Written by John de Villier
The newest cohort of MPA Environmental Science and Policy students received a faculty-led tour of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory last week as part of their “summer of science”—sixteen weeks of intense coursework in ecology, climatology, environmental chemistry, and more designed to give future policymakers and sustainability leaders a firm understanding of scientific principles and earth systems.
Established in 1948, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is one of the foremost institutions of earth science research in the world. Researchers at the Palisades, New York campus have made dozens of key contributions to the advancement of earth and climate science over the last 70 years: Wallace Broecker coined the term “global warming” in 1973, Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen developed the first bathymetric map of the ocean floor in 1977, and Mark Cane and Stephen Zebiak led the creation of the first explanatory and predictive model for El Niño events in 1986. The Observatory is also the origin of the modern theory of plate tectonics.
After learning about the institution’s history from Deputy Director Arthur Lerner-Lam, students were treated to a presentation by Brendan M. Buckley, a research professor who uses dendroclimatic techniques to reconstruct past climate conditions from tree ring records collected around the world. Sean Higgins, Director of Marine Operations, fielded students’ questions about the Observatory’s state-of-the-art oceanographic research vessel, the R/V Marcus G. Langseth, which conducts seismological research in support of both national and international research projects.
Students ended their day with a behind-the-scenes look at the research that two of their program professors, Park Williams (Climatology) and Benjamin Bostick (Environmental Chemistry), are involved in at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Professor Williams led a tour of the Tree Ring Lab and described the processes by which tree cores—sometimes from trees that were naturally buried and protected from decomposition centuries ago—can be used to establish and cross-reference the climatic history of the region in which those trees grow. Professor Bostick showed students the geochemical laboratory facilities and discussed his work with heavy metal contamination in Vietnamese soils and drinking water.
The MPA Environmental Science and Policy program at Columbia University is uniquely designed to educate students in environmental science as it relates to policy and management decisions. Over the course of a year-long program, students work closely with faculty affiliated with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the Earth Institute, and the School of International and Public Affairs. To learn more about the program, visit our website.