Knowledge to Action

Multiplying Our Impact

Today’s climate problems are too big to solve alone. So we further our work by partnering with stakeholders around the globe because we’ve seen that these collaborations accelerate the journey to impact. Our partners are diverse—we work with business leaders, the private sector, government officials, and non-profit organizations to put science into action and bring climate information to those who need it most.

Climate and Investment Conferences

How can the application of the best climate science improve competition across the private sector? What are the actionable trends that affect the stability and security of food, water, shelter, health, and energy resources? How will these trends create both risks and opportunities for business leaders?

A white paper, “The Near-term Impacts of Climate Change on Investors,” describes how climate change affects investments and best practices for integrating scientific knowledge into climate-sensitive decisions.

A partnership between the Center for Climate and Life and the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School has resulted in the two organizations hosting conferences in 2017 and 2018 that brought the investment and scientific communities together to discuss these topics.

“It’s critically important that the climate science community engages in the business and finance community as we advance knowledge. The private sector is where the rubber meets the road in turning knowledge to action, so it’s important that we work together closely,” Peter de Menocal, Dean of Science at Columbia University and director of the Center for Climate and Life, said.

These meetings serve to build communication and understanding between the two communities and present stakeholders with the most current state of knowledge in climate change science and solutions. At each one-day gathering, scientists affiliated with the Center presented their current climate change research and talked with business leaders about how advances in climate science can inform near-term investments in the global economy.

“The problem is that government is not stepping in,” said Bruce Usher, co-director of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School, in his wrap-up of the 2018 conference, “and that’s not going to change any time soon, particularly in the United States, but also globally. So we need to change how science speaks to policymakers. We need science to talk directly to business.”

Learn more in the white paper that came out of the May 2017 forum: “The Near-term Impacts of Climate Change on Investors.”

Understanding Ocean Health

In 2016, the World Surf League (WSL) provided $1.5 million in first-year funding for ocean science at the Center for Climate and Life as part of their philanthropy initiative, WSL PURE. This partnership has accelerated key scientific research and understanding of global ocean health, and enabled us to target key issues, generate results quickly, and use this new knowledge to shape a stronger and more resilient future.

WSL-funded research 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, the result of work led by Gwenn Hennon, a postdoctoral researcher working with Sonya Dyhrman, a microbial oceanographer and study co-author is crucial to making more accurate predictions of how climate change will alter the ocean.

“This is a breakthrough that will help scientists do a better job of modeling the ocean ecosystem of the future,” Hennon said.

Another team of WSL-PURE funded scientists discovered that massive boulders perched on the Bahamas coast are evidence of ancient storms and sea level rise. Their finding demonstrates 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 similar-sized boulders today.

“Our results indicate that a superstorm was not necessary to explain the present positions of the two boulders,” Alessio Rovere, lead author of the study, said. “Even if we assume a sea level only six meters higher than that of today, waves such as those produced by Hurricane Sandy would have been sufficient to transport the boulders “cow” and “bull” to their present positions.”

Indonesian Corals Shed Light on Climate System

Research led by Brad Linsley led to the development of a new Indonesian coral-based record of surface ocean salinity, which shows that the location of the most significant hydroclimatic feature in the Southern Hemisphere, the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ), a band of high clouds and precipitation, influences a major current in the far western Pacific Ocean.

This current, the Indonesian Throughflow, transports warm, fresh water from the North Pacific Ocean south across the equator and into the Indian Ocean, transferring the heat and water that build up in the western Pacific into the Indian Ocean, and then on to the Atlantic.

A scientist surveys a large Porites coral colony in American Samoa, which is located in the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) and impacted by the SPCZ zonal events Linsley et al. reconstructed using similar corals from Indonesia’s Makassar Strait. (Photo: Brad Linsley)

The discovery highlights the interconnectedness of the climate system and suggests feedbacks on other key aspects of tropical climate like El Niño.

“For me, these are exciting and completely unexpected results,” Linsley said. “I think they identify the position of the SPCZ as an important control on the salinity, temperature, and maybe velocity of the Indonesian Throughflow.”

Predicting Hurricane Flooding Risks to the East Coast

Columbia University and data-analytics firm Jupiter announced plans in April 2018 to collaborate on improved hurricane track simulations so that the public and private sectors can plan for weather and climate risks.

Columbia’s groundbreaking hurricane and climate science will be added to Jupiter’s ClimateScore Intelligence Platform, which translates research into information that decision-makers can use to manage and mitigate climate change risks. The platform already predicts local probabilities of extreme temperatures and flooding; soon it will include hurricane-related hazards such as heavy winds, rain, and storm surge.

Currently, the HITS model simulates hurricane tracks and assesses landfall risk along the Atlantic coast of Central and North America. The research team will extend the model to include the effects of severe wind and precipitation, which can be used to assess the risk of coastal and inland flooding. This is a critical step toward designing risk management strategies. Jupiter is committing more than $300,000 to the upgrade and will provide technical support.

“By integrating our scientists and unique data assets with Jupiter’s leading climate technology innovation, this novel partnership can accelerate the knowledge needed to support action in the marketplace,” said Peter de Menocal, director of the Center for Climate and Life.

New Tools for Big Climate Data

Scientists affiliated with the Center for Climate and Life are taking advantage of the collaborative environment the Center fosters and teaming up with colleagues across Columbia University and at other research institutes to address climate change issues from interdisciplinary perspectives.

For example, Ryan Abernathey, a physical oceanographer and Center for Climate and Life advisory board member, found the Center’s emphasis on collaboration helpful in securing funding for a project that will help climate scientists confront the challenges of Big Data.

Pangeo: An Open Source Big Data Climate Science Platform” was funded by the National Science Foundation. In collaboration with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and Anaconda, a private software company and leader in the emerging field of data science, Pangeo scientists aim to solve one of climate science’s most pressing challenges: accessing and utilizing the explosive growth in the size of climate datasets, which have become a bulky but indispensable tool for scientific inquiry in climate change research

Training the Next Generation of Scientists

Participants in our high school summer internship program, which inspires and trains the next generation of scientists. (Photo: Einat Lev)

We’re committed to training the next generation of science leaders through hands-on lab and field experiences. To date, scientists affiliated with the Center have mentored 33 local high school students through our annual summer intern program. The goals of this program are to provide young learners with authentic research experiences, promote greater climate literacy, and facilitate awareness of humanity’s relationship to the environment.

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

Some participants have returned for consecutive years and many continue to work informally with their mentors once the program is over. For many of the participants, it can be a pivotal experience that leads to a lifelong interest, and possibly a future career, in science.

The scientists we support also use their funds to advance educational opportunities for graduate students and early-career scientists.

  • Sonya Dyhrman used a portion of her WSL-PURE funding to support the participation of a first generation, underrepresented minority college student in the ColumbiaUniversity Bridge to the D. Program; the student is now pursuing a graduate degree in geosciences.
  • Lorelei Curtin, a Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory graduate student working with Fellow Billy D’Andrea, leveraged his award to win a Rolex Explorers Grant. The funding enabled Curtin to join D’Andrea for 2018 fieldwork on Easter Island—a valuable learning experience that will help her prepare for a career as an independent scientist.
  • Our partnership with the Columbia University Data Science Institute resulted in funding for a postdoctoral researcher who’s working with Ryan Abernathey on a new initiative that aims to use cloud computing to improve climate models.

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