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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 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