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September 26, 1996

Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Opens Its Doors to the Public Oct. 5

Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory will hold its annual open house on Saturday, Oct. 5, inviting visitors to explore the world-famous earth sciences research center in Palisades, N.Y.

Students of all ages, from kindergarteners to their grandparents, can find out what on Earth's going on - the theme of this year's event. In exhibits, demonstrations and lectures, to be held in laboratory buildings and under tents throughout the campus, scientists and staff will explain the observatory's cutting-edge research, display the equipment and instruments they use and answer questions on earthquakes, volcanoes, dinosaurs, the seafloor, climate, oceans, rocks, ice sheets, hydrothermal vents and other Earth phenomena.

Highlighting this year's open house will be virtual tours "inside" Biosphere 2, the sealed glass-and-steel structure in the desert in Oracle, Ariz., that encloses a variety of ecosystems, including a desert, a savannah, a coral reef, a rain forest and farmland. Through a videoconferencing link, visitors will be able to take a trip into Biosphere 2, which is normally off-limits to visitors, and pose questions to scientists inside.

Because the environment in Biosphere 2 can be controlled, manipulated and monitored, Lamont-Doherty scientists are using it as a unique laboratory to test how the continuing buildup of greenhouse gases may affect plants and ecosystems on Earth. The research is designed to provide insights into the steps that humans can take to avert catastrophe or improve their quality of life. Also on hand to describe their research will be the two Lamont-Doherty scientists who this summer reported one of the year's most amazing discoveries in the earth sciences - that Earth's solid inner core is rotating faster than the planet itself. Using seismic waves, the scientists found a way to detect and measure the motion of the inner core and proved that it is not just a massive, motionless lump at the heart of a multi-layered planet.

Open house visitors will have opportunities to examine tree rings, corals, deep-sea sediments and other clues that reveal Earth's past climate. They will be able to make their own "earthquake" and see how seismic waves are recorded and interpreted. They can see films about scientific expeditions, cruise the Internet and view images from the microworld. In one "feet-on" demonstration, they will learn how the Earth's surface sometimes behaves like a solid and sometimes like a liquid.

Scientists will give talks geared to lay audiences throughout the day on topics that include dinosaurs, diamonds, earthquake prediction, El Nio, active volcanoes beneath Antarctica's ice and ways to verify the comprehensive nuclear weapons test ban currently being debated at the United Nations. Young explorers will be able to participate in a scavenger hunt for knowledge by searching for answers to earth science questions among the exhibits.

The open house is free and open to the public. Hours are 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. Visitors may park at the IBM Executive Conference Center, 1.4 miles north of the observatory on Route 9W in Palisades, N.Y., and take free shuttle buses to and from the Lamont campus. Food and beverages will be available. Disabled persons wishing to attend should call for special access. Call (914) 365-8100 for further information.

Free bus service to Lamont-Doherty is available from the Morningside campus. Buses will depart 116th and Broadway at 9:30 A.M., 10 A.M., 11 A.M. and 11:30 A.M. and will leave the observatory at 2 P.M., 2:30 P.M., 3:30 P.M. and 4 P.M. Reservations are essential; please call the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M. at (914) 365-8550 by Oct. 3 to make reservations.

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