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Integrating Novel Water Data and Indicators Examined at UN Team Meeting

August 12, 2014

An international task team convened by the United Nations (UN) World Health Organization (WHO), UN HABITAT, and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) met August 11–12 in College Park, Maryland, to continue discussions on how Earth observations (EO) and other novel data, as well as new data integration approaches, could contribute to the monitoring of future Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to water. The WHO-HABITAT-UNEP task team is one of a number of UN efforts to develop strategies for post-2015 global monitoring of the planned SDGs, which are actively being considered by the international community. CIESIN director Robert Chen gave a presentation on novel water-related data and indicators available from CIESIN, including current progress in preparing version four of the Gridded Population of the World (GPW) data set and in developing transboundary water basin indicators as part of the Transboundary Waters Assessment Programme (TWAP). He also discussed lessons learned by CIESIN over the past decade in developing policy-relevant environmental performance and sustainability indicators. The team meeting was held at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Center for Weather and Climate Prediction at the University of Maryland. 


UN Convenes Meetings on Geospatial Data for Sustainable Development

August 9, 2014

CIESIN staff joined more than 150 geospatial experts from United Nations (UN) member countries, UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and other public and private sector organizations at UN Headquarters in New York City recently for two meetings on geospatial data and information. The UN Global Forum on the Integration of Statistical and Geospatial Information was held August 4–5 to discuss strategic vision, goals, and best practices for data integration. On August 6–8, the Fourth Session of the UN Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) addressed a number of initiatives, including the global geodetic reference frame, the development of a global map for sustainable development and the post-2015 development agenda, the implementation and adoption of global geospatial standards, and national institutional arrangements. Geographic information specialists Kytt MacManus and Erin Doxsey-Whitfield and research staff assistant Olena Borkovska participated in the meetings as observers from CIESIN, which is a nongovernmental organization recognized by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

See: UN Global Forum on the Integration of Statistical and Geospatial Information
       Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM)

Staff Trainings Focus on Data Management and Cyberinfrastructure

August 5, 2014

Several CIESIN staff participated in training workshops and courses this past month. Digital archivist Yitzhak Gitelman travelled to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for a workshop tailored to data professionals, “Curating and Managing Research Data for Re-Use,” July 28–August 1. Offered by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) as part of their summer program, the workshop addressed data curation practices throughout the entire research data life cycle. CIESIN programmer James Carcone attended a jQuery training class given by Learning Tree International June 22–25 in New York City. The course covered dynamic Web 2.0 applications using JQuery, HTML, CSS, and Ajax and included hands-on experience in building and testing JQuery components. David Strom, a system administrator at CIESIN, took part in a RedHat Linux training class in Edison, New Jersey, June 21–24. The class reviewed key technologies such as systemd, firewalld, and IPv6 and related management and troubleshooting  topics. These training activities were supported by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) to help ensure that SEDAC maintains state-of-the-art, secure data resources and services for its user community.

China Resettlement Scholar Visits CIESIN

July 30, 2014

Shi Guoqing of Hohai University in China visited CIESIN July 29 to discuss research on resettlement programs in China. He is director of the National Center for Research on Resettlement (NCRC) and the dean of the Public Administration School at Hohai, where he served as an academic advisor to current CIESIN visiting scholar Jichuan Sheng. CIESIN senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin is a visiting professor at Hohai and a senior advisor to NCRC. Dean Shi gave a presentation on China’s resettlement programs for the Three Gorges Dam and the South-North Water Transfer Project, among other major projects. Since the 1950’s, approximately 200 million people have been resettled in China because of large infrastructure projects.

Recent Meetings Address Enhancing Geospatial Capabilities, Balancing Privacy Concerns

July 29, 2014

CIESIN geographic information specialist Malanding Jaiteh returned to Freetown, Sierra Leone, July 12–16 to continue efforts to expand the geospatial capabilities of the Sierra Leone Environmental Protection Agency (SL EPA). Jaiteh met with the director of the SL EPA, Madame Haddijatou Jallow, and her staff to assess their current resource and training needs for spatial analysis, mapping, and environmental monitoring and modeling. He also provided training on geographic information system (GIS) tools and data collection and management. The SL EPA has recently purchased equipment and hired personnel, drawing on recommendations from an earlier CIESIN visit.

In Rockville, Maryland, July 24–25, CIESIN associate research scientist Susana Adamo attended a technical consultation organized by the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Program. Participants in the meeting, “Geographic Masking and Displacement of GPS Data for Household Surveys,” included demographers such as Adamo and former CIESIN scientist Deborah Balk, now with Baruch College of the City University of New York; other researchers and GIS specialists; and representatives from organizations such as MEASURE, the US Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The focus of the meeting was to explore the balance between making social science and health data with spatial coordinates from global positioning system (GPS) technologies publicly available, while also addressing privacy concerns, and to identify best practices and new methodologies to achieve this balance. The DHS Program collects data on population, health, HIV, and nutrition through surveys held in more than 90 countries, and supports analysis and dissemination of these data.

Updated Sea Level Rise Data Released

July 23, 2014

Map of Greater New York City showing population density on the left and low elevation coastal zone on the right

The NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) recently released version two of the Urban-Rural Population and Land Area Estimates as part of the SEDAC Low-Elevation Coastal Zone (LECZ) collection, providing aggregate estimates of land area and urban, rural, and total population for 202 statistical areas (countries and other UN-recognized territories). Population and land area estimates are subdivided by elevation zones derived from the NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) elevation data. The analysis was conducted using two different spatial resolutions, approximately 90 meters and approximately 1 kilometer, providing a range of estimates. Pivot tables enable grouping and filtering of data by country, region, continent, income level, elevation zone, and other attributes.

Version one of this data set only provided estimates for the 10-meter elevation zone, whereas version two includes selected elevation levels between 1 and 20 meters. Version two also incorporates improvements in the coastline boundaries and provides population estimates for the years 1990, 2000, and 2010 along with a long-term projection to the year 2100.

See: Low Elevation Coastal Zone (LECZ) Urban-Rural Population and Land Area Estimates, Version 2

CIESIN Experts Travel to San Diego for 2014 Esri International User Conference

July 20, 2014

CIESIN geospatial information specialists Erin Doxsey-Whitfield, Dara Mendeloff, and Linda Pistolesi standing in front of the poster they created describing development highlights of the fourth version of the Gridded Population of the World (GPW) data set.

CIESIN geospatial information specialists Erin Doxsey-Whitfield, Dara Mendeloff, and Linda Pistolesi attended the 2014 Esri International User Conference in San Diego, California, July 14−18. At the Monday night Map Gallery, the team presented a poster highlighting developments in the fourth version of the Gridded Population of the World (GPW) data set, including the addition of new census variables and increased spatial resolution of input units. They also participated in pre-conference seminars and technical workshops, and Mendeloff attended the Esri Education GIS Conference. Esri′s annual conference typically attracts more than 15,000 geospatial data and technology experts from around the world.

See: 2014 Esri International User Conference
       Gridded Population of the World Version 4: A First Look (3 MB PDF)

Population and Deforestation Research Discussed with Japan Visitors July 21, 2014

July 19, 2014

Professor Shojiro Tanaka of the Division of Information Systems, Graduate School of Science and Engineering at Shimane University,and Professor Ryuei Nishii of the Math for Industry Institute at Kyushu University visited CIESIN on July 18 to discuss their use of the Gridded Population of the World (GPW) data set in modeling global deforestation and to explore possible areas of future collaboration. CIESIN staff members shared progress in developing GPW version 4, which will be released later in 2014 through the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN. The visit by Professors Tanaka and Nishii was supported by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture.

Nanjing University Scholar Begins CIESIN Visit

July 18, 2014

Jichuan Sheng, an assistant professor from the Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, has begun a one-year visit with CIESIN. Sheng is conducting independent research on public policy and management related to the international initiative REDD+, which builds on the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD). REDD+ is a climate change mitigation solution that involves sustainable approaches to forest management consistent with UN-REDD Programme mandates to develop economic processes for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands. Sheng received his PhD in management and his BA in economics from Hohai University in Nanjing, China. He is also a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute of Urban and Environmental Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

Staffing Changes for CIESIN

July 17, 2014

CIESIN is pleased to announce several new staff members and changes in duties. The Information Technology Division welcomes Agustin (Augie) Dominguez as a part-time system administrator, primarily supporting the Africa Soil Information Service. Dominguez was previously employed at Columbia University and brings diverse skills and experience in computing systems development and operations. As of July 1, the division also gained Kytt MacManus, who has been a geographic information specialist in the Geospatial Applications Division. MacManus will now focus primarily on designing and developing Web and mobile applications for geospatial and other scientific data.

Joining CIESIN as casual employees are Ilyun Koh, who recently received his MPA in development practice from Columbia University, and Caroline Weisstuch, a Mamaroneck High School student who worked at CIESIN last summer. Koh is helping to prepare the fourth version of the Gridded Population of the World data set, and Weisstuch is supporting efforts to develop a decision support system for flood hazard along the Hudson River.

This spring and summer, CIESIN has also been collaborating with Pinki Mondal, a postdoctoral research scientist with Columbia’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology (E3B). Mondal is helping to assess the use of remote sensing data from the new Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument for urban mapping and other applications, in support of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN.

Investment in Spatial Data Infrastructure Addressed in Mozambique Visit

July 12, 2014

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy traveled to Maputo, Mozambique, July 6–8 for a series of meetings with government ministries, including a presentation to a group of about 45 officials on how to harness spatial data infrastructures for development. His trip was undertaken in collaboration with the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), a joint center of the Columbia University Law School and the Earth Institute dedicated to the study, practice, and discussion of sustainable international investment.

Earth Science Community Discusses Approaches to Managing Data

July 11, 2014

Robert Downs, CIESIN senior digital archivist, recently travelled to Copper Mountain, Colorado, to participate in back-to-back meetings of the earth science data community. At the Data Observation Network for Earth (DataONE) User Group Meeting July 6–7, which focused on improving capabilities of earth science data facilities, Downs presented a poster on the use of digital object identifiers (DOIs) in fostering data attribution. He then participated in the 2014 Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) Summer Meeting July 7–11, which addressed ways to improve the management, dissemination, and use of earth science data. At this meeting, he gave presentations on implementing DOIs and on software citation, and presented a poster on improving review of scientific data for public dissemination. He also co-convened the Science Sustainability Roundtable and gave a short presentation on a user’s perspective of sustainable software. He participated in the meeting of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Earth Science as an elected ESIP Federation representative.

See: DataOne
       2014 Summer Meeting of the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP)

The Changing Geography of Vulnerability

July 9, 2014

The influence of environmental factors on migration is discussed in a recent Wilson Center blog that features the work of CIESIN associate research scientist Susana Adamo. Although the role of climate change in migration is still under debate, Adamo says that because of increased migration, what has been termed the “geography of vulnerability” is changing. Coastal ecosystems, she notes, are experiencing increased in-migration, and may also become more vulnerable to climate change impacts such as storm surges exacerbated by sea-level rise. But as the vulnerability of these areas increases, increased out-migration may result. One of the main challenges, she says, is to find reliable ways to determine the influence of environmental factors. The blog is part of the New Security Beat blogspot of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

See: New Security Beat blog
       “Migration is Changing…” Adamo presentation

Researchers Gather to Advance Data Sharing for Earth Science

June 27, 2014

The EarthCube All Hands Meeting held in Washington DC June 24–26 brought together members of the earth science community to share progress and plan future activities. CIESIN senior digital archivist Robert Downs presented a poster at the session June 23 on the use of online educational technology to improve capabilities for data sharing and use. The following day, in collaboration with Leslie Hsu and Kerstin Lehnert of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), Erin Robinson of the Foundation for Earth Science, and Ilya Zaslavsky of the San Diego Supercomputer Center, Downs organized a breakout session on workforce development. At the same session he also presented, “Professional Development for an Evolving Earth Science Workforce,” authored with CIESIN director Robert Chen. The National Science Foundation (NSF) launched EarthCube in 2011 as a collaborative partnership between NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) and the Division of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (ACI) to support data sharing across the geosciences.

See: Earthcube All Hands Meeting

Discussion of Indicators for Sustainable Development Goals Takes Place

June 25, 2014

At an Expert Roundtable, “Designing Indicators for the SDGs: Collecting Comprehensive, Timely Data,” convened in New York City June 23–24 by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) in cooperation with the UN Statistics Division (UNSD), CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy gave a presentation on environmental sustainability data gaps relevant to the SDSN draft sustainable development goals (SDGs). The SDSN supports the development of the SDGs to address the challenges of economic development, social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and good governance, in relation to the Millennium Development Goals to end poverty.

Scenarios of Demographic Change Suggested for Climate Assessment

June 25, 2014

Associate research scientist Susana Adamo and senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin joined a group of demographers, geographers, economists, and modelers for a workshop focused on demographic scenarios in support of the US Global Change Research Program and the National Climate Assessment. Held June 23–24 in Rockville, Maryland, the workshop aimed to assess key factors in the production of long-term scenarios of U.S. demographic change for use in interdisciplinary analysis of social and environmental issues. Discussion recognized that trends in fertility and mortality will be easier to predict than migration, and population characteristics will be the hardest to project, especially for smaller administrative units. Scenario development following different story lines with internally consistent narratives was suggested as a way to characterize multiple possible futures.

See: “Toward Scenarios of U.S. Demographic Change” Workshop
       U.S. Global Change Research Program/National Climate Assessment

Agricultural Scientists from Sichuan Province in China Visit Lamont Campus

June 24, 2014

Group of staff from CIESIN, LDEO, and the Agriculture and Food Security Center gather with scientists from the Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences on the back deck of the Comer Building,the Lamont campus.

A delegation of twenty scientists from the Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences visited the Lamont campus the morning of June 23 to learn about the Earth Institute’s diverse work in the area of agriculture and food security. An overview of the Earth Institute and CIESIN’s research and data resources related to agriculture and climate was presented by CIESIN director Robert Chen, followed by a description of the processing and soils data delivery component of the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS), provided by staff associate Kimberly Peng. Mark Musumba, postdoctoral research fellow with the Agriculture and Food Security Center, summarized plans for the Vital Signs project, which is focused on integrated agricultural development in Tanzania. Lamont associate research professor Benjamin Bostick concluded the visit with a presentation on arsenic and other heavy metal contamination of soils, a major issue for public health and agriculture in China and other parts of Asia. The delegation was led by Prof. Jianjun Liu, vice president of the Sichuan Academy.

Strengthening Interagency Geodata Connections the Theme of Boulder Workshop

June 23, 2014

Geospatial data are developed and managed by many different government agencies but are used for many different purposes by the broad geodata research and applications community. Addressing the social, political, financial, and technical issues of connecting geodata in and among governmental agencies was the focus of the GeoData 2014 workshop, held at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, June 17–19. CIESIN director Robert Chen gave an invited presentation as part of the first plenary panel, highlighting the complex network of stakeholders and challenges strengthening collaboration and ensuring long-term sustainability. The workshop plenary and panel sessions were livecast and will be posted for viewing. A workshop report is also in preparation. The workshop was sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and aimed at complementing the NSF EarthCube initiative by extending the scope of the discourse beyond the NSF-funded geoscience research community.

See: GeoData 2014

Improved Climate Change Responses the Focus of Egypt Talk

June 18, 2014

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy gave a talk, “Learning from our Mistakes on Climate Change: The Pivot to More Effective Politics,” at the observance of World Environment Day in Cairo June 17. He described three core actions for improving climate change responses: creating capacities to understand present and near-term climate risks; building effective networks for tangible progress in mitigation and adaptation; and developing metrics that support evidence-based decision-making, mechanisms of accountability, and processes of learning. World Environment Day has been organized annually since 1972 by the United Nations, in concert with the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme.

New Report Maps Climate Vulnerability Hotspots in Mali

June 16, 2014

Map using vulnerability index of exposure, sensitivity, and lack of adaptive capacity

A new report on mapping climate vulnerability hotspots in Mali, West Africa, has been produced under the auspices of the project, African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC), funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Authored by a team led by senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin, the report uses a spatial vulnerability index comprised of 18 indicators grouped into three vulnerability components: climate exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. The index suggests that relatively large areas of northern Mali have high vulnerability, although they are thinly settled; the capital, Bamako, has low vulnerability; and the southeast, which is the most densely populated area of Mali, has medium to medium-high vulnerability. Downscaled future climate scenarios indicate an expansion of higher vulnerability regions southward (see map; areas north of 17.2° N were excluded because of data limitations). The mapping exercise integrated several data sets from the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center operated by CIESIN with satellite-derived vegetation and soil carbon data.

See: Report: Mali Climate Vulnerability Mapping

Strategic Directions for the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center Reviewed

June 13, 2014

Chandra Giri and Malanding Jaiteh examine a map from the mangroves data set, which they collaborated on.

The User Working Group (UWG) of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) met June 12–13 at Columbia University to assess SEDAC’s recent progress and planned strategic initiatives in areas such as urban land use change and infrastructure data development. Chaired by Molly Macauley of Resources for the Future, the meeting brought together UWG members from a range of scientific disciplines and institutions along with representatives from NASA headquarters and the Goddard Space Flight Center. Uwe Deichmann of the World Bank, a member since 2011, Nancy Searby of the NASA Applied Sciences Program, and SEDAC’s manager Robert Chen gave presentations on the use of SEDAC data in research, training, and applications. Stephen Mooney of the Built Environment and Health Research Group, Columbia University also gave a short presentation on crowd sourcing of socioeconomic and health data. The UWG advises NASA and CIESIN on the continued operation and development of SEDAC.

Big Data, Disasters, and Future Earth Discussed in Beijing Meetings

June 11, 2014

Scientists from around the world met in Beijing June 7–10 for several workshops and conferences organized by interdisciplinary bodies and programs of the International Council for Science. On June 7, CIESIN director Robert Chen participated in a working meeting on the data needs of the Future Earth program, a 10-year international research initiative to develop the knowledge for responding effectively to global environmental change, and supporting transformation towards global sustainability. He then took part in a workshop June 8–9, “Big Data for International Scientific Programmes,” sponsored by the ICSU Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) and hosted by the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth (RADI) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. At the workshop he gave a presentation, “From TerraPop to Teraflops: The Challenge of Integrating Big Social and Natural Science Data. ” He also chaired a session, “Big Data Opportunities,” and moderated the closing panel discussion, “An Agenda for Big Data and International Science. ” A conference statement has been released on the CODATA Web site.

Located with the Big Data workshop was the 2014 Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) Conference held June 7–9, which had as its theme, “Integrated Disaster Risk Science: A Tool for Sustainability.” In a session organized by CODATA, Chen gave a presentation, “Improving Data on the Built Infrastructure for Disaster Management,” highlighting recent CIESIN infrastructure data sets and other work on earthquake risk assessment. On June 10, at the International Training Workshop for Developing Countries on Big Data for Science, organized by CODATA and the Chinese National Committee for CODATA, he gave a lecture on CIESIN’s global data development efforts to more than more than 20 students from 10 countries .

See: CODATA Workshop on Big Data
       CODATA International Training Workshop for Developing Countries
       2014 IRDR Conference

Geospatial Community Saddened by Sudden Loss of Doug Nebert

June 8, 2014

CIESIN joins the national and international geospatial community in mourning the passing of Douglas Nebert, a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) expert who died in a small plane accident May 31 in Oregon. Nebert, age 51, was a senior advisor for geospatial technology at the USGS and an internationally known leader in promoting data interoperability and the development of geospatial data infrastructure. He was a recipient of the Kenneth D. Gardels Award of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and contributed actively to the work of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). CIESIN staff members interacted with Nebert extensively over the past 15 years on geospatial data and metadata activities in support of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and through the OGC and GEO.

See: Sad News about Doug Nebert

Training in Climate Vulnerability Mapping Provided at CIESIN Workshop

June 6, 2014

Two students confer at the vulnerability mapping workshop.

An international group of experts from Ghana, Mozambique, Senegal, Zambia, France, and the United States gathered at CIESIN June 2–6 for a training workshop on mapping vulnerability to climate change and variability. Geographic information specialists Malanding Jaiteh and Tricia Chai-Onn led the training, and senior research associates Alex de Sherbinin and Valentina Mara gave guest lectures. The workshop included a half-day session on the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) Climate Data Library given by Alessandra Gianini, IRI research scientist and CIESIN associate research scientist Sylwia Trzaska. A similar training session was recently offered by CIESIN in Nairobi, hosted by the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD). The training workshops were sponsored by the programs African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) and Planning for Resilience in East Africa through Policy, Adaptation, Research, and Economic Development (PREPARED) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Environmental Performance Indicators for Iraq Addressed in Visit

June 5, 2014

A delegation from the Iraq Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Planning met with CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy and senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin at CIESIN June 5. The purpose of the visit was to discuss the availability and quality of Iraq’s data in the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) and possible collaboration on mechanisms to help Iraq better track progress on key environmental issues. The delegation was headed by Ali Abdulzahra Al-Lami, deputy minister of environment.

Intercity Roads and Historical Land Use Data the Focus of New Publications

June 4, 2014

New methods for improving data on intercity roads are reviewed and assessed in an article by Taro Ubukawa of the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan, CIESIN associate research scientist Alex de Sherbinin, and others, just published in the CODATA Data Science Journal. The article, “A Review of Roads Data Development Methodologies,” was produced by the International Council for Science Committee on Data for Science and Technology (ICSU-CODATA) Global Roads Data Development Task Group (CODATA gROADS), which de Sherbinin chairs. Ubukawa was a visiting scholar at CIESIN from 2012 to 2013.

Yuanyuan Yang, a graduate student in land resource management at the College of Earth Sciences of Jilin University in China and staff associate at CIESIN, is lead author of the article, “A Review of Historical Reconstruction Methods of Land Use/Land Cover,” published in the August issue of the Journal of Geographical Sciences. Xiaoshi Xing, CIESIN information scientist, is also a co-author.

See: A Review of Roads Data Development Methodologies
       CODATA Global Roads Data Development Task Group
       “A Review of Historical Reconstruction Methods of Land Use/Land Cover”

Experts on Population, Poverty, and Environment Meet in Brazil

June 2, 2014

The issues of population dynamics, poverty, and the environment were considered from the perspective of five major emerging economies—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS)—at an expert workshop held in Brasilia, Brazil, May 28–30. Associate research scientist Susana Adamo was an invited expert at the event, which was jointly organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Brazil’s Ministry of Environment in preparation for the sixth annual BRICS meeting in Fortaleza, Brazil, July 15–17. The addition of Argentina to the BRICS group is under consideration.

See: Expert group meeting

Resettlement and Development Issues Discussed at World Bank Symposium

May 30, 2014

Senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin participated in the International Symposium on Environmental Change and Migration held May 28–29 in Washington DC. Sponsored by The World Bank Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD), the symposium included a presentation by de Sherbinin, “Resettlement in an Age of Dislocations,” as part of a panel on resettlement migration as a risk management strategy. One of the panel moderators was Koko Warner of the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security, who collaborated with de Sherbinin and others on the climate and migration projects and reports, Where the Rain Falls and In Search of Shelter. KNOMAD is a group within the World Bank that acts as a global hub of knowledge and policy expertise on migration and development issues.

See: Symposium Agenda (42 kb PDF)
       Symposium Background Paper (585 kb PDF)

Population Perspectives on Climate Change and Disasters

May 26, 2014

Associate research scientist and demographer Susana Adamo provided expertise on population issues to two recent meetings focused on the environmental and security risks of climate change and on disaster loss assessment. On May 14, she served as one of three speakers in a panel, “Strengthening the Field: The Role of Demography in Responding to Climate Change,” at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC. The panel focused on how demographers can help anticipate interactions between climate change and demographic factors such as population growth, women’s empowerment, age-structure, migration, and urbanization and assess the population, environment, and security implications of extreme weather and climate variability. Event co-sponsors were the Wilson Center’s Africa Program and the Global Sustainability and Resilience Program.

On May 19–20, Adamo attended the Third Expert Meeting of the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) Data Working Group held in Ispra, Italy. The meeting focused on methods for assessing economic losses and human impacts of disasters and on implementation of the recently released Peril Classification and Hazard Glossary, that provides guidelines on disaster event classification and consistent terminology. The IRDR is co-sponsored by the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Social Science Council (ISSC), and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), and takes a global, multi-disciplinary approach to research on disasters.

See: Wilson Center Panel
       Adamo Panel Presentation (1.2 MB PDF)

China’s Soil Found to be Widely Contaminated; Farmland the Most Polluted

May 21, 2014

CIESIN senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin is a co-author of a letter in the current issue of Science that says China’s soil pollution is worse than previously understood. Ruishan Chen, associate professor at the School of Public Administration of Hohai University in Nanjing, China, is first author, and two of Chen’s colleagues from Nanjing Normal University and Hohai University are co-authors after de Sherbinin. Written in response to a news item in the March 28 issue of Science, the letter cites a report released April 17 that estimates that soils on more than 19% of China’s farmland are contaminated with toxic inorganic or organic pollutants, stemming largely from the use of chemical fertilizers at rates well above the world average. Chen was a visiting scholar at CIESIN from October 2011 to May 2013.

See: “China’s Soil Pollution: Farms on the Frontline” (Science, May 16, 2014, Vol. 344, #6185)

Priorities for Agricultural and Food System Security Research Examined in Oxford

May 19, 2014

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy participated in an expert workshop, “Highest Priority Researchable Questions for Agricultural and Food System Security in the 21st Century,” held May 14–16 at the University of Oxford, England. Chaired by Molly Jahn of the University of Wisconsin and Charles Godfray of Oxford, the workshop was convened to provide input to the CGIAR Mid-Term Review Panel led by Sir John Beddington, who participated in the workshop. The panel is an independent body of reviewers assessing progress in reforming the CGIAR, a global partnership of organizations engaged in research for a food secure future.

United Nations Experts Gather in New York to Address Geospatial Data and Information Challenges

May 16, 2014

Five CIESIN staff members joined more than 70 international experts from United Nations (UN) agencies, international organizations, and other public and private sector organizations at the 14th Plenary Meeting of the United Nations Geographic Information Working Group (UNGIWG), held May 14–16 at UN headquarters in New York City. UN humanitarian agencies presented efforts to “geo-enable” their activities via Web mapping services, and Esri, Google, and other commercial providers presented data and mapping applications available to the UN.  An afternoon discussion focused on core data sets needed by the UN community, such as subnational boundaries, transportation data layers, and digital elevation models. Geographic information specialist Kytt MacManus and senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin gave a presentation on CIESIN’s relevant geospatial data resources, capabilities, and plans. Also attending were geographic information specialists Erin-Doxsey-Whitfield, Dara Mendeloff, and Linda Pistolesi. CIESIN is a nongovernmental organization in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and works closely with the UN Cartographic Division and with many of the other organizations represented at the meeting.


Training on Climate Vulnerability and Health Analysis Offered in East Africa

May 16, 2014

Individuals in a Nairobi training workshop on vulnerability mapping

Nairobi, Kenya and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia were the venues for two recent training workshops on climate vulnerability mapping and climate/health assessment. In Nairobi, CIESIN geographic information specialists Malanding Jaiteh and Tricia Chai-Onn led a regional capacity-building workshop May 12–16 on vulnerability mapping at the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD). Approximately 25 participants from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda learned advanced geospatial processing techniques and used data from Kenya to produce an overall map of climate change vulnerability. The workshop was organized under the auspices of the Planning for Resilience in East Africa through Policy, Adaptation, Research, and Economic Development (PREPARED) Program funded by the US Agency for International Development East Africa Mission (USAID/East Africa). CIESIN is a subcontractor to TetraTech ARD on the PREPARED Program.

In Addis Ababa, associate research scientist Sylwia Trzaska was a facilitator for a three-day research capacity-building workshop April 28–30 on climate variability and change and the implications for malaria control and elimination in Africa. The workshop, supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), included Ethiopian researchers and health professionals involved in malaria control and prevention. Trzaska introduced relevant concepts in climate sciences and highlighted the potential later this year for an El Niño event to affect malaria incidence. She also introduced the Climate Predictability Tool developed by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI).

See: RCMRD article: “Capacity Building Workshop”

Mark Becker's Accomplishments as Environmentalist and Mentor Honored

May 9, 2014

Tree planting ceremony

A northern red oak, the State tree of New Jersey, was planted in Pascack Brook County Park May 8 to commemorate former CIESIN associate director Mark Becker, who passed away in February. The ceremony honored Becker′s work as an environmentalist, scientist, and teacher, including his efforts as co-founder of the Bergen Save The Watershed Action Network (Bergen SWAN) and as a trustee of the Meadowlands Conservation Trust for more than a decade. The park is one of several areas of the Hacksensack River watershed that he helped to protect. Many of his CIESIN colleagues joined his family members and others from Bergen SWAN, Bergen County, and local organizations and businesses in the informal outdoor ceremony.  

Mark Becker′s dedication to mentoring of his students and staff was also recognized May 9 at the Lamont campus in Palisades, New York, as part of the 10th Excellence in Mentoring award ceremony. He posthumously received a special mention from the Awards committee, which was accepted on his behalf by Linda Pistolesi, one of the CIESIN staff members he mentored. This was the first year in which the Excellence in Mentoring award had been opened up to nominations from CIESIN and two other Earth Institute centers on the Lamont campus.

Role of Streets in Urban Development Addressed in Guest Lecture

May 9, 2014

Gora Mboup, the chief of the Global Urban Observatory (GUO) at the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), gave a talk on streets as public spaces and drivers of urban prosperity at a brownbag seminar May 8 at  Columbia′s Morningside Heights campus. Mboup summarized the results of a recent study released by UN-Habitat that demonstrates the importance of allocating sufficient urban land to streets and supporting multiple functions to enhance urban productivity, prosperity, and quality of life. The lecture was co-hosted by CIESIN and the Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD). Mboup has collaborated with CIESIN for a number of years on projects related to mapping of urban slum development and exposure to earthquakes.

See: Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Urban Prosperity

Sea Level Rise and Extreme Storms Threaten Aging Coastal Infrastructure

May 8, 2014

The “triple threat” posed by rising sea levels, extreme storms such as Hurricane Sandy, and aging coastal infrastructure was a key focus of a May 7 Business Summit at the New York Academy of Sciences Conference Center in Manhattan. CIESIN director Robert Chen moderated a session on this topic, which included presentations by Cynthia Rosenzweig of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Earth Institute, and by Mary Munson of the Organization of Coastal States. The Summit, organized by the National Institute for Coastal & Harbor Infrastructure (NICHI), brought together key stakeholders from both the private and public sectors to address not only the risks posed by climate change to coastal cities and infrastructure, but also opportunities to invest in resilient multi-purpose coastal infrastructure. The Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast (CCRUN), in which CIESIN is a partner, was one of the sponsors.

See: NICHI Business Summit

UN Dialogue Held on Monitoring and Accountability for the Post-2015 Development Agenda

May 6, 2014

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy was an invited speaker on a panel, “Concepts for a New Accountability Framework or Frameworks for the Post-2015 Development Agenda,” held as part of the Interactive Dialogue of the President of the United Nations General Assembly on Elements for an Accountability Framework for the post–2015 Development Agenda. The event took place May 1 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Levy  addressed lessons from sustainability science for effective accountability mechanisms, emphasizing the need for approaches that are “systems-focused, integrated, action- and learning-oriented, participatory, and sensitive to place-specific dynamics.” The Interactive Dialogue was opened by the president of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, John W. Ashe, and by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

See: Agenda: Interactive Dialogue on Elements for a Monitoring and Accountability Framework...
       Audio Recording: Interactive Dialogue on Elements for a Monitoring and Accountability Framework...
       Statement: The Accountability Framework We Need: Lessons from Sustainability Science...(132 KB PDF)

Executive Seminar Program on Environment, Peace, and Security Launches in September

April 25, 2014

The evolving challenges stemming from environmental variability and conflict will be the focus of a unique new seminar program for business and policy leaders offered by Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education. Taught over five days each fall, spring, and summer semester, the Executive Seminar: Environment, Peace, and Security will combine thematic lectures with case studies, skill-building sessions, simulation exercises, and group discussions. The seminar’s goal is to enable participants to understand how environment, peacebuilding, and security are increasingly interdependent; the major trends shaping these linkages; and how these trends affect the worlds of business, development, and peacebuilding. This interdisciplinary program is a collaborative effort by CIESIN, other elements of the Earth Institute, and Columbia's Master's Program in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. Registration is currently offered for the session September 17-21, 2014. For more information or to apply, please visit the Web site or contact Continuing Education at

See: Executive Seminar: Environment, Peace, and Security

CIESIN Welcomes Three New Staff Members

April 21, 2014

Olena Borkovska, Jane Mills, and John Squires have joined CIESIN's Geospatial Applications Division as research staff assistants. Borkovska, who has a BA in environmental policy and management from the Geography Department of Hunter College, City University of New York, is working on the fourth version of the Gridded Population of the World (GPWv4) dataset for the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) and on an ecological assessment project funded by the Nature Conservancy. Squires, who received his BA in sustainable development from Columbia University, is contributing to the same projects and to a National Science Foundation-funded project on the Bronx River "sewershed" led by Prof. Patricia Culligan of Columbia's Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. Mills has a BA in applied mathematics from Barnard with a minor in environmental science. She is supporting the Hudson River Flood Hazard Decision Support System project, as well as SEDAC's GPWv4 effort.

Earth Science Community Mourns Loss of Metadata Pioneer Lola Olsen

April 20, 2014

Lola Olsen of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center passed away April 19 in North Carolina. Olsen spearheaded the development of the Global Change Master Directory (GCMD), one of the largest public data catalogs in the world and a key element of the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System. Olsen was known as a dedicated metadata champion and a lively member of the Earth science data management community. She pioneered the use of keywords and vocabularies for Earth science data and mentored many staff and students now involved in data management. Memorial donations may be made to or Hospice of the Chesapeake.

The GCMD enables discovery and facilitates access to all of NASA’s Earth science data sets and services, including those provided by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC).

See: Obituary: Lola Miller Olsen

New Sources and Applications of Soil Moisture Data Examined at Boulder Workshop

April 19, 2014

CIESIN senior research staff assistant Kimberly Peng participated in the Third Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Workshop in Boulder, Colorado, April 8–10. NASA's SMAP mission, scheduled to be launched in October 2014, will provide unique new measurements of surface soil moisture and freeze-thaw state that will help improve understanding of regional water cycles, ecosystem productivity, and processes linking the water, energy, and carbon cycles. Peng attended a short course on soil moisture and ocean salinity (SMOS) April 8. At the workshop April 9–10, she presented a poster on the integration of remote sensing data to support agricultural applications, based on work by the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS) and the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). The workshop was co-hosted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), and EXELIS Inc.

Human Transformation of the Biosphere and Coastal Exposure Focus of Recent Data Releases

April 18, 2014

The NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN has released several new datasets on anthropogenic transformation of the terrestrial biosphere over three centuries and on population and land area in the Low-Elevation Coastal Zone (LECZ).

Version 2 of Anthropogenic Biomes of the World, developed by Erle C. Ellis of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and colleagues (Ellis et al., 2010), consists of 4 datasets that characterize changes in terrestrial ecosystems over the time period 1700 to 2000 caused by sustained direct human interactions such as urbanization and agriculture. The datasets depict 21 global anthropogenic biomes or "anthromes" derived from analysis of a range of historical data on land use/land cover, agriculture, and population.

Version 2 of the Urban-Rural Population and Land Area Estimates, part of SEDAC's LECZ collection, provides aggregate estimates of land area and urban, rural, and total population for 202 statistical areas (countries and other UN recognized territories). Population and land area estimates are subdivided by elevation zones derived from NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) elevation data at two spatial resolutions, approximately 90 meters and approximately 1 kilometer, providing a range of estimates. Data are provided for the years 1990, 2000, and 2010 along with a long-term projection to the year 2100. Pivot tables enable grouping and filtering of data by country, region, continent, income level, elevation zone, and other attributes.

See: Low Elevation Coastal Zone (LECZ) Urban-Rural Population and Land Area Estimates, Version 2
       Anthropogenic Biomes Collection

Students from France Contribute to CIESIN Projects

April 17, 2014

Three students from École Polytechnique, the prestigious French university located near Paris, have begun three-month internships at CIESIN beginning in early April. The interns, Amine Allouah, Nicolas Ma, and Emilie Maysonnave, are third-year students enrolled in a four-year program that leads to the equivalent of a U.S. masters degree. Allouah, who is majoring in applied mathematics, is helping to develop an updated Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) for 2015 as part of a team led by senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin. Ma is majoring in optimization, combining computer science and applied mathematics, and is assisting program manager Alex Fischer and staff associate Paola Kim-Blanco with spatial analysis of Haiti's national infrastructure and facilities inventory data. Maysonnave, who is majoring in environmental sciences, is working with deputy director Marc Levy to develop tools and data to assist Tanzania in sustainable agricultural management. These recent arrivals increase the total to 20 French students hosted by CIESIN since 2008 under the auspices of the Alliance program, a joint venture between Columbia University, École Polytechnique, Sciences Po, and the Université de Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne.

Climate Indicators and Vulnerability Discussed in Washington DC Meetings

April 16, 2014

CIESIN senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin participated in the NASA National Climate Assessment (NCA) Indicators Team meeting April 8–9 at NASA headquarters in Washington DC, where he represented a joint Battelle Memorial Institute-CIESIN project that is developing heat stress indicators for the city of Philadelphia. The overall aim of the NCA indicators system is to help policy-makers and citizens understand key aspects of our changing climate. Returning to DC April 15–16, de Sherbinin and CIESIN associate research scientist Sylwia Trzaska attended an experts' meeting on the utility and uptake of climate vulnerability assessments organized by the African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) Program of the U.S. Agency for International Development. At this meeting Trzaska facilitated a roundtable on communicating uncertainty and de Sherbinin presented CIESIN work on vulnerability assessment in Mali.

CIESIN Associate Director Joins Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association Board

April 15, 2014

Sri Vinay, associate director for information technology at CIESIN, has been appointed a member of the Board of the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) Association, serving as the representative of GSDI Related Global Initiatives. He replaces Mark Becker, former CIESIN associate director for geospatial applications, who passed away in late February.

See: Sri Vinay Appointed to GSDI Association Board

New Project Launched to Study U.S. Atlantic Coast Vulnerability to Winter Storms

April 8, 2014

NASA has awarded a three-year interdisciplinary research project, Vulnerability of the U.S. Atlantic Coast to Hazards Associated with Extreme Winter Storms (StormEVAAC), to a multi-university team led by Yochanan Kushnir of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO). CIESIN associate research scientist Susana Adamo is one of the project co-investigators, leading the human vulnerability assessment component of the study along with Malgosia Madajewicz of the Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR). Other partners include Tim Hall of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), James Booth of City College of New York (CCNY), and Philip Orton of Stevens Institute of Technology. The project seeks to improve understanding of the coupled human-natural systems of the Northeast Coast during winter, and to deliver probabilistic information in support of decisions for adaptation and response.

Human Dimensions of Global Change Focus of Meetings in Latin America

April 4, 2014

Susana Adamo, associate research scientist at CIESIN, recently returned from three meetings in Uruguay, Brazil, and Guatemala. On March 22-23 she participated as a member in a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) in Montevideo, Uruguay. The IAI is an intergovernmental organization supported by 19 countries in the Americas that is working to increase the understanding of global change phenomena and their socio-economic implications. She then visited the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) March 25-26 in São Paulo state, Brazil to participate in a dissertation defense in the Demography Department and give a class lecture on the topic of population and the environment. CIESIN has worked closely with the Population Studies Unit (NEPO) at UNICAMP since 2008.

Adamo also attended a one-day national workshop held April 2 in Guatemala to present and discuss the report Climate Change, Rainfall Patterns, Livelihoods and Migration in Cabricán, Guatemala. The workshop was organized by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) and Guatemala’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) and sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Her presentation addressed the links between dynamics of demographic and climate change in Central America, based on the study, Where the Rain Falls: Climate Change, Food and Livelihood Security, and Migration, led by CARE France, the UNU-EHS, and CIESIN.

Mapping Vulnerability in Sub-Saharan Africa

April 3, 2014

CIESIN senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin attended a meeting of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Africa climate change officers technical meeting in Nairobi, Kenya April 1–4. The meeting featured speakers presenting a variety of climate adaptation projects and programs in Africa, with a particular focus on agriculture and livelihoods. He gave a presentation on an assessment of climate vulnerability in Mali, produced by CIESIN using data from the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) combined with third-party and remote-sensing data sources. He also discussed ongoing efforts in Niger to build capacity for vulnerability mapping. These activities are supported by the USAID program on African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC), for which CIESIN and TetraTech/ARD are providing technical support in climate science and vulnerability assessment.


Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators Data Services Updated

April 2, 2014

The Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators (ENTRI) database and the ENTRI Conference of the Parties (COP) Decision Search Tool, interactive services provided by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, have been updated with recent data on international environmental treaties. ENTRI enables users to assess country participation in multilateral environmental agreements through simple database queries; the update includes treaty status information through August 2012. The ENTRI COP Decision Search Tool now reflects resolutions and decisions related to selected treaties through 2013. The underlying data were produced by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Environmental Law Center in support of the ECOLEX gateway to environmental law.

See: Environmental Treaty Status Data Set, 2012 Release
       ENTRI Conference of the Parties (COP) Treaty Decision Search Tool

IPCC Report: Managing the Risks of Climate Change is Critical

March 31, 2014

flooding in Lahore, Pakistan

The Working Group II contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (WGII AR5), Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, was released March 31 in Yokohama, Japan. The Report concludes that the effects of climate change can already be seen and the world is not well-prepared for risks that may result from climate change. High levels of warming will challenge opportunities for response.

The Working Group identified three elements contributing to risk from climate change: vulnerability (lack of preparedness) and exposure (people or assets in harm’s way), overlapping with hazards (triggering climate events or trends). Observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and some people’s livelihoods. Observed impacts are found worldwide, throughout diverse climates and from small islands to large continents, in wealthy countries as well as poor.

CIESIN deputy director, Marc Levy, was a lead author of chapter 12 on human security, a topic highlighted in the Report for the first time. Among this chapter's key findings are that societies in conflict are more vulnerable to climate change; that migration is a widely used strategy for adapting to climate impacts; that climate change is likely to amplify conflict risk; and that climate change threatens to disrupt geopolitical security dynamics.  

Levy was among 309 coordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors, drawn from 70 countries, who produced the report. The IPCC further enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors and a total of 1,729 expert and government reviewers. CIESIN senior research associate Valentina Mara was a contributing author for chapter 13, on livelihoods and poverty.  CIESIN data and reports, as well as journal articles written by CIESIN staff, were cited in several chapters of the report.

For the past two decades, IPCC’s Working Group II has developed assessments of climate change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. The latest Working Group I report, which focused on the physical science dimension of climate change, was released in September 2013. The Working Group III report, which focuses on mitigation, is scheduled for release in April 2014. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report cycle concludes with the publication of its Synthesis Report in October 2014.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of human induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for mitigation and adaptation. CIESIN co-manages the IPCC Data Distribution Centre (DDC), which makes available data from IPCC assessments and other reports, and contributes on an ongoing basis to the IPCC Task Group on Data and Scenario Support for Impact and Climate Analysis (TGICA).

See: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (WGII AR5)

CIESIN Staff Participate in DC-Area Technical Meetings

March 28, 2014

Robert Downs, CIESIN senior digital archivist, participated in the 2014 meeting of the NASA Earth Science Data System Working Groups (ESDSWG) at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, March 24–26. At the meeting, he served as co-chair of the open source working group and presented the poster, "Workflow for Evaluating SEDAC Data for Dissemination," based on processes developed for the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN.

Nearby in Crystal City, Virginia, CIESIN associate director for Information Technology, Sri Vinay, attended the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee (TC) meeting March 25–27. He participated in the kick-off discussion for the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS) Architecture Implementation Pilot phase 7 (AIP-7), where he raised the possibility of integrating the SEDAC Population Estimation Service (PES) with mobile applications. Vinay also attended sessions related to OGC Web services, metadata, and the National Science Foundation's EarthCube initiative. CIESIN is a University member of OGC.

Mark Becker’s Life and Work Celebrated and Student Scholarship Fund Announced

March 27, 2014

More than 300 friends, colleagues, students, and family members gathered at the Dolce Palisades Conference Center in Palisades, New York, March 23 for a memorial service and celebration of the life of Mark Becker, CIESIN associate director for Geospatial Applications who died in a multi-vehicle accident February 26 at the age of 53. The event highlighted Becker′s efforts over three decades to protect the watershed in northern New Jersey through the Bergen Save the Watershed Action Network (Bergen SWAN), which he co-founded with his partner of 30 years, Lori Charkey. CIESIN director Robert Chen chronicled Becker′s many professional accomplishments in 15 years at CIESIN, including collaborations across Columbia University and major contributions to a diverse set of research activities. Other speakers included CIESIN colleagues Kytt MacManus and Jim Carcone, who spoke of their colleague′s unique ability as a mentor for both students and staff and his significant impact on many lives and on the environment. The service incorporated stories and readings by friends and family, a video of Becker playing guitar with his grand-nephew, and remembrances of his love of music, water, plants, chimes, and stones. The public memorial was followed by a private reception at Columbia’s Lamont campus.

A student scholarship fund in honor of Mark Becker has been established at the Earth Institute. The fund will be used to support student training and education in geospatial methods and technologies. Becker′s family has also suggested donations in his memory to Bergen SWAN or to other charitable organizations.

See: Mark Becker Scholarship Fund (donation site; please specify “Mark Becker” in comment field)
       A Life Well-Mapped: Tribute to Mark Becker, by R.S. Chen
       CIESIN Mourns Loss of Associate Director Mark Becker, by Marc Levy For Mark Becker of Hillsdale, Environmentalism Was in His Nature

Bellagio Conference Focuses on Spatial Data for Fragile States

March 26, 2014

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy and program manager Alex Fischer convened a group of g7+ Fragile State representatives, global spatial data experts, and policy makers at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy, March 17–21, to advance practical ideas for leveraging new spatial data and information technology, on behalf of countries in post-crisis transitions. The 22 conference participants included representatives from the governments of Haiti, Sierra Leone, and Timor Leste, and technical experts from Google, Esri, the United Nations Environment Programme, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Ushahidi, the GPC Group, and the United States Bureau of the Census. Tatiana Wah, director of the Haiti Research and Policy Program at the Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development at Columbia University, also participated. The conference included representation from the Secretariat of the g7+ association, which is a voluntary consortium of so-called “fragile” states–countries affected by conflict and currently in development transition. The conference framework was both diagnostic and action-oriented, with participants identifying the special needs of fragile states and inventorying proven cost-effective approaches to working with spatial data. The group crafted a prototype strategy drawn from this evidence and plans to compile its findings into a blueprint and initial toolkit for the g7+ Secretariat to present to its member countries at its annual meeting in May.

CIESIN Scientists Publish on Climate and Population Issues

March 25, 2014

The journal Population and Environment has released a special issue on "Population and Climate: Research Innovations and Bridges to Policy" based on a panel held at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, Australia in November 2012. The issue begins with an introduction written by Adrian Hayes of ANU and CIESIN associate research scientist Susana Adamo. Adamo has also co-authored a chapter with senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin on “Migration and Environmental Change in North America” in the volume, People on the Move in a Changing Climate: The Regional Impact of Environmental Change on Migration, edited by Etienne Piguet and Frank Laczo.

Alex de Sherbinin is also author of “Environmental Treaties,” a contribution to the Encyclopedia of Remote Sensing edited by Eni Njoku. With Anthony Oliver-Smith, professor emeritus from the University of Florida, he co-authored “Resettlement in the 21st century,” for the “Crisis” issue of Forced Migration Review.

Climate Change Science Institute Acquires New Space and Director

March 13, 2014

Climate Change Science Institute Scientific Advisory Board

The Climate Change Science Institute (CCSI) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) recently consolidated its staff in a new space and welcomed its new director, Jack Fellows, formerly of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and one of the co-founders of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). The CCSI is a cross-cutting ORNL initiative aimed at advancing knowledge of the Earth system, describing the consequences of climate change, and evaluating and informing policy responses to climate change. CIESIN director Robert Chen is a member of the CCSI Scientific Advisory Board, and recently participated in the Board′s Annual Meeting March 11–13 at ORNL in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. CCSI and CIESIN staff work together in a number of venues, including the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) and the NSF Sustainable Digital Data Preservation and Access Network (DataNet).

Use of Geospatial Data and Tools in Monitoring and Evaluation Reviewed

March 10, 2014

Susana Adamo, CIESIN associate research scientist, participated in the fifth annual MEASURE GIS Working Group meeting in Washington DC on March 4, which focused on the topic of the evolution of geographic information systems (GIS) in monitoring and evaluation of development interventions. Adamo presented work on climate vulnerability mapping in Mali based on CIESIN′s contributions to the African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). MEASURE evaluation is funded by USAID and the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Memorial Service and Celebration of the Life of Mark Becker to be Held March 23

March 9, 2014

A memorial service and celebration of the life of Mark Becker will be held Sunday, March 23, at the IBM/Dolce Conference Center in Palisades, New York. The conference center will open at noon and the service will commence at 1:00 pm. Mark′s family, friends, colleagues, students, and fellow environmentalists will join in commemorating the life and accomplishments of this remarkable person, whose work as a geographer, teacher, mentor, and environmental activist has had long-lasting impacts, from local to global.

For further information about the event, and to register online, please RSVP here.

See: CIESIN Mourns Loss of Associate Director Mark Becker
       Earth Institute Blog: A Life Well Mapped For Mark Becker of Hillsdale, Environmentalism Was in His Nature

Digging for Historical Data in Washington DC

March 7, 2014

Linda Pistolesi (left) and Erin Doxsey-Whitfield (right)

CIESIN geographic information specialist Linda Pistolesi and senior research staff assistant Erin Doxsey-Whitfield joined David Van Riper of the University of Minnesota in Washington DC February 24–26 to search for historical population and administrative data for the Terra Populus project. Terra Populus, or TerraPop for short, is an innovative effort to integrate census data, including samples of individual and household records, with a range of other environmental and socioeconomic datasets including land cover, climate, and human infrastructure. Funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, TerraPop is led by the Minnesota Population Center’s (MPC) in partnership with CIESIN and the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan.

Much of the visit took place at the International Collection of the United States Census Bureau Library and the United States Library of Congress Geography and Map Reading Room, where the team accessed historical maps and census tables for more than 50 countries. These resources will be used to extend the spatial and temporal coverage of the TerraPop database. The team also met February 26 with staff from the Census Bureau's Population Division to share information about related data development efforts, including the Global Roads Open Access Data Set (gROADS) and version four of the Gridded Population of the World (GPW) data collection. 

CIESIN Researcher Reinforces Collaboration with Universities

March 4, 2014

CIESIN Alex de Sherbinin (center) with director of the National Research Center for Resettlement, Shi Guoqing (right), and vice director, Chen Shaojun (left), Nanjing, China, February 27, 2014.

CIESIN senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin travelled to Vietnam, Malaysia, and China February 15–28. In Vietnam and China he conducted field visits associated with ongoing work on climate change resettlement. He visited the Mekong Delta with the assistance of Le Thanh Sang of the Southern Institute of Social Sciences (SISS), the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (VASS) and in China, observed the Three Gorges Dam and China South-North Water Transfer project resettlement with former CIESIN visiting scholar Ruishan Chen of the National Research Center for Resettlement (NRCR) of Hohai University, Nanjing. While in China, de Sherbinin was appointed a visiting professor at Hohai University and a senior advisor for teaching and scientific research at NRCR.

In Malaysia, de Sherbinin participated in the launch workshop February 20 of the Malaysia Environmental Performance Index (EPI) in Kuala Lumpur, and made a presentation on the 2014 Global EPI for senior staff of the Malaysian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, held in Putrajaya February 21. The visit to Malaysia was conducted as part of a broader Memorandum of Understanding between CIESIN and the University of Technology Malaysia (UTM), where de Sherbinin is a former visiting scholar.

See: Mekong Delta and Three Gorges Dam: World’s First Climate Change Resettlements? (blog)

CIESIN Mourns Loss of Associate Director Mark Becker

February 28, 2014

Mark Becker Leads CHANGE Viewer Training

CIESIN is sad to report that associate director for Geospatial Applications Mark Becker died in a multi-vehicle accident on Wednesday, February 26. He was 53. The accident occurred at about 10:45 a.m. on the New York State Thruway in Woodbury, New York.

In his 15 years at CIESIN Mark made contributions that will be felt for a long time. 

To continue reading and to leave a personal comment visit our tribute to Mark.

Upcoming Presentation: The Importance of the Geographic Perspective and Geospatial Technologies

February 21, 2014

CIESIN and the Columbia University Digital Social Science Center will host a presentation by geographer Joseph Kerski on Wednesday, February 26, from 10:30 a.m to 11:30 a.m. at Studio@Butler, 208b Butler Library. Kerski is education manager for the geospatial company Esri. The presentation, “Sleepwalking into the Future: Why the Geographic Perspective and Geospatial Technologies are Critical to 21st Century Education and Society,” will be of interest to students, educators, and staff looking to learn more about the importance of geospatial information and tools in education and everyday life. Anyone planning to attend who does not have a university ID card should provide a name to CIESIN User Services at by February 24, then check in with the Library Information Office, located to the left on entering Butler Library.

See: Esri Blog: The Importance of the Geographic Perspective in Education

Improved SEDAC Web Site Released

February 20, 2014

The NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN has released an updated Web site incorporating a number of design and layout modifications and an updated Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators (ENTRI) database. The SEDAC home page now features an interactive map carousel that highlights a selection of SEDAC data uses, maps from the SEDAC Map Gallery, useful SEDAC tools and applications, major topical themes, and other relevant resources. A new mapping tools page improves access to a range of interactive mapping applications that use SEDAC data and services, including the National Priorities List (NPL) Superfund Footprint Mapper, the Climate and Health Analysis for Global Education (CHANGE) Viewer, and the NASA Worldview tool. This is the fourth in a series of planned updates to the SEDAC Web site aimed at improving data access, ease of use, and functionality.

See: SEDAC Web site

Training for East Africa Climate Information Survey Held in Rwanda

February 18, 2014

Participants in a three-day survey training workshop led by CIESIN in Kigali, Rwanda

CIESIN senior staff associate, Sandra Baptista, and senior research staff assistant, Emilie Schnarr, led a three-day training workshop February 13–15 in Kigali, Rwanda. The workshop was hosted by the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Center (ICPAC) as part of the Planning for Resilience in East Africa through Policy, Adaptation, Research, and Economic Development (PREPARED) program, funded by the East Africa Regional Mission of the US Agency for International Development (USAID/East Africa). The main objective of the workshop was to train a multi-disciplinary team of consultants from Measure Africa who will assist CIESIN in conducting a survey of climate information users and service providers in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The survey will inform the development and implementation of a user-driven action plan for improving regional climate information services and systems. Other workshop participants included representatives of the PREPARED program (Tetra Tech/ARD), ICPAC, the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Rwanda Meteorology Agency, and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).

Progress in Developing African Soil Information Assessed at Nairobi Meeting

February 17, 2014

CIESIN deputy director, Marc Levy, and senior research staff assistant Kimberly Peng traveled recently to Nairobi, Kenya, to meet with partners in the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS) project, including representatives from the Columbia Global Centers | Africa, the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), and ISRIC-World Soil Information. The February 10–11 meetings focused on progress and activities during the project′s transition phase. CIESIN efforts to build information systems for collection, analysis, and dissemination of soils data to end users was presented by Peng during meetings that took place February 12–13. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution), AfSIS aims to develop continent-wide digital soil maps for sub-Saharan Africa using innovative soil analysis and statistical methods. 

See: Africa Soil Information Service

CIESIN Director Joins ICPSR Governing Council

February 11, 2014

CIESIN director Robert Chen has been elected to the governing council of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), an international consortium of more than 700 academic institutions and research organizations focused on advancing social and behavioral research. Chen is one of six new council members beginning four-year terms in March 2014. The twelve-member council acts on administrative, budgetary, and organizational issues on behalf of all ICPSR members. Christopher Achen, the Roger Williams Straus Professor of Social Sciences, Professor of Politics at Princeton University, has been appointed as council chair for a two-year term. ICPSR maintains the world's largest archive of social science data, including more than 8,500 data collections and 70,000 data sets and providing online access to more than 2 million variables. ICPSR also hosts the Summer Program in Quantitative Methods of Social Research and engages in research on digital curation and data science. ICPSR is a unit within the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

See: ICPSR Council Members 2014–2016
       Announcement: New ICPSR Council Members Named...

Leading Russian Data Scientist Passes Away

February 10, 2014

CIESIN notes with sadness the passing of academician Fedor Kuznetsov, a counselor of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a vice president of the Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA), on February 4. Professor Kuznetsov was a physical chemist and materials scientist who pioneered the development of databases on a range of topics and who promoted international scientific cooperation both bilaterally and multilaterally. He was active in the CODATA community for more than three decades, serving twice as CODATA vice president and playing key roles in a range of CODATA task groups and initiatives. CIESIN director Robert Chen, who as CODATA secretary-general worked closely with Prof. Kuznetsov from 2004-12, noted that, “Fedor was a great contributor to CODATA, to international science, and to science in Russia for many decades, and on top of that, he was a warm and engaging colleague with much wisdom about life as well as science and data.″

See: CODATA Mourns Vice-President Fedor Kuznetsov

User Needs Discussed at Disaster Risk Reduction Conference in Nairobi

January 27, 2014

CIESIN geographic information specialist Malanding Jaiteh gave a presentation in a session on “Meeting the Needs of the ‘User” at the Wilton Park conference, “Strengthening Technological Capacities and Information Access for Improving Disaster Risk Reduction in the Horn of Africa,” held in Nairobi, Kenya January 22–23. His presentation focused on a climate information user assessment survey CIESIN is conducting for the project, Planning for Resilience in East Africa through Policy, Adaptation, Research, and Economic Development (PREPARED). With ARD/TetraTech, CIESIN is helping to develop data/information systems for climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and water supply and sanitation services in five Lake Victoria Basin countries of East Africa: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The project is funded by the US Agency for International Development. The conference was organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT), with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Wilton Park. It aimed to facilitate dialogue between countries in the Horn of Africa about technological applications and information that could strengthen regional capacity for disaster risk reduction and disaster response.

See: Strengthening Technological Capacities and Information Access...
       PREPARED Program Fact Sheet (173 KB PDF)

2014 Environmental Performance Index Introduces New Indicators

January 25, 2014

Screen Shot of the Web site for the Environmental Performance Index

Measurement aligned with management practices can support significant progress in achieving environmental performance goals. This is one of the core messages to emerge from the sixth iteration of the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), released at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 25 by CIESIN deputy director, Marc Levy, a co-author of the report with Angel Hsu, lead author, and Kim Samuel, co-creator of the project.

The 2014 EPI Report also highlights how lack of monitoring and proper management can cause natural and human systems to suffer—as seen in the negative state of fish stocks around the world—and  how  some elements of sustainability are better supported by the high density of urban areas.

Produced every two years by a research team from the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and CIESIN, Columbia University, the EPI this year evaluates 178 countries, with new additions, in large part, from Small-Island Developing States and sub-Saharan Africa. Innovations in this year’s release include: a new wastewater treatment indicator, which is a major driver of ecosystem water quality; a new approach to climate change indicators, which evaluates emissions relative to a country’s economic development; and two new satellite-derived indicators for air quality and forests, which more accurately depict environmental policy performance than did previous models and national reports.

The EPI 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 2014 EPI innovations help inform, among other things, ongoing discussion surrounding the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The full report and redesigned Web site are available at

See: 2014 Environmental Performance Index Report and Web site
       Press Briefing

Strategies for Addressing Interdisciplinary Global Challenges Discussed at NASA

January 24, 2014

The NASA Applied Sciences Advisory Committee (ASAC) met January 22–23 at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC, to review activities of its Applied Sciences Program and solicit scientific and technical information relevant to program planning. One topic discussed at the meeting was how NASA-supported earth science could help address key global challenges such as food security, water resources management, and disasters through both interdisciplinary research and practical applications at the nexus of natural, economic, and social systems. CIESIN director Robert Chen, in his capacity as manager of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC), gave a presentation on SEDAC’s role in supporting human dimensions research, applications, and decision making. Chris Weaver of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) and Meredith Lane of the National Research Council’s Board on Environmental Change and Society (BECS) also participated in the session and subsequent panel discussion, which highlighted the important role of the social sciences in understanding and addressing global societal challenges.

The ASAC provides strategic and programmatic guidance to the NASA Earth Science Division and Applied Sciences Program. Currently chaired by Kass Green of Kass Green and Associates, the ASAC reports to the Earth Science Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Science Committee and operates in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA, Public Law 92–463, as amended).

Regional Urban Climate Experts Hold Annual Meeting at Stevens Institute

January 22, 2014

The Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast (CCRUN) kicked off its fourth year with a working meeting January 16–17 at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Associate director for geospatial applications Mark Becker summarized CIESIN’s activities related to the project, including a new collaboration with Alan Blumberg and Philip Orton of Stevens to develop an online system for storm surge risk analysis. CIESIN director Robert Chen, one of the project co-investigators, also participated in the meeting, contributing to discussions of plans for years four and five of the project. CCRUN is one of the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program teams supported by the Climate Program Office of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Led by Cynthia Rosenzweig of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), CCRUN focuses on the integrated climate risk assessment needs of stakeholders in the major urban areas of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

See: Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast (CCRUN)

International Earth Observation Community Gathers in Geneva

January 20, 2014

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO), a voluntary intergovernmental organization with more than 90 governmental members and over 70 participating organizations, held its tenth plenary session and sixth ministerial summit January 15–17 in Geneva, Switzerland. CIESIN director Robert Chen was a member of the International Council for Science (ICSU) delegation in his capacity as a co-chair of the GEO Data Sharing Working Group (DSWG), and he also represented the Earth Institute as an observer at the Plenary. He co-chaired a working meeting of the DSWG on January 12 and the next day he organized and co-moderated an open side event on capacity building for data sharing. In a side event, “Visualizing the World’s Food System,” held January 14, he gave a presentation on emerging data resources at the nexus of agriculture, environment, and security, reflecting work by CIESIN, the Agriculture and Food Security Center, the International Research Institute on Climate and Society, and other partners. GEO reviewed progress over its first ten years in developing the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) and in expanding the accessibility, interoperability, and use of remote sensing and other geospatial data. GEO members renewed their commitment to further implementation and expansion of GEOSS for a second decade beginning in 2015.

See: Blog post: CODATA and the GEO Data Sharing Working Group
       Summary of the GEO-X Plenary and Ministerial Summit

EarthCube Focuses on Data Facility Needs

January 17, 2014

Robert Downs, CIESIN senior digital archivist, participated in the EarthCube Data Facilities Workshop, held January 15–17 in Arlington, Virginia.  The Data Facilities workshop brought together data center representatives, end users, and NSF staff to discuss the requirements and challenges associated with developing the communication, collaboration, interoperability, and governance structures needed to build EarthCube. During the plenary session on January 15, Downs gave a presentation, “Improving the Trustworthiness of a Scientific Data Center,” co-authored with Robert Chen, director of CIESIN. EarthCube is a major initiative of the National Science Foundation (NSF) aimed at creating a community-driven data and knowledge management system to support unprecedented data sharing across the geosciences. EarthCube was launched in 2011 as a collaborative partnership between NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) and the Division of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (ACI).

See: EarthCube Data Facilities Workshop

Research Priorities and Opportunities for Scientific Data Infrastructure Discussed at DC Meetings

January 10, 2014

Research priorities for the science data enterprise were the focus of a planning workshop held January 7 in Washington DC, aimed at framing a study on the challenges and opportunities associated with scientific data infrastructure. Robert Downs, CIESIN senior digital archivist, was a member of the workshop steering committee and participated in the workshop. He then attended the 2014 Winter ESIP Federation Meeting, also held in DC, where he gave presentations entitled “Scientific Data Infrastructure: Research Opportunities and Challenges” and “Ongoing Evaluation to Inform the Development of an Online Resource Center” (the latter co-authored with Robert Chen, director of CIESIN). He also presented a poster paper, “A Comparative Analysis of Scientific Data Publication Opportunities.” During the ESIP Federation business meeting on January 9, Downs represented the NASA Socioeconomic and Data Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, a Type I member of the ESIP Federation. At that time, he was elected to serve as the ESIP representative on the Board of Directors for the Foundation for Earth Science, which manages the ESIP Federation.

See: 2014 ESIP Federation Meeting