Stop 5 – Columbia University, New York, NY

From the calm, leafy greenness of the UConn campus in Connecticut, to the hyper-urban, downright lunacy of New York, my GSA lecture tour crunched through the gears and switched it up.

The GSA travel agent saw fit to fly me from Hartford, CT to to New York, NY via Washington DC. Although it was nice to glimpse the ‘swamp’ and the White House(!) through a cloud-heavy sky, it was clear, having briefly peeped at the in-flight magazine, that it wasn’t the direct route. In hindsight, I maybe should have checked a map of the US when my itinerary was sent to me late last year. As it was, I arrived nice and early in downtown Manhattan, having navigated the labyrinthine but amazingly functional, New York public transportation system.

My first job was to head down to 16th and Broadway to meet Graham Ganssle (@grahamganssle), do’er and thinker extraordinaire. I cannot even begin to classify what Graham does; I can only say that I befriended him via Matt Hall (@kwinkunks), an old friend who did his PhD a few years ahead of me at Manchester University. I had kinda, sorta met Graham a couple of times when I ‘appeared’ on Undersampled Radio, the science(?)-based podcast he hosts with Matt; I least managed to recognise him when he walked into my café. Having remarked on how tall I was in real life, we chatted and drank fancy coffees, before heading out to drop off my case at the apartment he was staying in. Beer and lunch beckoned, so we repaired to a small bar to wait for Matt’s delayed arrival from Halifax via Montreal. It was great to see Matt again, having not seen him, face-to-face, for around 15 years. However, weirdly enough, it didn’t feel like that long, having been in fairly regular contact with him in the last few years via the Twittersphere. We drank, ate, and chatted, before heading back to our AirBnB to check-in and to make something vaguely resembling a plan. To be honest, the rest of the evening went by in a bit of a blur. I vaguely remember a dark, wood panelled bar, a pasta dish served in a half-wheel of Parmesan (see here), meeting an awesome geek called Ethan (@eprosenthal), and then a podcast. Yes, full of booze, cheese and carbs, we did an Undersampled Radio podcast. What on? I don’t recall, but you when it’s been edited down I’ll tweet it out.

The morning after the night before was *cough*, rather ‘slow’ *cough*, so we tried to kick-start things by taking on epic bagels and juice. Remembering I was not in town to simply drink, talk and eat, I had to hustle to get uptown to Columbia University to get the shuttle-bus out to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to give my GSA talk. The second half of the bus-ride out to the leafy campus was ace, crossing the mighty Hudson River, and climbing up and along the impressive escarpment formed by the Palisades Sill.

That. That is the Palisades Sill escarpment. Wow.

I was met at the campus by the indefatigable, still-British, Nick Christie-Blick (@christieblick). With a range of research interests as broad as mine, Nick is one of my geo-heros. Over lunch we had an animated chat about how science, in our case Earth Science, should focus on tackling exciting, complicated problems, and not exclusively on specific geographical regions or method development. We also discussed politics. Nick then took me to my lecture, which was to focus on the growth of normal faults (this talk, on the second leg of this tour, has proven to be especially popular). I must admit to being slightly nervous; Lamont-Doherty has some folks who know their shit about continental extension and normal faulting…plus for reasons that will always remain a mystery to me, Graham and Matt had made the long trip up town and off the island of Manhattan to watch me talk. To make matters far, far worse, they then sat in the front row. I think the talk went well, with even some geochemists/petrologists (I’m looking at you, fellow GSA Distinguished Lecturer Terry Plank…) nodding approvingly as I rambled on about kinematic models for normal faults. The Q&A was long and ‘robust’, and I was eventually allowed to leave to visit some of the faculty.

First up was Roger Buck (yes everyone, I met Roger Buck…), who took Matt, Graham and I on a tour of the campus, showing us the original Tharp and Heezen map of the seafloor, and telling us captivating stories about the birth and growth of Lamont-Doherty. We then chatted briefly to Roger and several students about their research on continental extension. The upshot of this; there’s some seriously A-Grade work being done at Lamont on the processes and products of continental extension. What was particularly inspiring was thinking about how our work on relatively small, segmented, upper crustal fault systems work in the context of larger-scale variations in crustal rheology, temperature, etc, etc.

Heezen and Tharp map of the seafloor. The original was painted. Painted.

My mind was fizzing as I went to meet Donna Shillington and her student Natalie Accardo, who are doing some awesome work on Lake Malawi. Part of a major, multi-disciplinary study called SEGMeNT, they are using an array of geological and geophysical datasets to understand the geometry and kinematics of the lake-bounding normal fault system. We swapped numbers and will keep in touch.

It was time to leave, so Matt, Graham and I trekked back downtown before going out for a run. From our apartment on West 14th Street, we headed out west to the Hudson, before running south towards Battery Park where we got a nice view of the Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island, Staten Island, Jersey City, and the Verazano-Narrows Bridge. Selfies done, we headed back north to the apartment before meeting Ethan and his soon-to-be wife Mandy for dinner at a cool little Spanish restaurant. Fun chat, tapas, and many beers made for a great evening that I didn’t want to end. End it did, however, and Matt and I said our goodbyes to Graham, who was returning back to New Orleans on a very early flight. We also said goodbye to Ethan and Mandy, before heading back to our apartment for more beers (well, we couldn’t leave them all alone, cold and scared in the AirBnB fridge….), a little more science chat, and eventually bed.

So, here I am blogging from Union Square, New York, NY. It’s funny how life turns out. I had the most amazing time here in New York; in fact, during the run, as I chatted with Graham and Matt about absolutely everything, it struck me how ridiculously lucky I am to have experienced the entire tour. Here in The Big Apple, it was great to finally meet Nick, who was a great host and with whom I share a scientific kinship. I also had a ball spending time with Graham, Matt and Ethan; being around independent, passionate, clever, driven, energy-filled people is intoxicating. After all, it’s New York, baby…!


Published by Christopher Aiden-Lee Jackson

I am Professor of Basin Analysis @imperialcollege. I ❤️ 🏃🏿, 🚴🏿 and @basinsIC (⛏). I obsess about the tectono-stratigraphic development of sedimentary basins. Why? Because I'm hopeless at everything else.

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