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Former Director Roberta Balstad Honored by American Geographical Society

October 21, 2016

Former CIESIN director Roberta Balstad has been awarded an American Geographical Society (AGS) Honorary Fellowship for significant contributions to the field of geography. Balstad became president of CIESIN in 1993, when it was an independent consortium in Michigan. She led the organization through its transition to Columbia University in 1998, when it became a center within the Earth Institute based at Columbia's Lamont campus. Balstad is chair of the UCAR Committee on Advocacy for the Scientific Community (UASC) and was the founding editor-in-chief of Weather, Climate and Society, a journal of the American Meteorological Society. She stepped down as director of CIESIN in 2006.

The award will be presented during the AGS fall symposium, “Geography 2050: Envisioning a Sustainable Planet,” November 17–18 at Columbia University. Barbara Ryan, secretariat director of the Group of Earth Observations, has also been named an Honorary Fellow, and geographer Robert Kates will receive the Charles P. Daly Medal. For more information about the symposium, and to register, go to

See: AGS Press Release

Big Data and Sustainable Development Discussed at UN Foundation Event

October 20, 2016

A Global Dialogue, “Big Data and Sustainable Development,” was convened by the UN Foundation at United Nations headquarters in New York City October 19. The event, organized in partnership with Amazon Web Services, brought together senior corporate executives, UN leaders, diplomats, academics, and nongovernmental experts to discuss how new partnerships around big data can help advance the international sustainable development agenda. CIESIN director Robert Chen participated in the Dialogue, providing perspectives on government-industry-academic collaboration in developing integrated data on settlements, infrastructure, and population distribution.

Mapping Climate Change Hot Spots Provides Insights into Disaster Displacement

October 19, 2016

Demand for hotspot maps will likely increase as decision makers seek to identify where impacts will be greatest and what adaptation measures, if any, are possible. This was one of the points of a presentation, “Mapping Climate Change Hot Spots,” given by research scientist Susana Adamo at the Workshop of the Advisory Committee of the Platform on Disaster Displacement in Geneva October 13–14. The presentation, co-authored with Alex Sherbinin, associate director for Science Applications, was part of a plenary session, “New Research, Knowledge and Data Initiatives.” According to de Sherbinin, “Seemingly innocent and value neutral, maps could play an important role in framing societal responses to climate change and its impacts in ways that are surely not neutral.”

See: Platform on Disaster Displacement
       “Mapping Climate Change Hot Spots” (1.35 MB PDF)
       Workshop Agenda (201 KB PDF)

Four Columbia Courses Offered This Fall by CIESIN Staff

October 14, 2016

CIESIN researchers contribute regularly to teaching activities throughout Columbia University, serving as adjunct faculty members for several different academic programs and schools. This semester, in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology (E3B), research scientist Susana Adamo is teaching Human Populations and Sustainable Development, an introduction to the scientific study of human populations. At Columbia College, Geographic Information System (GIS) programmer Kytt MacManus is offering GIS for Sustainable Development, an overview of theoretical concepts and an introduction to GIS skills used in sustainable development research and applications. Both courses help fulfill requirements for the popular Undergraduate Major in Sustainable Development supported by the Earth Institute.

CIESIN is also supporting two courses this fall focused on GIS methods and applications. At the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), geographic information specialist Malanding Jaiteh teaches GIS for International Studies, an introduction to the fundamentals of GIS and geographic positioning systems (GPS) technologies and their use in a variety of social and environmental science applications. For the School of Professional Studies (SPS), geographic information specialist Dara Mendeloff offers GIS for Sustainability Management, which covers both the theory and practice of GIS for sustainability management. For more information on CIESIN′s educational offerings, please go to

See: Education/Resources at CIESIN

Environmental Peacebuilding Training for Executives from Colombia

October 11, 2016

Participants in a one-week intensive executive training program in environmental peacebuilding pose for a photo.

Fifteen professionals, most from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogatá, Colombia, participated in a week-long intensive executive training program in environmental peacebuilding September 26–30 at Columbia University. Designed by CIESIN and the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity (AC4), the program prepares mid-level managers to understand the dynamic connections between environment and security, and equip them with the tools for managing the risks. Classes were held on topics ranging from environment-peace-security linkages and theory of conflict resolution for environmental peacebuilding, to assessment methodologies, data collection and visualization tools, and related communications issues. Faculty from CIESIN included Marc Levy, CIESIN deputy director; Minal Patel, program manager; and Carolyn Hayek, research intern. Instructors from AC4 were Beth Fisher-Yoshida and Josh Fisher.

The participants were exposed to a dynamic learning environment that drew on theory, case studies, guest lectures, simulations, hands-on exercises, and technical training. During the first part of the week, classes were held at Columbia’s Morningside campus and included field visits to the International Peace Institute, the NYC Emergency Management, and the Data-Pop Alliance. The fifth day took place at the Lamont campus in Palisades, New York, and featured a presentation on climate vulnerability mapping, and hands-on training in geographic information systems (GIS), by CIESIN associate directors Greg Yetman and Alex de Sherbinin.

Thousands Explore Science at the Lamont-Doherty Open House

October 10, 2016

CIESIN staff demonstrates Gridded Population of the World data product to visitors to Lamont Open House

CIESIN’s latest mapping tools and services, research, and data focused on human interactions with the environment were on view to nearly 3,000 visitors at the 2016 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Open House, held October 8 at the Lamont campus in Palisades, New York. CIESIN staff members demonstrated two new mapping tools for Jamaica Bay: AdaptMap, which focuses on flooding and sea level rise; and the Jamaica Bay Water Quality Data Visualization and Access Tool, to be released later this fall. Many visitors also viewed and downloaded the HazPop mobile app (available for iOS devices), which supports visualization of population exposure to selected hazards. Kids were able to take a "Pop Quiz" testing their knowledge about world population and plot where they live on a map. CIESIN′s tent also featured a “story map” on the development of the Gridded Population of the World data set, a photo essay on CIESIN's work on vulnerability to climate change in Sierra Leone, and information about the award-winning Connected Worlds exhibit at the New York Hall of Science, which CIESIN helped to develop. The Open House, usually held every other year, draws students, teachers, researchers, and the general public from the greater New York metropolitan area to enjoy, explore, and learn about the wide range of scientific research and applications undertaken by Lamont-based scientists and centers.

Sustainable Development Data and Policy the Focus of Zhejiang University Visit

October 7, 2016

A delegation of seventeen Masters students and two faculty members from the School of Public Administration at Zhejiang University (ZJU) visited CIESIN October 3. The visit focused on key sustainable development issues including the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), disaster risk management, and the impacts of climate change. CIESIN director Robert Chen gave an overview of sustainable data needs in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Alex de Sherbinin, associate director for science applications, addressed how environmental and climate vulnerability indicators can support evidence-based policy and decision making. Greg Yetman, associate director for geospatial applications, gave an overview of CIESIN′s work on exposure to hazards, assessment of impacts, and implications for development. Xiaoshi Xing, information scientist, described CIESIN′s work on observed climate change impacts in support of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments. CIESIN has had a collaborative agreement with ZJU′s Department of Land Management since mid 2013. ZJU, based in Hangzhou, China, is one of the top-ranked research universities in Asia.

Students Learn About Careers in Science and Sustainability

October 3, 2016

The second annual Joint Career Day, “Beyond the Lab: Dynamic Careers in Science and Sustainability,” was held Saturday, October 1 in New York City, co-hosted by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) and the Explorers Club. Alex de Sherbinin, CIESIN associate director for Science Applications, joined a group of Lamont scientists, graduate students, alumni, and others working in the field of sustainable development on the program. The event gave students from around New York an opportunity to learn about careers in science and how scientists contribute to improving sustainability at local, regional, and global levels. Founded in New York City in 1904, the Explorers Club is an international multidisciplinary professional society dedicated to the advancement of field research and the preservation of the instinct to explore.

Training Provided on New Tool for Visualizing Jamaica Bay's Water Quality

October 3, 2016

Sandra Baptista and Brett Branco lead a training workshop on the use of the Jamaica Bay Water Quality Data Visualization and Access Tool, which took place at the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education in New York City September 30.

CIESIN staff helped train project partners from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation on the use of the Jamaica Bay Water Quality Data Visualization and Access Tool, a new interactive Web application developed with support from the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay (SRI@JB) and funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Two members of the development team also participated. The training, held September 30 at Brooklyn College's Graduate Center for Worker Education, was led by senior research associate Sandra Baptista, manager of data center services John Scialdone, and geographic information specialist Dara Mendeloff together with Brett Branco, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Brooklyn College. The online, interactive tool integrates and facilitates access to water quality data sets from two data sources: New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) and Gateway National Recreation Area (GNRA) of the National Park Service (NPS). The database contains water quality data from sampling locations stretching from Rockaway Inlet eastward into the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Users are able to preview, chart, analyze, and download data on more than 80 water quality parameters through the map interface. The tool centralizes access to water quality data in support of research, management, and education aimed at promoting resilience in Jamaica Bay and surrounding communities. Public release of the tool is expected later in the fall.

Applications of Remote Sensing Data Focus of Recent NASA Workshops

September 30, 2016

CIESIN staff participated in several recent NASA-sponsored workshops and meetings. On September 20-21, CIESIN senior digital archivist Robert Downs attended the Global Hydrology Resource Center (GHRC) User Working Group technical interchange meeting in Huntsville, Alabama, to learn more about GHRC data, services, and data management practices. At the 3rd Satellite Soil Moisture Validation and Application Workshop in New York City September 21–22, remote sensing scientist Xue Liu presented the poster, “Multi-Sensor Satellite Soil Moisture Observations for Drought Assessment In Africa.″ Co-authored with deputy director Marc Levy, program coordinator Jen Mulvey, and Marcus Walsh of the Agriculture and Food Security Center, the poster illustrates the use of essential climate variable soil moisture (ECVSM) data to assess drought conditions across Africa. The work stems from CIESIN′s activities in support of the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

At the Lamont campus September 22, CIESIN director Robert Chen gave an overview of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC), which he manages, at the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR) science team meeting hosted by Marco Tedesco of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO). The AMSR2 instrument is currently operating on the Global Change Observation Mission-Water (GCOM-W1) satellite of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and produces data valuable for monitoring precipitation, wind speed, snow and ice cover, soil moisture, and other environmental parameters. Near-real time AMSR data are available from the NASA Land, Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE), and science-quality AMSR data are distributed by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Representatives from JAXA, NSIDC, and GHRC (which supports the LANCE AMSR2 service) participated in the science team meeting.

On September 27-29, the Workshop to Develop a Portfolio of Low Latency Datasets for Time-Sensitive Applications was held at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Chen and Greg Yetman, associate director for Geospatial Applications, joined a diverse group of remote sensing data providers, managers, and users to assess needs and priorities for improving the timeliness and utility of near-real time remote sensing data to support both research and societal applications. Chen chaired a breakout group on the second day of the meeting.

See: Xue Liu et al poster: Multi-Sensor Satellite Soil Moisture Observations for Drought Assessment In Africa (JPG)
       NASA Workshop to Develop a Portfolio of Low Latency Datasets for Time-Sensitive Applications

Earth Institute Fellow News

September 30, 2016

Six new Earth Institute (EI) Fellows have begun two-year postdoctoral appointments at Columbia: Ruthie Birger, Kyle Davis, Alexandra Karambelas, Milad Kharratzadeh, Ding Ma, and Nandini Velho. Five Fellows met September 30 with CIESIN director Robert Chen, associate director for Science Applications Alex de Sherbinin, and research scientist Susana Adamo to learn about relevant CIESIN research and data resources. Most EI Fellows work directly on interdisciplinary problems that cut across the natural, social, and/or health sciences.

Former EI Fellow Martina Kirchberger completed her postdoctoral fellowship at CIESIN in August 2016. She has recently begun an appointment as an Ussher assistant professor in development economics at the Department of Economics at Trinity College Dublin, part of the University of Dublin. Her research focuses on linking georeferenced socioeconomic and environmental data to address interdisciplinary problems in urban economics, labor economics, and public economics. Kirchberger received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Oxford in 2014.

See: Current Earth Institute Fellows

Migration and Climate Change Workshop Hosted by Sabin Center for Climate Change Law

September 26, 2016

Alex de Sherbinin, associate director for Science Applications, and Susana Adamo, research scientist, participated in a half-day workshop September 18 on migration and climate change hosted by Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School. Adamo gave a presentation, “Population Mobility and Environment: From Knowledge to Policy,” and de Sherbinin provided perspectives on current research on climate change migration. The workshop was organized in preparation for the United Nations Summit on Refugees and Migrants in collaboration with the United Nations University's Institute for Environment and Human Security.

See: Migration and Climate Change Workshop Materials

Special Issue Addresses How Demographic Factors Affect Climate Vulnerability

September 23, 2016

The Vienna Yearbook of Population Research 2015 (Volume 13) has published a special issue on “Demographic Differential Vulnerability to Climate-Related Disasters.” Edited by Raya Muttarak of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital and Leiwen Jiang of Shangai University and the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, the special issue stems from a conference of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP), “Demographic Differential Vulnerability to Natural Disasters in the Context of Climate Change Adaptation,” held in Kao Lak, Thailand in April 2014. Alex de Sherbinin, associate director for Science Applications, and Guillem Bardy, project officer with the Agence Française de Développement, contributed the article, "Social vulnerability to floods in two coastal megacities: New York City and Mumbai." Bardy was a research intern at CIESIN in 2013 under the auspices of the Alliance Program, a joint venture between Columbia University and the École Polytechnique, Sciences Po, and Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University. The Vienna Yearbook of Population Research is an online, open-access journal published by the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

See: Vienna Yearbook of Population Research 2015 (Volume 13)

Connected Worlds Exhibit Wins Science Media Award

September 23, 2016

Visitor gesturing at Connected Worlds exhibit

Connected Worlds, an innovative, immersive exhibit at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) in Queens, New York, has won the 2016 Science Media Award in the Interactive category. The Interactive award is given to the project that “best integrates the interactive potential of digital media to advance understanding of science and scientific principles through Web-based, mobile, downloaded and personal media technology (including apps and games, as well as virtual reality and augmented reality programs).″ Connected Worlds was developed by a team led by Steven Uzzo of NYSCI with partners design I/O and CIESIN, with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation. The exhibit immerses visitors in a fantastical animated world where actions—gestures, movements, and decisions—impact how well the world is kept in balance. Six habitats in Connected Worlds (jungle, desert, wetlands, river valley, reservoir, and grasslands) share a common supply of water. The habitats are fed by a central waterfall that is projected 38-feet high in the exhibition and flows out across an interactive floor spanning 2,300 square feet. The exhibit opened in June 2015 and is included with admission to NYSCI. The 2016 Science Media Awards were presented by Jackson Hole WILD and WGBH Boston at the Science Media Awards & Summit in the Hub (SMASH16) September 21 in Boston. More than 500 entries competed for 23 awards.

See: Connected Worlds at NYSCI
       2016 Science Media Award Finalists and Winners

Digital Marketplace for Sustainable Development Data Established

September 22, 2016

The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data launched its new Data4SDGs Digital Marketplace September 21 in conjunction with a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) side event held at the Ford Foundation in New York City. As an Anchor Partner in the Global Partnership, CIESIN announced its data commitments through the new marketplace: 1) to maintain an active archive of global-scale spatial data containing high-quality, fully documented, standards-compliant, subnational data on key issues related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); 2) to produce a "Living Manual" documenting proven and promising innovations that help countries to meet their SDG data needs; 3) to support a global community of practice to improve subnational data on population, settlements, and infrastructure for priority SDG applications; and 4) to provide open access tools and services for mapping and visualization of key sustainable development data layers and indicators to support applications, research, education, and training needs. The NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN is also featured as a resource in the Digital Marketplace. CIESIN director Robert Chen and deputy director Marc Levy attended the launch event September 21, as well as related meetings of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) in New York September 19–20. SDG data issues were also highlighted at the International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD2016) held at Columbia University September 21–22. The 17 SDGs were adopted by the international community in September 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

See: Full Text of CIESIN Partner Commitment

International Data Week Draws More Than 800 Data Experts to Denver

September 19, 2016

SciDataCon 2016 Panel on Auditing of Trustworthy Data Repositories

More than 800 data scientists, managers, and other experts gathered in Denver, Colorado for International Data Week, a joint event organized by the Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) and the World Data System (WDS) of the International Council for Science (ICSU) together with the Research Data Alliance (RDA). The week began on Sunday, September 11, with meetings of the WDS Members′ Forum and the CODATA Executive Committee. CIESIN director Robert Chen gave an oral presentation, “Sustainable Data to Support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” at the Forum. Together with senior digital archivist Robert Downs and associate director for science applications Alex de Sherbinin, he also presented a poster on the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, which is a regular member of the WDS. A second poster on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Data Distribution Centre (DDC) was prepared by Chen, in his capacity as DDC co-manager, with Charlotte Pascoe of the Centre for Environmental Data Analysis in the UK and Martina Stockhause of the World Data Centre-Climate in Germany.

SciDataCon 2016 held its opening plenary on the evening of September 11, during which Chen gave brief opening remarks as a representative of the U.S. scientific data community, including the U.S.-based WDS members and the U.S. National Committee for CODATA. Chen, de Sherbinin, and Downs organized and moderated sessions on the topics, “Communal Sharing of Research and Crowdsourced Data,” “Mapping Population Distribution and Human Settlements: Pushing Boundaries and Expanding Applications,” “Integrating Environmental and Socioeconomic Data in Support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” and “Auditing of Trustworthy Data Repositories.” Together with CIESIN associate director for geospatial applications Greg Yetman and GIS programmer Kytt MacManus, they authored or co-authored 10 different papers on various data science topics at the conference. Downs and Chen also demonstrated selected interactive services and tools as part of the ESIP Federation booth September 14–15.

During the second half of IDW, Chen, Downs, and MacManus attended the 8th RDA Plenary September 15–17, and de Sherbinin participated in a meeting of the WDS Scientific Committee September 16–17. Downs introduced the topics, data repository certification and data appraisal, during the session, “Archives and Research Professionals for Research Data,” on September 16 and presented “Scientific Data Versioning at the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center” during the Birds of a Feather (BOF) session on data versioning on September 17. Chen co-chaired a meeting of the RDA Legal Interoperability Interest Group on September 16, and participated in the Technical Advisory Board/Chairs meeting on  September 17.

See: World Data System Members’ Forum
       SciDataCon 2016 Photos
       Research Data Alliance 8th Plenary

Experts Compare Geospatial Data on Population, Human Settlements, and Infrastructure

September 18, 2016

During International Data Week in Denver, Colorado September 13, CIESIN organized and hosted a working meeting on settlement, infrastructure, and population data, with 23 participants from 11 different groups around the world involved in developing, disseminating, and applying georeferenced population and infrastructure data in a growing range of application areas. The meeting sought to identify potential areas of collaboration and opportunities to improve data quality, accessibility, and usability for both research and applications. Participants included former CIESIN scientist Deborah Balk of Baruch College, Lamont research professor Christopher Small, and representatives from Facebook, Google Earth, Esri, ImageCat, Inc., the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the European Commission′s Joint Research Centre, and the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM). CIESIN director Robert Chen moderated the meeting, and associate directors Alex de Sherbinin and Greg Yetman and GIS programmer Kytt MacManus also participated. The side meeting was supported by a grant from the Earth Institute′s Cross-Cutting Initiative program and by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN.

Upcoming “BioBlitz” to Identify Diverse Species of Sandy Hook

September 16, 2016

Amateur naturalists are invited to participate in the 2016 Sandy Hook “BioBlitz” –an intensive educational event and scientific endeavor that engages teams of “citizen scientists” in identifying as many different species as possible within a 24-hour period. The Sandy Hook event is one of several BioBlitzes being staged throughout the United States to help celebrate the 100th Birthday of the National Park Service. This year′s event will be hosted September 23–24 by the Gateway National Recreation Area and the American Littoral Society. CIESIN created the event Web site and is assisting with registration, logistics, and outreach.

For the BioBlitz, volunteers of any level of experience work alongside scientists and expert naturalists in three- to four-hour shifts over a 24-hour period. The resulting data provide a critical snapshot of impacts on biodiversity—from climate change, sea-level rise, and other stressors—within the unique ecosystem that comprises the popular coastal area of Sandy Hook, a landform extension of a barrier peninsula along the coast of New Jersey. Sandy Hook is managed by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) as the Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area

BioBlitz volunteers may also assist with registration, food preparation, geographic data processing, photography, and social media support. In addition, discovery programs will be offered throughout the two-day event, on exploring the marshes of Plum Island, the plants and animals in Sandy Hook Bay, the night sky, and the park’s maritime holly forest. A new program this year will feature bat calls recorded in the field, along with a demonstration of the audio equipment used in capturing the recordings. All events are free and open to the public.

See: Sandy Hook Bioblitz 2016 Web site
       Register for BioBlitz

Visitors Depart, Interns Arrive

September 9, 2016

Visiting senior research scientist Douglas Sathler, postdoctoral fellow Saleem Khan, and visiting staff associate Dan Wu have completed their year-long stays at CIESIN. Sathler, an associate professor with the Institute of Humanities at Brazil’s Universidade Federal dos Vales do Jequitinhonha e Mucuri (UFVJM), Diamantina, Minas Gerais, collaborated with CIESIN research scientist Susana Adamo and Everton Lima of Unicamp in Brazil on an exploratory analysis of the socioeconomic, demographic, and environmental patterns of municipalities in the “deforestation arc” of the Legal Amazonia in Brazil. Khan was a Fulbright-Nehru post-doctoral scholar hosted by director Robert Chen and associate director for Science Applications Alex de Sherbinin. Khan's research focused on COREDAR, a capacity building framework and tool for sea-level rise risk communication and urban community-based adaptation. Wu, a PhD candidate with the Department of Land Management at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, conducted research on control policies for non-point source pollution in agricultural settings, hosted by associate director for Geospatial Applications Gregory Yetman.

Two interns have recently joined CIESIN. Mengqi Wang is working with the CIESIN component of the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS), addressing high performance computing needs for various AfSIS data products. He has an MS in computer science from Columbia University, and a BS in materials science from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. Carolyn Hayek is working with deputy director Marc Levy and program manager Minal Patel on the Environmental Peacebuilding training program. A third-year student in the PhD program in Sustainable Development at Columbia, she has a BS in chemistry with a minor in environmental studies from Boston College, and a master’s in environmental engineering and master’s in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previously she worked on various projects for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Climate Change and Migration Explored at Buenos Aires Preparatory Seminar

September 7, 2016

In preparation for the upcoming 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) of the United Nations Framework for Climate Change (UNFCCC), a preparatory seminar, “Migrations, Environment, and Climate Change: Perspectives of Human Mobility through 2050,” was held September 5–6 at the Palacio de las Aguas in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The seminar explored the links between climate change and migration through an exchange between specialists and public stakeholders. In the first plenary session CIESIN research scientist Susana Adamo gave a presentation, “Situation and Global Trends of Environmental Migration and Climate Change.” The seminar was a joint initiative of COP 22 and the International Center for the Promotion of Human Rights (CIPDH) and was organized by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the Secretary of Human Rights and Multiculturalism, the foundation of Sanitary Workers for Training and development, and the Department of Dialogue and Culture, all of Argentina.

See: Seminar Program

Planning for Environmental Monitoring in West Africa Undertaken in Niger

September 5, 2016

CIESIN associate director for Science Applications Alex de Sherbinin and research scientist Alessandra Giannini of the International Resarch Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) participated in a work planning meeting for the new SERVIR-West Africa Regional Hub at the Agriculture, Hydrology and Meteorology Regional Center (AGRHYMET) in Niamey, Niger, August 30–September 2. CIESIN and IRI are providing technical assistance in geospatial technologies and climate science, as part of a team led by Tetra Tech Inc.  NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the SERVIR-West Africa hub in July 2016 to strengthen monitoring of the environment in West Africa.


Data and Tools for Mapping the Environment Showcased at Facebook Event

August 30, 2016

CIESIN associate director for geospatial applications Greg Yetman gave a lightning talk, “Mapping the Environment,″ at the Facebook event, “Data for Good,” held August 26 at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California. The talk highlighted many examples of innovative data efforts to map environmental and demographic change from local to global levels, including a selection of data and tools available from various CIESIN projects. The event aimed to identify promising opportunities for generating data visualizations to inform innovations in development, humanitarian action, and government planning.

See: “Mapping the Environment” presentation

NASA Data Center Users Invited to Take Customer Satisfaction Survey

August 26, 2016

Users of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) are again invited to participate in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey for the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS). The annual survey assesses user satisfaction with the data, tools, and support provided by EOSDIS data centers and services. SEDAC, which serves a wide range of basic and applied users interested in the integration of remote sensing and socioeconomic data, is one of the data centers evaluated by the survey. Survey results help to justify NASA′s continuing investment in EOSDIS data services and support, and enable SEDAC to address problems, improve data and services, and identify high priority user needs and concerns.

All SEDAC users are encouraged to participate in the survey. Beginning September 1, users with an Earthdata user name registered with SEDAC will receive an e-mail invitation from the Claes Fornell International (CFI) Group on behalf of NASA, requesting participation in the survey. The questionnaire takes approximately 10 minutes to complete, and optional comment fields are provided to address user concerns. The identity of respondents is not shared with SEDAC. Anyone who has used SEDAC data or information resources, including not only the SEDAC Web site itself but also the HazPop mobile app available from the iTunes store or other SEDAC resources available through Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, or third-party map clients, may take the survey.  If you did not receive an invitation but wish to participate in the survey please write to SEDAC User Services at and we will pass your contact information on to the CFI Group.

How Many People Affected by a Hazard—Updated Service Provides Answers

August 24, 2016

screenshot of the SEDAC Population Estimator

If you've ever wondered how many people might be affected by an earthquake or tsunami, or what the total population is in a major metropolitan region, the new version of the Population Estimation Service (PES) can provide you with those answers. The PES is a Web-based service that enables mapping tools to quickly obtain estimates of the number of people residing in an area of interest, without having to download and analyze large amounts of spatial data. The latest version of PES, available through the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, draws on data from SEDAC′s recently released Gridded Population of the World, version 4 (GPWv4) data collection. It provides population estimates and associate statistics for the years 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2020. A new client application, the SEDAC Population Estimator, enables users to draw a polygon or circle around an area of interest, and then obtain an estimate of the population in 2015 living in that area. Other SEDAC mapping tools such as the HazPop mobile app also utilize the updated PES, supporting analysis and visualization of population data in conjunction with remote sensing imagery and other types of data such as the location of critical infrastructure. The PES was first released in 2010.

See: Population Estimation Service
       SEDAC Population Estimator
       Gridded Population of the World version four

Collaboration on Poverty and Development Launched with Chinese Research Center

August 24, 2016

Following up on a visit March 2016 to New York City by representatives from the Center for Regional Agriculture and Rural Development (CRARD), on August 23 a CIESIN delegation visited CRARD, part of the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. CIESIN director Robert Chen gave a brief overview of CIESIN research, data, and other activities to CRARD staff, and then signed a letter of agreement with CRARD’s director, Prof. Yansui Liu. The letter affirms plans by the two organizations to collaborate on topics of mutual interest related to poverty mapping, land resource management, agricultural sustainability, soil mapping, and applications of remote sensing and geospatial technologies. Also visiting were CIESIN associate director for science applications Alex de Sherbinin, and information scientist Xiaoshi Xing. Yuanyuan Yang, a research assistant at CRARD who was a visiting scholar at CIESIN during 2013–2015, facilitated development of the partnership.

See: Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS

Geographers Gather in Beijing for International Geographical Congress

August 24, 2016

CIESIN director Robert Chen, associate director for science applications Alex de Sherbinin, and information scientist Xiaoshi Xing joined thousands of geographers from around the world at the 33rd International Geographical Congress (IGC) August 22–23. Held at the China National Convention Center in Beijing, the IGC focused on the theme “Shaping Our Harmonious Worlds.” Chen gave an invited talk August 22 , “The Power of Indicators to Track Environmental Performance and the SDGs,” co-authored with de Sherbinin and CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy, in the special session, “Global Environment: UNEP-CODATA-Sponsored.” The session was co-organized by Jinhua Zhang of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Liu Chuang of the Institute for Geographical Science and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR). On August 23, Chen presented, “Integrating Multidisciplinary Data to Address Complex Urban Challenges in a Changing Global Environment,” in a session, “Advances in Urban Physical Geography,” organized by Prof. Min Liu of East China Normal University (ECNU). In the same session, Xing gave a presentation, “Mapping and Geospatial Analysis of the Model Estimates of Emissions from Fossil Fuel Power Plants and Impacts to Urban Population in China,” co-authored with CIESIN geographic information specialist Dara Mendeloff and two former interns from École Polytechnique in France. In a later session in the series, de Sherbinin described work assessing flood risk in three mega-cities, New York, Mumbai, and Shanghai. Chen also gave a brief intervention in the International Geographical Union (IGU)-CODATA Joint Round Table Session on Data Publishing and Sharing in Developing Countries. Prof. Liu Chuang is co-chair of the CODATA Task Group on Preservation of and Access to Scientific and Technical Data in/for/with Developing Countries (PASTD) and a former scientist at CIESIN when it was a non-profit organization based in Michigan.

See: 33rd International Geographical Congress
       IGU-CODATA Joint Round Table Session on Data Publishing and Sharing in Developing Countries

CIESIN Researchers Present Their Work at China Conference

August 22, 2016

CIESIN associate director Alex de Sherbinin and senior research associate Pinki Mondal attended the International Conference on Land Use and Rural Sustainability held August 18–20 in Xi'an, China. A keynote address on spatial indicators of land degradation was presented by de Sherbinin, and Mondal served as session chair and discussant for two sessions. She also  presented a paper, ″Quantifying Fluctuations in Winter Predictive Cropped Area in the Central India Highlands.″ The conference was organized by the Institute for Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, several Chinese universities, and the International Geographical Union.

Research Collaborations Established with East China Normal University in Shanghai

August 22, 2016

A new regional hub of the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN) has been established at East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai. CIESIN has also developed a collaborative relationship with the ECNU School of Geographic Sciences, focused on common research interests related to disasters, environment, and geographic science and applications.

The opening ceremony for the UCCRN regional hub at ECNU, which will serve as an Asian focal point for research on climate change and cities, was held August 19 at ECNU as part of the Shanghai Forum on Climate Change and Cities. CIESIN director Robert Chen, associate director for science applications Alex de Sherbinin, and information scientist Xiaoshi Xing participated in the forum, together with the UCCRN international program manager, Somayya Ali Ibrahim, and other scientists from ECNU, Columbia University, Princeton University, and the University of Southampton. Chen gave a brief overview of CIESIN’s urban climate change activities, de Sherbinin gave a presentation on flood risk in coastal mega-cities, and Xing described the observed impacts data available from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Data Distribution Center (DDC) co-managed by CIESIN.

Prof. Min Liu, dean of the School of Geographic Sciences at ECNU, is co-directing the regional hub together with Xiaotu Lei of the China Meteorological Administration. Faculty member Ruishan Chen, a visiting scholar at CIESIN during 2011–2013, was appointed as coordinator of the UCCRN regional hub. Established in May 2007 by Cynthia Rosenzweig of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and Columbia University, and by William Solecki of Hunter College, the UCCRN is a consortium of individuals and institutions dedicated to the analysis of climate change mitigation and adaptation from an urban perspective.

CIESIN’s collaboration with ECNU will focus on disaster risk assessment and management, remote sensing applications, urbanization and climate change, and environmental pollution. A letter of agreement was signed by Prof. Liu and director Chen at a signing ceremony August 22 in Beijing. The collaboration is expected to encompass joint workshops, exchange of visitors, and collaborative research activities.

See: Urban Climate Change Research Network
       School of Geographic Sciences ECNU

Geoinformatics Leader Lee Allison is Mourned

August 19, 2016

CIESIN joins the geoinformatics and geology communities in mourning the sudden passing of M. Lee Allison, Arizona State geologist and director of the Arizona Geological Survey, on August 16. Allison was a key figure in the e-Infrastructure and Data Management activities of the Belmont Forum and in the EarthCube initiative of the National Science Foundation. He was also active in Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP Federation), OneGeology, and the Geological Society of America. His vision and leadership will be sorely missed.

See: Arizona Geological Survey news release
       Arizona Geology Magazine featured article
       Belmont Forum: In Memoriam

Vulnerability of Coastal Communities to Climate Change Assessed in Sierra Leone

August 9, 2016

CIESIN associate research scientist Sylwia Trzaska spent eight weeks in the field in Sierra Leone in June and July leading a climate vulnerability assessment of local fishing communities that rely on mangrove forests, as part of the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA-BiCC) project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The assessment, which utilized forest inventories, household surveys, and participatory rural appraisal, took place in 24 fishing villages in the four main mangrove areas of Sierra Leone: the Scarcies River Estuary, the Sierra Leone River Estuary, the Yawri Bay, and the Sherbro River Estuary. The interdisciplinary field team consisted of 33 researchers and Sierra Leonian professionals from Fourah Bay College, Njala University, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Protected Area Authority, other government ministries, and the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone. Team members brought expertise in forestry, botany, fisheries, marine biology, population dynamics, and development economics, and included students from the two academic institutions. The study results will inform WABiCC interventions at both community and national levels as well as the Sierra Leone National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), which aims to build coastal community resilience to climate change.

Mandate of United Nations Geospatial Expert Committee Strengthened

August 8, 2016

The Sixth Session of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) was held at UN headquarters in New York City August 3–5, with several side events scheduled August 1–2. CIESIN was an observer at the UNGGIM plenary session, and contributed to discussions about the establishment of a new UN-GGIM Academic Network. CIESIN director Robert Chen, associate director for geospatial applications Greg Yetman, GIS programmer Kytt MacManus, and intern David Hugens participated in several side events and in the plenary. The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) recently adopted a resolution strengthening the UN-GGIM and its institutional arrangements on geospatial information management. CIESIN is a nongovernmental organization recognized by ECOSOC.

Geospatial Data Science Focus of Urbana Meetings

August 5, 2016

A National Science Foundation (NSF) Workshop, “Geospatial Data Science in the Era of Big Data and CyberGIS,″ was held at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) in Urbana, Illinois, July 25–26, and was followed by the Third International Conference on CyberGIS and Geospatial Data Science July 26–28. CIESIN Geographic Information System (GIS) Programmer Kytt MacManus attended both events. He gave a lightning talk, “Bad Data Leads to Bad Decisions: Can Big Data and CyberGIS Help Improve Data-Informed Decision Making?” at the NSF workshop, which brought together thought leaders and cutting-edge researchers from multidisciplinary communities to explore advances in geospatial data science. At the conference he presented a poster on the recently updated Population Estimation Service,developed by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center operated by CIESIN. The two meetings were organized by the NCSA CyberGIS Center for Advanced Digital and Spatial Studies.

See: NSF Workshop on Geospatial Data Science in the Era of Big Data and CyberGIS
       Third International Conference on CyberGIS and Geospatial Data Science

Africa Soil Information Service Partners Convene in New York

August 1, 2016

CIESIN hosted a meeting of senior officials from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rothamsted Research, the Earth Institute, the World Agroforestry Centre, and other collaborating partners of the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSiS) at the Columbia University Lamont campus on July 28 and the Morningside Heights campus on July 29. Led by Marc Levy, deputy director of CIESIN, the meeting focused on discussion of the global vision for AfSIS, including challenges and opportunities, perspectives on positioning AfSIS for the future, and leveraging AfSIS in other initiatives such as geonutrition and spatial data for Africa. The AfSIS project develops detailed digital soil mapping, infrared spectroscopy, statistics and remote sensing. The information products and services generated by AfSIS are aimed at increasing smallholder farmer productivity and promoting national policy changes through capacity development, enhanced awareness, and sustainable agricultural practices focused on soil health. Other Earth Institute participants included CIESIN director Robert Chen and program manager Minal Patel; and Markus Walsh, senior research scientist, and Janelle Sommerville, manager of finance and administration, at the Agriculture and Food Security Center.

Big Data in the Earth Sciences Explored at Federation Summer Meeting

July 22, 2016

The 2016 Summer Meeting of the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP), held in Durham, North Carolina, July 19–22, focused on the theme, “Frontiers in Earth Sciences Big Data,″ examining topics such as the meaning of the term “Big Data″ and the benefits of Big Data technologies for research. CIESIN senior digital archivist Robert Downs gave several presentations, including “User Interface Design for Online Data Collections″ on July 20; “Expanding the Use of Digital Object Identifiers for Interdisciplinary Scientific Data,″ “Return on Investment for Data Repositories,″ and “Review of the Beagrie and Houghton Report: The Value and Impact of the European Bioinformatics EBI Institute″ on July 21; and “Introduction to the Information Quality Use Case on the Data Rice Cooker Theory″ on July 22. The NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN is one of the founding members of the ESIP Federation, which brings together innovative science, data, and information technology practitioners from the earth sciences and related fields. Downs is a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Earth Science, which manages ESIP.

See: ESIP Summer Meeting

Summer Interns Help with CIESIN Data Development Activities

July 21, 2016

Several student interns have joined CIESIN for the summer. Melissa Gallant is completing an MS in sustainability management at the Columbia University School of Professional Studies and has a BA in environmental studies with a minor in Chinese. Previously, she worked on several projects at Tetra Tech, Inc., funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and interned with the Earth Institute Executive Director’s Office, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography in Urumqi, China. With geographic information specialist Dara Mendeloff, Gallant is helping to update the Global Subnational Infant Mortality Rates (IMR) data set, a gridded data product of IMR estimates.

Also pursuing an MS in sustainability management at the School of Professional Studies, David Hugens graduated from California State University, Chico, with a BA in physical and environmental geography. From 2010 to 2015 he worked as a Geographic Information System (GIS) analyst at the Geographical Information Center of the California State University Research Foundation. He is the founder and co-host of SustSpec, a bi-weekly podcast dedicated to the discussion of modern sustainability practices and experiences. Hugens is assisting with census data acquisition for the next release of the Gridded Population of the World version 4 (GPWv4) data set, working with GIS programmer Kytt MacManus and others.

Yanni Zhan is an MA student in the Columbia University Climate and Society program. She has a BS in applied meteorology from Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangdong, China, where she worked as a research assistant in the environmental science lab, including programming for meteorological data visualization. At CIESIN she is working with remote sensing scientist Xue Liu and program coordinator Jen Mulvey on remote sensing co-variate development and maintenance for the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS).

Molly Macauley of Resources for the Future Mourned

July 20, 2016

CIESIN joins the family, friends, and colleagues of Molly Macauley, Vice President for Research and Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future (RFF), in mourning her sudden and tragic death July 8 in her Baltimore neighborhood. Macauley was a distinguished economist working on a range of space and science policy issues, widely respected and admired for her leadership, expertise, and warmth. From mid–2010 to mid–2014, she served as chair of the User Working Group (UWG) of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, providing valuable guidance and support to SEDAC. In mid-June, she hosted a talk about SEDAC data and services at RFF, attended by many RFF summer interns and other colleagues. All of us at CIESIN, together with current and former members of the SEDAC UWG, wish to convey our deepest sympathies to Macauley′s family, to her colleagues at RFF, and to her many dear friends and colleagues around the world.

See: Remembering Molly (RFF blog)
       Baltimore Sun Obituary
       RFF Plans September Memorial Service for Molly Macauley - UPDATE

New Initiative to Strengthen Environmental Decision-Making in West Africa

July 14, 2016

CIESIN and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) will provide technical assistance to the West Africa hub of the SERVIR project, a joint venture between NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). SERVIR provides state-of-the-art, satellite-based earth monitoring data, geospatial information, and tools to strengthen environmental decision-making in developing nations in several regions—Eastern and Southern Africa, the Hindu-Kush-Himalaya region, and the Mekong River Basin—and is now expanding to West Africa. CIESIN will help develop applications of NASA data products for regional decision-making and build capacity among regional partners, acting as a subcontractor to TetraTech/ARD, manager of the West Africa hub for USAID and NASA. Paul Bartel, a former member of the SEDAC User Working Group, leads the Science and Data component of the project. CIESIN is also working with TetraTech/ARD on the USAID West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA-BiCC) project.

See: NASA press release
       "Connecting Space to Village in West Africa" (blog)

Improved Citation of Scientific Data Addressed at National Academies Workshop

July 13, 2016

Strategies for implementing new principles for citation and attribution of scientific data were the focus of the Data Citation Workshop: Developing Policy and Practice, held July 12 at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in Washington DC. The workshop was part of an international series bringing together scientists, data professionals, and other stakeholders to examine the value, use, and challenges of data citation across diverse scientific disciplines. Marcia McNutt, the new president of the National Academy of Sciences, gave the opening keynote, “Data Sharing: Some Cultural Perspectives.″ Robert Downs, CIESIN senior digital archivist, joined the group of data creators, data managers, journal editors, academic decision-makers, tool developers, and representatives of government agencies and other interested organizations participating in the full-day workshop. The workshop was organized by a joint Task Group on Data Citation Standards and Practices of the International Council for Science (ICSU) Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) and the International Council for Scientific and Technical Information (ICSTI), in collaboration with the U.S. National Committee for CODATA, part of the Board on Research Data and Information at the National Academies.

See: Webcast of Data Citation Workshop
       Workshop Agenda (0.2 MB PDF)

Climate Data Task Group Meets at Finnish Environment Institute

July 11, 2016

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Task Group on Data and Scenario Support for Impact and Climate Analysis (TGICA) held its 24th meeting at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) in Helsinki, Finland, July 6–8. CIESIN director Robert Chen, an ex officio member of the TGICA and co-manager of the IPCC Data Distribution Centre (DDC), participated in the meeting together with Xiaoshi Xing, the CIESIN information scientist who coordinates CIESIN′s component of the DDC. Key issues addressed at the meeting included improving access to the data used to generate key figures from the Fifth IPCC Assessment Report (AR5), development of inputs on data needs and management for the proposed IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C, and planning for TGICA and DDC activities during the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) cycle, should the IPCC Plenary approve their continuation in fall 2016. The group also met with local experts on climate change research and policy in Finland, including Dr. Lea Kauppi, director general of SYKE.

The TGICA provides scientific oversight to the DDC, which is operated by the Center for Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA) in the United Kingdom, the World Data Center for Climate (WDCC) in Germany, and the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) at CIESIN. The TGICA serves as a key coordination mechanism for climate-related data and scenarios between the three IPCC working groups and across successive IPCC assessments.

See: IPCC Group for Data and Scenario Support Meets at SYKE

CIESIN Recognized at 2016 Esri User Conference

July 1, 2016

CIESIN staff standing in front of exhibit booth at 2016 Esri User Cionference

CIESIN received a Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Award June 29 from Esri at its annual user conference in San Diego CA, one of 167 organizations selected from more than 300,000 eligible candidates in the agriculture, defense, transportation, non-profit, telecommunications, and state and local government sectors. The award acknowledges CIESIN’s innovative application of technology, data collection, geospatial information visualization, and thought leadership using geographic information systems (GIS) in interdisciplinary research on human interactions with the environment. “A SAG award recognizes best practices for organizations implementing technology to change the world,” said Esri founder and President Jack Dangermond. “Highlighting good work benefits the entire GIS community and that’s valuable.”

At the Esri Map Gallery on June 27, Malanding Jaiteh, geographic information specialist, and Greg Yetman, associate director for Geospatial Applications, presented a poster authored by Jaiteh, which highlighted data from the Gridded Species Distribution collection distributed by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN. Yetman and senior research staff assistant Alyssa Fico presented a poster describing the Hudson River Flood Hazard Risk project, which Fico authored with Yetman, GIS programmer Kytt MacManus, and senior research assistant Jane Mills. CIESIN′s exhibit booth opened June 28 and featured the Hudson River Flood Hazard Decision Support System as well as the SEDAC Hazard Mapper and mobile app, HazPop. That day Yetman gave a demonstration on the development of indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the international community, drawing on version four of SEDAC's Gridded Population of the World (GPWv4) data collection, satellite-based air quality measurements, and other SEDAC data and services. Later, Yetman served on a panel, “Sustainable Development Goals: Spatial Data for Development.”

The annual Esri User Conference typically attracts more than 16,000 experts in and users of GIS data. CIESIN utilizes Esri technologies to support both internal needs and external services and hosts the Esri site license for Columbia University through its GIS Service Center.

See: 2016 SAG Award Winners

Data Disaggregation Addressed by United Nations Expert Group Meeting

June 30, 2016

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the international community in September 2015, recognizes the need for “quality, accessible, timely, and reliable disaggregated data” to help measure progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with respect to income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location, and other relevant characteristics. Such disaggregated data are especially valuable not only in ensuring that no one is left behind, but also in efforts to reach the “furthest behind first.” To follow up on this issue, the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) and UNICEF organized an Expert Group Meeting on Data Disaggregation at the UNICEF House in New York City June 27–29. CIESIN director Robert Chen gave a presentation, “Data Disaggregation by Geographic Location: Mapping Population, Settlements, and Infrastructure,” highlighting relevant efforts in the research community to develop highly disaggregated but also well-integrated data resources to support scientific and development community needs. He participated in a panel discussion on disaggregation by geographic location and a breakout group on population mapping. More than 30 experts from statistical agencies, UN bodies, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions attended the three-day meeting.

Accessing Data from Environmental Impact Statements Explored at Columbia Law School

June 21, 2016

The preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been a requirement for major Federal actions potentially affecting the environment since the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1970. About fifteen U.S. states also require preparation of an EIS. These documents often contain valuable data, maps, images, and other information about environmental conditions and projected impacts of the proposed actions. Unfortunately, the documents are often only available in print form. Recently the Transportation Library at Northwestern University, in collaboration with Google, has made a large collection of EIS documents available online in digital form. How to better utilize this collection and other related resources, and in particular how to improve access to the data contained in these documents, was the subject of a workshop June 16 at the Columbia Law School. The workshop, “Developing an Online Database of Environmental Impact Statements,” was organized by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and CIESIN, with support from a 2015 Earth Institute Cross-Cutting Initiative grant. Malanding Jaiteh, CIESIN geographic information specialist, Sri Vinay, associate director for information technology, and Kytt MacManus, Geographic Information System programmer, gave presentations on user needs and various technical issues in designing an EIS database. CIESIN director Robert Chen helped moderate the workshop, which also included experts from Northwestern University, the University of Arizona, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the New York City Mayor's Office of Sustainability, the Columbia University Libraries and Data Science Institute, and several environmental law firms.

New Members Join SEDAC User Working Group

June 16, 2016

The NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN has appointed five new members to the SEDAC User Working Group (UWG) for four-year terms: Curtis Brainard, blog editor of Scientific American; Guido Cervone of the  Institute for CyberScience at Pennsylvania State University; Audrey Dorélien of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota; William McConnell of the Center for Global Change & Earth Observations at Michigan State University; and Lela Prashad of NiJeL, Inc. The new members strengthen the UWG′s expertise in such areas as population and health data, remote sensing applications, data science, and user outreach. Chaired by Myron Gutmann of the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado, the UWG provides strategic guidance regarding SEDAC user needs and its interdisciplinary data and services. The UWG met June 14–15 in Washington DC to review recent SEDAC progress, advise on potential “big data” approaches that SEDAC could utilize in developing new data and services, and provide input on future development of mobile apps to address specific user needs.

See: SEDAC User Working Group

Communicating Sea Level Rise Risk Addressed in Lamont Seminar

June 15, 2016

Saleem Khan, Fulbright-Nehru Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CIESIN, gave a seminar on his research, “COREDAR: A Capacity Building Framework and Tool for Sea-level Rise Risk Communication and Urban Community-based Adaptation,” hosted by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) June 14 on the Columbia University Lamont Campus in Palisades, New York. Khan is nearing the end of his one-year postdoctoral appointment at CIESIN, working with director Robert Chen and associate director for science applications Alex de Sherbinin. He has a PhD in climate change from the Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation Research, Anna University, in Chennai, India, and was named a 2013 Next Generation Climate Change Scholar by the Dissertation Initiative for the Advancement of Climate Change Research (DISCCRS).

Putting People on the Map Focus of Resources for the Future Talk

June 14, 2016

How the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN helps “put people on the map” was the topic of an informal seminar given by CIESIN director Robert Chen and associate director for science applications Alex de Sherbinin June 13 at Resources for the Future (RFF) in Washington DC. The seminar, which drew more than 25 RFF staff and interns, provided an overview of SEDAC data and services useful to research and applications on interactions between human and environmental systems. It was organized by the RFF vice president for research and Senior Fellow, Molly Macauley, who served as chair of the SEDAC User Working Group from 2010 to 2014. Chen serves as SEDAC manager and de Sherbinin is SEDAC deputy manager.

Colombia Workshop Emphasizes Data Use in Advancing Environmental Goals

June 14, 2016

CIESIN Staff, members of the INNOVE team, and other participants at a workshop on environmental information systems held at EAFIT University June 9 in Mendellin, Colombia.

Marc Levy, CIESIN deputy director, was the featured speaker at the opening seminar of the “Planet Cycle” of Sustainable Antioquia at EAFIT University in Medellin, Colombia, June 9. The seminar′s theme was the environmental dimension of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the importance of information and data for organizational decision-making in environmental management. Levy’s presentation, “Environmental SDGs and Putting Data to Work,” framed the SDGs as an evolutionary advance in environmental problem-solving via a commitment to data-driven decision making, monitoring, and measurement. He shared recent progress in the development of the Living Manual, a tool to support the design of information systems that incorporate emerging data science best practices for the SDGs. In the second seminar, Levy led a workshop on environmental information systems, facilitated by CIESIN program manager Minal Patel. Sustainable Antioquia is an open learning space that introduces local organizations from the public, private, and social sectors to concepts of sustainability and the SDGs, emphasizing data-driven strategies and accountability. The initiative is led by Proantioquia, Centro de Pensamiento Social, INNOVE, Corporación ProSur, Pontificia Bolivariana University and EAFIT University.

See: “Environmental SDGs…” Marc Levy presentation (3.32 MB PPT)
       Video (Marc Levy presentation in English begins at 4:41)

International Project Launched on High Resolution Population Mapping

June 10, 2016

A new project, Global High Resolution Population Denominators, has been initiated by WorldPop, an international population mapping initiative, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. CIESIN and the University of Louisville are partners in the project, which is led by Andy Tatem of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. Greg Yetman, associate director for Geospatial Applications, and Linda Pistolesi, geographic information specialist, joined other project partners at a kickoff meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, June 8–9. Yetman gave a presentation on version 4 of the Gridded Population of the World (GPWv4) data collection developed by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center operated by CIESIN. GPWv4 incorporates recent census data with many more input census units than previous versions. GPWv4 data will be used to update and extend modeled population data developed by the project.

Visiting Scholar Selected for Advanced Research Institute at Brown University

June 10, 2016

CIESIN visiting scholar Douglas Sathler has been selected for one of the Brown International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI) hosted by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, June 4–18. Sathler is participating in a series of lectures and workshops, “Climate Change and Its Impacts: Connecting Variability and Knowledge in a Global System.″ BIARI is hosting 146 participants from 55 countries at the two-week residential program, which gives participants the opportunity to interact with their global peers and address pressing global issues through collaboration across academic, professional, and geographic boundaries.

Sathler is a geographer and professor with the Institute of Humanities at Brazil’s Universidade Federal dos Vales do Jequitinhonha e Mucuri (UFVJM), Diamantina, Minas Gerais. At CIESIN he has been working with research scientist Susana Adamo on issues related to migration and environment, and cities and climate change.

Science, Technology and Innovation Vital to Sustainable Development

June 7, 2016

The First Annual Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals was held June 6–7 at United Nations headquarters in New York City, aimed at building science, technology and innovation (STI) cooperation around thematic areas for the implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). In conjunction with the STI Forum, the International Council for Science (ICSU) organized a side event June 6, “Co-designing fit-for-purpose Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) systems at national, regional and international levels.″ CIESIN director Robert Chen was one of the session′s panelists, giving a brief presentation on several innovative efforts to improve data and information access and use in local and national decision making. The side event was co-organized with Future Earth, the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), and the Global Change System for Analysis, Research and Training (START).

See: Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals
       ICSU News Feature: STI Forum concludes at the UN in New York

Ecosystem Services Play Key Role in Climate Change Loss and Damage

June 3, 2016

Map showing changes in rainfall 1981–2010 for the April–June rainy season

Until now, studies of climate change loss and damage have focused mostly on economic losses associated with disruption of livelihoods and damage to built infrastructure. A new report released by the United Nations Environment Programme, Loss and Damage: The Role of Ecosystem Services, is the first to comprehensively explore, on the one hand, how ecosystems may experience loss and damage from climate extremes and, on the other, how healthy ecosystems may reduce loss and damage from a changing climate. The report presents five case studies from Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America that provide real world examples of climate impacts, highlighting a range of climate stressors such as drought, floods, heat waves, and cyclones. The case studies also illustrate ecosystem-based approaches to climate adaptation. CIESIN produced two of the case studies, described in sections 3.1 and 3.2, which use data from the soon-to-be-released Gridded Population of the World version 4 (GPWv4) data set together with NASA remote sensing data. Alex de Sherbinin, associate director for Science Applications, is a lead author and Tricia Chai-Onn, geographic information specialist, Al Pinto, senior media designer, and Sylwia Traska, associate research scientist, are contributing authors.

See: Loss and Damage: The Role of Ecosystem Services (11.7 MB PDF)

Researchers Examine Links between Climate, Migration, and Health in Latin America

May 31, 2016

Susana Adamo, CIESIN research scientist, joined approximately 10 early- and mid-career researchers and policy communicators for the second annual workshop on climate, migration, and health at the University of Colorado's Institute of Behavioral Science and its Population Center in Boulder, Colorado, May 26–27. The sub-theme of this year’s workshop was “connections through urbanization,” with a geographic focus on Latin America. Adamo gave a presentation, “Migrants in Urban Areas of Developing Countries: Exposure and Vulnerability to Environmental Hazards.”  The workshop was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

See: Climate, Migration and Health in Latin America: Connections through Urbanization

Demand-Driven Data Systems for Sustainable Development Addressed in Ghana Visit

May 26, 2016

Marc Levy, CIESIN deputy director, and Minal Patel, project manager, traveled to Accra, Ghana, May 16–20 for the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) project on demand-driven data systems for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There they met with officials and other stakeholders from the National Development Planning Commission, Ghana Statistical Services, the University of Ghana, the Centre for Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Services, and the Ghana Center for Democratic Development and Resilience. The objective of the visit was to consult with key organizations that are using innovative approaches to advance the SDGs and address the challenges of data gathering, monitoring, policy planning, and implementation. This research will enhance the development of a “living manual,” based on the design of information systems that synthesize emerging best practices at the cutting edge of data science and technology, to support achievement of the SDGs.

North America Assessment Identifies Emerging Areas of Environmental Concern

May 25, 2016

Report cover of GEO-6 Regional Assessment for North America

A new report on regional environmental trends released May 20 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recognizes overall progress in policy-driven environmental conditions in North America, but emphasizes the urgency of attending to key emerging areas of concern: accelerated climate change impacts, water security issues, and land fragmentation/threats to biodiversity. On the positive side, air quality continues to improve, land resources are appear in good condition in general, and energy efficiency, particularly use of solar power, is improving. However, the report identifies new risks to human wellbeing and ecosystems in the region, for example:

—Threats to biodiversity from urban encroachment and climate change impacts, including loss of species habitat (especially birds) and risk of extinction to widespread species;

—Land fragmentation from wildfires, pest outbreaks, and land management, especially in relationship to increased conversion of forest to cropland; and

—Impacts of climate change such as drought, extreme events like Hurricane Sandy, and the environmental consequences of drastic changes to the Arctic.

The report was one of six regional assessments produced as part of the UNEP Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6). CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy co-chaired the North America Assessment, and was a coordinating lead author of several chapters. Contributing authors were program manager Minal Patel, senior research associate Sandra Baptista, and staff associate Emilie Schnarr. Graphics and data analytics support was provided by senior research associate Paola Kim-Blanco, geographic information specialist Tricia Chai-Onn, senior research associate Valentina Mara, and senior research staff assistant Alyssa Fico.

See: GEO-6 Regional Assessment for North America (76 MB PDF)
       Press release/download all GEO-6 assessments
       Regional Factsheet for North America

Hudson River Flood Mapping Tool Featured in Westchester

May 16, 2016

An interactive mapping tool that enables users to explore scenarios of flooding and inundation in New York’s Hudson Valley was the subject of a presentation by CIESIN geographic information systems (GIS) programmer Kytt MacManus at the 2016 meeting of the Westchester County GIS User group May 12 in Rye, New York. Version 1 of the Hudson River Flooding Decision Support System mapping tool was developed by CIESIN and colleagues from Stevens Institute of Technology to inform community planners, public officials, resource managers, and others looking to assess the risks of flooding and sea level rise. The project is sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). In addition to demonstrating the tool, MacManus described plans for a new CIESIN project funded by NYSERDA, Assessment of Potential Flood Impacts to Buildings in the Hudson Valley/Long Island Regions. The meeting, which was sponsored by Westchester County Geographic Information Systems and hosted by the State University of New York-Purchase, brought together approximately 75 GIS experts and users from both public and private organizations in Westchester and surrounding areas.

See: Presentation abstract

Recent Transitions at CIESIN

May 14, 2016

Two CIESIN staff members were honored at a luncheon recognizing Columbia University employees for ten years of service. The May 10 luncheon was hosted by Sean Solomon, director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), Erica Allis, associate director of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), and Robert Chen, director of CIESIN, at Confetti restaurant in Piermont, New York. Linda Pagliaroli joined CIESIN in September 2005 as administrative assistant, and has served as grants coordinator since 2008, supporting proposal development and submission. Elisabeth Sydor was hired as Web content manager in October that year and became communications coordinator in 2008, responsible for CIESIN print, online, and multimedia outreach.

Several CIESIN staff have recently received promotions. In the data center services group, Merlie Hansen was promoted to senior staff associate, recognizing her increased responsibilities with respect to CIESIN′s world class digital data and metadata resources. Hansen has a BS in agricultural education from University of Southeastern Philippines and a MS in agricultural systems from Asian Institute of Technology. Sydor, who has a BA in English and history from Kalamazoo College and an MA in oral history from Columbia, was promoted to administrative grade 11, recognizing her increased responsibilities and CIESIN′s evolving communication needs.

In the geospatial applications division, Olena Borkovska, Jane Mills, and John Squires have become senior research staff assistants. Borkovska has a BA in environmental policy and management from Hunter College, City University of New York; Mills has a BA in applied mathematics from Barnard and a minor in environmental science; and Squires received his BA in sustainable development from Columbia. All three joined CIESIN in 2013 and contribute to a diverse set of geospatial data development and application projects.

Environmental Change and Migration Explored at World Bank Workshop

May 14, 2016

Alex de Sherbinin, CIESIN associate director for science applications, joined demographers, geographers, economists, and other researchers in a workshop on environment and migration issues sponsored by the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD), held at World Bank headquarters in Washington DC May 9–10. He presented the methodology used to develop the data set, Global Estimated Net Migration Grids By Decade, v1 (1970 – 2000), available from the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center, and discussed approaches to integrating remote sensing and socioeconomic data in climate vulnerability mapping. The workshop explored the data sources and methods available to assess the role of environmental change in migration and in particular the number of people who may have migrated primarily or partially as the result of environmental extremes or other environmental factors.

See: KNOMAD Meeting Agenda

Experts Gather in Geneva to Plan Remote Sensing Applications

May 13, 2016

CIESIN director Robert Chen traveled to Geneva May 2–6 for a meeting organized by the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and the conference, “GIS for a Sustainable World,” sponsored by Esri. GEO held its annual Work Programme Symposium, aimed at furthering its 2016 activities and planning its 2017–19 work programme. Chen reported on activities of the GEO Data Sharing Working Group (DSWG), which he co-chairs, and gave a presentation on data related to human settlements, infrastructure, and population in support of a proposed GEO Human Planet Initiative. He also participated in planning a GEO initiative on Earth Observations in service of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. While in Geneva, Chen gave a presentation, “Integrating Population and Infrastructure Data in Support of Climate Services,” in the session, “Climate Services and the SDGs″ at the Esri conference May 4. He then co-chaired a working meeting of the GEO DSWG May 5.

Greg Yetman, associate director for Geospatial Applications, also traveled to Geneva to participate in an expert meeting on the use of space technologies for environmental monitoring and humanitarian affairs, organized by the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) May 11–13. He gave a presentation, “Integrating Sensor and Socioeconomic Data,″ highlighting a range of geospatial data sets developed by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) that may be useful in disaster management and environmental applications. He also attended the UNOOSA/GEO Discovery Day May 13 at the World Meteorological Organization, supported by DigitalGlobe.

The World′s Shared River Basins Are Under Stress

May 5, 2016

Map of transboundary economic dependence on water resources

International river basins are under growing pressure from water stress related to human activities, impoundments, poor governance, and climate change, a new report finds. The report, Transboundary River Basins: Status and Trends, is an outcome of the Global Environment Facility Transboundary Waters Assessment Programme, led by the UNEP-DHI Center on Waste and Environment, CIESIN, and other partners. The report documents a baseline assessment of all transboundary water resources on Earth, the most comprehensive analysis of its kind to date. A team from CIESIN led by Alex de Sherbinin, CIESIN associate director for Science Applications, and Valentina Mara, senior research associate, authored the chapter on socioeconomic indicators, calculating three indicators of risk: economic dependence on water resources; societal well-being levels; and the risk of climate-related hazards. CIESIN geographic information specialist Malanding Jaiteh and deputy director Marc Levy were contributing authors. Findings include that climate-related risk is linked to high economic dependence on transboundary water resources and low well-being; and well-being is linked to governance capacity to address climate-related disasters. In addition to the Final Technical Report and the Summary for Policy Makers, an interactive results portal provides access to global maps of assessment results and indicator metadata sheets. All assessment results, analyses, and supplementary data may be freely downloaded.

See: TWAP River Basins Report and supplementary publications
       "Report Assesses Risks to World’s Shared River Basins" (blog)

Bogotá Meetings Address Sustainable Development Data Needs

May 3, 2016

Several CIESIN staff members participated in a series of meetings organized by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data in Bogotá, Colombia, April 27–30. Hosted by Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (DANE), the national administrative department of statistics, with the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce and Cepei, the meetings highlighted case studies and the identification of new and innovative methods for data analysis, continued monitoring, and data-driven decision making related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Marc Levy, CIESIN deputy director, gave a presentation April 27, “Smart Strategies for Integrating Subnational Data into SDG Information Systems.” While in Bogotá, Levy and CIESIN project manager Minal Patel also met with representatives from DANE, as part of the initiative, “New Data Infrastructures for Sustainable Development: Technical Tools for National Policy Makers,” a project of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). The project's goal is to produce a “living manual” that illustrates how countries can harness recent developments in sustainability science, data technologies, and decision-support methodologies to design information systems that effectively support progress toward the SDGs.

Greg Yetman, CIESIN associate director for Geospatial Applications, participated in a working group meeting on SDG data roadmaps/ecosystems April 29–30. The working group is developing a strategic work plan for the Global Partnership, a multi-stakeholder network of more than 100 members working to improve the use of data for sustainable development. CIESIN and SDSN are anchor partners in the Global Partnership.

“Big Data” for Social Science Highlighted in Mexico City

April 29, 2016

photos of panelists at The Big Data Revolution in the Social Sciences

CIESIN research scientist Susana Adamo gave a presentation on “Integrating Traditional and Big Data in the Social Sciences: Challenges and Possibilities″ April 29 at the conference, La Revolución Big Data en Estudios Sociales (“The Big Data Revolution in the Social Sciences″) in Mexico City. The conference sought to raise awareness of the importance of “big data” for the social science community, its use in exploring questions pertinent to research in Mexico, and its impact on policy making. The 1,700 registrants included both prominent researchers who shared their research agendas and policymakers who with the academic community helped to identify new research niches using big data. The conference, which was streamed live with presentations in both Spanish and English, was jointly organized by the World Bank and El Colegio de Mexico. The video of the conference is available on YouTube.

See: "The Big Data Revolution in the Social Sciences" video in Spanish (Adamo presentation begins at about 3:32)
       Adamo PPT presentation (in Spanish)

Earth Day Fair Features Hands-on Science Activities at St. Thomas Aquinas College

April 25, 2016

CIESIN director Robert Chen, senior research associate Sandra Baptista, and senior research staff assistant Alyssa Fico joined other scientists and students from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) and St. Thomas Aquinas College (STAC) at an Earth Day fair April 22 at the STAC campus in Sparkill, New York. The event, which drew both K–12 students and STAC undergraduates, offered a range of hands-on demonstrations and other activities focused on environmental science and sustainability. CIESIN′s table on interactive mapping of regional environment and hazards featured the new HazPop mobile app (available from the Apple iTunes store) as well as the National Priorities List Superfund Footprint Mapper.

See: STAC Earth Day Fair Announcement

United Nations General Assembly Debates Sustainable Development Implementation

April 22, 2016

The prompt and inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a major priority of the 70th President of the United Nations General Assembly, H.E. Mogens Lykketoft. The High-Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was held at UN Headquarters April 21 to increase international awareness and political momentum related to the so-called global goals. Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs participated in a moderated dialogue during the opening ceremony of the debate, and he and CIESIN director Robert Chen were among the participants in the High-Level Lunch on Partnerships for SDG Implementation. Chen then participated as a discussant in the panel, “Harnessing the Data Revolution for SDGs: Opportunities and Challenges,″ as part of “Technology and Data for the SDGs,” the second of two interactive discussions. The event was broadcast live on UN Web TV and summarized in a briefing note by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

Settlement Patterns in Brazil's Legal Amazonia Examined

April 21, 2016

CIESIN visiting associate professor Douglas Sathler gave a lunchtime talk April 21, presenting an exploratory analysis of the socioeconomic, demographic, and environmental patterns of municipalities in the “deforestation arc” of the Legal Amazonia in Brazil. In collaboration with CIESIN research scientist Susana Adamo and Everton M. Lima of Unicamp in Brazil, Sathler aims to support the design of policies for local sustainable development in these municipalities for the preservation and regeneration of the forest.

Sathler is a professor with the Institute of Humanities at Brazil’s Universidade Federal dos Vales do Jequitinhonha e Mucuri (UFVJM), Diamantina, Minas Gerais. He coordinates the network Population, Space, and Environment, of the Brazilian Association of Population Studies, and is chief editor of Revista Espinhaço, a journal of geography and geosciences. His sabbatical at CIESIN is supported by CAPES (Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel), a public foundation within the Brazil Ministry of Higher Education.

Demographer Deborah Balk Awarded Carnegie Fellowship

April 20, 2016

Former CIESIN research scientist Deborah Balk has been named a recipient of the prestigious 2016 Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, one of 33 awardees among nearly 200 nominations. Now a professor at the Baruch School of Public Affairs, City University of New York (CUNY), Balk is also associate director of the CUNY Institute of Demographic Research. Her award will fund research on climate-related vulnerability in the 21st century and the related roles of urbanization and migration. Balk and her team continue to use georeferenced population and urbanization data from the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, which she helped develop while lead project scientist for SEDAC. She is currently a member of the SEDAC User Working Group.

See: Announcement of Deborah Balk's Carnegie Award

Adaptation to Sea-Level Rise in India Addressed in Miami Lecture

April 13, 2016

Saleem Khan, Fulbright-Nehru Postdoctoral Fellow at CIESIN, delivered the lecture, “Adaptation to Sea-level Rise in Tamil Nadu, India: Implications for Florida,” April 8 at Florida International University in Miami. Khan discussed projections of sea-level rise due to climate change, predicted impacts, and adaptation planning for Tamil Nadu, one of India's 29 states located on the southern coast of India. Drawing on lessons learned from Tamil Nadu, he emphasized the necessity of ecosystem- and community-based adaptation to sea-level rise and the implications for Miami. While at the university Khan also visited with faculty of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Department of Economics (Environmental Economics). His visit was supported by the Fulbright Outreach Lecturing Fund (OLF) Program.

Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation in India Focus of Journal Special Section

April 12, 2016

A Special Section, “Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation,″ appears in the April issue of Current Science. Pinki Mondal, CIESIN senior research associate, serves as guest editor together with Prof. Harini Nagendra of Azim Premji University and Prof. Ruth DeFries, who has just been named a University Professor at Columbia together with Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs. The eight papers in the Special Section cover a range of topics related to crop and climate variability, livelihood, and adaptation planning at diverse spatial scales in different Indian eco-regions. The Special Section is an outcome of an Indo-US bilateral workshop held in Bengaluru, India in 2014, funded through the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum (IUSSTF), for which Mondal was the US principal investigator.

See: Preface to “Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation”—Special Section, Current Science, vol. 110, No. 7, April 2016

Spring Brings Science Data Management to the Fore

April 11, 2016

CIESIN staff members participated in a range of technical meetings in the U.S. and Japan March 30–April 8, addressing many different aspects of science data management. The Journal of Map & Geography Libraries also released the third in a series of special issues on geospatial data management, curation, and preservation, guest edited by Robert Downs, senior digital archivist.

Director Robert Chen attended the annual meeting of the Science Advisory Board of the Climate Change Science Institute (CCSI) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory March 30–31 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, beginning his second three-year term as a member of the Board. The Board reviewed recent progress in developing the CCSI, including efforts to improve integrated data management across climate and ecological domains and between modeling and observational activities.

Alex de Sherbinin, associate director for Science Applications, traveled to Tokyo April 4–6 for a meeting of the Scientific Committee of the International Council for Science World Data System (ICSU-WDS). The Committee, which serves as the ICSU-WDS governing body, reviewed a range of WDS issues, including plans for the WDS Forum and International Data Week in Denver, Colorado, in September 2016.

Robert Downs participated in two technical meetings on the management and interoperability of scientific data, held in College Park and Greenbelt, Maryland, April 4–8. The first meeting April 4–6, organized by the Consultative Committee on Space Data Systems (CCSDS), focused on the development of new standards and reviews of previously published standards. Downs gave a presentation on “Evaluating the Trustworthiness of a Scientific Data Center to Inform Continuous Improvement,” co-authored with Chen. The second meeting, organized by NASA Earth Science Data Systems Working Groups (ESDSWG) April 6–8, covered different topics on earth science data interoperability. Downs presented the poster, “The Data Paper: An Opportunity to Improve Data Discovery, Exploration, and Use,″ and with members of the ESDSWG Data Quality team he co-presented three other posters. He also co-presented the ESDSWG-Data-Recipe 2015 Report: Recommendations to Create Data Recipes.

Susana Adamo, research scientist, participated in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Second Expert Group Meeting on the forthcoming World Economic and Social Survey (WESS) 2016 in New York City April 7–8, where she reviewed and commented on the section on access and use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) data and environment/climate change statistics.

Chen also attended a meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) April 7–8 in Boulder. At the meeting, the Board transferred control of NEON, Inc., the non-profit consortium managing NEON's construction, to Battelle. Chen then joined the other directors in resigning from the Board.

As part of the special issue of Journal of Map & Geography Libraries, Robert Downs authored the editorial, “Reflections on the Management, Curation, and Preservation of Geospatial Data.” Downs served as guest editor of this issue, as well as the two previous special issues in the series.

Hazard Mapping Tools Demonstrated at Columbia Data Science Event

April 7, 2016

photo of CIESIN development team at Data Science Day @Columbia

CIESIN’s new Hazards Mapper and related iOS app, the Hazards and Population Mapper (HazPop), were demonstrated at the Data Science Day @ Columbia event April 6 at Lerner Hall on the Columbia University Morningside campus. Staffing CIESIN’s exhibit booth were members of the development team, including associate director for Information Technology Sri Vinay, developers Frank Pascuzzi and Al Pinto, and associate director for Geospatial Applications Greg Yetman, along with CIESIN director Robert Chen. The booth included a poster co-authored by the team with GIS programmer Kytt MacManus, “Visualizing Population Exposure to Hazards.” Senior research associate Paola Kim-Blanco also presented a poster on the validation of intercity roads data using crowd-sourcing methods. The hazard mapping tools enable users to visualize recent data on earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires, and other hazards in relationship to population, settlements, and major infrastructure such as dams and power plants. The Hazards Mapper is available through the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, and the initial version of the HazPop app may be downloaded through Apple iTunes. The event, sponsored by Columbia's Data Science Institute, drew more than 600 attendees from both the public and private sectors.

Grand Challenges Regarding Food Security Data Highlighted

April 6, 2016

Marc Levy, CIESIN deputy director, gave a lightning talk April 5 at a Food Security Symposium organized by the World Wide Human Geography Data (WWHGD) Working Group and hosted by the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia. His talk highlighted three grand challenges regarding food security data related to population and food security mapping and modeling. His presentation and an audio file of the panel discussion are available through the WWHGD Web site (free registration required).

New Mobile App Supports Hazard Vulnerability Assessment

March 31, 2016

Screenshot of iTunes description page for HazPop mobile app

A new mobile application, the Hazards and Population Mapper (HazPop), enables users to display recent data on hazards such as earthquakes and tornados in relationship to population, major infrastructure, and satellite imagery. The initial version of HazPop is now available for mobile phones and tablets running Apple′s iOS9 operating system via the iTunes store. HazPop draws on three data sets available from the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC)—Gridded Population of the World v3, Nuclear Power Plants Locations v1, and Global Reservoirs and Dams v1.1—along with NASA real-time active fire and aerosol optical depth (AOD) data, earthquake alerts from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and flood and tornado alerts for the US from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Users can visualize the location of active fires over the past 48 hours, earthquake alerts over the past seven days, and yesterday′s air pollution data measured from space. A key feature of the app is the ability to obtain an estimate of the total population in proximity to the user′s current location or to a recent hazard event or other point of interest.

HazPop is designed for use by disaster risk managers, humanitarian response organizations, public health professionals, journalists, and others needing a quick assessment of the population potentially exposed to a major hazard event or developing emergency. It is not intended to support in-depth risk assessment or estimation of actual disaster losses. The initial version has been released to enable further testing of the app and associated data services by a broad user community. User feedback on HazPop is welcome at

Population Researchers Convene at Annual Meeting in Washington, DC

March 30, 2016

CIESIN research scientist Susana Adamo, visiting research scientist Douglas Sathler, and user services manager Joe Schumacher attended the 2016 annual meeting of the Population Association of America (PAA) March 30–April 2 in Washington, DC. Adamo presented a paper co-authored with research associate Paola Kim-Blanco on migrants in urban areas of developing countries and their exposure to environmental  hazards. Sathler presented a poster on deforestation and local development in the Brazilian Legal Amazonia, co-authored with Adamo and Everton Lima of the University of Campinas. Schumacher staffed an exhibit booth at the meeting, showcasing the new version of the Gridded Population of the World data set and other georeferenced population data products and services available through the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN. Each year the PAA meeting brings together more than 2,000 scientists and other professionals engaged in research on population issues.

See: 2016 Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America

Geographers from China Visit CIESIN to Explore Collaboration

March 28, 2016

Photo of visiting delegation from GSNRR, with CIESIN associate director Alex de Sherbinin, second from right

A delegation from the Center for Regional Agriculture and Rural Development (CRARD) of the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing visited CIESIN on Monday, March 28. Professor Liu Yansui, director of CRARD, gave a presentation at the Lamont campus on China’s urbanization and the transformation of rural areas, with a brief second presentation by his colleague, deputy director Long Hualou, deputy director. CRARD and CIESIN have begun exploring potential areas of collaboration on topics such as poverty mapping, resource management, and climate vulnerability mapping. Former CIESIN visitor Yang Yuanyuan (Sophia), who is now a research assistant at CRARD, was a member of the delegation.

Environmental Assessment for North America To Be Released in May

March 25, 2016

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) convened a meeting at its Washington, DC, office March 21–22 to review the draft North America Regional Assessment, part of the UNEP Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6). The North America Assessment, produced by a team of more than 30 leading environmental experts, takes stock of the current state of the region′s environment and evaluates a range of promising options for tackling the most pressing priorities facing the region. CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy, who co-chairs the assessment, participated in the meeting, which also involved officials from the US Department of State and from Environment and Climate Change Canada, members of the GEO-6 High-Level Intergovernmental and Stakeholder Advisory Group (HLG) and the GEO-6 Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), and several Coordinating Lead Authors of the assessment. Outcomes of the meeting included approval of the draft assessment, an initial draft of assessment key messages, and agreement on revisions for the final version and its delivery at the second United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya in May 2016. CIESIN is one of the GEO-6 Partner Centers of Excellence.

See: UNEP Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6)

Recent CIESIN Departures and Arrivals

March 25, 2016

Recent staff changes at CIESIN include the departure of Erin Doxsey-Whitfield, geographic information specialist, to pursue other opportunities in Edmonton, Alberta. Doxsey-Whitfield joined CIESIN's Geospatial Applications Division in May 2012. She was a key member of the team for version four of the Gridded Population of the World data collection, for which she coordinated much of the data acquisition and contributed extensively to data processing and outreach. She also supported a variety of projects related to population geography, flood mapping, and social vulnerability to hazards.

Minal Patel has joined CIESIN's Science Applications Division, working primarily with deputy director Marc Levy on the UNEP Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) North American Assessment and on a solutions initiative of the UN Sustainable Development Solution Network (SDSN) Thematic Network on Data for Sustainable Development. For GEO-6 Patel is managing efforts to produce an assessment of environmental conditions and policy innovations in the U.S. and Canada. For the SDSN Thematic Network she is serving as project manager for a "solutions initiative" to develop a “living manual” on how countries can harness recent developments in sustainability science, data technologies, and decision-support methodologies to design information systems that most effectively support progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. Patel has a master of science in sustainability management from Columbia University and a bachelor of commerce with a focus on information systems. Formerly, she worked as senior advisor for the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, and has more than ten years of experience in various roles in program management, finance, business strategy, and process improvement for the federal government of Canada.

Through the Alliance program, an academic joint-venture between Columbia and the École Polytechnique (EP), Sciences Po, and Panthéon-Sorbonne University, Wei Wang, an international student at EP in Paris, has arrived at CIESIN for a four-month master’s internship. Under the guidance of information scientist Xiaoshi Xing, he is working on model optimization and geospatial analysis of estimates of energy and emissions from power plants. Wang is currently majoring in environmental science at EP and holds a bachelor’s in aircraft design and engineering from Harbin Institute of Technology in China. CIESIN has hosted Alliance Program interns since 2008.

Assessing User Satisfaction Can Be Valuable to Scientific Data Centers

March 24, 2016

Periodic surveys of users can be a valuable and cost effective way to improve the operations of scientific data centers. In a blog post just released by the International Council for Science (ICSU) World Data System (WDS), Alex de Sherbinin, CIESIN associate director for science applications and a member of the WDS Scientific Committee, describes the utility of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey for the NASA Distributed Active Archive Centers. He describes how ACSI scores and free text responses by users help the DAACs to identify problems and issues and take steps to improve user satisfaction. The ACSI also serves as an important performance metric for NASA, providing a way to compare how the DAACs are performing in comparison with other public and private sector service providers. Based on his experience as deputy manager of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, de Sherbinin argues that all data centers in the WDS could benefit from conducting periodic user surveys, and that the ACSI serves as a useful model.

See: "Surveying User Satisfaction: The NASA DAAC Experience" (blog)
       American Customer Satisfaction Index

Modeling Human Mobility for Disaster Management

March 22, 2016

Modeling human mobility after medium- to large-size hazard events was the subject of a lunchtime talk by Takahiro Yabe March 11 at Columbia University′s Lamont Campus. A master’s student at the University of Tokyo, Yabe is developing a methodology that uses mobile-phone data, such as geo-location information from cell phone service providers and Yahoo! smartphone apps, to evaluate models of human behavior in emergency situations following a major hazard event. The methodology was piloted for Tokyo following the East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Work is beginning on how to use location information to tailor early warning messages based on location.

“Messy” Urbanization in South Asia Revealed in World Bank Report

March 15, 2016

The World Bank recently released the report, Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability, which notes that the region has experienced hidden “messy” urbanization—widespread slums and urban sprawl—leading to adverse impacts on basic services, housing, environment, and economic development. A CIESIN team led by deputy director Marc Levy conducted a background analysis for the report in 2013, focusing on urbanization patterns based on nighttime lights and other spatial data. The report recommends a range of reforms to make the region′s cities more prosperous and livable.

See: Report: Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia (5.2MB PDF)

UN Events Focus on Sustainable Development Indicators

March 15, 2016

A series of New York City meetings March 5–14 held in conjunction with the 47th session of the United Nations Statistical Commission addressed the development and implementation of indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the international community in September 2015. On March 5, CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy participated in a multi-stakeholder workshop, “Data Revolution Roadmaps for Sustainable Development,″ hosted by the United Nations Foundation and organized by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. He gave a flash presentation on demand-driven, cost-effective integrated information systems in a session, “Mapping Existing Tools to Identified Needs,″ based on a project he is leading under the auspices of the Thematic Network on Sustainable Development Data of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).

On March 7, CIESIN director Robert Chen was one of four invited panelists discussing the topic of partnerships, innovative approaches, and solutions from data experts and data producers, at the “High-Level Forum on Official Statistics: Dialogue toward the UN World Data Forum,” a side event held at United Nations headquarters. A video of the Forum is available online through UN WebTV. Air quality data from the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) were also featured in a presentation by Lawrence Friedl, director of the NASA Applied Sciences Program, at an earlier side event, “Geospatial Information and Earth Observations Supporting Official Statistics in Monitoring the SDGs.″

After the adoption of the SDG indicator framework by the Statistical Commission on March 11, the SDSN Thematic Network on Sustainable Development Data met at Columbia University March 13–14. The meeting focused on the role of the Thematic Network in bringing academic expertise and perspectives into multi-stakeholder discussions about the implementation of the SDG indicator framework. Robert Chen co-chairs the Thematic Network together with Shaida Baidee of Open Data Watch and Enrico Giovannini of the University of Rome Tor Vergata.

See: “Partnerships, innovative approaches, and solutions from data experts and data producers″ panel (video—second panel with Robert Chen begins at about 1:31)
       Presentation by Lawrence Friedl (video—Lawrence Friedl’s 13-minute talk begins at about 1:21:30)

Value of Geospatial Information in Decision Making Examined at Paris Workshop

March 11, 2016

The workshop, “Data to Decisions: Valuing the Societal Benefit of Geospatial Information,” was organized by the GEOValue community, in collaboration with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), NASA, and the U.S. Geological Survey, in Paris March 10–11. The workshop sought to define case studies and use cases that assess value by tracing the information flow end-to-end from geospatial data acquisition system to decisions by end users related to managing disasters and ecosystems. CIESIN senior digital archivist Robert Downs presented a poster paper on spatial information for disaster planning and the reinsurance industry, co-authored with associate director for geospatial applications Greg Yetman, research staff assistant John Squires, and director Robert Chen. Downs also attended a pre-workshop tutorial March 9 on cost-benefit analysis, sponsored by the workshop organizers and the Association of European Operational Research Societies (EURO). GEOValue is an international group concerned with the value and socioeconomic impacts of geospatial information for decision making.

See: Data to Decisions Workshop

Experts Gather to Explore Equitable Pathways to "The World in 2050”

March 10, 2016

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy joined Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs and some 50 other representatives of research institutes from around the world in Laxenburg, Austria, March 7–9 for the second annual workshop of the project, “The World in 2050” (TWI2050).  The workshop included the kick-off of the technical phase of the TWI2050 project, which was launched in March 2015 by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. The project aims to develop equitable pathways to sustainable development within safe planetary boundaries in order to build human and environmental resilience to global change.

See: “The World in 2050”: Second Workshop

Environment, Peace, and Security Certificate Program Announces Fellowship Support

March 4, 2016

The new Environment, Peace, and Security Certificate Program at the Columbia University School of Professional Studies is now accepting applications for fellowship funding for the academic year 2016–2017. A limited number of fellowships will be awarded to students enrolling in the certificate program, with selection based on academic and professional merit. The average fellowship award is expected to be $11,532. The application deadline is March 15, 2016.

The certificate program is aimed at practitioners involved in providing environment-security assessments or designing programs to manage such risks, especially those who work at the United Nations or in diplomatic missions, global finance organizations, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, consulting companies, emerging market investment firms, or public relations agencies. The program may be completed in two terms of part-time study. CIESIN has collaborated with the Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program and other faculty and centers in the Earth Institute to develop the certificate program.

The mission of Columbia's School of Professional Studies (formerly the School of Continuing Education) is to provide rigorous educational offerings, informed by rapidly evolving global market needs, that support the academic and professional demands of individuals and organizations worldwide. The school offers 14 professional master′s degrees as well as a range of other postbaccalaureate, high school, and summer programs to about 6,000 students each year.

See: Environment, Peace and Security Certification of Professional Achievement

Experts Gather to Refine Indicators of Land Degradation

February 26, 2016

Alex de Sherbinin, CIESIN associate director for science applications and deputy manager of SEDAC, participated in an expert meeting, Land-Based Indicators for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 15.3, in Washington, DC, February 24–26. The meeting was convened by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and co-hosted by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility (GEF-STAP). Participants focused on refining a proposed indicator of land degradation that will be presented at the forthcoming session of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) in Mexico City. This indicator would be complemented by additional data and indicators on land use/cover change, change in land productivity, and change in above- and below-ground carbon, that could also support reporting processes for the UNCCD, CBD, and GEF.

See: Life on Land: The Challenge of Halting and Reversing Land Degradation

Improving Mali’s Climate Services: Status and Next Steps

February 24, 2016

CIESIN associate research scientist Sylwia Trzaska traveled to Bamako, Mali, February 22–23 with Tufa Dinku and Alessandra Giannini, research scientists with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, to meet with staff from Mali-Meteo, the country’s meterological service. Participants in the meeting included local representatives of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and partners from development projects in Mali that use climate information. The meeting reviewed progress to date, most notably new data sets, tools, and methods implemented at Mali-Meteo; presented project achievements; and discussed next steps. Trzaska described methods for seasonal forecasting of rainfall and the results of the verification of the seasonal forecasts carried out by Mali-Meteo since 1998. The meeting was organized as part of the USAID-funded project, Building Mali-Météo’s Capacity to Deliver Improved Climate Services.

CIESIN and Facebook Begin Collaboration on More Detailed Population Mapping

February 22, 2016

CIESIN has begun working with Facebook’s initiative to conduct systematic validation and quality assessment of high-resolution gridded population data, as announced by Facebook at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona February 22. Last year, Facebook launched a project to utilize high-resolution (50-centimeter) remote sensing imagery in combination with the Gridded Population of the World version 4 (GPWv4) data set, to produce a 5-meter population map in order to better understand population and settlement patterns in rural areas of the developing world. Their main objective is to optimize strategies for extending Internet to these populations as part of the organization’s larger goal to bring connectivity to the four billion people who are not yet online. Recognizing the potential value of these data for a wide range of applications, Facebook decided to work with CIESIN to assess and improve the quality of the data. Facebook plans to make the new population distribution data for more than 20 developing countries openly available by summer 2016 and to continue expanding the data’s coverage to additional countries.

See: "Working with Facebook" (blog)

Mapping Climate Vulnerability: Annapolis Workshop Develops Best Practices

February 19, 2016

A workshop on climate vulnerability and risk mapping and identifying best practices was held February 16 at the National Socio-Ecological Synthesis Center (SESYNC) in Annapolis, Maryland. Alex de Sherbinin, CIESIN associate director for science applications, organized the workshop, in which twelve scientists and two individuals from decision making communities worked together over three days to design a protocol for assessing existing studies, including outputs of method (conceptual models, data, and spatial analysis techniques) and mapping (clarity of communication and adherence to cartographic convention). The goal was to develop best practice guidelines for use in climate vulnerability and risk mapping. Such mapping is increasingly used for targeting adaptation programs and for local planning. Saleem Khan, visiting Fulbright-Nehru Fellow at CIESIN, was one of the participants in the workshop. SESYNC is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.


Approaches to Integrating OpenStreetMap and Global Roads Data Examined

February 12, 2016

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

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

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

Webinar Highlights Efforts to Validate OpenStreetMap Data

February 11, 2016

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

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

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

February 8, 2016

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

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

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

Google Earth Engine Developers Hosted by CIESIN

February 5, 2016

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

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

February 3, 2016

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

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

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

Moving from Talk to Action Urged in Planetary Security Presentation

February 2, 2016

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

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

Latest Environmental Performance Index Released at World Economic Forum

February 1, 2016

image from 2016 EPI report cover

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

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

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

See: 2016 Environmental Performance Index

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

January 29, 2016

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

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

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

Consortium Supports Environmental Education in the Hudson-Mohawk River Watershed

January 27, 2016

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

See: Environmental Consortium of Colleges & Universities

Conference Considers the Role of Education in Sustainable Development

January 26, 2016

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

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

See: “Stewardship for a Sustainable World” conference

CIESIN Scientist Elected to Columbia University Senate

January 25, 2016

Sylwia Trzaska, CIESIN associate research scientist

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

See: Columbia University Senate

New Project Focuses on Learning about Computing and Ecosystems

January 22, 2016

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

See: Integrating Computational Thinking and Environmental Science...

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

January 14, 2016

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

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

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

Coastal Flood Risk in Shanghai Presented at CIESIN

January 13, 2016

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

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

New Population and Urbanization Data Released for Testing

January 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earth Science Data Community Kicks off New Year in Washington DC

January 11, 2016

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

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

See: ESIP Winter Meeting