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User Working Group Reviews SEDAC Progress

May 23, 2015

The User Working Group (UWG) of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN met May 18–19 to review SEDAC activities and plans and to provide guidance on strategic directions and user needs. Key discussion topics included SEDAC′s evolving role in addressing data needs stemming from international negotiations regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the potential value of developing “virtual collections” of remote sensing and socioeconomic data in collaboration with other NASA data centers. The meeting included a presentation on the NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission by outgoing UWG member Kyle McDonald of the City University of New York (CUNY), who also hosted the second day of the meeting at the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center in Manhattan. Daniel Bader of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and the Columbia University Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR) also presented on New York City′s resilience to climate change. The UWG meeting was chaired by Myron Gutmann of the University of Colorado and included representatives from NASA headquarters and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.


Experts Consider Improvements in Scenarios Used in International Climate Assessments

May 22, 2015

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy participated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Expert Meeting on Scenarios, which took place May 18–20 at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria. Participants took stock of the use of climate and socioeconomic scenarios in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report and recommended actions to improve their use in the Sixth Assessment. Levy gave a presentation on the second day of the meeting, proposing how governance indicators could be incorporated into climate scenarios. He also participated in a working group meeting May 21 on quantitative impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability indicators, organized by the International Committee on New Integrated Climate Change Scenarios (ICONICS). The meeting reviewed recent work on quantitative scenarios of poverty rates and income distribution.


Satellite Data Provide Insights into Long-Term Air Quality Trends

May 15, 2015

Map showing particular matter 2.5 concentrations for Asia

A new data release offers insights into the extent of global human exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) over more than a decade. The new data set replaces an earlier one released by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center operated by CIESIN and features improved accuracy, a longer time span, and higher spatial resolution than the previous version.

Satellite-derived estimates of PM2.5 provide one of the few ways of assessing changes in exposure to air pollution around the world over the long term. The data set consists of a series of global grids representing three-year running averages, from 1998-2012, derived from measurements of Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD) from three different NASA instruments: MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), MISR (Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer), and SeaWIFS (Sea-Viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor). The grids were developed by Aaron van Donkelaar and colleagues at Dalhousie University in Canada.

These global grids of estimated PM2.5 surface concentrations, expressed in micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3), are useful for health and environmental research and have already served as a valuable input to the World Health Organization (WHO) global burden of disease study. Fine-particulate matter represents one of the most serious types of air pollutants and is of particular concern in many parts of Asia. For example, the estimated proportion of the people in East Asia living above the WHO Interim Target-1 of 35 μg/m3 increased from 51% in 1998–2000 to 70% in 2010–2012.

The raster grids have a grid cell resolution of 6 arc-minutes (0.1 degree, or approximately 10 km at the equator) and cover the global land surface from 70 degrees north to 55 degrees south. More details can be found in the van Donkelaar et al. 2015 article, “Use of Satellite Observations for Long-Term Exposure Assessment of Global Concentrations of Fine Particulate Matter,” in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

See: Global Annual PM2.5 Grids from MODIS, MISR and SeaWiFS Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD), v1 (1998 – 2012)


Monitoring Gap Will Increase for the Sustainable Development Goals

May 15, 2015

In a recent visit to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy gave a presentation to the ORNL Environmental Sciences Division on data and monitoring needs for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are currently under negotiation by governments as part of the post-2015 development agenda; after they have been adopted, the international community will face an even larger gap between monitoring needs and available capabilities. A global data partnership and an expert consultation are needed.

While at ORNL, Levy participated as an observer in a meeting of the user working group (UWG) of the ORNL Distributed Active Archive Center (ORNL DAAC) May 13–14, in his capacity as the lead project scientist for the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN. Like SEDAC, the ORNL DAAC is part of NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS); its focus is on biogeochemical and ecological data and models.

See: The Monitoring Gap Is About To Get a Whole Lot Bigger: Data Needs for the Sustainable Development Goals (abstract)


Earth Observation Strategy and Work Program Developed in Geneva

May 8, 2015

More than 100 representatives of member states and participating organizations of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) met May 4–7 in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss and further develop a new strategy and work program for the next phase of the voluntary intergovernmental organization. CIESIN director Robert Chen participated in the meeting in his capacity as a co-chair of the GEO Data Sharing Working Group, which oversees the evolution and implementation of the data sharing principles for the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS). Established in 2005, GEO has successfully implemented GEOSS as an operational network that links remote sensing and other geospatial data from around the world and makes them accessible for both research and decision making. Over the next decade, GEO plans to incorporate rapidly growing volumes of data from increasingly diverse sources and ensure their regular use in many different public and private sector applications. The NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN is a unique element of GEOSS, providing key socioeconomic data and services that facilitate such real-world applications. SEDAC is currently contributing to phase 8 of the Architecture Implementation Pilot (AIP-8), which is testing new apps and tools for energy and disaster management applications.


Climate-Violence Links Explored in Recent Talk

May 7, 2015

Links between climate stress and political violence were the subject of a talk by CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy at an interdisciplinary workshop organized by the Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate May 6 at Columbia University′s Morningside campus in New York City. Levy was one of 15 speakers from Columbia on topics such as hurricanes and droughts, disease transmission, and energy resilience. His presentation, “Extremes and Extremism: Why Climate Stress Increases Political Violence,” looked at how climate stress can trigger political instability and violence across linked systems and how efforts to manage risk may lead to more instability. He also discussed why some people persist in denying climate-security connections. A video of a longer version of the lecture, given at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver earlier this year, is now available online.

See: Extreme Weather and Climate: Hazards, Impacts, Actions Workshop


Environmental Peacebuilding Academy Established

May 4, 2015

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy and program manager Alex Fischer are founding members of the Environmental Peacebuilding Academy, an educational partnership to cultivate the next generation of environmental peacebuilding practitioners, researchers, and decision makers. Members teach classes related to environmental peacebuilding and are committed to using and promoting the Knowledge Platform and Community of Practice. Environmental peacebuilding integrates natural resource management with conflict prevention, mitigation, resolution, and recovery to build resilience in communities affected by conflict. The Academy is a collaborative effort of the Environmental Law Institute, UNEP, McGill University, and the University of Tokyo.

Levy has also been appointed head of the Research Focal Group of the Climate and Security Working Group, a policy network that explores the security risks posed by climate change. The network was established by the Center for Climate & Security based in Washington, D.C.


CIESIN Deputy Director to Co-Lead North American Environmental Assessment

May 1, 2015

Marc Levy, CIESIN deputy director, has agreed to serve as one of two co-chairs of the North American Regional Assessment for the sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) being developed by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). GEO-6 will use a regional assessment approach to create a comprehensive picture of the environmental factors contributing to human well-being and to analyze policy options for achieving environmental objectives and goals. Together with co-chair Robert Corell, Levy will help coordinate the work of more than 40 experts on the North American assessment.


East African Community Workshop Develops Climate Information Network Action Plan

May 1, 2015

Break-out group participants at PREPARED action planning workshop

CIESIN senior research associate Sandra Baptista participated in a two-day Climate Information Network Stakeholder Action Planning Workshop in Kigali, Rwanda, April 20–21. Workshop leaders used participatory methods to facilitate discussions among about 60 climate information providers and end users to formulate an action plan for a regional Climate Information Network for the East African Community (EAC) Partner States, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. Baptista subsequently presented the outcomes of the workshop on April 22 at the meeting of the EAC Climate Change Technical Working Group. The workshop was organized under the auspices of the Planning for Resilience in East Africa through Policy, Adaptation, Research, and Economic Development (PREPARED) Program funded by the US Agency for International Development East Africa Mission (USAID/East Africa).


April Brought Diverse Visitors to CIESIN

April 30, 2015

A wide range of visitors met with CIESIN staff in April. At the Columbia University Morningside campus April 13, associate directors Alex de Sherbinin and Greg Yetman and deputy director Marc Levy hosted Willie Schubert, program officer with the Earth Journalism Network (EJN). They discussed various resources useful for journalists, including Web technologies, data layers, and map tools available from CIESIN and the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). On April 20, CIESIN director Robert Chen participated in a visit by Joreg Mayer-Ries from the German Ministry of the Environment, organized by the Earth Institute. The meeting included discussions about sustainability policy and science in Germany and the United States and in context of the post-2015 development agenda. Both Mayer-Ries and Chen subsequently participated in the conference, "Measuring Sustainable Development: How Can Science Contribute to Realizing the SDGs?" at German House in New York City April 23–24.

Umar Serajuddin, Emi Suzuki, and Dereje Ketema Wolde from the Development Data Group (DDG) of the World Bank visited CIESIN at the Lamont campus April 22–23 to explore collaborative activities and access population data resources from the NASA SEDAC. Suzuki gave an informal presentation April 22 on some of the DDG′s current activities on subnational data development, poverty mapping, and sustainability indicators.

Two recent visits were arranged by the Alliance Program, the academic joint-venture between Columbia and three French institutions, the École Polytechnique (EP), Sciences Po, and Panthéon-Sorbonne University. Chen, Yetman, information scientist Xiaoshi Xing, and program manager Alex Fischer met with Mathieu Le Traon, EP vice president for international relations, and two colleagues April 24 on the Morningside campus. CIESIN has hosted interns from EP for more than six years. On April 28, CIESIN hosted a delegation of five experts from the EDF group in France, led by Bernard Salha, senior executive vice president and head of EDF Research and Development, to discuss areas of potential collaboration, especially those related to urban adaptation and mitigation in response to climate change.

CIESIN also gave a briefing April 28 for several students and two faculty members from the Global Health certificate program of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia′s Mailman School of Public Health (MSPH). And on April 30, CIESIN geospatial information specialist Malanding Jaiteh hosted a visit by Lucy Waruingi, executive director of the African Conservation Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss the availability and application of biodiversity data and information.


Governance of Sustainable Development Goals Explored at Arizona Workshop

April 27, 2015

For a workshop on implementing the sustainable development goals at Arizona State University in Tempe April 24–25, CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy gave presentations on lessons learned from the Millennium Development Goals experience and on the state of knowledge regarding how best to promote holistic governance. The workshop was sponsored by the Center for Law and Global Affairs at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and convened by professors Kenneth Abbott and Daniel Bodansky.


Mark Becker Remembered at New Jersey’s Ramapo College

April 23, 2015

The late Mark Becker was honored as part of the Ramapo College Remembrance Day April 22 at the college’s campus in Mahwah, New Jersey. The annual event established in 2005 memorializes individuals who made significant contributions to the college community during their lifetimes. Becker, who passed away February 26, 2014, was CIESIN associate director for geospatial applications and a member of the Ramapo School of Social Sciences faculty. A plaque with the names of those honored this year has been placed at the site of a newly planted tree in the campus Memorial Grove.

See: Ramapo College Remembrance Day


Northeast Regional Hub for Big Data Innovation Considered

April 21, 2015

Representing CIESIN, Robert Downs, senior digital archivist, participated in the Big Data Regional Innovations Hubs Charrette for the Northeast region held in Boston April 17. The charrette—an intensive, one-day design and planning workshop—is one of four sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) around the United States. The Northeast charrette convened members of the data science research community and other stakeholders to initiate a regional consortium to develop a data innovation hub in the region. Columbia's Data Science Institute is playing a lead role in the initiative.

See: Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs


Population and Displacement Focus of International Meetings

April 20, 2015

At the Nansen Initiative consultative committee meeting in Chateau de Bossey, Switzerland, April 16–17, Alex de Sherbinin, associate director of the CIESIN Science Applications Division, served as a member of the consultative committee, and associate research scientist Susana Adamo participated as an invited expert in the Central American regional consultation. The Nansen Initiative is an inter-governmental process that seeks to develop policy frameworks to protect displaced persons from disasters, recognizing that displacement from climate-related disasters is likely to grow in the future.

Earlier in the month, Adamo attended the expert group meeting, “Implications for the Global Research Agenda on Population and Development,” organized by the U.N. Population Division in New York April 10. The meeting, which featured a keynote speech by Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs, discussed global research priorities on population and development over the next 15 years. Adamo participated in breakout groups on age structure and impacts on youth, age structure and impacts on aging, and sustainable urbanization. The meeting sought to identify key knowledge gaps, recommended next steps, and ways to implement research priorities.


New Report Assesses Data Needs for Sustainable Development Goals

April 17, 2015

A major new report, “Data for Development: A Needs Assessment for SDG Monitoring and Statistical Capacity,” was launched at the United Nations Foundation in Washington, DC, April 17. The report, jointly authored by staff from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), Open Data Watch, CIESIN, the Paris21 Secretariat, Simon Fraser University, The World Bank, and UNESCO, is intended to advance discussions on the importance of strong statistical systems and monitoring capacity in implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the potential to mobilize the “data revolution” in support of sustainable development, and the need to clearly identify resource needs, areas of investment, and modernization approaches in formulating the post-2015 development agenda. CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy and program manager Alex Fischer participated in the launch event, representing the CIESIN team that contributed to the report on the topic of geospatial and environmental data collection and SDG indicator development.

See: Data for Development (download PDF)


Nairobi Workshop Teaches Skills for Mapping Climate Vulnerability

April 16, 2015

CIESIN geographic information specialist Malanding Jaiteh led a five-day workshop on geospatial data collection and mapping at the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) in Nairobi April 13–15. The workshop focused on training RCMRD geographic information system (GIS) technicians in the use of data collection tools and techniques and metadata documentation, in preparation for in-depth climate vulnerability mapping to be conducted in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The training workshop was organized under the auspices of the Planning for Resilience in East Africa through Policy, Adaptation, Research, and Economic Development (PREPARED) Program funded by the US Agency for International Development East Africa Mission (USAID/East Africa).


MIT Hosts Expert Meeting on Big Data Technology and Policy

April 13, 2015

A meeting of experts, “Development, Technology and Policy in the Big Data Era,” was held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, April 11, in conjunction with the NetMob 2015 conference. Participants, including CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy, developed ideas for how to promote the necessary intellectual, institutional, policy, and legal approaches needed to ensure that the ongoing “data revolution” benefits human development. The invitation-only meeting was organized by MIT Connection Science, the Data-Pop Alliance, The World Bank, and the World Economic Forum.


Workshop Convenes Climate Data Partners

April 9, 2015

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy participated in an invitation-only Climate Data Partnership workshop April 7 in Washington, DC. Organized by Forum One, the workshop brought together experts from government, academia, and private industry to discuss how to continue the momentum and collaboration around climate data innovators that was started by the White House Climate Data Initiative (CDI) in 2014. The CDI brings together open government data with expertise from the private and philanthropic sectors to develop data-driven planning and resilience tools at the local level, including citizen-science crowdsourcing applications and tools to optimize sustainable practices in agriculture. The workshop coincided with the launch of the human health theme of climate.data.gov, which features data, information, and decision tools designed to help citizens, businesses, non-governmental agencies, and governments better prepare for climate-related impacts on health.


Coastal Flood Risk and Protection Strategies for Jamaica Bay Analyzed

April 3, 2015

The Jamaica Bay watershed was used as a case study in a talk on quantifying the protective effects of “green” shorelines for coastal flood risk, given by CIESIN GIS programmer Kytt MacManus at the Coastal GeoTools conference March 30–April 2 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Coastal storms have led to some of the world’s most costly and deadly disasters, and hundreds of thousands of New York City residents near Jamaica Bay could be exposed to storm surges up to five meters high from a major hurricane. MacManus described an ongoing research project to evaluate the historic physical features of Jamaica Bay, model flood inundation, and develop and assess alternative scenarios of coastal development. Green approaches emphasize restoration and expansion of tidal wetlands, oyster beds, barrier beaches, and other riparian systems that can help ameliorate the impacts of severe flooding events and sea level rise. The project, Quantifying the Value and Communicating the Protective Services of Living Shorelines, is led by the Stevens Institute of Technology in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society and CIESIN, and is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal and Ocean Climate Applications (COCA) program. The conference was sponsored by the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

See: Quantifying the Value and Communicating the Protective Services of Green Shorelines...(8.20 MB PDF)


CIESIN Hosts Esri Founder Jack Dangermond

April 2, 2015

Jack Dangermond, founder and president of Esri, visited CIESIN at the Lamont campus March 30 to discuss potential areas of cooperation and collaboration on geospatial data and services. Later in the day, more than 100 faculty, staff members, students, and geospatial experts from around New York attended his talk, “Applied Geography for a Better World,” at the Columbia University Morningside Heights campus, moderated by CIESIN director Robert Chen. Dangermond, together with his wife, Laura Dangermond, received the prestigious Audubon Medal for Environmental Leadership at the annual Audubon Gala March 31 in New York City, honoring their achievements in technology and conservation innovation and their support of research institutions, schools, and non-profit organizations. Esri is the leading provider of geographic information system (GIS) software for a wide range of environmental and business applications. CIESIN manages the Esri site license at Columbia University and has utilized Esri software in research, education, and the development of geospatial data products and services for more than two decades.


Urban Heat Stress Indicators for Philadelphia and New York City Developed

March 31, 2015

CIESIN associate director Alex de Sherbinin and Erica Zell of Battelle Memorial Institute gave a presentation March 26 on work using remote sensing data to develop indicators of urban heat stress in New York City and Philadelphia. Their presentation to a New York City inter-agency working group on urban heat islands was one of the concluding events in an 18-month project funded by NASA in support of the U.S. National Climate Assessment. The project′s goal was to develop urban heat stress and urban heat island indicators using a combination of remote sensing and socioeconomic data to meet the needs of urban policymakers and other stakeholders. The following day, de Sherbinin and Zell also described their work for Earth Institute staff at a seminar hosted by CIESIN at the Lamont campus in Palisades, New York.

See: Heat Stress and Urban Heat Island Indicators Associated with Climate Change


Living Standards across Space in the Developing World Examined in Recent Talk

March 30, 2015

Earth Institute Fellow Martina Kirchberger, who has a two-year postdoctoral appointment at CIESIN, recently gave a talk, “Measuring living standards across space in the developing world,” at the Centre for the Study of African Economies Conference 2015, held March 22-24 at St. Catherine’s College in Oxford, UK. She also participated in the iiG Conference: Improving Institutions for Growth at the same Oxford venue March 20–21. At CIESIN, Kirchberger has been investigating how transport networks and infrastructure influence mobile communication patterns and economic activity. She is also working with Terra Populus, a project led by the Minnesota Population Center that integrates household data from censuses with land cover, land use, and other environmental data.


Big Data Fest Held at New York Hall of Science

March 29, 2015

Ilyun Koh demonstrating the SEDAC Population Estimation Service to attendees of the New York Hall of Science

The New York Hall of Science (NYSci) in Queens, New York, hosted a “Big Data Fest” at the museum from 11 am to 5 pm March 28, with hands-on, interactive data experiences, and demonstrations for kids of all ages. CIESIN director Robert Chen gave a public talk, “Can Big Data Help Save Our Planet?″ and demonstrated the SEDAC Population Estimation Service throughout the day. He was joined at the CIESIN exhibit table by senior digital archivist Robert Downs, senior research associate Meredith Golden, and senior research staff assistant Ilyun Koh, who showed users how to use the Climate and Health ANalysis for Global Education Viewer (CHANGE Viewer) and the National Priorities List Superfund Footprint Mapper. CIESIN is part of a team led by NYSci that is developing “Connected Worlds,” an interactive, immersive exhibit on sustainability being installed in the Great Hall, an iconic space from the 1964 World′s Fair under renovation in conjunction with NYSci's 50th anniversary.


Earth Science Data Needs and Usability Addressed in Virginia and Maryland Meetings

March 27, 2015

Norfolk, Virginia, and Greenbelt, Maryland, were the sites of several different meetings aimed at addressing user needs for earth observation data and improving data usability and quality. On March 23 in Norfolk, associate director for geospatial applications Greg Yetman attended the kickoff meeting of the eighth phase of the Architecture Implementation Pilot (AIP-8), an initiative of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) to test and implement connections between geospatial data and services in support of user-driven information needs. Two mapping clients and the Population Estimation Service developed by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN will be used in AIP-8 to demonstrate the integration of population and remote sensing data for disaster response and other applications as part of the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS).

Yetman and CIESIN director Robert Chen then participated in the 4th GEOSS Science and Technology Stakeholder Network workshop in Norfolk March 24-26. Yetman chaired a plenary session, “From Data to Knowledge Sharing,”and Chen co-chaired a breakout session, “Global and Regional Observation Networks Sustainability and Capacity Building.”

Also March 24-26, senior digital archivist Robert Downs attended the annual meeting of the Earth Science Data System Working Groups (ESDSWG) at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. Downs helped present the results of the Open Source working group, which he co-chairs, and also presented the poster, “Data Lifecycle Recommendations for Improving the Usability of Data Quality Information for Earth Science Data″ in support of the Data Quality working group. He also co-authored posters on the identification, provenance, and preservation of earth science data.


Opportunities for Collaboration on Geography and Statistics Discussed

March 24, 2015

Ekkehard Petri, a project manager with the Eurostat Project of the European Commission, visited CIESIN March 23 to discuss plans for the first global forum on geography and statistics and CIESIN's potential participation. The global forum will take place concurrently with the the eighth European Forum for Geography and Statistics (EFGS), to be held in Vienna November 10–12. Petri and CIESIN staff members also explored opportunities to collaborate on the development of gridded populaton data resources.


CIESIN Contributes to Scientific Capacity Discussions

March 23, 2015

CIESIN director Robert Chen participated in a meeting of the United States delegation to the Belmont Forum E-Infrastructures and Data Management Project March 17–18 in Tucson, Arizona. The Belmont Forum is an initiative by national scientific funding agencies to collaborate in addressing the challenges and opportunities of global environmental change. Chen is one of more than a dozen U.S.-based members contributing to phase 1 of the project, established in 2013 to develop proposals and plans for possible cyberinfrastructure investments and strategic science policies by the Belmont Forum members. The U.S. delegation reviewed a number of proposed collaborative research actions and discussed options for phase 2 of the project that will begin later in 2015.

March 19-20 in Washington, DC, CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy attended a workshop sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), “Building Capacity in 21st Century Social Sciences.” The workshop brought together more than 30 invited experts to explore ideas for more effectively harnessing the power of the social sciences to help address high priority “grand challenges″ facing the country and the world. A key question addressed in the workshop was how the social science community can build capacity and organize itself to collectively tackle these challenges, working across disciplines and scales.


New Visitors Arrive at CIESIN

March 20, 2015

A soil moisture expert from Djibouti in East Africa, Idris Bexi Warsama, is visiting CIESIN for six weeks this spring. Bexi Warsama is an associate professor at the University of Djibouti, who has spent the past year at the University of California–Davis as a Humphrey Fellow. He earned his PhD in geophysics at the Sorbonne Paris Cité University and also studied at the University of Lyon, France. At CIESIN he will develop a climate vulnerability map for Djibouti and will help refine CIESIN training materials on vulnerability mapping.

Etienne Brugère, a masters student in the engineering school of École Polytechnique in Paris, has arrived to work with information scientist Xiaoshi Xing on a carbon monitoring database until early July. He is hosted by CIESIN under the auspices of the Alliance Program, a joint venture between Columbia University, École Polytechnique, Sciences Po, and the Université de Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne.

Two CIESIN visitors have recently completed their stays: Xiaoteng Cen from Zhejiang University and Yuanyuan Yang from Jilin University in China. Both Cen and Yang are working to complete their doctoral dissertations at their respective universities.


Spring Brings Personnel Changes to CIESIN

March 19, 2015

Emilie Schnarr has been promoted to staff associate in CIESIN's Science Applications Division. Emilie will continue to support CIESIN's work on climate vulnerability and resilience in Africa, but is also taking on new responsibilities in other research and data development activities. Currently an MS student in earth and environmental engineering at Columbia, she has a MA in climate and society from Columbia and a BS in environmental systems from the University of California–San Diego. Emilie began working at CIESIN in December 2012.

Gina Dinnegan has been promoted to administrative coordinator. Among other new responsibilities, Gina has begun supporting the Superfund Research Program (SRP) Research Translation Core (RTC). Gina joined CIESIN in November 2012 as an administrative assistant.

Working at CIESIN as a casual employee since October 2014, Mou Jian Lee has become a senior research staff assistant in the Geospatial Applications Division. He has an MPA in environmental science and policy from Columbia and a BS in natural resources from Cornell University. He will continue to primarily support data development activities, especially the fourth version of the Gridded Population of the World data set.

Kimberly Peng, staff associate in the Science Applications Division, has recently transferred to the Earth Institute′s Agriculture and Food Security Center. Kimberly joined CIESIN as an intern in 2011 and later as a research assistant working on activities in Haiti and supporting the Millennium Villages project. She is currently working on the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS) and will focus on AfSIS activities exclusively at the Ag Center.


Future Socioeconomic Pathways and Climate Indicators Explored in New Publications

March 18, 2015

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy is a co-author of a new paper, “The Roads Ahead: Narratives for Shared Socioeconomic Pathways Describing World Futures in the 21st Century,” appearing in the journal Global Environmental Change. The paper presents qualitative descriptions of future societal development for each of the “shared socioeconomic pathways” (SSPs) that the scientific community has developed to support analysis of climate mitigation and adaptation. The five narratives in the paper describe plausible future changes in demographics, human development, economy, institutions, technology, and environment. The paper is an output of an international scenario process carried out under the auspices of the International Committee on New Integrated Climate change assessment Scenarios (ICONICS).

Alex de Sherbinin, associate director of science applications, is also a co-author of New York City Panel on Climate Change 2015 Report Chapter 6: Indicators and Monitoring, appearing in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in February. The chapter builds on an approach laid out in the 2010 New York Panel on Climate Change report, examining how to establish a climate resiliency indicator and monitoring system for New York City that is more responsive to current and future climate change.

See: “The Roads Ahead: Narratives for Shared Socioeconomic Pathways Describing World Futures in the 21st Century”
       New York City Panel on Climate Change 2015 Report Chapter 6: Indicators and Monitoring


Site Downtime on Friday, March 20

March 17, 2015

CIESIN, SEDAC, and other related Web sites such as the Population-Environment Research Network (PERN) will be unavailable for about four hours on Friday, March 20, beginning at about 11:30 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), due to electrical system upgrades in the building housing our computer servers. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please contact CIESIN User Services if you have any questions or concerns.


CIESIN Staff Advise Groups around the Globe

March 16, 2015

Several staff members at CIESIN have been working in an advisory capacity with a variety of national and international organizations:

  • Alex de Sherbinin, associate director for science applications, is assisting the Transboundary Water Assessment Program (TWAP) in its final project phase with inputs on the socioeconomic content of its over-arching report, Cross-cutting Perspectives on Transboundary Waters, which looks at results across river basins, lakes, aquifers, and large marine ecosystems. He attended a meeting of the co-authors at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, March 2–3.
  • At United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi, March 10–12, associate research scientist Sylwia Trzaska shared her climatology expertise at a review meeting of UNEP’s CLIM-WARN (climate warning) early warning system for climate extremes, including heat waves, forest fires, floods and droughts.
  • The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) in Boulder, Colorado, has instituted a review panel to provide independent critical assessment and guidance on NEON's cyberinfrastructure. Sri Vinay, associate director for information technology, participated in a review workshop March 11–12 as a member of the panel. CIESIN director Robert Chen is also a member of the NEON Board, which is meeting March 19–20.
  • Deputy director Marc Levy participated in a March 5 workshop at the University of Texas, Austin, to explore initial work of a project, Complex Emergencies and Political Stability in Asia (CEPSA). Levy is a member of CEPSA′s advisory board. CEPSA is a three-year initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Defense's Minerva Initiative to understand insecurities that shape vulnerability in Asia and potential strategies to build government response capacity.
  • CIESIN director Robert Chen attended the spring meeting of the Governing Council of the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, March 5–6. ICPSR is an international consortium of more than 700 academic institutions and research organizations and the largest social science data archive in the world. Chen's term as one of twelve Council members extends through February 2018.

Research Data Alliance Holds Fifth Plenary in San Diego

March 13, 2015

More than 400 scientists and specialists involved in research data development and management gathered in San Diego March 8−11 for the Fifth Plenary of the Research Data Alliance (RDA), an international initiative to promote open data sharing across disciplines, borders, and technologies. CIESIN director Robert Chen co-chaired a breakout session of the RDA-CODATA Interest Group on Legal Interoperability of Research Data on March 10, reviewing a draft set of principles to address legal barriers to data sharing. CIESIN senior digital archivist Robert Downs gave several oral presentations on data management and preservation issues and a poster on the usability of scientific data documentation. He also participated in the RDA “Adoption Day″ event at the San Diego Supercomputer Center on March. The sixth RDA plenary will be held in Paris September 23–25.

See: Research Data Alliance Fifth Plenary


Workshop to Develop Geospatial Water Quality Database for Jamaica Bay

March 9, 2015

The development of a geospatial database specific to Jamaica Bay was the subject of a workshop held March 6 at the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education in New York City. In collaboration with Brett Branco of Brooklyn College of the City University of New York (CUNY) and the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay (SRI@JB), the workshop was led by CIESIN senior research associate Sandra Baptista, manager of data center services John Scialdone, geographic information specialist Dara Mendeloff, and associate director for information technology Sri Vinay. The geospatial database will store and deliver existing water quality data sets and metadata from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the Gateway National Recreation Area of the National Park Service, which manages the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, an 18,000-acre wetland estuary surrounded by the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. The workshop convened about 40 stakeholders working in Jamaica Bay to envision ways to use the database. These inputs will inform CIESIN’s design of the data management system for the two-year project, “Detecting Water Quality Regime Shifts in Jamaica Bay.” This activity is one of ten supported by U.S. Department of the Interior’s Hurricane Sandy Mitigation funding to advance understanding of resilience in urban coastal ecosystems, with a focus on Jamaica Bay.

See: “Detecting Water Quality Regime Shifts in Jamaica Bay”


Panel Discusses Financial Needs for Monitoring Sustainable Development

March 4, 2015

A side event, “Financial Needs Assessment for SDG Monitoring and Statistical Capacity Development” was held March 2 at United Nations headquarters in New York City in conjunction with the 46th meeting of the UN Statistical Commission. CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy and program manager Alex Fischer participated in the panel discussion, which presented preliminary results and a draft report from a project to assess needs and costs associated with monitoring the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under negotiation as part of the “post-2015” development agenda.  The side event was organized by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the World Bank, PARIS21, Open Data Watch, and CIESIN. Levy and Fischer, along with several other CIESIN staff members, are contributing to the report, which is expected to be released in final form in April as an input into the Financing For Development (FFD) conference in July 2015. 

See: Financial Needs Assessment for SDG Monitoring and Statistical Capacity Development
       A Needs Assessment for SDG Monitoring and Statistical Capacity Development


Risks to Human Security Addressed at Vancouver and London Events

March 3, 2015

Marc Levy, deputy director at CIESIN, spoke recently about threats to human security from climate change. His presentation February 26 was part of a series, “Climate Change—How Safe are You?” sponsored by the Centre for Coastal Science and Management at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Levy’s talk focused on three phenomena: the increased difficulty of regulating violence and conflict under challenging climate conditions; how efforts to manage climate change in one area can shift risks to another; and how interactions between complex linked systems can rapidly impact human security. Identifying and understanding these unsettling risks is a critical first step to managing them. 

Levy also participated in a meeting of the Taskforce on Impacts of Extreme Weather on US/UK Food Security, held February 23–25 in London.  Sponsored by the United Kingdom’s Science and Innovation Network and Global Food Security Programme, the task force brings together academic, industry, and policy stakeholders to characterize plausible large-scale risks to the world food system stemming from extreme climate phenomena.  

See: Welcome to the Pressure Cooker: How Climate Change is Making Our World More Violent and Less Secure


Using Earth Observations in Developing Sustainable Development Indicators Highlighted

March 2, 2015

photo of panelists at UN side event

The potential integration of earth observation data into the emerging set of sustainable development indicators under consideration as part of the post-2015 development agenda was the focus of a dialogue held February 27 at United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York City. Moderated by CIESIN director Robert Chen, the side event included three case studies illustrating the current use of earth observations and other geospatial data in national statistical systems, water sector monitoring, and other environmental and resource applications. To help set the context, introductory remarks were given by Tatjana von Steiger Weber, minister, the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN; Barbara Ryan, executive director of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO); Stefan Schweinfest, director of the UN Statistics Division (UNSD) and the UN Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) Secretariat; and Chen. More than 80 individuals attended the event, which was co-organized by Switzerland, GEO, the UN-GGIM Secretariat, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The event is one of a series of activities preceding the start of the 46th Session of the UN Statistical Commission March 3.

See: The Role of Earth Observations in Developing Indicators for the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Starting a Dialogue


Workshop Supports Planning of National Soil Information Systems in Africa

February 23, 2015

CIESIN remote sensing scientist Xue Liu, program manager Jennifer Mulvey, and research associate Kimberly Peng attended a planning workshop for phase two of the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS) February 12–13 in Arusha, Tanzania. Sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the workshop included representatives from the ministries of agriculture from partner countries Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Tanzania, as well as experts from the Columbia Global Centers | Africa, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), ISRIC-World Soil Information, Quantitative Engineering Design (QED), the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and the Earth Institute. The workshop featured presentations from project partners on progress over the last 18 months, including new technologies and methodologies for continent-wide soil mapping, data collection, management, analysis, and dissemination. For each country, a working group met to determine the work-streams needed to develop their national soil information system. AfSIS is an international initiative to develop detailed digital maps of soils in 42 countries of sub-Saharan Africa in support of sustainable agriculture.

See: Africa Soil Information Service


New Earth Observation Data Project Launched in Barcelona

February 20, 2015

The kickoff meeting of a new European project, ConnectinGEO, was held in Barcelona February 18–19. Funded by the European Union, ConnectinGEO aims to help develop a European Network of Earth Observation Networks (ENEON) and to fill in key data gaps within the overall framework of the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS). CIESIN associate director for geospatial applications Greg Yetman participated in the meeting, presenting an overview of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) and other CIESIN projects and resources. 

See: ConnectinGEO


Science Journalists Focus on Innovative Data and Tools

February 19, 2015

More than 50 science journalists, science communicators, scientists, and students gathered at the Dolce Hayes Mansion in San Jose, California, February 16–18 for the 2nd Kavli Symposium on Science Journalism. The focus of the meeting was on data mining and innovative data tools that could benefit the international community of science journalists. CIESIN associate director for science applications Alex de Sherbinin presented a keynote address, “Big and Open Data for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” highlighting the need for investments in monitoring and data for the SDGs, the importance of open data, and the promise and limitations of so-called “Big Data” for filling data gaps. He also highlighted the work of the ICSU Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA), including its task group on global roads open access data, which he leads. The symposium was organized by the Kavli Foundation and the World Federation of Science Journalists.

See: 2nd Kavli Symposium on Science Journalism


NASA Earth Science Data Centers Implement User Registration

February 16, 2015

In order to improve user experience and understanding of user demographics and needs, the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) is introducing “single sign-on” access to all EOSDIS elements, including the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN. The new User Registration System (URS) facilitates streamlined user registration and profile management, allowing users to take advantage of the wide array of EOSDIS data and services using a common username and profile. SEDAC is planning to implement the URS system on or around February 20, 2015. SEDAC users will be able to access SEDAC Web pages without logging in, but will need to register with URS before downloading data. User profile information is not shared outside of EOSDIS, and users are able to control which EOSDIS site or service can access the profile.

SEDAC users are welcome to register in advance here. Those who already have a URS login obtained from other EOSDIS Web sites should use their username when downloading data from the SEDAC site. Please contact SEDAC User Services if you have any questions about user registration.

See: URS Registration Information


New Report Finds SDGs Largely Improved over MDGs but Need Greater Definition

February 13, 2015

CIESIN director Robert Chen and deputy director Marc Levy are among a group of 40 authors of a new report that finds that the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer a “major improvement” over the prior Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, the independent review of the 169 draft SDG targets points out that only 29% are well-defined and based on the latest scientific evidence, whereas 54% need more work and 17% are weak or non-essential. The report, which was released by the International Council for Science (ICSU) in partnership with the International Social Science Council (ISSC), noted that the language describing many of the targets was vague and that goals were often isolated from each other. The report emphasizes the need for an overarching goal to articulate the ultimate ambition of the SDGs as a whole. Levy was lead author of the review of Goal 16 on peace, justice, and accountability, and Chen co-authored a chapter on monitoring and review.

See: Report: “Review of Targets for the Sustainable Development Goals: The Science Perspective” (6.21 MB PDF)
       Supplement: Sustainable Development Goals and Targets (PDF)


NASA SEDAC User Working Group Gains New Chair and Members

February 12, 2015

Five experts have begun four-year terms with the User Working Group (UWG) of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN. The new chair is Myron Gutmann, director of the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado Boulder and former associate director for social, behavioral, and economics sciences at the National Science Foundation. He replaces Molly Macauley of Resources for the Future. The other new members are William Hoffman of the World Economic Forum; Theresa Pardo of the Center for Technology in Government at the State University of New York at Albany; Adam Storeygard of the Department of Economics at Tufts University; and Leah Vanwey from the Department of Sociology at Brown University. The UWG  provides strategic guidance regarding SEDAC user needs and its interdisciplinary data and services.

See: SEDAC User Working Group


Overcoming Challenges in International Activities Discussed at Earth Institute Panel

February 12, 2015

A panel of senior Columbia University administrators joined a meeting of Earth Institute (EI) researchers and practitioners on February 10 to discuss barriers and challenges in working in international settings. The event, “Practice Makes Perfect: Strengthening the Earth Institute’s Capacity to Support Sustainable Development,”  was moderated by CIESIN director Robert Chen and drew more than 30 representatives of EI centers and programs. To encourage interaction and information sharing, the participants first met in small groups to identify key questions and problems related to purchasing, contracting, hiring, emergency planning, and insurance often faced by EI projects and staff, especially in remote areas subject to a range of potential hazards. Panelists then responded to questions from each group. Columbia has developed a Global Support Web site to coordinate information and resources related to international activities, including financial, legal, and other administrative aspects. Tuesday’s panel was the second of two panels organized by the Practice Committee of the Earth Institute Faculty.

See: Columbia Global Support


NASA Webinar Highlights Updated Gridded Population Data Set

February 3, 2015

The latest version of the Gridded Population of the World (GPW) data set was the focus of a NASA EarthData Webinar on January 29, “Discover NASA’s Updated Gridded Population of the World (GPW).” More than 150 people participated in the online seminar, the highest attendance to date in the Webinar series. GPW is a widely used and cited data set that characterizes the distribution of population around the world. It is produced by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN. Geographic information specialist Erin Doxsey-Whitfield summarized the history and development of GPW, improvements to this fourth version of GPW, and ways the data have been used in research and policy applications. GIS programmer Kytt MacManus reviewed the methods used to develop GPWv4 and the data layers in the upcoming release. A question-and-answer period with the online participants followed the presentation.

See: Description: “Discover NASA’s Updated Gridded Population of the World (GPW)”
       Webinar Video


CIESIN Digital Archivist Takes Lead on NASA Earth Science Data Usability Effort

February 2, 2015

Robert Downs, CIESIN senior digital archivist, has been elected chair of a NASA subgroup aimed at improving the ability of earth science data users to assess the quality and usability of data distributed by the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS). The usability subgroup is part of the Data Quality Working Group, one of the NASA Earth Science Data System Working Groups (ESDSWG) that provide expert advice, solve problems, and improve efficiency in support of EOSDIS. Downs remains vice chair of the ESDSWG on Open Source and until recently served as vice chair of the ESDSWG on Software Reuse.


UN Meeting Examines Policy Integration Related to Sustainable Development Goals

January 30, 2015

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy participated in an expert group meeting January 28–29 on the topic of policy integration in government in pursuit of the SDGs (sustainable development goals). The international development community is working to establish a new set of SDGs, building on progress in meeting the 2015 Millennium Development Goals. A key issue is the ability of governments, especially those in low- and middle-income countries, to develop and implement integrated administrative policies and procedures to enable and support sustainable development. Organized by the Division for Public Administration and Development Management of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the expert meeting took place at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City.


Population in the Post-2015 Development Agenda Addressed by UN Expert Panel

January 23, 2015

An expert panel, “Population, sustainable development, and the post-2015 development agenda,” was held January 22 at United Nations headquarters in New York. Alex de Sherbinin, CIESIN associate director for science applications, gave a presentation on population dynamics, the environment, and climate change, including an overview of relevant CIESIN work on population, migration, vulnerability, adaptation, and indicator development. The expert panel was organized by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in preparation for the forty-eighth session of the Commission on Population and Development.

See: UN Web TV (starting at about 2 hours, 10 minutes)


CIESIN Reflects on Haiti Five Years after the Earthquake

January 14, 2015

CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy and Haiti program manager Alex Fischer shared their insights on progress, innovation, and challenges in Haiti, five years after the earthquake that destroyed large portions of Haiti′s capital city, Port-au-Prince, and crippled the country. Levy participated in a panel discussion on Al-Jazeera America, in which he shared views on how to overcome the persistent elements of fragility in Haiti. Fischer and Levy published an op-ed piece at Time.com arguing that Haiti shouldn’t lose momentum towards a modern e-Governance system utilizing spatial data-driven investment planning tools for their development policies. Fischer has also spoken with NHK World in Japan about elements of national progress towards reconstruction and challenges to stability.

When the earthquake occurred on January 12, 2010, both Levy and Fischer were attending meetings with United Nations personnel in Port-au-Prince, as part of an effort begun in 2008 to support watershed monitoring and poverty and infrastructure mapping in the country. They have returned to Haiti on many occasions since.

See: CIESIN Haiti Geoportal


Remote Sensing Scientist Joins Science Applications Division

January 13, 2015

Xue Liu, a scientist with more than 15 years of experience in remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS), has joined CIESIN′s Science Applications Division. Liu will help develop data systems and services for global and African digital soil mapping projects, and contribute to other geoinformatics and cyberinfrastructure activities in soil science, agricultural development, and related areas. He comes to CIESIN from I.M. Systems Group in Rockville, Maryland, where he worked on remote sensing, GIS, and decision support applications. He has also served as a visiting research associate professor with Chapman University and a senior research scientist with the Center for Earth Observing & Space Research at George Mason University. He received his PhD in photogrammetry and remote sensing from Wuhan University.


Earth Science Data and Information Community Meets in DC

January 9, 2015

Senior digital archivist Robert Downs and John Scialdone, manager of data center services, attended the Winter 2015 meeting of the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP Federation) held January 6–8 in Washington, DC. Downs presented two papers, “A Scientific Data Center Perspective on Publishing Data” and “Eliciting Knowledge on Science Software Sustainability from the Earth Science Informatics Community.”  He also presented the poster, ”Enabling Ongoing Access to Data Products and Services When Dependencies are No Longer Supported,” and was a co-presenter on another poster, “Human & Machine Actionable Data Citations.” In conjunction with the meeting, Downs participated in the board meeting of the Foundation for Earth Science as an elected ESIP representative. Scialdone represented the NASA Socioeconomic and Data Applications Center (SEDAC), a “Type 1” Federation member, during the Federation business meeting.


Scientific Data as a National Asset Emphasized in EOS Article

January 6, 2015

Senior digital archivist Robert Downs is one of the co-authors of a Forum contribution, “Realizing the Value of a National Asset: Scientific Data.” Published December 16, 2014 in EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, the article summarizes the conclusions and recommendations of discussions organized by the ESIP Federation since January 2013, including workshops held at the July 2013 and January 2014 ESIP Federation meetings. A key recommendation of the authors is the establishment of a U.S. National Research Council study on grand data challenges in the earth sciences, aimed at setting priorities for scientific data management and examining sustainable economic models for scientific data infrastructure.

See: “Realizing the Value of a National Asset: Scientific Data”


New Lead for CIESIN′s Science Applications Division

January 5, 2015

CIESIN is pleased to announce the appointment of Alex de Sherbinin as the new associate director for science applications, effective January 1. Since joining CIESIN in October 1999, de Sherbinin has played key roles in a range of CIESIN projects and activities on topics including population dynamics, climate vulnerability mapping, climate change and migration, environmental indicators, and remote sensing applications. He continues to serve as the deputy manager of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN and to co-lead the Population-Environment Research Network (PERN). He holds a PhD from the faculty of geo-information science and Earth observation (ITC) at the University of Twente, the Netherlands. He takes over leadership of the Science Applications Division from CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy. The division includes more than a dozen scientific staff and visiting scholars spanning a wide range of disciplines and analytic skills.

See: Alex de Sherbinin Biography