I am very happy to report that my colleague, Alessandra Giannini, a research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, has been awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER award to advance our understanding of climate model projections in the African Sahel, a semi-arid region south of the Sahara Desert that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.
[I also shot a quick video interview with Ale. Had much fun with it. I used our trusty Kodak zi8 HD record with a lapel mic. The interview part took about an hour, and then I used iMovie to edit a better-than-rough cut in about 3 hours. IRI's design guru, Jason, added the final polish. Click on the embedded movie to listen to Ale discuss her work, as well as her thoughts on becoming a scientist. Now for the rest of the story...]
The Faculty Early Career Development Program, known as CAREER, is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for junior professors that are exemplary “teacher-scholars” who can integrate education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.
At the heart of Giannini’s research is a quest to understand why 21st century climate-change projections diverge in the Sahel and other parts of the developing world.
“Anthropogenic climate change is expected to affect less-developed societies with greater severity, yet it’s in the tropics, where these societies are located, that projections of change, especially of changes in regional rainfall, have the greatest uncertainty” , says Giannini.
The global models that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses in its assessments are inconsistent for the Sahel. Some of the models project the region to become wetter than it is currently, while others project it to be dryer, she says. “Having a better grasp of the situation is critical, because this region is highly vulnerable to rainfall variability and change.”
In the 1970s and 80s, the Sahel suffered from devastating droughts and famines that killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to migrate elsewhere. Giannini and her colleagues at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and at Texas A&M University conclusively demonstrated that those droughts could have been caused not by deforestation and land-use change, but by changes in global ocean temperatures. They published their results in the journal Science in 2003.
The CAREER award will fund Giannini’s work for five years, and includes support for a doctoral student in climate science. In their research, Giannini and the student will analyze output from global models that diverge in order to try to identify any mechanisms attributable to natural variability, land use change or global warming. They will then look for the ‘fingerprints’ of such mechanisms in actual observations of the Earth’s atmosphere collected by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Mobile Facility (AMF) in Niamey, Niger – in the heart of the Sahel. The AMF is a portable laboratory equipped with a suite of instruments designed to collect data on clouds and other components of the atmosphere. Finally, they will test sensitivity in the models’ behavior to such mechanisms with carefully crafted simulations.
Reaching out to the Columbia Community
Giannini’s CAREER award also funds a particularly interesting educational component. She will be working with Columbia’s Institute of African Studies to develop lessons and materials that benefit community organizations and public schools in Harlem, a historically African-American neighborhood near Columbia University with a sizable immigrant population from West African countries such as Senegal and Mali. Her aim is to teach climate-change science to high-school students from an environmental justice perspective, using air pollution as a way to connect local and global issues.
“I applaud Dr. Giannini’s willingness to share knowledge, broaden connections between people and ideas and create opportunities for participatory growth,” says Mamadou Diouf, the director of the Institute of African Studies.
Giannini wants to open up dialogue with immigrant community organizations in Harlem to share perspectives on climate change and its impacts. “Of great interest to me is to understand how they understand and explain drought, which may have ultimately led them to leave their countries. It’s a mutual education – reaching a common understanding can help the IRI build projects in the region so it and its partners can act in the best informed way possible, with local support, to help avert the worst consequences of future change.”
Immigrants routinely contribute to the survival of their communities of origin through remittances. Ultimately, Giannini hopes that scientific knowledge will empower them to learn from the past in order to shape a different future – a future that confronts head-on the same problems of poverty eradication and sustainable development that form the core of the mission of the IRI.
Permalink for this story: http://iri.columbia.edu/features/2010/iri_scientist_wins_nsf_career_award.html
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The second installment of a three-part series we’re running over at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society web site. IRI Director-General, Stephen Zebiak, gets into more detail on defining climate risk management.
Once we’ve identified the best technologies and practices, the fourth and final step is finding the “real world” arrangements that enable their implementation. Using the example of an early-warning system for food crises, we can ask: What are the actual mechanisms to have in place for hunger relief? Who are the key decision makers to identify? What specific types of climate information do they need in order to take action and who will supply it? How do we make this sustainable?
The fact that climate risk management can be effective doesn’t make it easy. Because the process is inherently interdisciplinary, it requires a detailed understanding of complex, context-specific interactions between physical, natural and social systems. It also involves collaboration among experts who must work together on cross-disciplinary problems. Although developing the proper strategies is a complicated task, climate risk management can be applied to agricultural, water, health or any other sector, on spatial scales that range from local to global, and on time scales from near- to long-term.
Read the entire piece on the IRI web site.
Photo: Indonesia food market. Francesco Fiondella/IRI.
In the first of a three-part series, IRI’s Director-General, Stephen Zebiak, makes the case for climate-risk management as an approach for dealing with droughts, floods, epidemics and other problems that plague society and hinder development. This approach, if applied correctly, would also be an effective adaptation strategy to climate change.
Climate shocks in the form of droughts, floods, cyclones, and related problems such as epidemics, food insecurity and infrastructure loss have been playing out throughout recorded history, but with increasing severity as populations become increasingly vulnerable. A growing body of evidence, much of it captured in the 2007-2008 Human Development Report by the United Nations, points to the direct effects of climate on economic and human development, particularly in low-income countries. Scan the headlines of recent weeks, and you’ll undoubtedly come across stories about the ongoing food crisis in Niger caused by irregular rainfall, which threatens the lives and well being of at least seven million people. You’ll see pictures from the extremely harsh winter in Mongolia, which wiped out nearly 20% of the country’s livestock, leading to food shortages and loss of livelihood for tens of thousands of families. You’ll read about how hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors in Haiti are still living in relief camps and other temporary structures, under threat of a hurricane season forecasted to be unusually active. The ability to cope better with climate is thus a paramount issue of the present, and a potentially even greater issue in the foreseeable future. We need ‘win-win’ approaches to better manage current climate risks and to build capability to cope with the climate of the future.
The work needed to provide problem-specific information and to advance innovations in the use of such information is the science of climate risk management practice. Put simply, climate risk management is the process of climate-informed decision-making. It involves the use of strategies that reduce uncertainty through the systematic use of climate information. This work is especially challenging because it involves a complex interplay between physical, natural, and social systems and requires that practitioners engage with good science, good policy, and good practice. At present there are some organizations working to connect these disparate disciplines — but while their work has provided examples of practical ways to manage climate risk, the demand for useable knowledge and information far outstrips what can be provided.
Read the entire piece on the IRI web site.
Photo: Pétionville camp for displaced Haitians. Eric Holthaus/IRI.
Our posse put together a brief video that highlights the partnership between the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre. We pulled it to together in record time for COP 15. I’m lucky to be able to work with a talented group- thanks Jason, Lisette and Michelle!
Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, has agreed to serve as the next board chairman of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society.
“I think there’s so much that the IRI can do. Climate change gives us an opportunity to reengage with rest of world and the IRI is uniquely placed to do that,” Pachauri said during IRI’s board meeting last week, the first in which he served as chairman.
Columbia University hosted a small event commemorating Pachauri’s new role in the institution, as well as honoring outgoing chairman and respected climate scientist Michael B. McElroy, from Harvard University.
“We are very appreciative of Mike’s support and counsel, which have helped build the institution from its infancy to where it is today,” said IRI Director-General Stephen E. Zebiak. “And we are both excited and honored to welcome Dr. Pachauri as our board chair. He’s a recognized global leader in climate affairs, and will assist us in engaging the growing international agenda on adaptation and climate risk management.”
The Earth Institute’s Jeffrey Sachs, also an IRI board member, praised the IRI’s mission, which is to enhance society’s ability to understand, anticipate and manage climate risk in order to improve human welfare.
“The IRI was 13 years ahead of its time in seeing the importance of linking climate and society,” he said. “The world is catching up now. Climate-change adaptation is front and center, and no other institution in the world has pioneered this field with such depth and skill.”
Visit the IRI’s Governance pages to learn more about the institution’s board and its role.
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In early August, the provincial governor of Central Kalimantan, located on the Indonesian part of Borneo Island, issued a decree that had the Asia Program folks at IRI jumping for joy. Ok, scientists at IRI aren’t really in the habit of jumping about their work. But they did get quite excited about the governor’s statement.
“The decree is a landmark document on at least two counts: it moves away from previous government approach that banned the use of fire by farmers to one of controlled burning, and, it specifically mentions the use of climate information beyond weather–both of which we advocated in our work,” says Shiv Someshwar, head of IRI’s Asia and Pacific program. “Our efforts have translated into changed policy.”
Indonesia has faced increasing pressure from other Southeast Asian countries to get its fire problem under control. In turn, it has put pressure on its provinces to act. As a result, the Central Kalimantan government banned farmers from using fires in 2006. But the strategy, sporadically enforced, imposed serious burdens on poor farming communities, who claim the ban significantly decreased their livelihoods.
Now that the ban has been lifted, tensions should ease. But challenges remain. The decree doesn’t give details on what “controlled burning” entails, which authority will monitor or oversee the burning and how exactly climate information will be incorporated into decision making. There are other issues as well, which I will get to shortly. But first, some background on the situation.IRI related, photography, travels | Comment (1)
Great post a few days back over at Open Mind. In a nutshell:
Here’s the full picture:
Here’s the picture skeptics and obfuscators want you to see:
The charts show the temperature data from the Hadley Centre, lower-troposphere temperatures estimated by satellites, and the Mauna Loa CO2 data. One chart starts the series back in the mid-1800s. The other picks the last decade.Filed under other | Comment (0)
The theme of this year’s World Health Day, is “protecting health from climate change”. In support of this, the IRI helped convene more than 70 high level experts from public health agencies, private institutions and corporations to brainstorm ways to overcome the challenges climate change poses to global health. Participants recognized that the breadth and severity of these impacts remain largely unknown and understudied, and they proposed a number of possible actions to take.
Read the rest of the story on the IRI’s features page.Filed under IRI related | Comment (0)