Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) Columbia University
Home PageContact Info

About Us
Programs and Projects
Data & Information Resources
Education & Outreach
News and Events

2016 News & Events Subscribe to CIESIN News

Archives: 2007 and older
Approaches to Integrating OpenStreetMap and Global Roads Data Examined

February 12, 2016

Bogdan-Mihai Cîrlugea giving a presentation of his work on validating OpenStreetMap data

A presentation, “Validation of OpenStreetMap for Integration into the gROADS v1,” was given by visiting staff associate Bogdan-Mihai Cîrlugea at the Lamont campus in Palisades, New York, February 11 at the conclusion of his 5-month visit to CIESIN. Launched in 2004, OpenStreetMap (OSM) is the largest collaborative project to date to create free and editable cartographic data of the world. Cîrlugea’s work advances understanding about OSM's data structures and the potential advantages and limitations of using the OSM roads data set in geospatial research and applications. The work is the basis of Cîrlugea’s thesis for his master’s degree in environmental engineering, with a specialization in environmental modeling and monitoring, from l’ École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausannne (EPFL) in Switzerland. It is also a contribution to the work of an international task group of the Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) of the International Council for Science, which is developing a digital, publicly-available database of intercity roads, the Global Roads Open Access Data Set (gROADS). The current version of gROADS is available via the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN.

See: Presentation on Validating OSM Data (3.27MB PDF)

Webinar Highlights Efforts to Validate OpenStreetMap Data

February 11, 2016

CIESIN senior research associate Paola Kim-Blanco was one of two presenters in the February 10 webinar, “Crowdsourcing Data and Quality Control—The Experience of OpenStreetMap,” sponsored by the World Data System (WDS) of the International Council for Science (ICSU). Co-presenter Mikel Maron of the OpenStreet Map Foundation, Humanitarian OSM Team, and Mapbox described the evolution of approaches to providing guidance to members and of applying quality assurance/quality control methods to the data. Kim-Blanco summarized the literature on independent validation of the road and street data developed by more than 2.3 million registered OpenStreetMap (OSM) users, and reported on CIESIN’s efforts to validate intercity roads data in low-income countries. Launched in 2004, OSM is the largest crowd-sourced spatial data effort to date, having mapped more than 34 million kilometers of roads throughout the world. The Webinar was the eighth in a series organized by the WDS. The NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN is a regular member of the WDS.

See: “Crowdsourcing Data and Quality Control—The Experience of OpenStreetMap” (Webinar)

Coastal Climate Vulnerability Examined in Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire

February 8, 2016

Alex de Sherbinin, associate director for Science Applications at CIESIN, stands by a pile of mangrove wood harvested for smoking fish.

Alex de Sherbinin, CIESIN associate director for science applications, and Sylwia Trzaska, associate research scientist, recently conducted field scoping missions in Sierra Leone and Côte d′Ivoire to plan coastal climate vulnerability assessments. The trip included meetings with government agencies and potential partners in both countries, as well as field visits to mangrove-dependent communities in the coastal zone. The missions were undertaken as part of the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA-BiCC) project, a five-year effort funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development to improve conservation and climate-resilient, low-emission growth across West Africa. CIESIN is part of an implementing team led by Tetra Tech/ARD, contributing to project components focused on improving forest conservation and building coastal climate resilience.

See: West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA-BiCC)

Google Earth Engine Developers Hosted by CIESIN

February 5, 2016

A team from Google Earth Engine, Google’s cloud platform for petabyte-scale analysis of satellite imagery and other geospatial data, visited CIESIN February 4–5 to provide training and discuss potential areas of collaboration. Tyler Erickson, Matt Hancher, and Allison Lieber met in the morning of February 4 with staff and researchers from CIESIN, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. That afternoon at the Comer Building, Hancher and Erickson led a public workshop tutorial on using Google Earth Engine. Hancher subsequently gave an evening presentation at Butler Library on Columbia's Morningside campus, in which he talked about the trends and technologies that have informed Google’s development of the Earth Engine platform over the past six years. On February 5, CIESIN director Robert Chen, deputy director Marc Levy, and associate director for geospatial applications Gregory Yetman met with Lieber and Rebecca Moore, Google's director of engineering for Google Earth, Earth Engine and Earth Outreach, to explore collaboration on population data access and integration. Originally conceived in 2009 as a platform for global forest monitoring, Earth Engine today is used by scientists, governments, and organizations around the world in diverse areas, ranging from food and water security to disaster risk management and public health to biodiversity and climate change adaptation.

CIESIN’s Meredith Golden Retires After Long Career in Environmental Health

February 3, 2016

CIESIN senior research associate Meredith Golden demonstrates the Superfund Footprint Mapping tool to visitors at the 2012 Lamont-Doherty Open House in Palisades, New York

After more than 35 years working in the field of environmental health, Meredith Golden, senior research associate at CIESIN, has retired. Golden joined the Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network in Saginaw, Michigan, 22 years ago, with a background in economics, medical geography, and epidemiology. She relocated to Columbia when CIESIN became an Earth Institute Center in 1998. She has served as a principal investigator of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Columbia Superfund Research Program, leading the interdisciplinary Research Translation Core and coordinating development of the National Priorities List Superfund Footprint Mapper, a decision-making tool for researchers, regulators, and community partners. Golden also led the environment and health mission area of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center and contributed to other CIESIN and Earth Institute activities on health and hazards. Going forward, Golden plans to continue to use her public health expertise in assisting communities in environmental education and hazard mitigation.

See: Columbia University Superfund Research Program (SRP)
       NPL Superfund Footprint Mapper

Moving from Talk to Action Urged in Planetary Security Presentation

February 2, 2016

The post-1990 trend towards lower global insecurity is in reversal, with unanticipated and poorly managed climate shocks partly to blame, according to Marc Levy, CIESIN deputy director, in a presentation given in New York City January 25. The event, “Planetary Security: An Action Agenda on the Frontlines of Climate Change,” was hosted by the government of The Netherlands. Levy’s talk, “Time to Move from Talk to Action,” argued against scare tactics and overwhelming the public with large amounts of data. Among other recommendations, he called for the development of tools, techniques, and methods that drive effective action coalitions.

See: Conference Agenda
       “Time to Move from Talk to Action” (1.65 MB PDF)

Latest Environmental Performance Index Released at World Economic Forum

February 1, 2016

image from 2016 EPI report cover

More deaths globally occur from poor air quality than from water, and more than half the world’s population is subject to unsafe air—these are some of the findings of the 2016 Performance Environmental Index (EPI) released January 23 at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The biennial report, produced this year by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy (YCELP), Yale Data-Driven Environmental Solutions Group at Yale University, and CIESIN, in collaboration with the Samuel Family Foundation, McCall MacBain Foundation, and the World Economic Forum, ranks country performance on high-priority environmental issues in two broad policy areas: protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems. The 2016 EPI measures the performance of 180 countries in nine categories of environmental concern.

A major goal of the EPI is to organize the best available information to make it as relevant as possible.  “Even when data exists, policymakers often struggle to apply this information appropriately,” notes Marc Levy, CIESIN deputy director. “The EPI works to identify and address these blind spots within existing policy goals. For instance, a new biodiversity indicator weeds out protected areas that do not intersect with species’ habitats, showing where national parks may be ineffective at protecting species.”  

The 2016 version of the EPI awards Finland the top slot, followed by Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Slovenia. These five environmental leaders have policies that target protections to natural and built environments, with strong commitments to renewable energy. Finland’s top rank indicates its commitment to achieving a carbon-neutral society that will not exceed nature’s carrying capacity by 2050. Countries performing poorly—such as lowest ranked Somalia, Eritrea, Madagascar, Niger, and Afghanistan—are reminders that stable governance is necessary for effective environmental management and conflict disrupts environmental performance. Around one-third of countries that were scored on Climate and Energy are reducing their carbon intensity, and globally, trends in carbon intensity show a slight decline.

See: 2016 Environmental Performance Index

Access to Climate, Earth Science, and Social Science Data Addressed in Multiple Meetings

January 29, 2016

Experts gathered in Geneva, Switzerland; Huntsville, Alabama; and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for three different technical meetings addressing data access and management of scientific data related to climate change, remote sensing, and the social sciences. Alex de Sherbinin, associate director for science applications, participated in an experts meeting January 26–27 in Geneva, organized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to examine the future role and activities of its Task Group on Data and Scenario Support for Impact and Climate Analysis (TGICA). The TGICA oversees the IPCC Data Distribution Center (DDC), which is co-managed by the British Atmospheric Data Center (BADC), the World Data Center-Climate in Germany, and the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN.

At the same time in Huntsville, CIESIN director Robert Chen, in his capacity as manager of SEDAC, attended the annual meeting of the NASA Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) managers hosted by the Global Hydrology Resource Center (GHRC) DAAC at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Together with NASA personnel from the Goddard Space Flight Center, the DAAC Managers planned cross-DAAC activities to improve the ability of users to seamlessly access, integrate, and analyze diverse Earth and social science data available from the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS).

Chen subsequently traveled to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a workshop on public access to social science data, organized by the Minnesota Population Center (MPC) with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). The workshop brought together more than 25 scientists and data experts from a diverse set of social science disciplines to develop recommendations to the NSF on how to improve data management plans and their implementation. Chen is a member of the workshop organizing committee that is drafting the workshop report and recommendations.

Consortium Supports Environmental Education in the Hudson-Mohawk River Watershed

January 27, 2016

Kytt MacManus, GIS programmer, has been re-elected to a second three-year term on the steering committee of the Environmental Consortium of Colleges & Universities. He first joined the steering committee in 2012. The Environmental Consortium aims to harness intellectual and physical resources in higher education to advance regional, ecosystem-based environmental research and education in the greater Hudson-Mohawk River watershed. The Consortium sponsors a range of activities in the region, including the upcoming 11th Annual Student Summit taking place April 15 at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York. Columbia University is one of more than 60 institutional members of the Consortium.

See: Environmental Consortium of Colleges & Universities

Conference Considers the Role of Education in Sustainable Development

January 26, 2016

Fulbright-Nehru Fellow Saleem Khan stands by a poster illustrating the Sustainable Development Goals.

Saleem Khan was among 30 Fulbright scholars who participated in the conference, “Stewardship for a Sustainable World: Education in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” organized by the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations (CTAUN) January 22 at the United Nations in New York City. The day-long conference explored the role of educators in advancing the SDGs and helping students and community members in their sustainable development activities. Discussion focused on the politics of food security and sustainable production and consumption, including issues surrounding water, energy use, and climate change. Khan is a Fulbright-Nehru Postdoctoral Fellow from India who is conducting research at CIESIN on communicating the risks of sea level rise and engaging urban stakeholders in framing community-based adaptation strategies.

See: “Stewardship for a Sustainable World” conference

CIESIN Scientist Elected to Columbia University Senate

January 25, 2016

Sylwia Trzaska, CIESIN associate research scientist

Sylwia Trzaska, CIESIN associate research scientist, has been elected to the Columbia University Senate for a two-year term. The seat is one of six reserved for officers of research out of 108 total voting seats. The Senate is a University-wide legislature representing faculty, students, and other constituencies. It determines policy on educational programs and priorities, the budget, academic freedom and tenure, the conduct of research, external relations, and other issues related to the welfare of faculty, students, and research officers. Concurrence by the University′s Board of Trustees is required for acts of the Senate. Since spring 2015, Trzaska has been a member of the Senate research officers committee, which addresses specific concerns of research officers throughout the University.

See: Columbia University Senate

New Project Focuses on Learning about Computing and Ecosystems

January 22, 2016

The New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) in Queens, New York, has launched a new project, Computational Thinking in Ecosystems (CT-E), that seeks to integrate computing concepts and skills with learning about ecosystems in both formal and informal educational settings. CIESIN director Robert Chen is co-principal investigator of the effort, which is led by Stephen Uzzo of NYSCI. Supported by the STEM+Computing Partnership (STEM+C) initiated by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the two-year project is developing innovative ways to engage students with hands-on tools to develop and use computer programming as part of learning about ecological systems and how scientists study them. CT-E builds on a previous collaboration between NYSCI, CIESIN, and Design I/O that led to the design and implementation of NYSCI's unique immersive, interactive installation, Connected Worlds. One of the planned outcomes is development of a tablet-based interface that allows students to take home elements of the Connected Worlds exhibit for further game-based learning.

See: Integrating Computational Thinking and Environmental Science...

Geospatial Data Preservation and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation the Focus of New Publications

January 14, 2016

Geospatial data management, curation, and preservation are the focus of three special issues of the Journal of Map & Geography Libraries, guest-edited by senior digital archivist Robert Downs. Due to a large number of high quality submissions, Downs and the editorial team were able to expand the original planned special issue into a sequence of three. The first issue, published in September 2015, contains an editorial by Downs, “Management, Curation, and Preservation of Geospatial Data: Introductory Perspectives,″ and six research articles. The second issue, published in December 2015, includes another introductory editorial, “Progress on the Management, Curation, and Preservation of Geospatial Data,″ and five more articles. The third special issue will be released in early 2016.

CIESIN research scientist Susana Adamo has published the opinion piece, “About Mitigation, Adaptation, and the UNFCCC’s 21st Conference of the Parties,” in REBEP-Revista Brasileira de Estudos de População. She argues for greater attention to linkages between mitigation and adaptation, and in particular to the role of population dynamics, in the context of international climate negotiations. Also appearing in the same journal is the paper, “Climate change and mitigation in the forestry sector: REDD+, national policies and local sustainable development in the Legal Amazon,″ by visiting senior research scientist Douglas Sathler, with Adamo and Everton Lima as co-authors. 

See: “Management, Curation, and Preservation of Geospatial Data: Introductory Perspectives″--Guest Editorial, First Special Issue, published September 2015, Volume 11, No. 2
       “Progress on the Management, Curation, and Preservation of Geospatial Data”--Guest Editorial, Second Special Issue, Volume 11, No. 3
       “About Mitigation, Adaptation, and the UNFCCC’s 21st Conference of the Parties”
       “Climate Change and Mitigation in the Forestry Sector: REDD+, National Policies, and Local Sustainable Development in the Legal Amazon”

Coastal Flood Risk in Shanghai Presented at CIESIN

January 13, 2016

Min Liu, dean of School of Geographic Sciences at East China Normal University in Shanghai, with Robert Chen, CIESIN director

Representatives from the School of Geographic Sciences (SGS) at East China Normal University in Shanghai visited CIESIN offices at the Lamont Campus January 12 to discuss collaborative opportunities. Min Liu, dean of SGS, gave a presentation on coastal flood and sea level risks and associated risk management efforts in Shanghai. Liu was accompanied by Ruishan Chen, an associate professor at SGS and former visiting scholar at CIESIN from October 2011 to March 2013. During their visit, Liu and Chen also met with other experts on urban climate risks including Klaus Jacob of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Cynthia Rosenzweig of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and William Solecki of Hunter College. CIESIN director Robert Chen and associate director for science applications Alex de Sherbinin have been named to the SGS International Advisory Committee.

New Population and Urbanization Data Released for Testing

January 12, 2016

The NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) has released three new geospatial data products for external user testing.

The Global Urban Heat Island data set estimates the average land surface temperature within urban areas in degrees Celsius (summer daytime maximum and nighttime minimum), as well as the difference between those temperatures and the temperatures in surrounding rural areas, defined as a 10-kilometer buffer around the urban extent.

The Global Grid of Probabilities of Urban Expansion data set assesses likely future areas of urban expansion up to the year 2030. The projections are based on a model of global urban land-cover change developed by Karen C. Seto of Yale University, Burak Güneralp of Texas A&M University, and Lucy R. Hutyra of Boston University, described in a 2012 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Gridded Population of the World, version 4 (GPWv4), data collection is the fourth version of SEDAC′s flagship data product, which models the global distribution of human population on a continuous surface. New features of GPWv4, which is expected to be released in production in early 2016, include more recent census data; a smaller grid size; and many more input census units.

Users are invited to submit comments and suggestions regarding these test versions of the data through the online “Feedback and Support″ link on the SEDAC Web site or by contacting SEDAC User Services at A free Earthdata Login is now required to download data from SEDAC.

See: Global Urban Heat Island, v1 (2013)
       Global Grid of Probabilities of Urban Expansion to 2030, v1 (2000-2030)
       The Gridded Population of the World, version 4 (GPWv4)

Earth Science Data Community Kicks off New Year in Washington DC

January 11, 2016

The winter meeting of the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP Federation) brought together more than 275 representatives of earth science data organizations at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington DC January 6–8. The NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) was represented by CIESIN director and SEDAC manager Robert Chen and by senior digital archivist Robert Downs, who is also a member of the board of the Foundation for Earth Science. Downs participated in the ESIP Federation awards ceremony on January 6, introducing the winner of the Martha Maiden Lifetime Achievement Award for Service to the Earth Science Information Community, Ruth Duerr of the Ronin Institute for Independent Scholars. Downs also presented a poster, “Improving the Usability of Earth Science Data Products and Services by Enhancing Documentation.″ Chen gave a live demo of the recently released SEDAC Hazards Mapper as well as the HazPop mobile application currently under development in a session, “Trusted Data for Disaster Lifecycle Applications.″ On January 8, Downs summarized the activities of the Data Systems Integration Committee of the Earth Science Data System Working Group on Data Quality during the session, “Information Quality Cluster—Introduction, Reporting and Use Case Tutorial.″ He also led the development of use cases for the session, “Information Quality Cluster—Use Case Development Working Session.″

The ESIP Federation elected Emily Law of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory as its new president, replacing outgoing president Peter Fox of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. SEDAC has been a Federation “Type 1″ member since 1999.

See: ESIP Winter Meeting