Center for Climate and Life Year in Review

Rebecca Fowler
December 05, 2017

2017 was our biggest year yet. We’re excited to share our top moments, made possible by our community and their commitment to understanding the critical issue of climate change and its impacts on humanity.

2017 was our biggest year yet. Among the highlights: We funded high-impact research on climate impacts on life’s essentials, expanded our Fellows Program, co-sponsored a conference and authored a report on how advances in climate science can inform investments in the global economy, and produced a series of climate research explainer videos.

Empowering Exceptional Scientists

Center for Climate and Life scientists remain at the forefront of critical climate change research. Their studies inform how climate change will impact livelihoods, from water availability, forest fire risk, and the causes and rates of sea level rise to how rising carbon dioxide levels and warmer oceans impact ocean health.

The 2017 Center for Climate and Life Fellows

This year we awarded $1.7 million in fellowships to eight researchers, bringing our cohort of Center for Climate and Life Fellows to 10 outstanding Columbia University scientists.

The Fellows Program mobilizes researchers across disciplines, institutes, and ranks to accelerate the knowledge needed to illuminate the risks and opportunities for future human sustainability.

Research by the new Fellows addresses mission-critical problems, such as sub-seasonal weather and climate forecasts; the instability of the Greenland Ice Sheet and related sea level rise implications; and interannual to decadal climate linkages across the Northern Hemisphere.

External Grant Funding

The Center for Climate and Life supports high risk, high reward research. In some cases, these awards have led to successful external grant funding. In 2017, our research funding investments were partially responsible for securing a whopping $9.5 million in external agency and foundation funding.

For example, Climate and Life Fellow Park Williams used his Center support to conduct critical, foundational research that forms the basis for proposals to traditional funding agencies. As a result, Williams was awarded $6 million in grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the influence of climate change on droughts and wildfires. Williams also received funds to support a Ph.D. student for three years, and host an October 2017 conference, with additional support from the Center for Climate and Life, on improving tools for predicting wildfires.

The Whittier fire in Santa Barbara County, California forced thousands of people to evacuate and consumed more than 18,000 acres in July 2017. The Center provided support for a meeting at Columbia, co-hosted by Fellow Park Williams, that focused on improving tools for predicting wildfire. (Photo: U.S. Forest Service)

Climate scientist Richard Seager used his WSL-PURE funding to perform a collection of data analyses that he used in an NSF grant proposal to demonstrate the feasibility of his planned project. NSF funded the grant, which will allow Seager to investigate what causes the sea surface temperature anomalies that can drive extreme weather events such as severe heat waves, heavy precipitation, lengthy droughts, and deadly wildfires. The research will help better predict these events, so society can prepare for and adapt to them.

Rewarding Interdisciplinary Partnerships

Our work with WSL PURE continues to accelerate key scientific research and understanding of global ocean health. This partnership has resulted in findings such as the discovery that the warmer, more acidic waters caused by climate change influence the behavior of tiny marine organisms essential to ocean health. The finding is crucial to making more accurate predictions of how climate change will alter the ocean.

Another group of our WSL-PURE funded scientists recently found that massive boulders perched on the Bahamas coast are evidence of ancient storms and sea level rise. This means that even if the intensity of storms does not increase with climate change, sea level rise alone might be enough to increase the frequency of waves strong enough to move such boulders today.

Our collaboration with the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School led to a May 2017 forum in New York City that built communication and understanding between the investment and scientific communities and presented stakeholders with the most current state of knowledge in climate change science and solutions. A summary of the forum, “The Near-term Impacts of Climate Change on Investors,” explores how advances in climate science can inform near-term investments in the global economy.

Training the Next Generation of Scientists

Participants in our high school summer internship program

Funding awarded by the Center not only advances bold new ideas, it expands opportunities for our scientists and their students.

Lorelei Curtin, a Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory graduate student who works with Climate and Life Fellow Billy D’Andrea, leveraged his fellowship award to win a Rolex Explorers Grant. The funding enables Curtin to join D’Andrea for paleoclimate fieldwork this winter on Easter Island — an invaluable learning experience that will help her prepare for a career as an independent scientist.

Our educational opportunities also occur closer to home. In 2017, our summer intern program brought four students from New York City area high schools to the Lamont-Doherty campus for four weeks.

This hands-on experience enables talented students to work alongside our scientists on cutting-edge climate research. The skills these students develop — problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration—are essential to their success in any field.

Bringing Scientific Discovery to the Public

We continue to publish Climate Voices, a series of posts from leading climate scientists who share their research results, experiences, and opinions at this time of remarkable climate and social change. Kate Marvel, an associate research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University, authored one of our most popular Voices articles of the year.

The scientists we fund continue to make frequent media appearances to discuss their research and climate-related events, from the wildfires in the western United States to the rapid intensification of hurricanes in 2017. Visit our news page for our roundup of their media appearances and watch our video series to hear our scientists explain their research.

We remain extremely grateful to our community of active supporters who understand the increasingly critical issue of climate change and its impacts on humanity. Through our collective determination and leadership, the Center is making a real difference. We look forward to sharing more of our achievements with you in 2018.