article in Sunday’s New York Times on the increased occurrence of coastal zone flooding in response to sea level rise ( One day earlier, a magnitude 5.6 earthquake in Oklahoma tied the record for the largest event ever recorded in the region ( and prompted the U.S. Geological Survey to launch an investigation into the link to subsurface injection of wastewater from oil and gas drilling operations in the area. Also on Saturday, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China formally committed the two nations to last December’s Paris climate agreement ( 

     This week also marked the start of the semester and the first week of fall classes at Columbia. Notwithstanding the warm and humid weather, summer has ended on the academic calendar. 

     The Geochemistry Division this week welcomed the arrival of Visiting Senior Research Scientist Erik Hauri. A Staff Scientist in Geochemistry at the Carnegie Institution for Science (, Erik applies isotopic and chemical measurements to a broad range of problems on the origin and evolution of the Earth and Moon and other planetary bodies. A recipient of both the American Geophysical Union’s Macelwane Medal and the European Association of Geochemistry’s Houtermans Medal, Erik will be giving seminars in both the Geochemistry and Geodynamics series during his two-month visit to Lamont. 

     The Biology and Paleo Environment Division, in turn, welcomed geologist, geochronologist, and paleoclimatologist Stephen Meyers, who will be spending the fall semester at Lamont on sabbatical leave from the Department of Geoscience at the University of Wisconsin, Madison ( Stephen works on mechanisms of climate change, controls on the global carbon cycle, and measurement of geological time. He will be giving the BPE seminar next Monday, a Columbia Climate Center seminar two days later, and a short course on “The Construction of High-precision Astronomically Calibrated Time Scales: A Short Course and Workshop with Applications in R” (R is a statistical software package) during four days in the second half of October. 

     On Monday, Nature magazine posted online a paper by Yaakov Weiss, Conny Class, Steve Goldstein, and Takeshi Hanyu from JAMSTEC on the origin of the HIMU end-member of ocean island basalts. The term HIMU, denoting a high value of the ratio of uranium to lead, was part of the alphabet soup promulgated by mantle geochemists Alan Zindler (then at Lamont) and Stan Hart (then at MIT) 30 years ago to systematize the source regions of ocean island basalts on the basis of known isotopic tracers. Contrary to the long-held view that HIMU mantle consists of recycled oceanic crust, Yaakov and his coworkers showed that trace element patterns in olivine phenocrysts in HIMU basalts point to metasomatism of a peridotite source region by carbonatite fluids. Moreover, they argued that similarities to trace element patterns in carbonatitic melt inclusions in diamonds indicate that such metsomatism occurred in the lithospheric mantle beneath continental cratons. The team concluded that HIMU source regions began in the Archean to early Proterozoic in the roots of continental lithosphere, separated at some point and became entrained in the convecting mantle, were stored for a time in a mantle boundary layer such as the one overlying the core-mantle boundary, and finally rose to shallow levels in a mantle plume that partially melted to yield ocean island lavas. A Kevin Krajick story on the paper appears on our web site ( 

     On Tuesday, the government of Canada announced funding for a new initiative on oceanographic observation and research. The Ocean Frontier Institute, led by Dalhousie University, will focus on the health and evolution of the northwestern Atlantic and Arctic oceans, with a particular emphasis on interactions among physical, chemical, and biological systems ( Lamont is one of eight international partner organizations. The initial term of the institute will be 7 years, during which there will be opportunities for Observatory scientists to engage in collaborative research and scholarly exchanges. Art Lerner-Lam led Lamont’s participation during the proposal phase of the OFI partnership. 

     On Wednesday and Thursday, Lamont hosted a NASA-sponsored workshop on Greenland Surface Mass Balance ( The goal of the workshop was to develop a strategy to improve estimates of the surface mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet. Robin Bell, Indrani Das, and Marco Tedesco served on the workshop organizing committee. 

     The high school interns who swelled the ranks of summer researchers at Lamont have returned to their schools, but a reminder of their experience can be found on the Observatory’s Facebook page, where Stacy Morford posted an album of field and lab photos of interns who were part of this year’s Secondary School Field Research Program ( In all, 46 high school students, 12 college students, and eight high-school science teachers participated this summer on SSFRP research teams guided by Lamont faculty and staff and mentored by graduate students and postdoctoral scientists. 

     Suzana Camargo was quoted in a Climate Central story Monday on a report by others that landfalling typhoons in the northwestern Pacific have increased in intensity and intensified more rapidly over the last four decades more than storms that have remained at sea ( Monday’s issue of New York Magazine includes a feature-length article on New York City in a future era of higher sea level, with abundant quotes from Klaus Jacob, described, not unfondly, as a “a geophysicist by profession and a doomsayer by disposition” ( For an Associated Press story, Science Writer Seth Borenstein sought out Adam Sobel for comment on a new paper arguing that global warming increased the odds for the heavy precipitation that led to Louisiana’s widespread flooding last month ( 

     Solar system asteroids also figured in the news this week. On Wednesday, asteroid 2016 RB1, approximately 10 m across, passed without incident 38,000 km above Earth’s surface (, about the same altitude as geosynchronous satellites. And last night, NASA launched the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) spacecraft on a trajectory to rendezvous in 2018 with the near-Earth asteroid Bennu – thought on spectral grounds to be primitive and carbon-rich – recover a sample from the asteroid’s surface, and return that sample to Earth in 2023 ( 

     This weekend, of course, will include the 15th anniversary of September 11. A Kevin Krajick story on the work of Won-Young Kim to unravel the seismic record of the events of that morning can be found on our web site ( 

     But before the weekend officially begins, the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences is hosting a Welcome Party this afternoon for our 17 new graduate students. The party will be held behind Lamont Hall, starting around 3 pm, and both food and drink are promised. I hope to see you there.