Lamont Weekly Report, February 1, 2013

     Every now and then, a finding from another field of science reminds me that the workings of our planet are sometimes more fascinating than we imagine. A story posted by The New Yorker ( on Sunday describes a paper in Current Biology by a Swedish team reporting that a species of dung beetle uses the position of the Milky Way to navigate at night. Only the fact that I count many astronomers as friends keeps me from drawing a deeper parallel.

     On Monday, Mark Cane, Richard Seager, Adam Sobel, and I participated in a meeting convened by Mike Purdy to discuss the strengthening of collaborative research and educational ties among the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the Center for Climate Systems Research, Lamont, and other elements of the Earth Institute. One of the motivations for the discussion was that NASA’s lease on the five floors that GISS occupies at 2880 Broadway will terminate one year from now. A competition for a new lease will be managed on NASA’s behalf by the General Services Administration, and programmatic connections between Columbia and GISS could be a primary basis for selecting among lease opportunities. Further discussions among Lamont, GISS, and CCSR scientists are planned to document existing collaborations and to identify areas of enhanced partnering.

     On Wednesday, Naomi Schrag, Columbia’s Associate Vice President for Research Compliance, led a training session on export control. Every expedition of the Langseth and much of the fieldwork conducted by Lamont scientists in other countries face export control issues, and it is important that anyone at the Observatory who is proposing or conducting such work understand the operative regulations and how to comply with them. Edie Miller yesterday circulated copies of the training session material to everyone on campus. Edie, Denyse Brown, Maribel Respo, and Karen Hoffer are particularly knowledgeable about these issues and can offer advice.  

     In news from DC, the Senate on Tuesday passed the supplementary appropriations bill for Hurricane Sandy relief. The bill, earlier passed by the House, includes $50M to NOAA for laboratories and cooperative institutes with research activities associated with sustained observations, weather research programs, and ocean and coastal research. On Wednesday, NSF announced that Oregon State University has been selected as the lead institution to finalize the design and coordinate the construction of as many as three new regional class research vessels (

     Lamont scientists were also featured in multiple news stories this week. Klaus Jacob was cited in stories on Hurricane Sandy on Live Science ( and in Columbia Magazine (,0). Geoff Abers was quoted in a story in EnergyWire on seismicity induced by hydraulic fracturing ( And Mark Cane was cited in stories in Science News ( and ClimateWire ( on the finding in a Nature paper on which he was coauthor that increases in global rainfall associated with global warming depend on the warming mechanism.

     Next week’s Earth Science Colloquium features geochemist Scott McClennan, a Professor in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University. An expert on the evolution of planetary crusts, particularly as revealed in the sedimentary rock record, Scott is dividing his sabbatical this academic year between visits to Lamont and extended trips to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in his role as a Participating Scientist on the Mars Science Laboratory rover, also known as Curiosity. I hope that you will join me to hear what Scott has to say about “Returning samples from Mars – no prospect of an end?”