Contact: Faye Yates
(914) 365-8878

For immediate release
July 27, 1999

Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Announces Events Celebrating 50th Anniversary

Research Unit to Host State-of-the-Planet Conference Nov. 15-16

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University's renowned earth sciences research division in Palisades, N.Y., turns 50 this fall. Five major events, including a State-of-the-Planet Conference and publication of a book and compact disk chronicling the Observatory's history, are planned to mark the occasion.

The Observatory was founded as the Lamont Geological Observatory on the Lamont estate in Palisades, N.Y., in 1949, when Florence Lamont, the widow of prominent New York financier Thomas Lamont, gave the 115-acre property to Columbia. In 1969, the Observatory's name was changed to the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory in recognition of a generous gift from the Henry and Grace Doherty Charitable Fund. The name was changed again in 1993, to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, to better reflect the broad scope of the institution's research.

With the gift of the Lamont estate in 1949, Maurice Ewing, the Observatory's founder and first director, plus a dozen or so colleagues, including Frank Press, who was later to become president of the National Academy of Sciences, moved their laboratories from Columbia's Morningside Heights campus in Manhattan to Palisades. At first working out of a root cellar on the beautiful Lamont estate, they launched what is now widely acknowledged as the world's preeminent earth sciences research institution.

Since its very beginning, Lamont-Doherty has been at the forefront of major breakthroughs in the earth sciences, and also has become known as a center for the study of climate change. Among the Observatory's accomplishments: Lamont scientists laid the groundwork for plate tectonics theory by mapping the ocean seafloor; created the first computer model to accurately predict El Niño; and discovered that the Earth's core is spinning faster than the Earth itself. Nearly 450 Columbia affiliates, including more than 100 research scientists and another hundred Ph.D. students, now work at the Observatory.

Five major events are scheduled in celebration of the anniversary:

  • An all-Lamont Birthday Bash, September 27, to be held in Manhattan's famous Rainbow Room;
  • An alumni reunion, Oct. 2-3, to be held on the Lamont grounds and at the IBM Executive Conference Center in Palisades;
  • The Observatory's annual Open House, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Oct. 2, to be held on the Lamont grounds;
  • A State-of-the-Planet Conference, Nov. 15-16, to be held at Lamont; and
  • The dedication of the Monell Building Dec. 8. The building will house the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction as well as the Observatory directorate.

More than 200 alumni, some from as far away as Russia and Denmark, are expected to return to Palisades to take part in the reunion in early October. The reunion coincides with the Observatory's Open House, which yearly attracts more than 5,000 visitors from Rockland and Bergen counties.

This year's Open House will feature talks by Lamont alumni on their experiences in the Observatory's early days, in addition to its traditional offerings of scientific lectures and exhibits, all designed for a general audience. New exhibits will include a look at the history of the Observatory; the result of recent research along the Hudson River; and a teleconference with scientists aboard the R/V Ewing, the Observatory's research vessel, which travels the world collecting oceanographic data.

The State-of-the-Planet Conference will bring together Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning scientists, poets, journalists and statesmen to address planetary issues related to living in Earth's changing climate; living in a human-dominated biosphere; and living with natural finite resources. Speakers at the conference will include: James Baker, director of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Wilfred Beckerman, an Oxford University economist; Wallace Broecker, the Newberry Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia, whose work on global warming won him the National Medal of Science; Gale Christianson, author of "Greenhouse: The 200-Year Story of Global Warming"; William Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government; Joel Cohen, professor of international and public affairs at Columbia, director of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University and author of "How Many People Can the Earth Support?"; Jorie Graham, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, noted for her environmental poetry; Robert Hass, a recent United States Poet Laureate who writes almost exclusively about the environment; James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the first scientist to alert Congress to the threat of global warming; Robert Kaplan, critically acclaimed author of "The Ends of the Earth"; Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT and dissenter from the view that global warming is a result of human activities; Marc Reisner, author of "Cadillac Desert," recently named one of the top 100 books of the century; and F. Sherwood Rowland, Nobel Prize winning chemist.

William Baker, president of WNET-Channel 13; Cornelia Dean, science editor of The New York Times; and Ira Flatow, host of National Public Radio's "Science Friday," will serve as moderators of the three sessions.

Two years ago, NOAA awarded Columbia University $15 million to create the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction on the Lamont-Doherty campus. On Dec. 8, a new building to house the institute will be officially dedicated. The climate prediction institute's mission is to produce climate forecasts that can be used by policymakers all over the world to make practical decisions about climate-related issues, such as agriculture and control of infectious diseases. The building will be named the Monell Building, in recognition of a major contribution from the Ambrose Monell Foundation. Designed by Rafael Viñoly, the 10,000 square-foot facility is situated overlooking the Hudson River and will feature a 200-seat state-of-the-art auditorium.

In addition to special events, the Observatory is producing a 50th anniversary book co-authored by 12 Lamont-Doherty scientists who relate the Observatory's history through personal insights and anecdotes. A CD with selections from Lamont-Doherty's recently collected oral history will also be available. The oral history and chapters from the book will be available on the Internet, as well as in hard copy.

Earlier this year, Lamont-Doherty hosted a series of monthly public lectures, presented by Observatory scientists in commemoration of its first 50 years.

For more information about upcoming events, call (914) 365-8565 or e-mail

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