State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Fall Undergraduate Research Assistant Opportunities

The Earth Institute will offer nine research assistant opportunities for undergraduate students during the fall 2016 semester. Undergraduates from Columbia and Barnard will be able to serve as assistants on research projects related to sustainable development and the environment with distinguished faculty and researchers at the cutting edge of this burgeoning field.

While research assistant positions at Columbia are generally awarded to graduate students, this program instead aims to present undergraduates with a unique opportunity to be involved in research at a high level and to gain valuable experience and skills for their academic and professional careers. Relevant research projects will be led by faculty, and the admissions committee will match students with projects based on their interests and abilities.

Successful applicants will work directly with faculty on these projects on a part-time basis. These research assistantships are funded at a rate of $15 per hour for 10 hours per week and up to a maximum of 120 hours for the fall semester.

The research positions are:

  1. Understanding the ITCZ and monsoons through a new ensemble of climate model simulations
  2. Study of global climate change laws
  3. Can satellite observations help us better understand the air quality problem in India?
  4. ICT for Ghana: policy recommendations for roll-out of a national identification implementation plan
  5. Response of high-latitude forests to a warmer and CO2-enriched atmosphere: tree rings in a process-based model
  6. The tropical carbon cycle: organic matter productivity and preservation in the sedimentary record
  7. Constraining the ice flow and climate history of the Antarctic ice sheets using ice-penetrating radar
  8. Molecular mechanisms of CO2-enhanced growth of Heterosigma Akashiwo
  9. Enterococci in the Hudson River: Sources of Contamination at 125th Street

To apply:

To apply for these positions, complete the online application available here by Sept. 20 at 11:30 p.m. While you may apply for more than one position, you must submit separate applications. Note that only undergraduates from Columbia and Barnard are eligible to apply. Decisions will be made shortly after the deadline.

Students who are awarded research assistantships will be expected to participate in the Earth Institute Student Research Showcase, which takes place in spring 2017.

Contact Jessica Sotomayor ( with any questions. Address cover letters to “Jessica Sotomayor, Senior Program Manager, Office of Academic and Research Programs.”

Understanding the ITCZ and monsoons through a new ensemble of climate model simulations

Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated task: Assist with organizing and analyzing the climate model data of the model-intercomparison project (MIP). This includes controlling the quality of the data, adapting existing scripts, and developing new ones to analyze the annual cycle of rainfall in a set of idealized climate-model simulations. The work also includes generating figures and participating in the discussion of the scientific results. In case of scientific need to better understand the MIP results, or to explore their sensitivity to the details of the experimental set up, the student will also have the possibility to run additional simulations with a simplified climate model.

Skills required: A strong interest in climate science, climate models and the numerical analysis of climate model data. Some background in atmosphere and climate science and some experience in working with Linux environments and Python, MATLAB, or other data analysis and plotting tools would be helpful, but we will provide guidance and training for the student. Good communication skills and the ability to work in a team.

Study of global climate change laws

Sabin Center for Climate Change Law

Anticipated task: 178 countries have now signed on to the UNFCCC Paris Agreement, committing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change. The 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22), to be held in Marrakech, Morocco in November, has as one of its goals to focus the world on implementation of that Agreement. We are seeking an undergraduate research assistant to help track implementation in advance of the COP. The research assistant would help to prepare country specific profiles that contain: (1) a summary of the history and context underlying the country’s response to climate change, (2) descriptions of how specific sectors are regulated, (3) a portfolio of legislative actions, (4) a portfolio of regulatory actions, and (5) a summary of climate change targets (e.g., renewable energy targets or emission reduction targets) and whether the country is meeting those targets. The RA may also assist in identifying and charting commonalities and differences among the national approaches. This project is part of a collaborative initiative between the Sabin Center and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment to combine our Climate Change Laws of the World Database with their Global Climate Legislation Study.

Skills required: The applicant should be detail-oriented, fluent in English, and capable of efficiently reviewing laws and policy documents. Fluency in other languages would also be helpful (please indicate this on your application). Ideally, the applicant also would have some familiarity with climate change policy in the U.S. and/or other jurisdictions.

Can satellite observations help us better understand the air quality problem in India?

Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory

Trafficjam in delhi-300x225Anticipated task: India is home to some of the world’s poorest air quality, with ambient concentrations of fine-mode particulate matter (PM2.5) often exceeding World Health Organization daily health guidelines by as much as an order of magnitude. While PM2.5 monitoring stations exist in some major cities and at US Embassies in India, the amount of available data across the Indian subcontinent is somewhat sparse, especially in comparison with data in the US or Europe. The use of satellite observations has been proposed as a potential source of air quality data where ground-based measurements are lacking, since satellites can provide essentially complete spatial coverage over a particular region of interest.

The research assistant’s work will therefore aim to evaluate the relationship between ground based PM2.5 measurements and satellite derived aerosol optical depth (AOD). In particular, the research assistant will aim to answer the following question: How well do satellite AOD observations represent spatial and temporal variability of PM concentrations in India? Specifically, the researcher will analyze national PM2.5 and PM10 datasets along with NASA AOD retrievals. The researcher will perform simple statistical procedures on the data to determine agreement or disagreement in the variability among the datasets. The researcher will also participate in weekly conference calls with Indian colleagues and other Columbia researchers.

Skills required: Proficiency with Microsoft Excel for data analysis and statistical techniques. Some experience with a data analysis programming language (Python, R, Matlab, etc) is preferable.

ICT for Ghana: policy recommendations for roll-out of a national identification implementation plan

Campaign for 1 Million Community Health Workers

Anticipated task: The intern will help gather background information on ICT health system solutions in other countries; support on a preliminary basis the research needs of Jeffrey Sachs, the program team here at Columbia and the collaborators at Sinai and Millennium Promise in developing and coordinating the contributions of a wide body of stakeholders in the development of a national policy initiative. The intern will conduct occasional literature reviews of extant tools and methods, including information on how they are devised and implemented, as well as analysis of their effectiveness in the context of those countries. The intern will produce written summary materials as needed and contribute in the form of background research to the drafting of the final report. The wish is for a dynamic and motivated undergraduate research assistant to contribute her/his enthusiasm in the subject matter and collaboratively establish the connection between technical design, capacity assessment and policy initiatives.

Skills required: familiarity with ICT systems and electronic medical record (EMR) scale-up, qualitative analysis, basic skills in conducting desk research and summarizing findings

Response of high-latitude forests to a warmer and CO2-enriched atmosphere: tree rings in a process-based model

Tree Ring Laboratory at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated task: This project will evaluate the response of white spruce (Picea glauca), the dominant North American tree species, to warming and increased CO2 concentrations using tree-ring data and a process-based model called MAIDENiso.The student will work with dendrochronological techniques (i.e., sanding, crossdating, measuring, statistical quality controls) and stable isotopic methodology (i.e., separation of individual tree rings, cellulose extraction and homogenization, preparation and precision weighing of cellulose samples, online isotopic ratio mass spectrometry, evaluation of isotopic measurements). Blue intensity new methodology for measuring density using image data software.

Skills required: Skills such as responsibility and accuracy in order to develop the lab work precisely. Approximate number of hours required: between 6-10 hours are desirable. However, the number of hours is flexible and it will depend on depending on student availability. Previous lab experience will be positively evaluated.

The tropical carbon cycle: organic matter productivity and preservation in the sedimentary record

Department of Earth and Environmental Science (Geochemistry)

Anticipated task: The analytical goal of this project is to determine the weight percent of organic carbon in sediments from the tropical Pacific. The record will span the last four glacial-interglacial cycles and complement existing data on bottom water redox state. The RA will assist with sediment sampling, freeze drying of sediments, digestion of calcium carbonate, centrifugation and aspiration of samples, sediment weighing and elemental analysis.

Skills required: Basic knowledge of climate science (eg V2100), and experience working in a laboratory setting with standard laboratory chemicals is desirable (additional safety training provided).

Constraining the ice flow and climate history of the Antarctic ice sheets using ice-penetrating radar

Department of Earth and Environmental Science

cropradar (2)Anticipated task: Mapping and analysis of ice-penetrating radar data: Ice sheets are layered. These layers are traceable for great distances, but deform as the ice sheet flows. The student will develop an efficient work flow to process two existing ice penetrating radar datasets (one from West Antarctica and one from East Antarctica). Processing of data may include filtering, geolocation, surface correction and migration. The intern will identify the internal layers and bed to determine ice-sheet structure and determine how this evolved. These layers can be visualized in 3D to aid interpretation. Once the layers are mapped, the intern will help determine flow history and potentially relate that history to climate or other natural phenomena that change the ice sheet.

Skills required: Experience coding in matlab, python or another language. Technical skills in computer science, applied mathematics, or engineering are a bonus. The willingness to develop an understanding of geophysical and radar methods and an eye for detail are helpful.

Molecular mechanisms of CO2 enhanced growth of Heterosigma Akashiwo

Biology and Paleo Environment

Anticipated task: The research assistant will analyze gene expression data from the harmful algal bloom species Heterosigma akashiwo to determine which gene pathways are involved in growth enhancement under elevated CO2. The student will design primers and perform quantitative PCR to measure changes in targeted genes in response to a range of CO2 treatments.

Skills required: Courses in cell/molecular biology and/or environmental biology. A familiarity with programming languages such as R, python or matlab is a plus. Previous lab work experience in molecular or other standard biological techniques.

Enterococci in the Hudson River: Sources of Contamination at 125th Street: Environmental Issues and Policy Recommendations for the Waterfront Development in Manhattanville

Environmental Science

Anticipated task: This project offers the unusual opportunity for an undergraduate research assistant to work with environmental scientists in the Dept. of Environmental Science at Barnard College, in the Civil Engineering Department at Columbia, at the Lamont Observatory, and from the Hudson Riverkeeper and the NRDC’s NY Harbor Program as well as many individuals from different walks of life (including the local community board and the North River Water Pollution Control Plant) who are intimately involved with the Harlem waterfront and the Manhattanville area. The student research ssistant will have major responsibility for building the Enterococcus Study Group (ESG), a group of eight Barnard and Columbia Students who have been trained for sampling and analysis of Enterococcus) sampling and analysis of Enterococci bacteria, further developing the Enterococcus website ( ococcus/home/introduction), maintaining them newly developed Enterococcus laboratory, assisting the Introductory ES laboratories (that have now become an important source of data), and assist in the writing of a report summarizing the results of this study and making public health and policy recommendations.

Skills required: Ability to learn sampling and laboratory procedures, ability to work in the field and on board the research vessel Seawolf, facility with excel and data analysis, ability to manage a laboratory and students of the Enterococcus Study Group at Barnard.

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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