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Climate Scientist to Lead International Research Institute for Climate and Society



Lisa Goddard, IRI’s new director. Photo by Brian Kahn/IRI

Lisa Goddard, a leading expert on climate change and El Niño’s influence on climate has been appointed director of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, part of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

The IRI is devoted to studying climate prediction and helping vulnerable societies anticipate, prevent and manage climate-related events such as droughts, floods and heat waves.

“I look forward to working with Dr. Goddard as she leads this unique and important organization,” says Steven Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute. “Since its founding, the IRI has worked to develop and utilize the highest quality climate science and data to address the real-world problems of sustainable development. Lisa Goddard brings the experience, expertise and energy needed to provide visionary leadership to the IRI,” he says.

Goddard says her goal for the institute is to capitalize on its existing talent and go after new funding opportunities. “In this way, we can continue to exert a powerful influence for change in the developing world as well as in the scientific community, she says.

“I believe strongly in the mission of the IRI – in connecting science on climate variability and change to better decision-making and improved livelihoods for people throughout the world. The focus and approach of our work gives us a unique perspective that couldn’t be achieved through more traditional academic pathways.”

Researchers at the institute work on projects across the globe and are funded by U.S. government agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as other national governments, including Uruguay and India. The IRI collaborates with major international organizations such as the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Goddard, 45, joined the IRI as a postdoctoral research fellow in 1995, when the institute was in its pilot phase. She worked on seasonal prediction and its application in regions around the world. In 2003, Goddard was promoted to research scientist, and earlier this year, was tapped to lead the IRI’s Climate Program, overseeing nine researchers and support staff. She also developed and currently oversees the Post-docs Applying Climate Expertise Program (PACE), a national program that links recent climate Ph.D. recipients with decision-making institutions.

Goddard sits on five scientific advisory panels, including the National Academies of Science’s prestigious Board of Atmospheric Sciences Committee, and serves as chair of U.S. CLIVAR, a national research program that studies the variability and predictability of the global climate system.

“Lisa is on a very short list of people one thinks of when considering the intersection of climate science and societal needs,” says Jim Hurrell, who is the director of the Earth System Laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and has worked with Goddard for more than a decade. He is also the co-chair of the International CLIVAR Scientific Steering Group, of which Goddard is a member.

“She has the rare ability to really understand what decision makers need and how to convey the information we have, including the uncertainties, so that they can make the best use of the climate science and predictions that our field produces – a very rare talent,” Hurrell says.

Goddard’s research is focused on improving the quality and content of climate prediction. “When I first came to IRI, seasonal climate prediction was a fairly new concept, but it was clear there were big possibilities to improve the information being supplied to communities at risk of climate variability, especially in the developing world,” she recalls. “People needed and wanted better information, and this has continued to this day.”

She plans to continue her research that focuses on predicting the climate 10 to 20 years in the future, a relatively new field known as near–term climate prediction, or decadal variability. Prediction at this time scale is in high demand for development projects. For example, a country thinking of building a dam to meet future water and energy demands, or expanding farm production to feed a growing population should understand how the climate might change in a decade or two. Seasonal forecasts and long term climate projections such as those provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are useful, but inadequate in these cases.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Lisa over many years at IRI,” says previous director Stephen Zebiak, who is now leading a program hosted at IRI to improve the provision and development of climate services around the world. “She brings outstanding credentials, great dedication and energy to her role as director, and these will serve the institute very well.”

Goddard earned her Ph.D. from Princeton in 1995. She is also an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

For more information, please contact Francesco Fiondella,, 646.321.2271.


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