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The Sustainable Development Seminar Series Returns

Lamont Assistant Research Professor Timothy J. Crone used visual data to calculate the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill.

The Earth Institute’s Sustainable Development Seminar Series is back after a year and a half-long hiatus. The series brings together Earth Institute professors, research scientists, and visiting professors from a variety of disciplines to address and communicate the major sustainable development challenges of our time.

“Natural and Manmade Disasters: Lessons for the Future” kicked off the seminar series on October 18 with presentations about the Haiti Earthquake of 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico of 2010, and the 2011 tsunami and earthquake that damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. Alexander Fischer, program manager for the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), and one of the presenters, provided insights from his three years of work near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Fischer, who was in Haiti during and after the2010 earthquake, explained, “Some of the key questions we saw immediately come up were in terms of disaster response. The UN and the government lacked the capacity because of the damage they sustained…But there was also a lack of information. People didn’t know where the hospitals were. When we were talking about immediately delivering services, thirty-six hours in, no one within the U.N. who was still there or within the government had adequate maps of the location of hospitals where we needed to go bring supplies.” Fischer participated in post-earthquake development and relief efforts, and during his presentation emphasized the need for more local hazard mapping to support and compliment the recovery process in any natural disaster zone.

Lamont Assistant Research Professor Timothy J. Crone also touched on the importance of publicly shared data in disaster responses efforts by explaining his experience analyzing data from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “Open access to data is critical during these kinds of crises,” Crone said. Using visual data of the gushing pipe that was released on YouTube three weeks after the initial explosion, Crone and his colleagues were able to calculate the amount of oil leaking into the gulf by using particle image velocimetry. “The picture of oil flowing out onto the ocean sea floor was not pretty, but it also unleashed the ability for scientists both externally and within the government to start really tackling the problem.”

The seminar was followed by a question and answer session prompting discussion about how the public perceives scientific research and even some debate about how risk assessment can be informed by the latest scientific information.

Open to the public, the Sustainable Development Seminar series is an initiative led by Peter Schlosser, Earth Institute associate director, and Lex van Geen, Doherty Senior Research Scientist. The second installment in the six-seminar series is “Water Management in Agriculture,” to be held on November 30 from 4:00 to 6:00pm in The Faculty Room of Low Memorial Library. The second seminar will address impacts of irrigation pumping in the Bengal Basin, water management to reduce arsenic toxicity to rice, water metering in Gujarat, tensiometers in Punjab, and irrigation efficiency in India, China, and the United States.

Speakers at the “Water Management in Agriculture” seminar include:

John Duxbury, Professor, Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University

Holly Michael, Assistant Professor, Geological Sciences, College of Earth, Ocean & Environment, University of Delaware

Upmanu Lall, Alan and Carol Silberstein Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering and Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics; Acting Chair, Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Columbia University

Vijay Modi, Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Columbia University

For more information on the Sustainable Development Seminar Series or to view a video of the first seminar, “Natural and Manmade Disasters: Lessons for the Future,” visit the Sustainable Development Seminar Series web page.

For further information regarding this event, please contact Pamela Vreeland by sending an email to .

Additional Information:

For more information on the Earth Institute visit

For more information on the Columbia Water Center visit

For more information on water research visit water research

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