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New Articles Focus on Climate Change and Migration Linkages, Artificial Lights Issues

December 24, 2010

New articles co-authored by CIESIN staff have been published recently. Senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin is an author, with Koko Warner and Charles Ehrhart, of “Casualties of Climate Change,” appearing in the January 2011 issue of Scientific American. CIESIN geographic information specialist Tricia-Chai-Onn and associate research scientist Susana Adamo also contributed to the article, which is based on the 2009 report, In Search of Shelter. The NASA-supported Earthzine features the article, “Lighting Governance for Protected Areas and Beyond—Identifying the Urgent Need for Sustainable Management of Artificial Light at Night,” of which de Sherbinin and CIESIN geographic information specialist Malanding Jaiteh were co-authors, along with Christoph Aubrecht, Mojca Stojan-Dolar, Travis Longcore, and Chris Elvidge.

See: "Casualties of Climate Change"
       "Lighting Governance for Protected Areas"


Assessment Supports Egypt Efforts toward Environmental Performance Measures

December 17, 2010

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy and senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin have conducted an assessment of environmental performance measurement for the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency December 14-16 in Cairo. The goal is to better understand the data available for reporting required by multilateral environmental agreements and global indicator efforts such as the Environmental Performance Index, and to advise the agency on data collection and management systems to support such efforts.


Climate Risk, Software Asset Issues among Topics at 2010 Fall AGU Meeting

December 17, 2010

CIESIN director Robert Chen and senior information specialist Joe Schumacher joined more than 18,000 participants at the 2010 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Meeting in San Francisco December 13–17. Chen gave an oral presentation co-authored with CIESIN colleagues Marc Levy, Sandra Baptista, and Susana Adamo, “Climate Risk and Vulnerability in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico Region: Interactions with Spatial Population and Land Cover Change.” As part of a series of presentations held at NASA’s exhibit booth he also demonstrated how scientists can contribute data to the Polar Information Commons. Schumacher worked with other NASA Earth Science Division staff in support of NASA’s booth, one of the most popular at the conference. Senior digital archivist Robert Downs also co-authored a poster presentation on “Packaging Software Assets for Reuse” with Chris Mattmann and James Marshall of NASA.


New Data Set Reveals the Global Extent of Cropland and Pasture

December 10, 2010

Map showing Global Distribution of Croplands in 2000

A new data set showing the extent of global agricultural activity, Global Agricultural Lands, has been released by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center operated by CIESIN. Satellite data were combined with agricultural inventory data and compiled by Navin Ramankutty et al. (2008) to show the proportion of land area used as cropland (land used for the cultivation of food) and pasture (land used for grazing). The data set presents a snapshot of agricultural activity around the year 2000.

The data are packaged as one global grid or as a grid for each of the six populated continents, and are available in raster GeoTiff and GRID formats for download from the Web site. The data set can be applied in a number of ways to understand human-environment interactions, land use patterns, and potential threats to biodiversity.

See: Global Agricultural Lands


Digital Curation Conference Presentation Addresses Workforce Needs

December 9, 2010

Senior digital archivist Robert Downs participated in the 6th International Digital Curation Conference (IDCC) held in Chicago December 6–8. Downs gave a presentation, “Developing the Data Center Workforce for Long-Term Management of Scientific Data,” at the Research Data Workforce Summit that was held December 6 in conjunction with the 6th IDCC.

See: 6th International Digital Curation Conference (IDCC)


NASA Article Focuses on Combining Data in Disaster Assessment and Response

December 2, 2010

Combining socioeconomic and environmental data to help prepare for and respond to natural disasters such as landslides is the subject of an article in the 2010 NASA publication, Sensing Our Planet. “On Shaky Ground” examines recent efforts following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti to improve understanding of human-environment interactions that can affect vulnerability to disasters. Dalia Kirschbaum, a researcher from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, talks about how she combined satellite rainfall data with land cover maps and CIESIN’s Gridded Population of the World (GPW) data to help identify the areas of highest susceptibility to landslide in Haiti. Alex Fischer, program coordinator for the Haiti Regeneration Project (HRI), discusses how improved understanding of population-environment-disaster linkages has informed planning for a major integrated development initiative in southwest Haiti. Fischer was one of two CIESIN staff members who witnessed the devastation of the Haiti earthquake first hand at the beginning of 2010.

Sensing Our Planet is an annual collection of articles on applications of Earth science data. GPW, now in its third version, is distributed by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN.

See: “On Shaky Ground” online article


Ethiopia Meeting Addresses Meningitis Burden

November 25, 2010

CIESIN senior geospatial developer Greg Yetman participated in the 4th MERIT technical meeting held November 18–20 at the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. MERIT, Meningitis Environmental Risk Information Technologies, aims to reduce the burden of epidemic meningococcal meningitis across Africa. Greg gave a presentation on creating custom demographic surfaces for environment-meningitis modeling to an audience of about 50 international participants from the World Health Organization, the Ethiopian Meteorology Agency, and other organizations. Scientists from Columbia's International Research Institute on Climate and Society also participated in the meeting.


CIESIN Staffer Named 2010 Fellow at Conference for New Imaging Systems

November 23, 2010

CIESIN program coordinator Alex Fischer was selected as a 2010 Fine Fellow at the Fine International Conference on Gigapixel Imaging for Science held November 11–13 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. As part of the conference, which explored the use of GigaPan and similar imaging systems to enhance scientific research and education, a user workshop was convened for the group of 20 new fellows, including biologists, anthropologists, botanists, paleontologists, geologists, and political scientists.

The GigaPan camera system, developed by the Carnegie Mellon Create Lab with the NASA Ames Research Center, is the newest development of the Global Connection Project, a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon University, NASA, Google, and National Geographic, which aims to connect people around the world via dynamically viewable images. The Gigapan project combines a robotic panoramic camera platform with spatial browsing software to allow everyday users to capture and dynamically explore high resolution images. Conference fellows were given a camera system to share within their respective communities in as many contexts as possible, with results to be displayed on the GigaPan Web site over the course of the year. Fischer, who is project manager of the Haiti Regeneration Initiative, uses the GigaPan for field research in Haiti.

See: Fine International Conference on Gigapixel Imaging for Science
       2010 Fine Fellows GigaPan Photography


Recent CIESIN Presentations Relate to Public Health Issues

November 20, 2010

The Superfund Research Program (SRP) of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) held its annual meeting in Portland, Oregon, November 10–12, hosted by Oregon State University. The SRP, which conducts research to assist the EPA and other agencies regulating Superfund sites, is a network of university grants meant to address the complex health and environmental issues associated with the nation’s hazardous waste sites. Senior staff associate Meredith Golden participated in the special Research Translation Core/Community Engagement Core meeting November 10 as well as the general science meeting along with Joseph Graziano of the Mailman School of Public Health and other members of Columbia’s SRP. Golden presented a poster paper co-authored with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory scientist Steven Chillrud on Columbia’s agency partnerships and community engagement activities.

The following week, on November 17, geographic information specialist Tricia Chai-Onn presented two posters at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC/ATSDR) GIS Day event in Atlanta. The first, “Mapping and Monitoring the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs,″ shows some of the maps created quarterly to assist in HIV-response-related activities of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP) at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. The second poster, "Innovative Methodologies & Mapping to Assess Vulnerable Populations Near Superfund Sites: GIS Fostering Collaboration," describes research being conducted as part of a supplemental research grant to Columbia's SRP Research Translation Core.

See: Superfund Research Program of the NIEHS


Climate Change Impacts, Geospatial Data-Related Issues Examined in D.C.

November 18, 2010

Washington, D.C. was the location for two meetings in which CIESIN staff participated recently. At the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) climate change and impact assessment symposium November 15–16, senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin presented the results of the recent Bellagio conference on climate change displacement and resettlement with emphasis on the lessons for social, health and environmental impact assessments. Later the same week, senior digital archivist Robert Downs participated in the meeting, Framing a National Strategy for the Appraisal and Selection of Geospatial Data, held at the Library of Congress November 17-18. Downs gave two presentations, one on current issues in the appraisal and selection of geospatial data, and a second on sharing services for long-term management of geospatial data.

See: IAIA Symposium presentation


New Database on Exposure to Earthquakes to be Developed

November 17, 2010

Earthquakes pose the greatest risks where people live and work in poorly constructed buildings. Unfortunately, data on buildings and other structures, and especially their vulnerability to earthquake damage, are incomplete and variable in quality. As part of an international initiative to improve assessment and decision making regarding earthquake risk, CIESIN is participating in a new three-year project to develop a comprehensive Global Exposure Database, led by the University of Pavia in Italy. CIESIN associate director Mark Becker attended the launch meeting of the project November 15–16 in Pavia, along with representatives from project partners and the Global Earthquake Model (GEM) initiative. One of CIESIN’s key roles in the project is to lead the design of the underlying database, in ways that will support the interoperability of the database with other GEM components. CIESIN will also draw on its population and other spatial data resources to help populate the database.

See: Global Exposure Database for Global Earthquake Model (GED4GEM) project


Ten-Year Milestone Honored at Special Luncheon

November 16, 2010

CIESIN staff stand for a photo at a luncheon honoring ten years of service

Seven CIESIN staff members were among those honored at a special luncheon held at the Lamont Campus November 15 to mark their ten years of employment with Columbia University. Recognized for their outstanding dedication and service to CIESIN and Columbia were: database administrator Branko Djapic, senior digital archivist Robert Downs, digital archivist Yitzhak Gitelman, senior metadata specialist Merlie Hansen, geographic information specialist Malanding Jaiteh, information specialist Maria Elisa (Lisa) Lukang; and data center services manager John Scialdone. The luncheon was hosted by Mike Purdy, director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Steve Zebiak, director-general of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society; and CIESIN director Robert Chen.


GEO-5 Authors Convene in Cairo

November 12, 2010

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy participated in the first Production and Author’s Meeting for the UN Environment Programme’s Fifth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5), held November 8–11 in Cairo. GEO-5 is a global assessment of the world’s environment, to be completed by 2012. Levy is coordinating lead author for the chapter on drivers of environmental change.

See: UN Environment Programme-GEO


Measuring the Value of Scientific Data and Publications Examined in Philadelphia

November 11, 2010

More than 40 experts from the United States and United Kingdom came together November 10 in Philadelphia and online for a one-day workshop, “Assessing the Usage and Value of Scholarly and Scientific Output: An Overview of Traditional and Emerging Metrics.” Organized by the National Federation of Advanced Information Services (NFAIS), the workshop focused on new ways of measuring the impact and value of scientific publications and other outputs such as scientific data. CIESIN director Robert Chen and senior digital archivist Robert Downs were invited to give a presentation, “Evaluating the Use and Impacts of Scientific Data,” illustrating how the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) and its Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN collect and utilize metrics on the use and impact of interdisciplinary Earth and socioeconomic data. Presentations and video from the workshop are being made available online by NFAIS.

See: National Federation of Advanced Information Services


Conference in Bellagio Focuses on Climate Change-Population Displacement Linkages

November 9, 2010

Photo of conference participants.

CIESIN co-convened a conference on potential population displacement and resettlement from large climate change adaptation and mitigation projects, held November 3–5 at the Rockefeller conference center in Bellagio, Italy. The Bellagio Conference, organized by CIESIN senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin, in collaboration with Marcia Castro of the Harvard School of Public Health and Francois Gemenne of IDDRI/Science Po in Paris, involved a multidisciplinary mix of researchers whose work spans resettlement studies, impact assessment, environmental migration, and climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation. CIESIN associate research scientist Susana Adamo also attended the conference. Core topics included learning from past experience in dam and development induced resettlement to prepare for future resettlement, risk and impact assessments, and identifying the likelihood of resettlement under adaptation programs and potential financial mechanisms to underwrite the costs.

See: Bellagio Conference


Data Sharing Actions Affirmed by Group on Earth Observations

November 6, 2010

Establishment of a new GEOSS Data Collection of Open Resources for Everyone (GEOSS Data-CORE) was one of the key actions endorsed by the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) at its Seventh Plenary Session and Ministerial Summit held in Beijing November 3–5. GEO, a voluntary intergovernmental initiative launched in 2005, is working to establish the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS), which aims to provide a shared, easily accessible, timely, and sustained stream of comprehensive data in support of informed decision making. CIESIN director Robert Chen, in his capacity as one of the co-chairs of the GEO Data Sharing Task Force, organized a symposium on the Data Sharing Action Plan for GEOSS and the Benefits of Data Sharing, held November 2 at the China National Convention Center. The symposium included more than 10 presentations on different aspects of the data sharing action plan. Chen participated in the plenary and ministerial meetings as a member of the delegation of the International Council for Science (ICSU), a participating organization in GEO. CIESIN data and services were featured in a number of GEO publications and presentations, including a special conference volume, “Crafting Geoinformation: The Art and Science of Earth Observation,” and several online videos.

See: GEO-VII Plenary and Ministerial Summit Web Site


IPCC Workshop Focuses on Process to Aid in Understanding Adaptation and Mitigation

November 5, 2010

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy participated in a workshop regarding climate change assessment, convened by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Berlin, November 1–3. The workshop was designed to help ensure there is a process in place for generating suitable socioeconomic pathways that can be used in connection with climate model outputs, for adequate understanding of issues of adaptation and mitigation in the IPCC’s ongoing Fifth Assessment Report. Socioeconomic pathways are descriptions of the possible evolution of socioeconomic conditions that are central to understanding climate impacts, adaptation and mitigation, accompanied by quantitative portrayals of select aspects of those pathways.

See: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change


Scientific Data Vital to Sustainable Development

October 30, 2010

Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, South Africa, was the venue for more than 220 data scientists and experts at the 22nd International CODATA Conference held October 24-27. Reflecting the theme,“Scientific Data and Sustainable Development,” the conference featured keynote presentations by Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, and Lidia Brito, head of the Science Policy Division of UNESCO. CIESIN director Robert Chen served on a plenary panel on strategic planning for data and information issues. He also presented a technical paper and progress report on the work of CODATA's global roads data working group, representing the working group’s co-chair, CIESIN senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin. The conference attracted more than 75 participants from Africa, including many young scientists. The World Data System (WDS) Scientific Committee and the Global Research Data Infrastructure 2020 (GRDI2020) initiative also held working meetings in conjunction with the conference.

Chen also participated in the CODATA General Assembly, held October 28-29, in his capacity as CODATA’s secretary general. Prof. Guo Huadong, director-general of the Center for Earth Observation and Digital Earth (CEODE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was elected as the new president of CODATA. CODATA, the Committee on Data for Science and Technology, is an interdisciplinary nongovernmental organization affiliated with the International Council for Science, based in Paris.

See: 22nd International CODATA Conference
       Africa to Get Continent-Wde Data Centre
       Researchers launch hunt for endangered data


New Search Tool Enables Enhanced Search of SEDAC Data Holdings

October 25, 2010

The SEDAC Data Search Tool is a Google Search Appliance (GSA) implementation of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) Data Set Catalog, providing quick access to data and related resources such as data visualizations, data downloads, Web sites, Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) metadata, and citations via metadata keyword searches. SEDAC data holdings cover a wide range of topics including climate, conservation, governance, hazards, health, population, poverty, and sustainability. Users may input their own search terms, and/or choose from an extensive SEDAC vocabulary and International Standards Organization (ISO) themes to target data of interest. SEDAC is operated by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University in New York.

See: SEDAC Data Search Tool


Developments in Global Spatial Data Discussed at Singapore Meeting

October 23, 2010

Senior geospatial developer Greg Yetman participated in the 12th meeting of the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association in Singapore October 19-22. He presented a paper on pilot efforts to develop improved global roads data, co-authored with CIESIN senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin, CIESIN, Columbia University and Matthew Steil. He also presented a forthcoming paper that describes a Web-based system for estimating population exposed to cyclone storm surge, co-authored with Yuri Gorokhovich and Ceyhun Ozcelik. In addition, he was a moderator at three sessions and at the board meeting was elected chair of the technical committee. CIESIN Geospatial Division associate director Mark Becker was elected to the board at the council meeting on Monday, replacing Greg, as a representative of a GSDI-Related Global Initiative.

See: GSDI-12 World Conference


Population-Related Issues Explored at Arizona, Mexico Meetings

October 22, 2010

Associate research scientist Susana Adamo recently participated in meetings in Arizona and Mexico focused on population-related issues. At the UNFPA/COLMEX/IIED meeting, “Population Dynamics and Climate Change II: Building for Adaptation,” she was a discussant at the session, “Population, Poverty, and Vulnerability.” The event was held October 13–15 at Colegio de México in Mexico City, with the aim of building knowledge and tools related to the links between population dynamics and climate change adaptation, and then applying them to policy development and negotiations around global, regional, and national climate change responses. The following week Adamo attended the 2010 Global Land Project Open Science Meeting held October 17–19 at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, where she presented a paper, “Population Change in Latin America and the Caribbean, 1990–2010, a Spatial Time Series.” The paper reflects research done in a National Science Foundation-sponsored project undertaken in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico, Sonoma State University, University of California at Santa Barbara, and Universidad Nacional de Tucumán (Argentina). It describes a methodology to construct a spatial time series of 1990 and 2000 of population and administrative boundaries at the municipality level, and conducts a preliminary descriptive analysis of the geodatabase, looking at spatial patterns of population distribution and growth at different scales.

See: Population Dynamics and Climate Change II


New Consortium Led by the Earth Institute to Focus on Climate Risk and Adaptation in Urban Northeast

October 15, 2010

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US Department of Commerce has announced that Columbia University will lead a new Consortium on Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast (CCRUN), a five-year award under the NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) initiative. The Consortium draws on team members from across the Earth Institute, including CIESIN director Robert Chen and CIESIN associate director Mark Becker, and from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, City College/CUNY, Stevens Institute of Technology, and Drexel University. CCRUN will address the needs of stakeholders in assessing and managing risks from climate variability and change in the context of densely populated, highly interconnected urban areas. The specific focus of the effort is on the urban corridor extending from Philadelphia to Boston.

As part of CCRUN, CIESIN will gather and integrate diverse data on the region in support of climate risk assessment activities in the initial focus areas of water, health, and coastal zone management. CIESIN will also play a key role in outreach and training activities to enhance stakeholder capacity to understand climate risks and develop adaptation strategies, including establishment of the CCRUN Web site.

See: CCRUN Press Release


Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Are Briefed on Earth Institute Research

October 14, 2010

Visitors from Chinese Academy of Sciences pose with Earth Institute hosts

A delegation of 20 senior scientists and research managers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) visited the Lamont campus in Palisades, New York, October 13 to explore recent developments in research and development and in science policy and strategy in the United States. As the local host for the visit, CIESIN director Robert Chen gave an overview of CIESIN’s interdisciplinary data, research, and cyberinfrastructure activities and also discussed ongoing efforts to improve international data sharing under the auspices of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). CIESIN senior staff associate Xiaoshi Xing highlighted the work that CIESIN has conducted for more than a decade in support of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as selected collaborative activities with scientists and institutes in China. Art Lerner-Lam, associate director with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), reviewed LDEO’s many significant accomplishments in the Earth sciences, emphasizing its key partnerships, past and present, with China.

The CAS delegation was led by Ms. Zhang Jie, director of the Bureau of Personnel and Education, and included directors and vice-directors from a wide selection of CAS institutes dealing with remote sensing, natural resource management, soil science, geography, applied physics and chemistry, materials, and other science and engineering fields. The delegation’s three-week visit to the U.S. was organized by the Program on U.S.-China Technology, Economic, and Business Relations at Pennsylvania State University.


New Tool Maps Invasive Spread through New England

October 8, 2010

Screenshot of Mapping Tool of Invasive Species in New England

A new online mapping tool developed by CIESIN can display a selected set of volunteer-collected and herbarium data archived and hosted by the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England (IPANE). The IPANE Species Map Tool provides to users the location of seven of the most common invasive species in New England, as noted in herbarium records or as collected by IPANE volunteers, displayed against a backdrop of high resolution satellite imagery. By selecting the symbol indicating the location of the species, users can get access to detailed information related to the record, including who collected the information and the date recorded. Users may also access an information layer indicating the status of IPANE’s data collection efforts—showing areas that are completed, assigned or yet to be assigned.

IPANE is a featured partner of the Northeast Information Node of the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII-NIN). The NBII is an electronic information network of the U.S. Geological Survey that provides access to biological data and information on U.S. plants, animals, and ecosystems; NIN focuses on eight states in the Northeast. IPANE’s mission is to create a comprehensive Web-accessible database of invasive and potentially invasive plants in New England that will be continually updated by a network of professionals and trained volunteers.


Creating Gridded Data Products from National Statistics Examined in Estonia

October 7, 2010

The European Forum for Geostatistics (EFGS) 2010, held October 5–7 in Tallinn, Estonia, was the venue for two papers presented by CIESIN senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin on the creation and use of gridded data products from national population statistics. Presentations at the annual forum described a variety of methodologies for aggregating small area census data, as well as disaggregating coarser to smaller areas using ancillary data such as remote sensing-derived impervious surfaces, transportation infrastructure, and cell phone usage. One of de Sherbinin's presentations discussed the use of population and poverty grids, developed by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, in different application areas such as hazard vulnerability and health. The second presentation described the methodologies used to develop these population and poverty grids. The conference offered the opportunity for discussions on data sharing and for networking with representatives of European statistical agencies to learn about methodologies and applications of gridded data in a European context.

See: European Forum for Geostatistics (EFGS) 2010 Conference


"Earth on Alert" Draws Thousands to the Lamont Open House

October 4, 2010

Four photos from 2010 Open House

A sampling of CIESIN’s work relating to hazards, health, and development was on display, together with the work of fellow scientists and centers at the Earth Institute, at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Open House held Saturday, October 2. More than 3,000 people attended the event on the Lamont campus of Columbia University in Palisades, New York, which had the theme, “Earth on Alert.” The CIESIN tent featured a kid-friendly demonstration of the effects of vegetation cover on soil erosion, highlighting the dangers of deforestation and land degradation in countries like Haiti. This complemented a poster on recent findings and current challenges for the Haiti Regeneration Initiative (HRI), a major international effort to promote integrated ecological and livelihood restoration in Haiti. Another interactive exhibit challenged adults and children to estimate population sizes and densities for areas around the world, and included a demonstration of CIESIN’s Web-based Population Estimation Service that enables users to discover the total population living in an area drawn on a map. A third poster highlighted CIESIN’s ongoing work on emerging infectious diseases, in partnership with Consortium for Conservation Medicine and the Zoological Society of London.

CIESIN deputy director and a principal investigator for the HRI, Marc Levy, participated in a panel presentation on Haiti as part of the Open House Lecture series. The panel was moderated by Art Lerner-Lam, director, Center for Hazards and Risk Research, and also included Tatiana Wah, director, Haiti Policy Program, the Earth Institute; Cecilia McHugh, professor of Earth and environmental studies, Queens College, CUNY; and Florentin J. Maurrasse, Lamont alumnus and professor of geology, Florida International University. The Open House has been held almost every year since 1949 to communicate and translate science activities at Lamont to the general public, and to emphasize how better understanding of the Earth can help preserve its future.

See: LDEO Open House 2010


EI Fellow to Study Relationship of Trade Agreements to Sustainable Development

October 1, 2010

Alexandra Morel

Alexandra Morel has joined CIESIN for a two-year appointment as an Earth Institute Fellow. Morel holds a PhD and a MSc in environmental change and management from the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, England, where her research focused on the environmental impacts of oil palm cultivation in Borneo using radar and optical remote sensing. She also analyzed various market mechanisms being developed to reduce tropical deforestation, including sustainability certification and REDD. At the Earth Institute, Alex plans to research the role that global trade in food, such as vegetable oils, has as a driver of land use change.


New Appointments for CIESIN Staff

September 28, 2010

Several CIESIN staff members working on a temporary basis have received new appointments, effective September 2010. Cody Aichele has been appointed senior research staff assistant in the Geospatial Applications Division, and will continue working on several different sponsored projects. She recently graduated from SIPA with a MPA in environmental science and policy. Joseph Muhlhausen is now senior research staff assistant, joining the Science Division on the Haiti Regeneration Initiative project. Muhlhausen has a MS in planetary science, environment, and ecology from Paris VI University, a master of public affairs in public policy from Sciences PO, and a master of public administration in economic and political development from SIPA. Allison Lacko is now a research staff assistant working on several different activities. She graduated from Columbia College in 2010 with a BA in economics and political science, and concentrations in Hispanic studies and sustainable development.

Mercy Emelike and James Levine have joined CIESIN as casual employees. Emelike, a junior at Columbia College majoring in economics and sustainable development, is working on the CCI Reporting Bias project with associate research scientist Susana Adamo and deputy director Marc Levy. Levine recently graduated with a MPA in environmental science and policy from SIPA.


Ford Foundation Scholar Completes Study of Watershed-Related Topics

September 25, 2010

Ford Foundation scholar Bao Xiaobin, an associate professor with the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing, has completed a one-year appointment at CIESIN. As a visiting scholar, Prof. Bao conducted independent research on international theories and practices on watershed ecosystem services and reviewed and analyzed case studies on watershed ecosystem services in the United States and China. He plans to apply his improved understanding of these issues in assessing policy recommendations for watershed management in China.


Workshop on Communicating Digital Soil Information Convenes at Lamont

September 23, 2010

CIESIN and the Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program program, of the Earth Institute of Columbia University, co-hosted a workshop September 21 and 22 at Lamont Campus in Palisades, New York, to explore new opportunities for improving the collection and distribution of digital soil information. The workshop, “Making Soil Information Widely Available: From the Satellite to the Mobile Phone,” brought together 25 scientists and information technologists from the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS), GlobalSoilMap.Net, the Earth Institute, Google, NASA, and others. The group identified strategies to integrate new NASA Earth observing missions, cloud computing, and crowd sourcing to improve the effectiveness of planned soil information services. Such services will support plans to increase crop yields in Africa and to dramatically increase the quality of global soil maps.

See: Africa Soil Information Service


Fall Practicum Facilitates Dialogue on EI Environment and Sustainable Development Activities

September 22, 2010

Graduate students taking the Fall Practicum on Environment and Sustainable Development are learning about what’s happening at the Earth Institute. The practicum, offered by Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, is structured as a series of lectures by leaders of EI centers and programs. The for-credit course gives students the opportunity to engage in discussion of current research and applications at the Earth Institute spanning a wide range of topics relating to environment and sustainable development. CIESIN is participating in two lectures in the series. Director and senior research scientist Robert Chen will discuss “Promoting Open Access to Environmental Data: Development of the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS) and the Polar Information Commons (PIC).” A second lecture‚ “Restoring Ecosystem Services in Haiti,” will discuss the activities of the Haiti Regeneration Initiative (HRI), a collaboration between the Earth Institute, UNEP, and Haitian partners to promote sustainable rural development in Haiti. CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy and program coordinator Alex Fischer will co-lead.

See: Earth Institute Fall Practicum on Environment and Sustainable Development


SEDAC Terra Viva Helps Launch World Bank Competition to Develop Software and Visualization Tools

September 17, 2010

CIESIN senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin demonstrated the visualization tool, TerraViva! SEDAC Viewer, at an event sponsored by the World Bank in Washington, D.C., September 9 to launch their Apps for Development Competition. The competition is open to software developers and development practitioners to develop useful software tools and data visualizations that use World Bank data. The demonstration focused on using TerraViva! to access World Bank development indicator data and other spatial and statistical databases, including key data sets the World Bank has made free as part of its new Open Data Initiative. A presentation on SEDAC data and TerraViva! was also given by de Sherbinin to a group of 20 staff from the World Bank Development Data Group and other selected divisions. TerraViva! SEDAC Viewer is a standalone software application, developed under the auspices of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, that enables the viewing of a wide range of socioeconomic and environmental variables and layers, including satellite-based data.

See: Apps for Development & Open Data


Partnering to Support Sustainable Prosperity in the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean Basin

August 30, 2010

More than 150 leaders in government, academia, and civil organizations met at Tulane University in New Orleans August 26 to discuss an initiative to address the growing and complex challenges posed by the vulnerabilities of the region. The conference, “Fighting for Survival: The Vulnerability of America’s Gulf Coast and the Caribbean Basin,” was convened jointly by the City of New Orleans, the United Nations Development Programme, Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, and its Earth Institute. Recent disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in 2004, a string of consecutive hurricanes in 2008, the Haiti earthquake, and the Gulf Oil spill, demonstrate the region’s high vulnerability. Tulane University hosted the conference, with Louisiana State University, and support from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation. CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy participated in the conference and presented a paper analyzing spatial and temporal patterns of climate vulnerability in the region.


CIESIN Outreach Efforts in Pennsylvania

August 13, 2010

CIESIN led outreach activities at two venues in Pennsylvania recently, with an emphasis on the capabilities of TerraViva! SEDAC Viewer, a map viewer and standalone software application that lets users visualize hundreds of socioeconomic and environmental variables and layers, including a range of satellite-based data. In Pittsburgh, CIESIN geographic information specialist Malanding Jaiteh presented TerraViva! at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) held July 31–August 6. The presentation was part of a workshop on NASA Tools for Remote Sensing in Ecology Research. At Dickinson College in Carlisle August 11–12, senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin led the second half of a NASA Global Climate Change Education workshop structured around the use of SEDAC data products to enhance understanding of climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation. Hands-on training with TerraViva! was also provided. Twenty professors from Dickinson College and area community colleges participated in the workshop, representing disciplines from the humanities to the Earth sciences.

See: TerraViva! SEDAC Viewer


Summer Interns Support Research on Hazards, Haiti, and Environmental Indicators

August 10, 2010

Several interns assisted CIESIN staff this summer in research on hazards, Haiti ecological restoration, and environmental indicators. Recent graduate and Earth Institute intern Brigid Staley was a member of the team on the Haiti Regeneration Initiative (HRI), working with project leads Marc Levy, deputy director of CIESIN, and Alex Fischer, project coordinator. She contributed to efforts on the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework segment of the HRI and is currently analyzing data for the HRI Baseline Report. Staley received a BA in environmental biology from University of Colorado and a MPH in Environmental Health Sciences and Molecular Epidemiology from Columbia University. In September she will be joining NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City as research coordinator.

Rising junior Chithra Venkatesan is also an Earth Institute intern. She is studying Earth and environmental engineering, with a concentration in water resources and climate risks and another concentration in sustainable engineering at Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. She assisted senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin and geographic information specialist Malanding Jaiteh in developing environmental indicators from satellite data, with a focus on indicators of coastal water quality.

Brendan Hannon, a rising senior majoring in Earth science at Columbia College, is interning under the auspices of the annual Lamont summer intern program. He collaborated with Marc Levy and seismologist Art Lerner-Lam on a project assessing the effectiveness of the Global Seismic Hazard Assessment Program (GSHAP), a program which has been used internationally since 1999 to predict seismic hazards. Hannon gave a poster presentation on “Are Seismic Hazard Predictions Effective?” along with the other Lamont interns August 3 at the Lamont campus.

A number of other students and recent graduates have also worked on a range of other projects at CIESIN over the summer. They include Cody Aichele, Melika Edquist, Harry Lin, Alison Lacko, Christine Mwaura, Joseph Muhlhausen, and Thomas Timberlake.


New Report Marks Progress of Millennium Villages

August 9, 2010

Graph showing crop yields at select Millennium Village sites

A new report highlights initial progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after three years of implementation across five of the initial Millennium Village sites. The report, Harvests of Development in Rural Africa, is based on results from the recently completed midterm surveys, focusing on sector-based gains (e.g., health, education, infrastructure, and gender) and site-specific gains in five out of twelve Millennium Village sites. These sites are located in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda.

The report compares data collected in the third year of the project to baseline measurements taken when the project was initiated. CIESIN, in collaboration with the Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program of the Earth Institute (EI) and EI site teams, aided in the development and implementation of field and data management systems to collect, enter, clean, and analyze MDG-related survey data. The objective of these systems is to inform sustainable development activities over the 10-year time frame of the project and support research on how to transfer successful lessons to other areas.

The Millennium Villages pursue an integrated approach to sustainable development aimed at achieving all of the MDGs within African villages. The MDGs are an internationally agreed-upon set of specific goals based on numerical benchmarks, and include targets on income poverty, hunger, maternal and child mortality, disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality, and environmental degradation.

See: Harvests of Development in Rural Africa (2.50 MB PDF)


International Group of Experts Examines Data Needs of IPCC Fifth Assessment

August 6, 2010

Participants in the 16th TGICA meeting in Boulder

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is undertaking its fifth assessment of the science, impacts, and policy implications of climate change. In support of this process, the IPCC Task Group on Data and Scenario Support for Impact and Climate Analysis (TGICA) held its 16th meeting August 4–6 in Boulder, Colorado, hosted by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. CIESIN director Robert Chen participated in the meeting in his capacity as an ex officio member of the TGICA and co-manager of the IPCC Data Distribution Centre (DDC). Information scientist Xiaoshi Xing also attended as an observer. Issues addressed at the meeting included how best to meet the needs of the international assessment community for new socioeconomic scenarios, how to improve guidance materials provided by the TGICA, and how best to update and improve the DDC itself.

Established in 1996, the TGICA facilitates the distribution and application of climate change-related data and scenarios in support of the IPCC assessment process. The TGICA serves as the oversight body for the DDC, which is jointly operated by the British Atmospheric Data Center (BADC) in the United Kingdom, the World Data Center Climate (WDCC) in Germany, and CIESIN.

See: IPCC Task Group on Data and Scenario Support for Impact and Climate Analysis (TGICA)
       IPCC Data Distribution Center


Ideas for Software Reuse and Data Stewardship Shared at Informatics Workshop

August 5, 2010

CIESIN senior digital archivist Robert Downs participated in the 2010 Earth and Space Science Informatics (ESSI) Workshop held at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, August 2-4. He made two presentations; the first, “Tools for Reusing Earth Science Software,” was co-authored with Neal Most and James Marshall, both of INNOVIM and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and with Chris Mattmann of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Later in the week he gave a presentation, “Sustainable Governance for Long-Term Stewardship of Earth Science Data,” which was co-authored with CIESIN director Robert Chen.

See: 2010 Earth and Space Science Informatics (ESSI) Workshop
       “Tools for Reusing Earth Science Software” (1.59 MB PDF)
       “Sustainable Governance for Long-Term Stewardship of Earth Science Data” (1 MB PDF)
      


Recent Award to Benefit Haiti Project to Restore Ecosystem Services

August 2, 2010

A $125,000 gift to support Columbia University’s activities on behalf of Haiti will also benefit the Haiti Regeneration Initiative project (HRI), a project to restore Haiti’s degraded ecosystem services in order to reduce poverty and increase resilience to natural disasters. Initiated in 2009, the HRI is a collaboration between Earth Institute centers, including CIESIN; the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); the American University of Les Cayes; the University of Notre Dame in Torbec; and a number of local nongovernmental organizations. CIESIN researchers along with partners have re-commenced work in the Port-á-Piment watershed area, which is the focus of the pilot phase of the project. The gift will support activities aimed at boosting agricultural productivity in the region and at developing a mechanism for providing ongoing technical assistance to farmers in the region.

See: The Haiti Regeneration Initiative


Preservation of Digital Resources the Focus of National Meeting

July 23, 2010

CIESIN director Robert Chen and senior digital archivist Robert Downs participated in the sixth annual meeting of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) partners held July 20–22 in Arlington, Virginia. The NDIIPP was established by the Library of Congress as a partnership network to address the challenges of long-term preservation and access for a wide range of digital resources, including scientific data, cultural and historical assets, and electronic records. In conjunction with the meeting, Chen and Downs hosted the first meeting of an advisory committee for CIESIN’s new NDIIPP project to develop a geospatial data preservation clearinghouse. They also presented a poster paper on the initial results from a survey of user needs for access to information and tools related to preserving geospatial data resources. Keynote speakers at the meeting included James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, and David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States.

See: National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program


The Role of GIS in Public Health Activities Featured at Annual ESRI Conference

July 16, 2010

CIESIN geographic information specialists Kytt MacManus and Tricia Chai-Onn were among more than 12,000 geographic information science (GIS) professionals from around the world attending the 30th annual ESRI International User Conference in San Diego, California July 12–16. The theme of the conference this year was “GIS—Opening the World to Everyone.” Maps and poster content by Tricia Chai-Onn and CIESIN communications coordinator Elisabeth Sydor were featured in the 25th Volume of the ESRI Map Book, distributed to all conference participants. The poster,“Mapping and Monitoring the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs,” displays a selection of maps representing HIV-response-related activities of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP) at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. Maps are created quarterly as part of ICAP’s collaboration with CIESIN, which has also provided geospatial technical support and development of an online interactive mapping tool to enhance ICAP’s monitoring and evaluation efforts in more than 800 facilities in 14 resource-limited countries. National boundaries from SEDAC’s Gridded Population of the World (GPWv3) data collection were used to create the maps.

See: ESRI User Conference
       “Mapping Aids Care...” (Poster)—ESRI Map Book vol. 25


Cross-Cutting Initiative Project Aims to Improve Global Event Reporting

July 16, 2010

An Earth Institute Cross-Cutting Initiative (CCI) grant has been awarded to Ilana Brito, an Earth Institute Fellow co-hosted by CIESIN, Susana Adamo, an associate research scientist at CIESIN, and Tiffany Bogich, a senior research fellow at Wildlife Trust, to create a methodology for analyzing atypical events on a global scale that rely on participatory reporting. The project, applicable across many topics and disciplines, addresses the fundamental importance of distinguishing between true differences in occurrence and differences resulting from possible biases in reporting of events. The research will focus on four areas where case reporting is important for policy development: invasive species outbreaks, crimes and accidents, forest fires and small-scale natural disasters, and emerging infectious disease events. A key objective is to create a general framework for identifying and quantifying bias in participatory reporting.

The project is one of six funded by the Earth Institute in 2010-11 out of more than 20 proposals. The CCI aims to facilitate studies of complex problems in the field of sustainable development that require bridging of disciplines.

See: CCI Seed Funding Competition Year 2010 - 2011


Use of Remote Sensing in Social Sciences the Focus of Mexico City Workshop

July 5, 2010

CIESIN associate research scientist Susana Adamo led a five-day workshop on the use of remote sensing in social science research, held at the Colegio de México (COLMEX), Mexico City, June 28–July 2. Participants included academics, researchers, and public officials. The workshop was part of the Summer Workshops on Research Methods on Population and Territory offered by the Centro de Estudios Demográfia, Urbanos y Ambientales (CEDUA), a center at COLMEX dedicated to demographic, urban, and environmental studies, and was held under the auspices of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, for which Adamo is a project scientist. The workshop was coordinated by Landy Sánchez Peña, assistant professor at CEDUA and general coordinator of the Summer Workshops, and workshop materials were prepared by CIESIN geographic information specialist Malanding Jaiteh. Topics included an introduction to remote sensing; application areas within the social sciences; image interpretation and classification methods; use of Google Earth imagery; and use of remote sensing data in GIS and statistical packages. One session involved exploring global data sets using TerraViva! SEDAC Viewer, a map viewer and standalone software application developed by SEDAC that lets users visualize and integrate socioeconomic data with other data layers, including satellite-based data. In addition, Jose Luis Ornelas of the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI) gave a talk on remote sensing resources there, and Marcia Castro of the Harvard School of Public Health discussed the use of remotely sensed imagery in population studies.

See: Colegio de México (COLMEX)
       Talleres de Verano en Métodos de Investigación en Población y Territorio (Summer Workshops: Research Methods on Population and Territory)


CIESIN Participates in International Symposium in Northwest China

July 2, 2010

Xiaoshi Xing and Ronald Briggs visit the Tianshan Glacier No 1 at the Urumqui River, China

CIESIN information scientist Xiaoshi Xing was among a group of scientists and researchers, many from academic institutions in the United States and Canada, who joined their Chinese colleagues at the 3rd International Symposium on Eco-Hydrological Processes in Arid Areas and Environmental Development held June 25-28 in Xingjiang, China, and sponsored by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). Xing gave an invited presentation on sustainable agricultural water resource utilization and management in northwest China. He was also one of the participants in a field visit to the Tian Shan Glacier Station of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) to observe the glacier response to regional climate changes. Later in the trip, Xing traveled to Beijing to give a seminar talk, “Climate Change Impacts: Towards Global Monitoring and Assessment,” at the CAS Center for Earth Observations and Digital Earth (CEODE) on June 29.


Marc Levy, Other Climate Change Experts, Tapped to Help Write Next IPCC Report

June 25, 2010

A team of climate change experts that includes CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy has been chosen by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be the coordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors for the next in a series of climate change assessment reports. The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the IPCC will be published between 2013 and 2014, and the team will also provide contributions to the Synthesis Report to be published in 2014.

Other Columbia scientists named as participants include Ruth DeFries, Geoffrey Heal, Patrick Kinney, Drew Shindell, and Elke Weber. The experts, numbering 831, have been drawn from the fields of meteorology, physics, oceanography, statistics, engineering, ecology, social sciences and economics, in order to ensure that the reports represent a wide range of scientific views on climate change. In addition, a greater proportion of female experts are participating than before, and a greater number of experts from developing countries are participating, in an aim towards better balance of gender and regional coverage.

Levy will be part of the team producing the AR5 chapter entitled “Human Health, Well-Being, and Security.” His recent research projects explore climate and security linkages, environmental restoration in Haiti, and drivers of emerging infectious diseases.

See: IPCC AR5 Press Release
       IPCC AR5 Coordinating Authors/Editors List


Science and Technology Libraries Conference at Purdue: Challenges from E-Science Examined

June 25, 2010

More than 120 librarians, data experts, and scientists from around the world gathered at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana June 21–23 for the 31st annual conference of the International Association of Scientific and Technological University Libraries (IATUL). The conference focused on the evolving world of e-Science and its implications for science and technology libraries. Keynote speakers included Daniel Kleppner of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Richard Luce of Emory University, who participated in a recent National Research Council (NRC) study, “Ensuring the Utility and Integrity of Research Data in a Digital Age.” A plenary session on the theme of collaborations featured CIESIN director Robert Chen, who described the “cool collaborations” needed to develop and launch the Polar Information Commons (PIC). Other speakers were Ross Wilkinson from the Australian National Data Service, and Michael Lesk of Rutgers University and chair of the NRC Board on Research Data and Information. This session was followed by a presentation,“The Fourth Paradigm” by Tony Hey, the corporate vice president for External Research at Microsoft Corporation. A key challenge for the library community is how to ensure that its vital expertise in information and knowledge management, stewardship, and dissemination is incorporated into new and rapidly evolving approaches to e-Science

See: 31st Annual IATUL Conference


Race Against the Clock to Collect Data for Jamaica Bay ‘BioBlitz’

June 22, 2010

Teams of scientists, amateur naturalists, and volunteers observed and counted as many plants and animals as possible within a 24-hour period as part of the third Jamaica Bay BioBlitz, held June 11–12 at Gateway National Recreation Area’s Jamaica Bay Unit. Jamaica Bay is one of the most important urban national parks in the country, and is the only one accessible by subway. The Jamaica Bay Research and Management Information Network (JBRMIN), a Web site hosted by CIESIN’s NBII-NIN program, was the official Web site of the 2010 BioBlitz, handling online registration and facilitating data collection. JBRMIN also supported the previous BioBlitz events, held in 2007 and 2009.

See: Jamaica Bay Research and Management Network (JBRMN)


New Data Resource on Populations Near Superfund Sites Released

June 18, 2010

A Superfund site is an uncontrolled or abandoned place where hazardous waste could potentially expose nearby people and ecosystems to harmful contaminants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains a National Priorities List (NPL) for the United States and its territories that identifies more than 1,600 sites as posing the most serious threats and the most likely to require long-term cleanup. Until now, information about the precise location and boundaries of these sites has been difficult to access and to link with data on nearby residents.

Utilizing the US Census Grids database developed by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC), CIESIN, with funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), has prepared a new data resource on populations in proximity to more than 1,500 Superfund NPL sites. The resource offers an improved data set of NPL site boundaries in geographic information system (GIS) format, based on data for 1996 from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and for 2008 from the U.S. EPA Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System (CERCLIS). Estimated total populations for the year 2000 residing within one and four miles of each site, and associated demographic characteristics based on the year 2000 census, are provided in spreadsheet format. These data are expected to be of value to researchers and decision makers concerned with the assessment, remediation, and community outreach related to Superfund NPL sites.

See: Assessment of Populations in Proximity to Superfund National Priorities List Sites


Socioeconomic Data Needs Examined at SEDAC User Working Group Meeting

June 17, 2010

The User Working Group (UWG) of SEDAC, the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center operated by CIESIN, met June 15-16 at the Lamont Campus in Palisades and at Columbia University’s Morningside Campus. The UWG is tasked with guiding SEDAC on user needs and overall strategies regarding socioeconomic data and services complementary to remote sensing data. Leading experts from the social, natural, health, and information sciences make up the group, with representation from the academic, governmental, and nongovernmental sectors. The new UWG chair is Molly Macauley, an economist who serves as a research director and senior fellow at Resources for the Future. She replaces the outgoing chair, Harlan Onsrud of the University of Maine, who will remain a member of the group until the end of the year.

The UWG meeting reviewed SEDAC’s plans to improve its data resources in support of operational disaster mitigation, response, recovery, and reconstruction activities, drawing on lessons from the Haiti earthquake and other major disasters of the past decade. UWG members also discussed how SEDAC could better assist the research and applications communities concerned with climate change impacts, vulnerability, adaptation, and mitigation. Invited guests included award-winning journalist and the New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin, who spoke about communicating science in the post-media world as well as his frequent use of SEDAC’s data. Eric Sanderson, senior conservation ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, reflected on his collaboration with CIESIN in the development of the Human Footprint and Last of the Wild datasets available from SEDAC, in the context of his recent book, Mannahatta, a natural history of the island of Manhattan.

See: SEDAC User Working Group


The Role of GIS in Public Health is Highlighted at Columbia-Mailman Alumni Summit

June 9, 2010

Mark Becker, CIESIN associate director for geospatial applications, was invited to lead an alumni session as part of the annual Alumni Summit for Public Health Leadership held June 8 at the Columbia University Medical Campus. He gave a special presentation, “The Applications of Geographic Information Systems in Public Health.” Becker is responsible for establishing the first courses on geographic information systems (GIS) for public health courses at the Mailman School of Public Health, where he has continued to teach GIS classes for the past two years. His talk highlighted the wide-ranging applications of GIS in global health issues, from global concerns such as the control of malaria in Africa to local applications such as improving health surveillance practices in New York City. The talk showcased final projects created by students in his most recent class. Becker closed the session by discussing continuing education opportunities at Columbia and beyond in the acquisition and application of GIS technology skills.


New Digital Commons for Polar Data Launched at Oslo Meeting

June 8, 2010

Logo of the Polar Information Commons

In response to the pressing need to preserve polar data and ensure their long-term accessibility, an international team of scientists and data managers has established the Polar Information Commons (PIC), an information resource about the Earth’s polar regions that will be managed by the polar science and data community and freely accessible to all. The launch of the PIC is being celebrated in Oslo June 8 at the International Polar Year (IPY) Oslo Science Conference, a gathering of several thousand scientists involved in the IPY 2007–08.

CIESIN director Robert Chen is chairing the launch event in his capacity as secretary general of CODATA, the Committee on Data for Science and Technology of the International Council for Science (ICSU), and as lead of the ICSU grant that supported planning of the PIC. The PIC aims to provide a long-term open access framework for polar science data through the IPY and other programs. It includes a method for “badging” data as part of the PIC and a set of community “norms” to encourage appropriate use and acknowledgement of PIC data. A key element of the PIC is the PIC cloud, a repository developed by the Tasmanian Partnership for Advanced Computing (TPAC) and the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) in collaboration with the Australian Research Collaboration Service (ARCS) and the Australian National Data Service (ANDS).

Other PIC partners include the International Arctic Science Council (IASC), the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the IPY International Program Office (IPY IPO), the ICSU World Data System Scientific Committee (WDS-SC), Science Commons, the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS), and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences.

See: Polar Informations Commons


Better Understanding of Disaster Risk Explored at D.C. Conference

June 4, 2010

Defining disaster risk, measuring it, and managing it better are all issues that were explored at the “Understanding Risk” conference, a meeting held by the World Bank June 1–3 in Washington D.C. The conference took place under the auspices of a four-part forum of the same title, which ran June 1–6 in conjunction with the second annual meeting of the Global Earthquake Model (GEM). Supported by the World Bank, GEM is developing standards to calculate and communicate earthquake risk worldwide. CIESIN senior staff associate Alex de Sherbinin presented a paper co-authored with CIESIN director Robert Chen on the topic of hazard risk assessment for future climate impacts. CIESIN senior geospatial developer Greg Yetman was also in attendance.

See: “Understanding Risk” Conference


Social Science Meets Information Technology, Data Services at IASSIST Meeting

June 4, 2010

CIESIN senior digital archivist Robert Downs is participating in the 36th Annual Conference of the International Association for Social Science Information Service and Technology (IASSIST) at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, June 1–4. The conference audience is composed of professional from a wide variety of disciplines who are concerned with information technology and data services in support of research and teaching in the social sciences. This year’s theme is “Social Data and Social Networking: Connecting Social Science Communities across the Globe.” Downs chaired the session, Beyond the Traditional Data Archive, and presented a paper co-authored with CIESIN director, Robert Chen, “Designing Flexible Workflow for Upstream Participation of the Scientific Data Community.” Downs was also part of a panel presentation at the session Confidentiality and Access Concerns of the Social Sciences and Human Subjects Ethics Review Boards, where he also presented a paper, “Scientific Data Management for the Protection of Human Subjects.”

See: 36th Annual Conference of IASSIST


Third Annual Summer Institute Offers Focused Training for Health-Care Decision Makers

June 1, 2010

The Summer Institute for Climate Information on Public Health, now in its third year, provides hands-on training for health-care decision makers from developing countries around the world. Held at Columbia’s Lamont Campus in Palisades, New York, the two week session this year ran from May 17 to May 28. It was organized by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) in partnership with CIESIN and the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Summer Institute is also conducted under the auspices of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO).

This year’s group of students numbered 13 professionals from 10 countries. They attended lectures and participated in interactive exercises, with an emphasis on tools that facilitate the integration of climate, public health, and population data. CIESIN’s associate director of geospatial applications, Mark Becker, addressed the spatial components of attendees’ work by teaching the use of Global Positioning System (GPS), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Google Maps for Public Health.

See: 2010 Summer Institute for Climate Information on Public Health


Workshop Aims to Define Efficacy Measures for International Environmental Agreements

May 31, 2010

Multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) are the primary means by which nations cooperate to address pressing international environmental issues. Some MEAS, such as the Montreal Protocol on Depletion of the Ozone Layer, have had great success in engaging the world community in efforts to reduce environmental threats and their impacts; others have had mixed results. However, assessing the effectiveness of MEAs is not straightforward. To address this issue, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) sponsored a workshop, “Effectiveness of Multilateral Environmental Agreements,” held May 20–21 by CIESIN at Columbia University’s Morningside Heights campus in New York. The workshop sought to define indicators of MEA impacts in three broad areas: environmental conditions, legal frameworks and institutions for addressing the environment, and the economy and human wellbeing. CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy provided inputs based on more than two decades of research on environmental governance regimes. Senior staff associate Alex de Sherbinin recommended approaches for capturing environmental impacts from remote sensing data and environmental indicators.


Leveraging Research and Government Partnerships to Better Remediation Approaches

May 29, 2010

Partnership Panel at US EPA Training Program

More than 500 people gathered May 24–28 in Arlington, Virginia for the 20th Anniversary Annual Training Program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Association of Remedial Project Managers. The annual program provides a venue for networking and exchange of information about technologies, approaches, and lessons learned for remediation of hazardous waste sites. CIESIN senior research associate Meredith Golden and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory adjunct senior research scientist Martin Stute served on a panel, “Working Together: Getting the Best Results Through Partnerships,” which discussed examples of successful collaboration among the research community, the EPA, and state agencies involved in Superfund site cleanup. Golden also presented a poster, “Innovative Methods and Mapping to Assess Vulnerable Populations Near Superfund Sites,” which builds on one of CIESIN’s gridded population data products. She is co-director of Columbia's Superfund Research Program's Research Translation Core, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

See: Columbia Superfund Research Program Website


Geospatial Data Preservation Clearinghouse to be Developed

May 28, 2010

Digital maps, satellite images and other forms of geospatial data are vital for responding to disasters, protecting the environment, and many other important applications. But because of evolving technology and other threats, many geospatial data resources are in danger of being lost. To help address this problem, CIESIN has entered into a cooperative agreement with The Library of Congress to create a web-based clearinghouse of information about best practices for preserving significant geospatial data. The clearinghouse, to be launched later this year, will be part of the Library's National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP). CIESIN's senior digital archivist Robert Downs will lead the two-year effort, working with an advisory group of experts on geospatial data management and preservation.

See: Library of Congress Press Release
       National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program


Links between Resource Management and Peacebuilding Discussed in Nairobi

May 19, 2010

The potential implications of climate change for international security has been receiving increased attention in the policy community and the media in recent years. One specific concern is about the role of resource scarcity and environmental degradation in exacerbating the potential for violent conflict both within countries and between countries. CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy participated in a United Nations Training Workshop, “Land and Natural Resources Management and Conflict Prevention,” in Nairobi May 11–13, convened by the UN Interagency Framework Team for Preventive Action. His presentation at the workshop focused on the role of environmental scarcity, degradation, and climate change in peacebuilding.


Data Preservation and Management Research Published

May 19, 2010

Ensuring efficient and effective management of scientific data over the long term is a growing need in light of important issues like climate change and sustainable development that require long time perspectives. CIESIN is working with the Columbia Libraries, NASA, and other partners on several different initiatives to improve long-term stewardship of digital data and effective use of resources, including development of better ways to document interdisciplinary scientific data for a long-term data archive and reuse of existing software in new data processing systems. Three papers on these topics have recently appeared in two different peer-reviewed journals. CIESIN’s senior digital archivist Robert Downs collaborated with CIESIN director Robert Chen on two papers: “Designing Submission and Workflow Services for Preserving Interdisciplinary Scientific Data” in the journal, Earth Science Informatics; and “Self-Assessment of a Long-Term Archive for Interdisciplinary Scientific Data as a Trustworthy Digital Repository” in the Journal of Digital Information. Downs is also second author of an article with James Marshall and Shahin Samadi of INNOVIM/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, “Relevance of Software Reuse in Building Advanced Scientific Data Processing Systems,” also appearing in Earth Science Informatics.

See: "Designing Submission and Workflow Services for Preserving Interdisciplinary Scientific Data" (Subscription Only)
       "Self-Assessment of a Long-Term Archive for Interdisciplinary Scientific Data as a Trustworthy Digital Repository"
       "Relevance of Software Reuse in Building Advanced Scientific Data Processing Systems" (Subscription Only)


NASA Earth Science Data Centers Address Emerging Technology and Data Issues

May 7, 2010

Managers and staff from more than a dozen NASA-supported Earth Science Data Centers gathered in Virginia Beach, Virginia May 4–6 to discuss opportunities for infusing new technologies and standards and for promoting coordination and collaboration both between NASA centers and with external groups. CIESIN director Robert Chen, associate director for Information Technology Sri Vinay, and senior staff associate Alex de Sherbinin participated in the meeting, representing the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN. Alex de Sherbinin introduced the workshop’s keynote speaker, Rob Covey of National Geographic, who described how the organization has developed and implemented a coherent Web presence for a diverse set of National Geographic units and partners including its magazine, television channel, and online resources. In addition, de Sherbinin presented a poster paper co-authored with Chen and CIESIN senior digital archivist Robert Downs on SEDAC’s implementation of a digital asset management system to support long-term data stewardship. Vinay gave a presentation on SEDAC’s ongoing Web site redesign process and the Web development framework technologies that were evaluated. Chen serves as SEDAC’s manager, de Sherbinin as its deputy manager, and Vinay as its systems engineer.

The NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS), a world leader in the provision of Earth observations and environmental data for research, education, and decision making, supports a range of discipline-focused data centers around the United States, including SEDAC. SEDAC provides data that complements remote sensing data primarily addressing human-environment interactions.

See: Long Term Digital Preservation of Earth Science Data with Fedora


The Effect of Climate Change on Infrastructure Development to be Discussed at Upcoming Workshop

May 6, 2010

While investment in large infrastructure projects in developing countries have in the past been justified by a perceived value to economic development, future such projects are increasingly likely to be driven by efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. A proposal that addresses this emerging priority, “Population Displacement and Resettlement Associated with Climate Change-Related Infrastructure Projects," was recently approved by the Rockefeller Foundation and will be held at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Conference Center in Northern Italy in the Fall of 2010. The proposal for the interdisciplinary workshop represents a collaboration between CIESIN senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin, Marcia Castro of the Harvard School of Public Health, and Francois Gemenne of the Institut du Développement Durable et des Relations Internationales for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) at Sciences Po, Paris, and builds on prior work by the three researchers. Anticipated outputs from the workshop include a journal article, draft guidelines for policy-makers, a research agenda, and a funding strategy for continued collaborative inquiry into this issue.


Gambian Officials Explore Opportunities for Collaboration with the Earth Institute

April 29, 2010

Senior officials from the government of The Gambia and the University of The Gambia met April 28 with Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs, CIESIN director Robert Chen, and other Columbia University faculty and staff. The visit was organized by CIESIN to explore opportunities for collaboration in research, education, and capacity building. The delegation included Mariama Khan, Secretary-General and Head of the Civil Service; Mamadou Tangara, Honorable Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Technology; and Muhammadou Kah, Vice Chancellor of the University of The Gambia. Informal discussions were held with Mamadou Diouf, director of Columbia's Institute for African Studies; Madeline Thomson of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society; Wade McGillis of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; and Beth Fisher-Yoshida, academic director of Columbia's Master of Science Program in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. CIESIN staff member Malanding Jaiteh, who was born and raised in The Gambia, helped arrange the visit and, along with Alex de Sherbinin of CIESIN, described possible training and educational activities that CIESIN could help develop in collaboration with partners in The Gambia.


Two Research Translation Events: Rockland County Water and National Environmental Public Health Partnerships

April 27, 2010

“Rockland County Water: Enough for Future Growth?” was the focus of discussion at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) Sunday April 25, part of the LDEO Spring 2010 public lecture series. The lecture began with a presentation by hydrologist Paul Heisig of the US Geological Survey on the results of a five-year assessment of Rockland water resources. CIESIN senior research associate Meredith Golden, who co-directs the Columbia University Research Translation Core for the Superfund Research Program, then moderated a panel of Earth Institute scientists addressing local water issues. The panel included LDEO scientists Martin Stute, Steven Chillrud, and Stuart Braman, along with International Research Institute for Climate and Society scientist Bradfield Lyon. Some two hundred people attended the lecture, held in Monell Auditorium on the Lamont campus, which is located in Rockland County, New York.

Golden subsequently traveled to Research Triangle Park, North Carolina to represent Columbia University’s Superfund Research Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Inaugural Partnerships for Environmental Public Health Program meeting April 26–27. The meeting promoted interactions among NIEHS grantees, NIEHS program staff, and relevant federal agencies to enhance the science of conducting and translating research into action to address environmental exposures and health risks of concern to communities on local, regional, national, and global levels. At the meeting Golden presented the poster, “Innovative Methodologies & Mapping to Assess Vulnerable Populations Near Superfund Sites.”

See: Water Resources in Rockland County
       “Innovative Methodologies & Mapping ....” (847 KB PDF)


CIESIN Hosts Student Interns from Paris

April 26, 2010

As part of the Alliance program, CIESIN is hosting three students from the École Polytechnique in Paris: Célian Colon, Aurélien Croq, and Pascal Notin. The students, all in their third year of a program equivalent to a U.S. masters degree, arrived mid-April and will be here until the end of June. While at CIESIN, Célian Colon is working with deputy director Marc Levy and program coordinator Alex Fischer researching energy issues for the Haiti Regeneration Initiative. He is majoring in environment, energy, and economics. Aurélien Croq and Pascal Notin are both working with information scientist Xiaoshi Xing assessing the CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, at a subnational level, for several countries including the United States, China, and countries in the European Union. Croq is currently studying economics and applied mathematics, mainly in the area of ecology and energy. Notin is majoring in the program Energies of the 21st Century, which focuses on nuclear and renewable energies. He plans to earn an MS in operations research (business and applied mathematics) at Columbia University. The Alliance Program is a unique joint venture between Columbia University, École Polytechnique, Sciences Po, and the Université de Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne. The intern visit, in which CIESIN is participating for the third year, is one component of several opportunities for exchange that the Alliance Program provides.


Upcoming PERN Cyberseminar Will Discuss Remote Sensing Data Needs

April 23, 2010

The Population-Environment Research Network (PERN) will hold a cyberseminar from May 10 to 21, “What Are the Remote Sensing Data Needs of the Population-Environment Research Community?” The goal of this online seminar is to identify the past use of remote sensing data products in population-environment research, to explore challenges of integrating remote sensing data, and to begin to think about the specifications of future remote sensing data products that would meet the needs of the research community. Another goal is to consider a process for greater social science input into the design of future satellite sensors.

The cyberseminar is co-sponsored by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, which supports the PERN Web site, and by the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). SEDAC has been tasked by NASA and its User Working Group to think specifically about how to increase the input of social scientists in designing future missions, and GEO has expressed a similar interest in engaging the social sciences as it builds a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) to address nine societal benefit areas.

See: PERN Cyberseminars


Project to Restore Haiti Ecosystems Resumes

April 21, 2010

A rain gauge is installed by a researcher and local Haitians.

CIESIN and other EI researchers returned to Haiti recently to resume participation in the Haiti Regeneration Initiative (HRI), a project to design strategies to restore ecosystems in order to reduce vulnerability to natural disasters and to improve food security and livelihoods. Pilot activities begun in 2009 have been re-started following the disruptions of the January 12 earthquake. The HRI is a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Earth Institute, the American University of Les Cayes, the University of Notre Dame in Torbec, and a number of local nongovernmental organizations.

Research is focused on the Port-á-Piment watershed in southwest Haiti. During the April mission, a local team of experts was trained in methodologies to implement a Land Degradation Surveillance Framework, which will map soil characteristics across the entire watershed. A set of four rain gauges was installed to monitor precipitation and, in later stages, to support hydrologic modeling and flood early warning. The HRI has also begun analyzing community organizations and resource management capacities with the objective of optimizing local participation and community-driven planning. These represent the initial stages of a long-term monitoring and data collection process to enable the various Haitian stakeholders to make informed decisions and management plans.

The field team was led by Marc Levy and Alex Fischer of CIESIN and included Wade McGillis of the Geochemistry Division of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), Sabine Marx of the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED), Sean Smukler of the Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program, Lior Asaf of CIESIN, and Kiran Jayaram of CIESIN and the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4).

See: CIESIN Haiti Regeneration Initiative Web site
       Haiti Regeneration Initiative Project Web site


Some New Themes Addressed at the 2010 AAG Annual Meeting

April 21, 2010

Climate change, innovation in geographic information science (GIS), and the intersection of geography and human rights were some of the conference themes explored by CIESIN participants of the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) held in Washington, D.C., April 14−18. Deputy director Marc Levy presented a paper, “Population Change in Latin America and the Caribbean, 1990-2000: A Spatial Time Series,” which he co-authored with CIESIN colleagues Maria Muñiz, Susana Adamo, Gregory Yetman, Maria Elisa Lukang, Tricia Chai-Onn, and Sandra Baptista, and with colleagues from University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, T. Mitchell Aide and María José Andrade Núñez. At the session, Greening the City: Environment, Economy, and Urbanization, Baptista presented her paper “Adapting to Urban Climate Risk in Coastal Brazil.A paper co-authored by CIESIN director Robert Chen with Mark Parsons of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado, “Creating an Information Commons for the Earth’s Polar Regions,” was presented by Parsons at the session, Geographic Information Ethics and GIScience. Senior information specialist Joe Schumacher staffed the NASA Earth Sciences, Data, and Services exhibit booth on behalf of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN.

See: Association of American Geographers
       "Population Change in Latin America and the Caribbean..." (1.27 MB PDF)
       "Adapting to Urban Climate Risk..." (2.44 MB)


GIS and Other Tools Communicate Data to Decision Makers

April 19, 2010

Senior staff associate Alex de Sherbinin served as a lecturer at “Knowledge Innovation at the Science-Policy Interface,” a colloquium held jointly by the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) at the University for International Cooperation, San José, Costa Rica, April 14–15. The goal of the colloquium was to teach participants, a combination of graduate students and mid-career researchers, how to integrate scientific data and knowledge for risk assessment, mapping, and decision making. Attendees were presented with strategies and tools for practical communication of scientific data to non-scientific decision makers, using geographic information science and other “intuitive” communication tools. In this context, de Sherbinin’s presentation focused on the use of geographic information systems for climate risk assessment using a variety of data sets developed and distributed by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN. He also trained participants in the use of a preliminary 2010 version of the TerraViva! SEDAC Viewer, which includes a wide range of natural hazards- and climate-related data sets.

See: IAI-NCAR Colloquium 2010


Search Tool Supports Global Service for Environmental Law Information

April 9, 2010

The largest, most comprehensive global information service on environmental law, ECOLEX, combines the environmental law information holdings of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) into an accessible and easy-to-use online service. CIESIN is supporting ECOLEX through a search service that enables users to easily search for and obtain Conference of Party (COP) decisions for ten major treaties. The tool was initially developed as part of the Environmental Treaty and Resource Indicators (ENTRI) service of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). The COP decision search tool indexes thousands of decision documents using a Google Search Appliance and has recently been updated with new COP decisions as of April 2, 2010.

See: ECOLEX COP Decision Search Tool
       Environmental Treaty and Resource Indicators Service


Global Data Set Explores Indicators of Coastal Water Quality

March 31, 2010

Map showing chlorophyl-a concentrations in coastal areas of Africa

Over the past few decades coastal waters throughout the world have received an increased influx of nutrients from land-based sources. The resulting change in water quality has many possible implications for coastal and marine ecosystems. In extreme cases eutrophication results, where excess nutrients in the water stimulate excessive plant growth. This can lead to hypoxia—oxygen-depleted “dead zones”—and harmful algal blooms.

Coastal water quality over time may be assessed by measuring chlorophyll concentrations as an indicator of algae biomass. A new global data set, Indicators of Coastal Water Quality, aims to identify near-coastal areas that have improving, declining, and stable chlorophyll concentrations in order to help identify areas that may need management intervention. The data set uses chlorophyll-a concentrations derived from NASA’s sea-viewing wide field-of-view sensor (SeaWiFS) to analyze trends over a ten year period (1998–2007). This data set is a result of a pilot effort, and the methodology will be further refined as part of a NASA Decisions feasibility project.

See: Indicators of Coastal Water Quality Web site


New Sustainable Development Major Will Include Demographic and Geospatial Studies

March 29, 2010

CIESIN associate research scientist Susana Adamo and associate director Mark Becker have been selected to teach courses as part of the new undergraduate major in sustainable development offered at Columbia University beginning in September 2010. The new cross-disciplinary major, open to undergraduates of Columbia College and the School of General Studies, was created by the Earth Institute faculty in collaboration with schools and departments throughout Columbia. The major builds on and is in addition to the existing undergraduate option for a special concentration in sustainable development, which the Earth Institute helped launch in 2007. Beginning in the fall, Becker will teach a two-semester sequence, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Sustainable Development, which can be used to fulfill the skills requirement of the new major. Adamo will teach Demography of Human Populations, one of the courses available to meet the social science requirement of the major.

See: Columbia University’s Undergraduate Major in Sustainable Development
       CIESIN Educational Offerings/Resources Web Page


Workshop Aims to Guide Understanding of Disaster Reduction

March 26, 2010

CIESIN deputy director, Marc Levy, participated in an invitation-only workshop, “Rebuilding for Resilience: How Science and Engineering Can Inform Haiti's Reconstruction,” held March 22–23 in Miami. The workshop, intended to produce guidance on integrating scientific understanding into reconstruction work, was convened by the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction (SDR) and hosted by the University of Miami. Levy’s presentation was entitled “Multi-Hazard Issues in Haiti.” Colleagues from Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab, Lamont Doherty Seismology division, and CIESIN also attended.


Haiti's Future the Subject of New Video

March 19, 2010

Screenshot from video A Future for Haiti

A new video produced for the Earth Institute Update explores the future of post-disaster Haiti and the possibilities for addressing the country’s considerable challenges by combining state-of-the-art research with experimental on-the-ground solutions. The video, “A Future for Haiti: Science and Solutions for a Beleaguered Nation,” features CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy and program coordinator Alex Fischer, who are leading the project in collaboration with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Haitian partners, including the National Center for Geospatial Information.

See: A Future for Haiti: Science and Solutions for a Beleaguered Nation (video)


CIESIN Associate Director Re-Elected to Environmental Consortium Steering Committee

March 18, 2010

CIESIN Geospatial Applications Division associate director Mark Becker was re-elected to a three-year year term on the Steering Committee of the Environmental Consortium of Hudson Valley Colleges & Universities. The Environmental Consortium facilitates intensive cooperation among its regional colleges and universities, and organizes inter-institutional collaboration among faculty to advance knowledge and understanding of the Hudson River Valley and beyond. Becker is also is an adjunct faculty member at the Mailman School of Public Health and principal investigator for the NBII-Northeast Information Node (NIN), a collaborative project between the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), the USGS NBII, and other regional partners to facilitate sharing biological information across the Northeast.


Implementing Data Sharing Addressed at Italy Workshop

March 12, 2010

Linking Earth observations and other spatial data from many different systems is a goal of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), an intergovernmental initiative aimed at developing the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS). CIESIN associate director for Information Technology, Sri Vinay, is representing CIESIN at an international workshop in Frascati, Italy on March 10-12, helping to kick off the third phase of the GEOSS Architecture Implementation Pilot (AIP-3). CIESIN plans to contribute to AIP-3 by enhancing a new Population Estimation Service. The service, which was developed as part of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC), supports spatial queries about population distribution using open interoperability standards. CIESIN is also working to develop user interfaces that recognize open access licenses such as those developed by Creative Commons. Vinay is co-leading a session on data sharing approaches at the workshop and is helping to develop specific scenarios of interoperable data services in several different application areas, which will be demonstrated at the next GEO Ministerial meeting in Beijing in November 2010.

See: Group on Earth Observations
       Architecture Implementation Pilot


Director's Annual Message: Focus on Environmental Sustainability and Disasters

March 8, 2010

Map of potential erosion risk in Port-a-Piment area of Haiti

In just a bit more than five years, the world has experienced an unprecedented string of “megadisasters.” These events were the result not only of the awesome power of earthquakes and cyclones but were also due to the high exposure and extreme vulnerability of populations around the world to a range of hazards. At the end of 2004, the South Asian tsunami shocked the world with its sudden devastation of many densely settled and poorly protected coastal areas. In 2005 and 2008, we witnessed the suffering of hundreds of thousands affected by major earthquakes in Pakistan and China, compounded by poorly constructed schools, dams, and other structures. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 gave us an object lesson about the potential for disaster even in a highly developed country, if governments and citizens fail to prepare for hazards and fail to respond effectively to them. Then Cyclone Nargis in 2008 provided an even more devastating example of the vulnerability of disenfranchised populations worsened by a rogue government. And now we have begun the year 2010 with damaging earthquakes in both Haiti and Chile—the first inflicting much more death and destruction than it should have and leaving a massive and continuing humanitarian crisis in its wake.

These disasters underscore the important roles population location and physical and social vulnerability play in amplifying the risks of natural hazards around the world. We know that population has been growing much faster in coastal areas than elsewhere, often accompanied by accelerated stress on coastal ecosystems and marine resources. Rapid urbanization is occurring in many areas prone to earthquakes, landslides, and/or floods with little or no attention to building codes, protective works, land degradation, or land use restrictions. Poverty continues to force millions to live in substandard housing in environmentally marginal areas with few resources to draw upon when drought, floods, and other hazards strike. Full story


New Web Site Features Project to Restore Ecosystem Services of Haiti

February 26, 2010

A new Web site features information and data for a project designed to help Haiti restore its ecosystem services over the course of the next 20 years. The project, the Haiti Regeneration Initiative, is a major collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Earth Institute, and Haitian partners, including the National Center for Geospatial Information.

Pilot research for the project has been launched in the Port-á-Piment watershed in southwestern Haiti. Baseline assessments taken there are providing a basis for designing integrated watershed management programs that combine reforestation, agro-forestry, sustainable energy, and flood risk management activities. Partners are now re-working the scope of the project in coordination with the overall reconstruction effort in Haiti to address new challenges and issues resulting from the January 12 earthquake.

The Web site is interim until the official project site is launched. It contains basic information about progress of the project, access to data on Haiti that CIESIN has been compiling, and a link to the UNEP/Haiti Project Mapper, an interactive mapper developed and hosted by CIESIN. Download of the data is presently limited to members of the Earth Institute community but the data catalogs, one of spatial data and the other of satellite imagery, are viewable by the public.

See: Haiti Regeneration Initiative Web site


SIPA Panel Discusses Microfinance in Post-Disaster Settings

February 25, 2010

“Microfinance in Post-Disaster Zones” was the title of a panel presentation held February 24 at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs on , which explored the particular challenges faced by microfinance institutions when providing post-disaster relief and helping to generate new economic activity for populations made especially vulnerable by natural or man-made disasters. The panelists, CIESIN program coordinator Alex Fischer and Michelle Chaplin of BRAC, talked about how micro-finance institutions can maintain effectiveness in a post-disaster context. This included discussion of preventative programs, with a specific focus on programs in Haiti and the role of Fokonze, the largest micro-finance institution in Haiti and a partner with BRAC. Fischer has been participating in a long-term collaborative ecological restoration project, the Haiti Regeneration Initiative, and was doing fieldwork in Haiti at the time of the January 12 earthquake. He has special expertise in groundwater management in post-conflict settings.


Theory vs. Policy Explored by International Studies Experts

February 25, 2010

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy participated in the International Studies Association (ISA) annual meeting in New Orleans February 17–20. The theme this year was “Theory vs. Policy? Connecting Scholars and Practitioners.” Levy served on two panels dealing with climate change politics. With Geoff Dabelko of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program he co-chaired a round table discussion on approaches to teaching environment, population, and conflict. The ISA was founded more than 40 years ago by a group of scholars and practitioners to pursue mutual interests in international studies. It has more than 4,000 members worldwide representing 80 countries.

See: International Studies Association (ISA) Web site


Population Estimation Service and New Mapping Tools Added to GPW Web Site

February 12, 2010

The Web site for CIESIN’s flagship data product—Gridded Population of the World (GPW), now in its third version—has been enhanced with three new services and tools: the Population Estimation Service, a Web-based service for estimating population totals and related statistics within a user-defined region; and two mapping tools.

Because the Population Estimate Service is accessible through three standard protocols (the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Web processing service (WPS) standard, a representational state transfer (REST) interface, and a simple object access protocol (SOAP) interface), it can accommodate a wide variety of map clients and tools and users can quickly obtain population estimates for specific areas without having to download and analyze large amounts of spatial data. Users submit polygons that define an area, then the service returns measures of population, land area, quality measures, and basic parametric statistics. These estimates are based on the gridded population data for 2005 from the GPW v3 data set developed by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN.

One of the new mapping tools also released, based on the technology used by Google Maps, demonstrates the Population Estimation Service. It lets users select an area of interest by drawing a polygon on the map and submit the request to the service, and it displays the results. The other tool is a basic mapper that provides previews of the GPW v3 data sets with an overlay of national boundaries, and lets users pan and zoom to an area of interest before downloading the data sets. For more complex visualization and overlay of other data sets, the stand-alone SEDAC Map Client is recommended.

See: Population Estimation Service


Visiting Scholar Will Lead Dialogue on Post-Conflict Reconstruction Issues

February 5, 2010

CIESIN welcomes Maliza van Eeden as the first visiting scholar under the auspices of a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch (PCDMB) and the Earth Institute. Van Eeden’s visit February 8–18 will focus on identifying new areas of collaboration between UNEP and Earth Institute faculty and research centers.

A lawyer trained in South Africa, Van Eeden has worked for the PCDMB since 2005. She was part of the UNEP team that conducted an environmental assessment in Lebanon, following the conflict between Hizbollah and Israel in 2006. She also has experience in disaster risk reduction, including the evaluation of UNEP’s post-tsunami reconstruction projects in Southeast Asia. She is currently the coordinator for a joint project of UNEP and secretariat for the Basel Convention on hazardous waste management in Cote d’Ivoire.

The UNEP-EI partnership, established in 2007, has already led to a number of collaborative activities, including course development, the creation of interactive training simulations, and support for the development of guidance notes on resource scarcity, environmental degradation, and climate change. The partnership was also instrumental in developing the Haiti Regeneration Initiative, a long-term project to restore ecosystems in Haiti. The project team is now adapting their approach in order to address the new challenges and issues raised by the Haiti earthquake in coordination with the overall reconstruction effort.


New Interactive Mapper Previews Human Influence Data

February 5, 2010

An interactive mapper has been released as part of the Last of the Wild Web site. This new mapper provides previews of the Last of the Wild, Version Two data sets. Using the mapper, users are now able to visualize the human influence index and the human footprint data sets, overlay national boundaries, or pan and zoom to an area of interest to gain a preliminary understanding about the data sets before downloading them. The mapper was developed using the open source Open Layers client technology with Geoserver backend.

For more advanced visualization and overlay with other related data sets, users may turn to the stand-alone SEDAC Map Client, which is offered via CIESIN’s World Data Center for Human Interactions in the Environment Web site. The Last of The Wild, Version Two data sets depict the extent of human influence on terrestrial ecosystems, using data sets compiled on or around the year 2000.

See: Last of the Wild Web site


CIESIN Welcomes New Staff

February 4, 2010

Several researchers have recently joined CIESIN’s Science Applications Division. New senior research staff assistant Xiaoyi An brings diverse work experience in IT and data management to her role as a member of the Millennium Villages Project data team. An received her MA in economics and education from Teachers College, Columbia University (CU) and her BS in management information systems from Nanjiing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, China. She is also an MS candidate in systems engineering there.

Paola Kim-Blanco is a senior research staff assistant currently involved in data collection and geo-spatial analysis for the Haiti Regeneration Initiative, a collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme and other partners to restore Haiti's degraded ecological systems. Kim-Blanco has a BA in architecture and an MS in sustainable development from Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico, where she worked overseeing the Architecture Program. She also has a master of international affairs from the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.

Hydrologist Lior Asaf is also focused on the Haiti Regeneration Initiative, where he is currently involved in modeling and analyzing floods and landslide hazards in Haiti. Asaf received his BS in geology, MS in water and soil sciences, and PhD in hydrology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Most recently he was research coordinator for an Israeli-Palestinian trans-boundary watershed management project and a senior hydrologist for Tahal Consulting Engineers Ltd in Israel, where his work related to sustainable surface and groundwater management programs there and abroad.


2010 Index Rates How Close a Country is to Environmental Benchmarks

January 28, 2010

Global map showing overall Environmental Performance Index (EPI)

The 2010 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which ranks 163 countries on environmental performance, has been released at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2010 in Davos, Switzerland. The Index, produced every two years since 2006 by researchers at CIESIN and Yale University’s Center for Environmental Law and Policy, is based on twenty-five indicators grouped within ten core policy categories—including environmental health, air quality, water resource management, biodiversity and habitat, forestry, fisheries, agriculture, and climate change—in the context of two objectives: environmental health and ecosystem vitality. The EPI’s proximity-to-target approach, in which each country’s performance is measured against clearly defined targets, enables comparisons among countries with very different characteristics.

Although some rankings have changed dramatically—the U.S. dropped from 39th to 61st place since the 2008 index, for example—so too have the methodologies and data. “A better focus is the comprehensive country profiles, which present a measurement across the different environmental indicators,” says CIESIN senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin, a co-author on the report. These profiles, designed by CIESIN research associate Valentina Mara in conjunction with the Yale team, show a country’s scores for the indicators, policy categories, and objectives. Drilling down here, de Sherbinin points out, can help decision makers identify the needed focus of attention for a particular country. Geographic information specialist Malanding Jaiteh, CIESIN deputy director and EPI project leader Marc Levy, and senior research staff assistant Paola Kim were also part of the CIESIN team.

Analysis shows that income is a major factor in high environmental performance, but that policy choices may trump economic capacities. For example, the differences between neighboring countries Chile (ranked 16th) and Argentina (70th), or between Malaysia (55th) and Thailand (68th), have a lot to do with different approaches to environmental policy and governance. The biggest changes this year were seen in the scores for air pollution and effects on ecosystems, and a new indicator, water scarcity, was added. The indicators were drawn from international organizations such as the World Bank, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Some of the data sets are drawn from government reporting that is not subject to external validation, and incomplete data have resulted in incomplete representation of countries. The report calls for greater investment by the world community in environmental monitoring, and for data sharing and transparency on the part of national governments.

See: 2010 EPI Web Site
       Earth Institute News Story


The First Global Assessment of Light Pollution Impact on Protected Areas

January 26, 2010

Photograph from satellite data showing nighttime lights throughout Europe.

A new report conducted by Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) and Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) relates findings from the first-ever global assessment of light pollution and related human impacts on protected areas. The assessment, a contribution to the Dark Skies Advisory Group of the Cities and Protected Areas Specialist Group of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, uses satellite observations of artificial night lighting derived from the U.S. Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Operational Linescan System (OLS).

The report highlights adverse effects on ecosystems or species that are sensitive to light, providing a list of countries and biomes where protected areas are particularly affected by light pollution—and also, presumably, by human activities. First results of the analysis indicate that the most affected regions are in Europe and Asia Minor, the Caribbean, and South and East Asia, as well as in the eastern part of the United States. Another finding, revealed by introducing aggregated data on biomes, demonstrates that among protected areas, those located in temperate broadleaf and mixed forests suffer the greatest impact from light pollution. The report communicates groundbreaking analysis about the impacts of light pollution to the scientific community as well as raises awareness of the general public about the seriousness and environmental ramifications of light pollution.

See: Global Assessment of Light Pollution Impact on Protected Areas Report


Web-GIS Solutions Paper Awarded Prize at Map India 2010

January 25, 2010

CIESIN staff members were awarded third place in a juried paper competition at the Map India 2010 conference held January 19–21 in Gurgaon, India. The paper, “Choosing the Right GIS Framework for an Informed Enterprise Web GIS Solution,” written by geospatial application specialist Sneha Rao and associate director of Information Technology, Sri Vinay, won in the technical session category and was presented by Rao at the Web GIS technical session on Jan 20. The paper evaluates various architectural and system components using factors such as workflow, performance, scalability, interoperability, total cost of ownership, and others in designing an enterprise Web GIS solution, and discusses specific usability issues that can help optimize the responsiveness of a particular client when rendering large data sets. It draws from CIESIN’s rich expertise in the design and implementation of Web GIS in providing suggestions on an enterprise solution.

Map India 2010 is a global conference whose theme this year was “geospatial vision for India.” ERDAS, ESRI, OGC, and other international institutions involved in organizing and sponsoring the event were present. An online version of the paper and abstract will be available soon on the Web site of GIS Development, a geospatial resource portal.

See: Map India 2010 Web site
       Presentation (PDF)
       "Choosing the Right GIS Framework..." Paper (PDF)


New EI Fellow Joins CIESIN

January 24, 2010

Ilana Brito, an Earth Institute Fellow, is currently doing post-doctoral research at CIESIN identifying the drivers of infectious disease emergence. Brito, who is hosted by Professor Ruth DeFries in the Columbia University Department of Ecology, Environment, and Evolutionary Biology, is also participating in a series of CIESIN research projects testing the link between disease dynamics and specific land use decisions. Her work expands on previous results of a major collaborative study that CIESIN was a part of, “Global Trends in Emerging Infectious Diseases,” which found possible links between anthropogenic changes to the environment and the spread of zoonotic (animal-borne) diseases to human populations. Brito will use a variety of methodologies to study how disease dynamics are affected within different environmental and spatial contexts. She received her BA in biology and government from Harvard University and her PhD in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


CIESIN Staff Return Safely from Haiti

January 15, 2010

Two CIESIN staff members who were in Haiti for a collaborative project to restore Haiti’s damaged ecosystems returned safely to the United States late Thursday night. Deputy director Marc Levy and program coordinator Alex Fischer have been travelling to Haiti throughout the past year as part of a project, the Haiti Regeneration Initiative, focused on the Port-á-Piment watershed area, located west of the capital city and the epicenter of the earthquake. At the time of the earthquake on the afternoon of January 12, Levy and Fischer were in Port-au-Prince, inside a UN building that did not collapse. Along with seven other individuals from Columbia University, they were moved to a UN compound near the airport the next morning and flown by helicopter to Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, on Thursday afternoon.

The Haiti Regeneration Initiative is a collaboration between UN agencies, governmental entities, nongovernmental organizations, and technical institutes. One of the main partners is UNEP, whose programme officer Andrew Morton was also in Port-au-Prince during the earthquake.

See: Columbia University information
       Earth Institute Experts:The Haiti Earthquake
       UNEP Web site/article


2010 Winter Meeting of ESIP Federation Held in D.C.

January 12, 2010

CIESIN Staff gave presentations at the 2010 Winter Meeting of the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP), which was held on January 5–7 in Washington, D.C. Senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin gave a demonstration of the map viewer, TerraViva!, developed by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center. He also presented the paper, “Using Satellite Data to Develop Environmental Indicators,” during a session on environmental decision making. As part of a session on data preservation and stewardship, Robert Downs, senior digital archivist, presented the paper, “SEDAC Long-Term Archive Development.” Downs also presented the poster, “Software Reuse for Environmental Decision-Making,” which was co-authored by Chris Mattmann of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and James Marshall and Shahin Samadi of INNOVIM and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. CIESIN Data Center Services manager John Scialdone also participated in the meeting.


Map Viewer Tutorial Now Available on YouTube Web Site

January 8, 2010

TerraViva! SEDAC Viewer is a map viewer and standalone software application that uses a powerful data-viewing engine and tools to enable the visualization and integration of hundreds of socioeconomic and environmental variables and layers, including a range of satellite-based data. A three-part tutorial that explains how to use TerraViva! is now available through the YouTube Web site. The tutorial was produced by senior research associate Alex de Sherbinin and senior media designer Al Pinto, under the auspices of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN.

See: TerraViva! SEDAC Viewer Map Tutorial
       Terra Viva! SEDAC Viewer order form


Climate Change Database the Subject of 2009 NASA Anthology Article

January 8, 2010

CIESIN’s role in making climate change data freely available to the public is noted in an article in the NASA Earth Science Research Features 2009 volume of Sensing Our Planet. The article, “A Catalog of Change,” looks at an unprecedented database designed for use by international agencies and government leaders, as well as scientists, to further research and understanding of current and future global climate change impacts. A team of researchers, led by NASA scientist Cynthia Rosenzweig, has compiled information on the effects of climate change into a comprehensive database of more than 600 studies on organisms and physical systems around the world. The development of the database—the Observed Climate Change Impacts Database—grew out of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report released in 2007. The data are freely available to the public through the IPCC Data Distribution Center, a joint service of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, the British Atmospheric Data Centre, and Germany’s High Performance Computing Centre for Climate and Earth System Research (Deutsches Klimarechenzentrum). Sensing Our Planet, published annually, is a collection of articles about how scientists use earth science data to learn about the planet.

See: “A Catalog of Change” online article


Topographical Model Created for New Haiti Project

January 7, 2010

A topographical model has been created that depicts the locus of the pilot phase of the Haiti Regeneration Initiative, a project due to launch in 2010 that aims to restore the country’s degraded ecosystems and diminishing livelihoods. The project is being developed through consultation among UN agencies, government groups, NGOs, and technical organizations, including CIESIN. The 24” X 24” model depicts an area of 100 sq kilometers of rugged countryside within the Port-á-Piment Watershed, inhabited by approximately 30,000 people. The physical model was created by Brigette Borders, a recent graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture and manager of the School’s Avery Digital Fabrication Laboratory. CIESIN research assistant Alex Fischer and research associate Liana Razafindrazay were consultants on the project, supplying the GIS data and creating the 3-D computer model for Borders to work with. The topographical model is the first to be undertaken by the Lab, a relatively new venture headed by Philip Anzalone, which has as its underlying mission to support research and experimentation throughout the Columbia community—and is further encouraged by Dean Mark Wigley to collaborate across disciplines as much as possible.

“The model is true to the data,” says Borders, who notes that vertical scaling, where relationships in scale are altered to bring out particular physical details, was not used in this case. It was made by importing GIS data through a series of software programs, eventually outputting the data to a CNC router, a machine which literally carved the model into shape. The model is envisioned as a tool for planning and for communication in the field in Haiti. Says Marc Levy, deputy director of CIESIN and a principal investigator on the project, “In a situation where a hillside is under consideration for reforestation, the model could help envision the implications of proposed actions: for example, where communities at lower elevations that are vulnerable to flooding might see benefits in supporting communities at higher elevations to enact self-imposed limits to deforestation.”