State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

New Round of Funding Supports Earth Institute Research Around the Globe

columbia global centers amman
Courtyard at the Columbia Global Center in Amman, Jordan. The President’s Global Innovation Fund supports projects at Columbia’s nine Global Centers around the world.

Last week, Columbia University announced 15 projects that will receive funding through the President’s Global Innovation Fund.

Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger launched the Fund in March 2013, as a way to support faculty who would like to utilize resources and facilities of Columbia’s nine Global Centers for research, teaching, and service.

This year’s awardees focus on a wide array of topics, from water availability to colonial medicine and human rights.

“Collectively, these projects play an essential role in realizing the potential of the Columbia Global Centers to create new opportunities for faculty and students, and in defining in tangible ways what it means for Columbia to explore new frontiers of knowledge,” Provost John H. Coatsworth said in a statement.

Four of the projects are led by Earth Institute researchers. Below, you can read more about these projects and why they’re important.

An Examination of Disaster Management and Recovery in Post-Disaster Chile

Malo Hutson, associate professor in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and associate member of the Earth Institute Faculty

In 2017, the worst wildfire in Chile’s history ravaged the town of Santa Olga. It destroyed 1,000 homes, displaced roughly 5,000 residents, and claimed ten lives. With support from the President’s Global Innovation Fund, Hutson and his team will spend three years analyzing the challenges and opportunities that the Chilean government, businesses, and NGOs face in effectively responding to the disaster. For example, what types of tools and organizational structures help or hinder the recovery process? The lessons they learn in Chile may help make disaster management more efficient in other parts of the world, too.

Other researchers on the project include: Fernando de la Cuadra and Verónica Tapia Barria from the Catholic University in Maule, Chile; Luis Campos Medina from the University of Chile in Santiago; and Karen Poniachik from the Columbia Global Centers in Santiago. The team will also be consulting with the Chilean Ministry of Housing and Urbanism, which is leading the planning and rebuilding process in Santa Olga.

Student Geology Research in the Turkana Basin

Sidney Hemming, professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, deputy director for Education at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Stephen Cox, postdoctoral research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

In East Africa’s Turkana Basin, ancient lake sediments preserve the remains of a diverse array of human ancestors and relatives, as well as large animals and important plant species. Meanwhile, rifting tectonic plates have made these fossils relatively easy to retrieve, helping scientists reconstruct the region’s climate and biological history going back millions of years. Yet little is known about the early history of the basin itself. That’s why this team of geochronologists will study the geologic evolution of the Turkana Basin. They’ll use world-class equipment at Lamont-Doherty to analyze samples of volcanic rocks; the radioactive decay of potassium-40 to argon-40 will reveal the rocks’ ages. The findings will help to refine understandings about how the basin’s structure has changed over time, and about the environment in which early hominids evolved and early agriculture took root. “Geology is the backdrop against which all of these important events occurred,” says Cox. “The chronological work we do allows us to understand the temporal context of the fossils, climate records, and historical geology preserved in the basin.”

In addition to this research, Cox, Hemming, and their colleagues will be setting up field courses in the Turkana Basin to acquaint Columbia students with earth science research methods, international collaboration, and scientific writing.

Towards early detection and forecasting of hypoxic events, harmful algal bloom outbreaks and fish mortality events along the west coast of India

Joaquim Ignacio Goes, Lamont research professor at  Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Helga do Rosario Gomes, research scientist and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Goes, Gomes, and their team have spent years studying a planktonic species that’s invading the Arabian Sea. These green blooms of Noctiluca scintillans thrive in oxygen poor seawater and can also can suck oxygen out of seawater, harming planktonic biodiversity, commercial fisheries, desalination plants, and more. Recently these blooms have begun spreading westward to the coasts of Pakistan and India. Using remote sensing, modeling, and knowledge of Noctiluca’s biology, the team will adapt and refine a system to forecast blooms along the Indian coast. Similar to a weather forecast, the system will provide seven-day projections indicating whether conditions are ripe for a Noctiluca flare-up, so that businesses and decision-makers can plan ahead.

Water availability during extreme arid events in the Middle East in the past, present and future: connecting between science, policy, and urban design

Yael Kiro Feldman, associate research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Steven L. Goldstein, Higgins Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, associate director at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Yochanan Kushnir, Lamont research professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

The Middle East is a politically unstable region with a large population and limited freshwater resources. Unfortunately, climate models predict the region will only become drier in the future, with more frequent droughts and a 20 percent decrease in freshwater availability by 2100. A core recently drilled from the bottom of the Dead Sea shows that, during the planet’s two previous warm periods, the Middle East experienced thousands of years of severe aridity, with water levels dropping to half of what’s available today. These past, present and future trends have important implications for water resource management in a warmer, drier future Middle East, and can help with planning and adaptation. With support from the President’s Global Innovation Fund, this team will organize a workshop at Columbia’s Amman Global Center in Jordan that brings together natural scientists, social scientists, urban planners and designers, stakeholders and policy makers. The aim of the workshop is to establish networks and promote cooperation between these groups who rarely interact, in order to seek solutions to this critical issue.

Click here for a complete list of the projects being supported through the President’s Global Innovation Fund.

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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