Lamont Weekly Report, March 14, 2014


    For a second week in the last three, our campus grieves over the loss of a long-time friend and respected colleague, after Gerry Iturrino suffered a fatal heart attack on Tuesday night. A fixture in the Borehole Research Group, Gerry had worked at the Observatory for 18 years. Our condolences go out to Gerry’s family, even as we remember with fondness his time in the extended family that is Lamont.

    And notwithstanding our collective sense of sudden loss, we continue the pursuit that binds us together, the search for a deeper understanding of our planet.

    On Monday, Adam Sobel organized a meeting to introduce visitors David Bachiochi and Dail Rowe from WeatherPredict Consulting, a subsidiary of Renaissance Reinsurance, to the Extreme Weather and Climate initiative of Lamont and Columbia. Participants included Michela Biasutti, Suzana Camargo, Yochanan Kushnir, Richard Seager, Pete Sobel, Mingfang Ting, and me, as well as John Allen and Chia-Ying Lee from IRI, Jose Blanchett from the Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, Timothy Hall from the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS), Manu Lall from the Columbia Water Center, Shuguang Wang from the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics (APAM), and Michael Tippett from APAM and IRI.

    As if through a tremor in space–time, two groups of seismologists converged on Lamont for overlapping meetings on Monday and Tuesday. The Global Seismographic Network (GSN) Standing Committee of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) met under the gavel of chair Meredith Nettles. And the Ocean Bottom Seismograph Instrument Pool (OBSIP) Oversight Committee, also under the aegis of IRIS, was convened by chair Don Forsyth of Brown University.

    Tuesday for me was a day spent on the Morningside campus. Mike Purdy hosted another in a series of meetings on strengthening the partnership between Columbia University and GISS. NASA participants included Colleen Hartman, Deputy Director for Science, Operations and Program Performance at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC); Gavin Schmidt from GISS; and Piers Sellers, Deputy Director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate at GSFC. I joined Peter Schlosser, Adrian Hill from Mike’s office, Dean of Science Amber Miller, and Associate Dean of Science and Planning David Zielinski as additional representatives of Columbia.

    Lamont’s Advisory Board met at the Observatory on Wednesday afternoon. After a tour of the video wall in Lamont’s Core Repository, purchased with a grant from the Board Innovation Fund, Board members held their first meetings of the five new Board committees, on Membership, Marketing, Risk, Education, and Development. The full Board heard a presentation by Adam Sobel on Lamont’s Extreme Weather and Climate initiative, and the meeting was followed by a Director’s Circle lecture by Richard Seager on “Droughts in a changing climate: A tale of three current droughts.”

    On Thursday, the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences announced the good news that Alison Hartman has been awarded a Fulbright grant, as well as a postdoctoral fellowship from the Inter-university Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel. Alison will work with former Lamont Assistant Research Professor Adi Torfstein, who holds positions at both the Inter-university Institute and the Institute of Earth Sciences at Hebrew University. 

    Also on Thursday, Christine McCarthy and Einat Lev tag-teamed on a presentation to the Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program on the subject of “Changing Earth: Exploring the science of ice, rock, and magma across the world” (
    Thursday was another day on the Morningside campus for me. The meeting of the Council of Deans that morning touched on such topics as current searches for open dean positions, consolidating Columbia University health care coverage under a single provider, and reports from committees on cross-school collaboration, urban issues, and international initiatives. That afternoon, Kathy Callahan, Dave Goldberg, Sean Higgins, Art Lerner-Lam, and I visited Mike Purdy to discuss a new business model for the R/V Langseth that includes reaching out to industry and international partners and expanding opportunities for Columbia students to experience time at sea on an oceanographic vessel. Kathy, Art, and I then joined Edie Miller, Rachel Roberts, Peter Schlosser, Pete Sobel, and Mingfang Teng at an Earth Institute meeting on strategic plan implementation and institute management.
    Late last week, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences posted an article led by Neil Pederson on an 1100-year tree-ring record of precipitation in Mongolia. Neil and his coauthors discovered that the 15-year interval with the highest cumulative rainfall in a millennium occurred in 1211-1225, a period that coincided with the rise of the 13th Century Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan. Neil and his group proposed that the period was one of high grassland productivity that may have enabled the rapid expansion of the influence of the horse-borne Mongol armies ( The team also concluded that global warming has exacerbated the drought in Mongolia during this century. Their paper received widespread media coverage this week, including stories in Time ( and National Geographic ( and on PBS NewsHour (
    Other Lamont scientists were also featured in the news this week. Today’s issue of Science magazine carries a story on “newsmaker” Mo Raymo and the Wollaston Medal she will be given later this year by the Geological Society of London. An NBC News story Monday on the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 quoted Arnold Gordon on the challenges to be faced by those searching for the lost craft ( On Tuesday, Bob Anderson was interviewed for a story on the anthropogenic contribution to lead in the oceans as documented by the GEOTRACES program ( Also on Tuesday, Peter deMenocal appeared in a video on a super fuel-efficient automobile of the future posted on ABC News ( Won-Young Kim was quoted in an Ohio paper Wednesday on the relation of recent earthquake activity in the area to the downhole injection of wastewater from oil and gas drilling (
    Two additions to the Blogs and Videos section of our website appeared this week. For any who missed last week’s outstanding Jardetzky Lecture by Harvard University’s Jerry Mitrovica, a video of his presentation may be viewed at And Donna Shillington has begun a blog on the SUwanee Suture and GA Rift basin experiment, for which 1200 seismometers are being deployed along a 300-km-long profile across Georgia to determine the seismic structural signatures of the 290-My-old continental collision that contributed to the assembly of Pangaea, the 230-My-old breakup that led to the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, and the emplacement 200 My ago of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province. The experiment’s acronym, SUGAR, no doubt describes the charm with which Donna, in her best Georgia drawl, persuaded local farmers and landholders to permit seismometer deployment and explosive shooting across their land.
    Today’s Earth Science Colloquium will be given by Galen McKinley, an Associate Professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an expert on marine and lacustrine carbon ( Galen will be speaking on “Natural variability and anthropogenic trends in the ocean carbon sink.” I hope to see you there.