CCI Seed Funding Competition Year 2006 - 2007

CCI Seed Funding Competition Year 2006 - 2007

In order to help achieve the goals of the CCI, a competition for project seed money was held in Fall 2006. The CCI Steering Committee received 28 proposals requesting a total of ca. one million dollars. The proposals were reviewed by the CCI Steering Committee and 12 proposals were awarded reduced funding totaling $236,000. The following provides information on the funded proposals.

Contact: Art Lerner-Lam, Doherty Senior Research Scientist, LDEO

Title of Project: Cross-Cutting Initiative Workshop - Developing Disaster Resilience: Can poor countries afford to reduce the risk from natural disasters?

Scope of Project: Natural hazard risk management is now an explicit component of the poverty reduction and country assistance strategies of international development organizations. However, there does not yet exist a comprehensive international framework for financing mitigation, nor is there agreement on how to prioritize hazard mitigation alongside other, more pressing and immediate needs such as disease management and food security. We intend to commission white papers for the major themes of the workshop, and publish the papers together with discussant comments, proceedings, and other material. We would invite academic participants, representatives of the major reinsurance and international finance companies, and the development organizations and NGOs. The initial seed funding is to form an international steering committee to write a foundation proposal.


Contact: Robert S. Chen, Interim Director and Senior Research Scientist, CIESIN

Title of Project: CI4EI: How Can Cyberinfrastructure Help the Earth Institute Save the World?

Scope of Project: The EI does not at present have a coherent strategy for developing and using cyberinfrastructure (CI) to carry out its mission. It is therefore vital to the EI’s research enterprise to begin discussing how it can better plan for and utilize CI to remain at the state-of-the-art in science. Equally important is discussion of how CI can facilitate more effective interdisciplinary research and education, and the transition from science to applications and decision making. This cross-cutting activity is aimed primarily at starting the conversation and collaboration that will be needed to develop an effective EI-wide CI strategy and to launch the new partnerships that will be needed to compete successfully for CI support. To launch this activity, CIESIN will invite all EI centers, EI-affiliated departments, the Columbia libraries, and affiliated organizations and programs (e.g., GISS, Conservation Medicine, and CERC) to nominate one representative to serve on an overall steering committee and to suggest other participants in the effort. Two major outputs of the steering committee activity will be: (1) identification of CI needs across the EI that could significantly help the EI carry out its mission, including hardware, software, personnel, training, data, tools, and partnerships; and (2) identification and evaluation of CI opportunities, e.g., major agency, foundation, and industry programs and potential sponsors.


Contacts: Franco Montalto, EI Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Title of Project: Assessing Supports and Impediments to Implementation of Water Resource Management Strategies in Three Millennium Villages

Scope of Project: The Millennium Villages are based upon a clear “bottom-up” stakeholder participation model in the implementation of innovative science-base strategies. To further this model, there is a need to assess both international and local stakeholders’ perception of “bottom-up” water resource management innovation. This proposal seeks funds to conduct a multi-site assessment of the introduction of innovative water resource management strategies. The project will examine expert and local perspectives of water management innovation in three Millennium Villages (Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya), exploring how understandings of water management both shape and are modified by expert-villager collaboration in the articulation of challenges and development of appropriate innovations. The final deliverables of this project will be: 1) a tangible set of water resource management strategies co-developed with international water experts, and 2) an in-depth analysis of experts and villagers’ perceptions of water management innovation. This synthesis will be invaluable to assessing how international science and technology-based interventions can better address the local social and cultural landscape of East African villages.


Contact: John C. Mutter,  Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Earth Institute

Title of Project: A Social Autopsy of Hurricane Katrina

Scope of Project: The scale of tragedy from disasters of all types is most keenly felt in the numbers of human lives lost. Total mortality figures and especially the demographic profile of deceased victims can, however, be very difficult to obtain with any accuracy in many instances making difficult analysis of vulnerability across differing population groups. Hurricane Katrina made landfall near New Orleans on August 29th last year but just how many people lost their lives in that catastrophe, like those in poor countries is large and uncertain. There are two reasons why this is probably a significant undercount. One is that the number of missing people remains at just over 1000. The second and possibly more important reason is the way in which a hurricane victim is defined. The objective of this project is to compile a list that is completely encompassing of all deaths plausibly associated with the hurricane and its aftermath and hence larger than would be accommodated by most definitions of hurricane victim, but from which shorter lists could be derived depending on the particular definition. Then we will analyze these data to explore the details of factors that determined mortality risk both regionally and by factors such as age, race, and social class using differing definitions of victim.


Contacts: George Deodatis, Professor of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics; Robert S. Chen, Interim Director and Senior Research Scientist, CIESIN; and Klaus Jacob, Special Research Scientist, LDEO, and Adjunct Professor at SIPA

Title of Project: Towards Quantitative Assessment of Flooding and Storm Surge Risks in New York City

Scope of Project: Many of the world’s largest cities are situated at coasts and in estuaries at or near sea level. Major coastal urban centers are vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surges and other coastal hazards. The New York City Metropolitan region can be considered as an example of a megacity of considerable global importance. Appropriate responses or adaptations to changing circumstances, including climate change, are essential in maintaining this region’s global position. The proposed work will test flood and hurricane modules for their current ability to produce meaningful loss and impact estimates for NYC. The proposed research will focus on three major areas: (1) advancing the methodology for storm risk assessment, (2) quality control of input data, and (3) raising public awareness. Our Cross Cutting Initiative proposal has the goal to put members of the Earth Institute’s research community at Columbia University, together with cooperating institutions beyond Columbia, in a leading and highly competitive position to successfully submit proposals under NSF and other initiatives.


Contact: Klaus Lackner, Maurice Ewing and J. Lamar Worzel Professor of Geophysics, Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, and Director of Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy

Title of Project: A Colloquium on Carbon Regulation and the Diffusion of Low-Carbon Technology

Scope of Project: The Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy proposes to convene a colloquium on carbon regulation and the diffusion of low-carbon energy technologies. The colloquium, designed to cut across existing research programs within Columbia University, will have three objectives: to increase research on carbon policy, to build institutional capacity at Columbia University on carbon regulation, and to identify consensus within Columbia University on issues related to international and U.S. carbon policy. We will bring together researchers from across Columbia who are working on the issue in relative isolation and will also aim to spur new research projects and collaborations. In order to foster intellectual discourse, we will coordinate a series of monthly lunch-time discussions on climate change regulation, as well as at least two half-day seminars which will bring external speakers to Columbia. We will also provide nominal financial support to researchers, such as funding to attend conferences, purchase datasets, etc. At the end of the year, we expect that the members of the monthly discussion group will have determined a path for expanding research on carbon regulation and technology diffusion at Columbia.


Contact: Richard Plunz, Director of the Urban Design Lab at the Earth Institute

Title of Project: Strategic Plan for the New York City Futures Initiative Urban Design Model

Scope of Project: This proposal incorporates a general plan for the Urban Design Lab (UDL) for its second year. It addresses the UDL’s purpose and approach, successes and potential, and organization and resources. In particular, the UDL seeks support for the advancement of the Earth Institute’s Cross-Cutting Initiatives by developing the framework for an applied digital model for studying and guiding sustainable urban growth and re-development in New York City that also can be applied to metropolitan areas in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This model represents a key element of the New York City Futures Initiative. It will seek to integrate social and physical factors within a proposed test bed for including urban planning and policy with design, technology, and sustainable development.


Contacts: Roberto Lenton, Senior Advisor and Chair of Technical Committee Global Water Partnership, The Earth Institute, and Upmanu Lall, Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering

Title of Project: Development of an Interdisciplinary Center on Water and Sustainable Development

Scope of Project: This proposal will address an issue that is central to the mission of the Earth Institute: water and its relationship to sustainable development. We propose to establish, over the next ten months, an interdisciplinary center on Water and Sustainable Development and thus bring to fruition an idea that has been under discussion within the Water Cross-cutting Initiative for the last year. This initiative would seek a unifying approach to sustainable development through improved access to water and sanitation, human and ecological health, resilience to hydrologic hazards, and resource allocation in a competitive environment. Cross-disciplinary research, technology development, and global partnerships for research, training, advising and implementation support will enable the Center to become the leading global resource to identify and address current and emerging water constraints on development in the 21st century.


Contact: Roly Russell, EI Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Title of Project: Ecological History of the Great Plains Ecosystem: Incorporating humans into the story

Scope of Project: This project proposes to synthesize available information on the state and dynamics of the ecosystems of the Great Plains from the historic past through to the present. Many data exist both in published academic scholarship and in publicly available local records regarding the recent ecological history of the Great Plains; this project will bring together many of these data sources to produce a cohesive picture of the changes that have occurred in the ecosystem, especially focused on the changes in energy stocks and fluxes in the region (e.g. productivity shifts as land becomes farmed). This project will explicitly include humans into its conceptualization and thus analysis of the ecosystem, considering humans as one of many ecologically active entities (albeit a unique one) in the system. The goal of this project will be to eventually overlay these ecosystem changes with the patterns of human settlement and decision-making in this region though the last century and a half (the social research is through a separate NSF-funded research program, led by Roberta Balstad through the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions). Ideally these two histories of the region (social and ecological) will then be united and assessed under a variety of conceptual models, including the rubric of resilience, vulnerability, and adaptability of social-ecological systems as a complex adaptive systems.

Contact: Susan Doll, EI Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Title of Project: Estimating Exposure to Indoor Biomass Smoke Emissions: A critical step toward reducing human health impact

Scope of Project: The purpose of this current proposal is to advance the state of knowledge regarding emission profiles and characteristics of indoor air pollution associated with traditional three-stone fires and stove-intervention options, that lead to reduced pollution levels, to increase the fidelity and accuracy of the “dose” portion of the dose-response question. In particular, more spatially and temporally precise description of both emissions and exposures will inform specific and effective technical and behavioral recommendations to reduce exposure and improve health. In addition, physical characterization of particle size and composition, and the use of bioassays to investigate how particles modulate the oxidative and inflammatory responses of the lung to noxious substances, will advance the understanding of the causative mechanism of the “response” side of the investigation. The study will be conducted in Rwanda, pending final arrangements on site. The government of Rwanda has identified fuel-efficient stoves as a national priority and results from this study could be a timely contribution for informing policy.


Contact: Tobias Siegfried, EI Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Title of Project: Water, a 21st Century Sustainability Challenge: Catastrophe under high population density and extreme climate? The Past, Present and Future of Water Constrained Development in India

Scope of Project: While the scientific and political basis of the challenge given by anthropogenic climate change is now well documented, relatively little has been done to define the dimensions of the emerging freshwater crisis. There is no equivalent of the scientific component of the IPCC process to provide a basis to assess and avert a future regional water catastrophe. This CCI project seeks to:

  • Stimulate the creation of an IPCC like process addressing global fresh water. Above all, this includes a precise definition of the problem (Trends causation, scenario generation) and the evaluation of feasible policies.
  • Provide a template for water scenario analysis at multiple scales to inform crisis management: Identify methods for a better definition of water stress that consider climate transition and shocks and the dynamics of social system response; data acquisition, integration and analysis tools to support spatio-temporal, sectoral-specific risk and causal analysis; tools for screening and evaluating the success of proposed policies and technologies in a dynamic framework.
  • Develop these ideas for a setting in the critical zone: Bihar, India, in the Indo-Gangetic plain which is characterized by high rural population density and growth rate, extreme poverty, a monsoonal climate with extreme floods and droughts posing significant health and livelihood hazards, arsenic in groundwater, river pollution and accompanying loss of biodiversity. For this, ongoing World Bank water projects will provide context, data and collaborators.
  • Explore how mass mobilization of participation in such a project by academics, agency personnel, individuals and NGOs can be stimulated to develop a network for geo-referenced data acquisition and analysis and integration into a common IT platform.

Contact: William E. Wright, Doherty Associate Research Scientist, LDEO

Title of Project: Dendrochronology and Paleoclimatology in Northeastern Africa

Scope of Project: In terms of climate information, most regions of northeastern Africa are data poor, with the best instrumental datasets covering only the last 50 years at best, and that data is often recorded only sporadically.  Yet for these poor agrarian economies, understanding the potential range of climate variability is critical for managing the development of water storage capacity, and for decision making regarding issues such as crop diversity and crop rotation. Proposed is the assessment of the dendrochronological and dendroclimatological potential of tree-ring information from trees growing near the sites of the current Earth Institute Millennium Villages sites of Koraro, Ethiopia and Sauri, Kenya, though some trees growing near Mbola, Tanzania would also be appropriate. Following the analyses, the stable isotope, ring width measurements, and climate records will be compared statistically to identify patterns in common at an annual time step.  After annual growth banding is identified, the resulting time series will be compared with climate records to reconstruct the environmental parameter with the dominant influence on the tree growth.