State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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New Program in Tropical Biology and Sustainability

The Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development has a new field-based study abroad opportunity in Kenya. The Tropical Biology and Sustainability Program, which will be offered in spring 2013 through the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology in partnership with Princeton University, will allow students the opportunity to study ecology, evolutionary biology, conservation biology, environmental engineering, and sustainable development in the environmental hub of East Africa. Based at Princeton’s Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya, with support from Columbia’s Global Center Africa in Nairobi, students will travel across Kenya to places such as the forested slopes of Mt. Kenya, the wildlife-rich savannas of Laikipia, and the coffee and tea plantations of western Kenya.  Students will experience the myriad challenges of sustainability alongside communities who face these issues in their environment on a daily basis. They will simultaneously learn and apply practical new skills to real problems. The program will consist of four, three-week course modules taught by Princeton and Columbia faculty with expertise working in Kenya and other parts of East Africa.

EEEB W3920: Biology of African Animals and Ecosystems

Through this course, students will be immersed in an intensive field experience studying ecology, evolution, and behavior in one of the world’s most biologically spectacular settings. In addition to gaining sophisticated training in fieldwork, hypothesis-driven biological research, and scientific writing and presentation, the course gives participants many opportunities to observe and study organisms ranging from acacia ants to giraffes, go-away-birds to zebras. Lectures include core topics in ecology and evolution with emphasis on African animals and ecosystems.

EEEB W3921: Tropical Agriculture

Students will compare productivity, diversity, and ecological processes in the diverse farming systems of Kenya, which include highland and lowland, large and small-scale systems, monoculture cereal crops, mixed farming with crops and livestock, pastoral systems, intensive horticulture, and diverse tree crop systems from plantations to multispecies agroforests. Students will spend their time in Kenya learning state-of-the-art techniques for characterizing soils, agricultural landscapes, and ecosystem services. They will use these methods across the range of farming systems to develop projects comparing various aspects of these systems, and explore sustainability issues from the ecological, agricultural, and livelihood perspectives.

EEEB W3922: Field Ecohydrology

This course will provide an introduction to the principles of hydrological sciences and their application to ecology, with a focus on instrumentation methods for characterizing surface, subsurface, and biological-hydrological dynamics in the field. Lectures and field activities will address the theories of operation, design, and implementation of methods used to quantify hydrological patterns and processes with emphasis on characterizing the biological signature and ecological impact of landscape hydrological dynamics. Emphasis will be placed on applications of hydrological science to issues of sustainable landscape use, water resource conservation, and prevention/reversal of land degradation in dryland ecosystems.

EEEB W3923: Ecology and Conservation of African Landscapes

Only six percent of Africa’s land is protected, and these areas are rarely large enough to sustain wildlife populations. In most cases, wildlife must share land with people who also face survival challenges. This course will explore how wildlife and people interact in Kenya and where new approaches to conservation are being developed and implemented. Lectures will cover the ecology of tropical grasslands and the principles underlying conservation and management of these landscapes. Field trips and projects will examine the dynamics between human actions and biodiversity conservation.

The program will begin in spring 2013 and is open to juniors majoring in Environmental Biology or Sustainable Development.  Students interested in the program will need to take EEEB W2001: Environmental Biology I as a pre-requisite. The application process will begin in early October.  Student majoring in Sustainable Development who enroll in the Tropical Biology and Sustainability program can apply the above four courses toward (1) Analysis and Solutions to Complex Problems; (1) Skills and Actions; and (2) elective program requirements.  For more information about the program or the pre-requisite courses, contact E3B Professor Dustin Rubenstein (  For information on the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development please contact Jessica Crespo (

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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