State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Undergraduate Research Assistant Opportunities for Fall 2022-Spring 2023

The Columbia Climate School is offering undergraduate students research assistant opportunities during the fall 2022 to spring 2023 semesters. Undergraduates from Columbia will be able to serve as research assistants on projects related to climate, sustainable development, and the environment, alongside 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 future academic and professional careers. Successful applicants will work directly with faculty on projects on a part-time basis.

The  fall 2022 – spring 2023 undergraduate research assistant positions include:

  1. Effects of flooding and post-flood disaster assistance on equity
  2. Gridded Population of the World, version 5
  3. Measuring the impact of climate and health courses on health care professional communication, knowledge integration, and local initiative
  4. Changing Arctic rivers and coastal margins
  5. What determines the pollutant abundances in the upper troposphere/lower stratosphere over the Asian summer monsoon region?
  6. North Atlantic Ocean meltwater, icebergs, and abrupt climate change
  7. Arctic Ocean acidification during past climate change: Reconstructing pCO2 and pH using geochemical proxies in Arctic sediment records

To apply:

Complete the online application by Tuesday, August 30 at 11:55pm. While you may apply for more than one position, you must submit separate applications for each.

Students who are selected for a position will be expected to participate in the Climate School Student Research Showcase in Spring 2023.

Contact Yana Zeltser ( with questions.

Full-time Columbia undergraduate students are eligible to apply. Positions are funded at a rate of $21.50/hour for up to 10 hours a week September through May (a maximum of 240 hours for both fall and spring semesters combined). Please note Barnard students, Teachers College  students and graduate students are not eligible for the RA program. Decisions will be made shortly after the deadline.

Undergraduate RA Position Descriptions:

Position: Effects of flooding and post-flood disaster assistance on equity

Department: Center for Climate Systems Research

Project Research Objectives: (1) Investigate the effects of flooding on equity. We will compare the change over time in socio-economic impacts such as income, education, and racial composition in areas that were flooded by Hurricane Sandy in New York City to the change in similar areas that were not flooded to investigate how flooding affected outcomes among residents, and neighborhood gentrification or decline. (2) Use variation in post-flood disaster assistance within flood-affected areas to investigate the distribution of assistance and the equity of its effects on livelihoods. (3) If time allows, draft an agent-based model of flood recovery.

Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will: conduct a literature review; compile and process data from the American Community Survey; implement propensity score matching to select an appropriate control group of census tracts to compare to tracts that were flooded; implement panel data analysis; help visualize the results and potentially co-author a paper for peer review. If time and skills allow, begin to program an agent-based model based on the empirical results. The RA is needed to help carry out each of the above tasks, which are essential to achieving the objectives.

Skills Required: Strong knowledge of econometrics, including panel data methods. Experience with data analysis. Facility with at least one statistical analysis software such as Stata, R, or Matlab. Excellent attention to detail. Some data visualization skills. Excellent organization, time management, and communication skills. Some familiarity with programming agent-based models is helpful but not essential.

Position: Gridded Population of the World, Version 5

Department: Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)

Project Research Objectives: This project will address the need for timely operational gridded population data by producing annual releases of the Gridded Population of the World (GPW) data set, which shows the global distribution of human populations in ~1km grid cells. “Gridded” population data are fundamental to environmental research, humanitarian efforts, and monitoring progress on Sustainable Development Goals because they show where people live on Earth’s surface. Previously, GPW was released once ALL countries were processed. For version 5, we will process countries as their population data become available and produce annual releases through NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center, managed by CIESIN.

Anticipated Tasks: Achieving annual releases of GPWv5 requires processing 50-60 countries per release. The release schedule demands that we intensify our project workflows to overcome delays in census administration resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. A research assistant will ensure our success by contributing to: collection and documentation of 2020 round (2015-2024) census and boundary data for all countries in the world by accessing data/information online or through communication with national statistical offices; and integration of census and boundary datasets by transforming census data tables to the project-defined spatial schema, matching boundary units to corresponding census units, and researching and reconciling discrepancies between censuses and boundaries.

Skills Required: This position requires a high level of attention to detail and meticulous documentation at every step in the process. Familiarity with Google Suite (Docs, Sheets) is necessary for documenting data acquisition and tracking progress on each country. Experience with Microsoft Excel is necessary for transforming census data tables to the project-defined schema for further processing. Some experience with GIS software (ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Desktop, or QGIS) is required for reviewing and editing vector boundary data. Experience in information or data management is helpful, as is an interest in learning about different countries and their recent history in the context of census administration.

Position: Measuring the Impact of Climate and Health Courses on Health Care Professional Communication, Knowledge Integration, and Local Initiative

Department: Environmental Health Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health

Project Research Objectives: The objective of the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education is to unite health professional training institutions, health societies, and regional health organizations to create a global climate-ready health sector, prepared to mobilize and lead health promotion and response in the era of climate change, while restoring the health of the planet. To assess the impact of our free, certificate based regional courses, we are performing longitudinal surveys of course participants at multiple timepoints to assess the impact of our course on their climate and health communication, knowledge integration, and engagement in local climate and health initiatives.

Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will lead the collection, organization and analysis of longitudinal survey data for two large international climate and health courses. This will include follow-up with participants and formal publication of research findings in order to understand how education can affect health professionals’ communication, climate knowledge integration and local initiative is affected following participation in a 2–hour climate and health course. Further work will be based off of this research and focus on improving the effectiveness and reach of GCCHE programming.

Skills Required: Strong interpersonal skills, ability to work on a changing schedule and a firm understanding of connections between climate change and human health. Data analysis and a good grasp on platforms including Qualtrix, Google Drive, and Zoom are also needed. Should possess strong writing skills. Some level of Spanish proficiency is preferred.

Position: Changing Arctic Rivers and Coastal Margins

Department: Earth and Environmental Science/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Project Research Objectives: Focused on the Yukon River-Bering Sea continuum — one of the most productive areas for Alaska fisheries and simultaneously a “ground zero” for climate change — this project addresses three key research objectives: (i) How do changes in hydrological forcing and terrestrial sources affect the transport and export of organic carbon along this rapidly changing land-ocean continuum; (ii) What is the relative importance and interplay of physical and biogeochemical processes in transforming carbon during transport to the Arctic Ocean; and (iii) How will changing environmental conditions affect these processes and their impact on carbon fluxes under various scenarios.

Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will have an opportunity to process water samples collected from the field, conduct measurements in the lab, analyze data, and generate scientifically backed conclusions on how changing environmental conditions affect water quality, biogeochemistry and ecological processes in Arctic Rivers and coastal waters. Additionally, the RA will develop skills in critical analysis and writing and will have the opportunity to link results from this work-study to larger scale projects aiming at assessing coastal ecosystem vulnerability to climate change. The RA’s activities will be critical to develop a rich database that will allow us to address the project objectives.

Skills Required: We are looking for a highly motivated undergraduate student with strong background and interest in environmental sciences, self-motivation, creativity, good communication skills, strong quantitative skills, experience in programming (e.g., Matlab), and willingness to be part of an interdisciplinary team effort. Experience in field data collection methods, and/or remote-sensing data analysis is preferred, but not required.

Position: What determines the pollutant abundances in the upper troposphere lower stratosphere over the Asian summer monsoon region?

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Project Research Objectives: Recent studies have found that the Asian summer monsoon circulation provides an effective transport pathway for pollutions such as carbon monoxide, black and organic carbon, sulfur dioxide, and short-lived halogen compounds from Asia to enter the global stratosphere and affect the chemistry and climate of the stratosphere. This project will analyze the satellite measurements of various chemical species including carbon monoxide and black carbon in the upper troposphere lower stratosphere over the Asian summer monsoon region. In particular, the project will investigate how chemical species abundances are affected by surface emissions, convective activities, large-scale ascent, and chemical processes. In addition, the project will involve the analysis of model output of a state-of-the-art global chemistry climate model and assess the model’s capability in simulating the chemical species abundances and their variabilities.

Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will analyze the satellite measurements of various chemical species including carbon monoxide and black carbon in the upper troposphere lower stratosphere over the Asian summer monsoon region. The RA will also extend the analysis to a state-of-the-art global chemistry climate model and assess the model’s capability in simulating the chemical species abundances and their variabilities.

Skills Required: General physics, interests and experience in atmospheric science, statistics and programming would be a plus. The RA is expected to work in person at Lamont.

Position: North Atlantic Ocean meltwater, icebergs and abrupt climate change

Department: Geochemistry Division, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Project Research Objectives: The Greenland Ice Sheet is currently wasting away, melting and losing ice by calving icebergs around its periphery. This meltwater entering the North Atlantic may lead to oceanographic and climatic consequences that are currently poorly understood and might be catastrophic, leading to this study of the past. The last ice age was punctuated by abrupt hemispheric climate changes, with the north cooling as the southern hemisphere warmed. These climate shifts occurred as meltwater and icebergs discharged from the North American ice sheet, which may have reduced northward heat transport by weakening the large-scale Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC).

Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will join and add to a project studying North Atlantic sediment cores for evidence to test the hypothesis that meltwater and icebergs influence ocean circulation with dramatic consequences for global and regional climate. They will assist with initial processing, including, weighing, wet-sieving, drying and re-weighing of the coarse and fine material. In consultation with their supervisor, they will then select a subset of the samples for their detailed analysis of the sediment composition, microfossil abundance and assemblage, grain size distribution, and abundance of iceberg deposition, using a combination of automated measurements and observations using a binocular microscope.

Skills Required: Training will be provided for all specific tasks and instrument use. It is important that the student be diligent, careful, and willing to learn. Although not necessary, it will be helpful if they have some familiarity with the Earth’s climate system, oceanography, and/or basic laboratory practices. They and the project will benefit most from the right combination of independence and ability to work well with others.

Position: Arctic Ocean acidification during past climate change: Reconstructing pCO2 and pH using geochemical proxies in Arctic sediment records

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Project Research Objectives: The Arctic Ocean dissolves CO2 faster than other regions, leading to ocean acidification and environmental challenges. Ocean acidification is mostly attributed to rising atmospheric CO2. However, river discharge and terrestrial carbon, e.g. from collapsing permafrost, may supply additional CO2 and exacerbate ocean acidification. This multi-disciplinary project investigates changes in ocean pH and pCO2 during past climates, e.g. during the ~3°C warmer last interglacial 120,000 years ago, using geochemical proxies (δ11B in planktic microfossils and microbial biomarkers) in Arctic sediment records. Our study provides insight to the functioning of Arctic Ocean acidification and illustrates the vulnerability of the Arctic Ocean to future change.

Anticipated Tasks: The duties of the research assistant will include a range of activities in the laboratories at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. RA support is needed for preparing sediment samples and microfossils for analysis, which include simple, yet labor-intensive tasks, such as i) cleaning and preparation of pipette tips, sample vials and glass ware in the laboratory; ii) chemical cleaning of foraminifera shells in preparation for trace element and isotope analysis using simple laboratory protocols; and/or iii) preparation of sediment samples for accelerated solvent extraction.

Skills Required: The ideal candidate is highly motivated, has prior experience with working in a laboratory and has interests and knowledge in the fields of Earth and Environmental Science. The candidate should be willing to work at the Lamont campus 1-2 days a week in coordination with the supervisor. Prior experience in sediment sample handling and processing, microscopy, collection of microfossils or any laboratory work with chemicals (e.g. pipetting) are advantageous but not necessarily required. We expect the candidate to be reliable, autonomous, and to follow our instructions closely.

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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