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Earth Institute News

posted 09/28/06

Lamont-Doherty Breaks Ground on New Geochemistry Building

Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of The Earth Institute; Stephanie Comer, daughter of Gary Comer; and Wally Broecker, Newberry Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences break ground on Lamont-Doherty's new geochemistry building.

Image credit: Ken Kostel

On Wednesday September 27, members and friends of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory broke ground on a new geochemistry research building. The celebration took place almost 52 years to the day after the Observatory opened its current geochemistry facility, a building that has made possible many of the most important advances in modern understanding of Earth's history and the function of its physical systems.

The new building is made possible by an $18 million gift from Gary Comer and the Comer Science and Education Foundation, a gift that reflects the commitment of Gary Comer, founder of the Lands' End clothing-catalogue company and an avid open ocean sailor, to efforts that deepen understanding of the effect of human activity on the environment. It is one of the largest donations ever received by Lamont-Doherty. Columbia Trustee Gerry Lenfest also made a substantial gift in support of the new facility.

More than 200 scientists, students, local officials, alumni and friends gathered to hear from a group of speakers that included Michael Purdy, director of Lamont-Doherty; David Hirsh, executive vice president for research at Columbia University; Wally Broecker, Newberry Professor of Earth and Environmental Science at Columbia and a geochemist at Lamont-Doherty; Stephanie Comer, daughter of Gary Comer; and Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. After the ceremonial breaking of ground, the party continued under a beautiful autumn sky on the parking lot that will soon become the site for the new building.

The building will replace the Observatory's existing geochemistry building, which dates from the early 1950's and can no longer support the kinds of leading-edge research needed to answer the most pressing questions about Earth and its climate.

"We must accelerate the progress we are making in the understanding of the dynamics of our solid earth," said Purdy in his remarks during the ceremony. "We must reduce the uncertainties associated with our knowledge of the rate at which our planet's climate and environment is changing. This information is essential to our national security and essential to the continued health and well-being of all humankind."

Construction plans call for a two-story, 63,000 square-foot building that will bring together Lamont-Doherty's Geochemistry Division, which is currently among different buildings on campus. It will house laboratories designed to meet the best practices described in the EPA's Labs21 program as well as provide much-needed support and office space. A ribbon-cutting is scheduled for November 2007.

More than 200 scientists, students, local officials, alumni and friends gathered to hear from a group of speakers. After the ceremonial breaking of ground, the party continued under a beautiful autumn sky on the parking lot that will soon become the site for the new building.

Image credit: Ken Kostel

Scientists in the Geochemistry Division work to understand Earth's many complex and interconnected systems by studying the planet's history and the processes that have governed its past and present environment. Samples of air, water, biological remains, rocks and meteorites are studied in order to address a broad range of scientific issues. Geochemists at the Observatory work on a range of projects, from determining the chemical composition and toxicity of pollutants emitted by the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, to revealing clues about past climate changes locked in ice and sediments cores, to identifying the fundamental chemical and physical processes involved in the formation of Earth's mantle and core.

Geochemists at Lamont-Doherty have also contributed greatly to understanding of the socioeconomic issues associated with the environment, from the causes and remediation of arsenic in the groundwater of Bangladesh to the accumulation of industrial carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In addition to supporting world-class research, designs for the new building will take into account environmental as well as aesthetic considerations in order to respect and preserve the beauty of the campus and surrounding area. The University is working with local community groups to ensure that the building blends in with the terrain at the same time that it supports the mission of the Observatory, which is to protect the planet through knowledge, education and advocacy. A new parking lot on campus boasts one of the first porous asphalt surfaces in the region that will help reduce storm water runoff into local sewers and water bodies.

"Everyone here takes their work protecting and researching the environment very seriously — whether it's on the other side of the world or in our own back yard," said Purdy.

About The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a member of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, is one of the world's leading research centers seeking fundamental knowledge about the origin, evolution and future of the natural world. More than 300 research scientists study the planet from its deepest interior to the outer reaches of its atmosphere, on every continent and in every ocean. From global climate change to earthquakes, volcanoes, nonrenewable resources, environmental hazards and beyond, Observatory scientists provide a rational basis for the difficult choices facing humankind in the planet's stewardship.

About The Earth Institute
The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines — earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences — and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor. For more information, visit www.earth.columbia.edu.