State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Faculty Profile: Peter Schlosser

As the deputy director and director of research at the Earth Institute, Columbia University, Peter Schlosser plays an active role in developing interdisciplinary research on sustainable development—in addition to conducting his own research, teaching, designing courses and publishing regularly.

For several decades, Peter Schlosser has been one of the world’s leading earth scientists. His research is directed at understanding the natural state of the Earth’s hydrosphere, including its oceans, groundwater and terrestrial surface waters, as well as the human perturbation of our planet’s natural state. One dimension of his focus on anthropogenic impacts on our planet is climate change, one of Schlosser’s specific areas of expertise. He is the founding director of the Columbia Climate Center (CCC) , which partners with approximately 20 schools, departments and centers at Columbia and the Earth Institute to promote multidisciplinary research collaborations across the University. Through these collaborations, the CCC aims to improve humankind’s capacity to understand, predict and respond to climate variability and change within a multidisciplinary approach to sustainable development.

In addition to his work with the CCC, Schlosser is Vinton Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and a professor of earth and environmental sciences. He serves as chair of the Earth Institute Faculty, a group of senior faculty and researchers from around the University that provides intellectual leadership to the Earth Institute. This role is becoming increasingly complex and influential as the Earth Institute expands its scope by choosing new and diverse sustainable development projects to tackle problems on local, regional and global scales. According to Professor Schlosser, the Earth Institute’s greatest imperative is “keeping the complex and interlinked agenda of the Earth Institute moving forward in the academic environment [and] establishing sustainable development as an academic discipline with tangible benefits for society.”

To address the essential connection between research and practice, Schlosser helped develop the Earth Clinic

Schlosser recognizes that the key to success for the Earth Institute goes beyond the cutting-edge research that its 600 plus scientists are involved in around the world. The Earth Institute is in a unique position as a research center of a world class university, using a new approach to solve the problems of sustainable development through interdisciplinary collaborations across academic departments.

Schlosser received B.S. and M.S. in 1981 from the University of Heidelberg in Germany and a Ph.D. from the same institution in 1985. While pursuing his Ph.D. in physics, he was inspired by the subject’s potential to improve quality of life. He eventually chose to focus on environmental physics “because of [his] interest in the fate of the environment under increasing pressure due to human development.”

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