The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) convened a meeting at its Washington, DC, office March 21–22 to review the draft North America Regional Assessment, part of the UNEP Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6). The North America Assessment, produced by a team of more than 30 leading environmental experts, takes stock of the current state of the region′s environment and evaluates a range of promising options for tackling the most pressing priorities facing the region. CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy, who co-chairs the assessment, participated in the meeting, which also involved officials from the US Department of State and from Environment and Climate Change Canada, members of the GEO-6 High-Level Intergovernmental and Stakeholder Advisory Group (HLG) and the GEO-6 Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), and several Coordinating Lead Authors of the assessment. Outcomes of the meeting included approval of the draft assessment, an initial draft of assessment key messages, and agreement on revisions for the final version and its delivery at the second United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya in May 2016. CIESIN is one of the GEO-6 Partner Centers of Excellence.
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Recent staff changes at CIESIN include the departure of Erin Doxsey-Whitfield, geographic information specialist, to pursue other opportunities in Edmonton, Alberta. Doxsey-Whitfield joined CIESIN's Geospatial Applications Division in May 2012. She was a key member of the team for version four of the Gridded Population of the World data collection, for which she coordinated much of the data acquisition and contributed extensively to data processing and outreach. She also supported a variety of projects related to population geography, flood mapping, and social vulnerability to hazards.
Minal Patel has joined CIESIN's Science Applications Division, working primarily with deputy director Marc Levy on the UNEP Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) North American Assessment and on a solutions initiative of the UN Sustainable Development Solution Network (SDSN) Thematic Network on Data for Sustainable Development. For GEO-6 Patel is managing efforts to produce an assessment of environmental conditions and policy innovations in the U.S. and Canada. For the SDSN Thematic Network she is serving as project manager for a "solutions initiative" to develop a “living manual” on how countries can harness recent developments in sustainability science, data technologies, and decision-support methodologies to design information systems that most effectively support progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. Patel has a master of science in sustainability management from Columbia University and a bachelor of commerce with a focus on information systems. Formerly, she worked as senior advisor for the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, and has more than ten years of experience in various roles in program management, finance, business strategy, and process improvement for the federal government of Canada.
Through the Alliance program, an academic joint-venture between Columbia and the École Polytechnique (EP), Sciences Po, and Panthéon-Sorbonne University, Wei Wang, an international student at EP in Paris, has arrived at CIESIN for a four-month master’s internship. Under the guidance of information scientist Xiaoshi Xing, he is working on model optimization and geospatial analysis of estimates of energy and emissions from power plants. Wang is currently majoring in environmental science at EP and holds a bachelor’s in aircraft design and engineering from Harbin Institute of Technology in China. CIESIN has hosted Alliance Program interns since 2008.
Periodic surveys of users can be a valuable and cost effective way to improve the operations of scientific data centers. In a blog post just released by the International Council for Science (ICSU) World Data System (WDS), Alex de Sherbinin, CIESIN associate director for science applications and a member of the WDS Scientific Committee, describes the utility of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey for the NASA Distributed Active Archive Centers. He describes how ACSI scores and free text responses by users help the DAACs to identify problems and issues and take steps to improve user satisfaction. The ACSI also serves as an important performance metric for NASA, providing a way to compare how the DAACs are performing in comparison with other public and private sector service providers. Based on his experience as deputy manager of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN, de Sherbinin argues that all data centers in the WDS could benefit from conducting periodic user surveys, and that the ACSI serves as a useful model.
Modeling human mobility after medium- to large-size hazard events was the subject of a lunchtime talk by Takahiro Yabe March 11 at Columbia University′s Lamont Campus. A master’s student at the University of Tokyo, Yabe is developing a methodology that uses mobile-phone data, such as geo-location information from cell phone service providers and Yahoo! smartphone apps, to evaluate models of human behavior in emergency situations following a major hazard event. The methodology was piloted for Tokyo following the East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Work is beginning on how to use location information to tailor early warning messages based on location.
The World Bank recently released the report, Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability, which notes that the region has experienced hidden “messy” urbanization—widespread slums and urban sprawl—leading to adverse impacts on basic services, housing, environment, and economic development. A CIESIN team led by deputy director Marc Levy conducted a background analysis for the report in 2013, focusing on urbanization patterns based on nighttime lights and other spatial data. The report recommends a range of reforms to make the region′s cities more prosperous and livable.
A series of New York City meetings March 5–14 held in conjunction with the 47th session of the United Nations Statistical Commission addressed the development and implementation of indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the international community in September 2015. On March 5, CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy participated in a multi-stakeholder workshop, “Data Revolution Roadmaps for Sustainable Development,″ hosted by the United Nations Foundation and organized by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. He gave a flash presentation on demand-driven, cost-effective integrated information systems in a session, “Mapping Existing Tools to Identified Needs,″ based on a project he is leading under the auspices of the Thematic Network on Sustainable Development Data of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).
On March 7, CIESIN director Robert Chen was one of four invited panelists discussing the topic of partnerships, innovative approaches, and solutions from data experts and data producers, at the “High-Level Forum on Official Statistics: Dialogue toward the UN World Data Forum,” a side event held at United Nations headquarters. A video of the Forum is available online through UN WebTV. Air quality data from the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) were also featured in a presentation by Lawrence Friedl, director of the NASA Applied Sciences Program, at an earlier side event, “Geospatial Information and Earth Observations Supporting Official Statistics in Monitoring the SDGs.″
After the adoption of the SDG indicator framework by the Statistical Commission on March 11, the SDSN Thematic Network on Sustainable Development Data met at Columbia University March 13–14. The meeting focused on the role of the Thematic Network in bringing academic expertise and perspectives into multi-stakeholder discussions about the implementation of the SDG indicator framework. Robert Chen co-chairs the Thematic Network together with Shaida Baidee of Open Data Watch and Enrico Giovannini of the University of Rome Tor Vergata.
The workshop, “Data to Decisions: Valuing the Societal Benefit of Geospatial Information,” was organized by the GEOValue community, in collaboration with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), NASA, and the U.S. Geological Survey, in Paris March 10–11. The workshop sought to define case studies and use cases that assess value by tracing the information flow end-to-end from geospatial data acquisition system to decisions by end users related to managing disasters and ecosystems. CIESIN senior digital archivist Robert Downs presented a poster paper on spatial information for disaster planning and the reinsurance industry, co-authored with associate director for geospatial applications Greg Yetman, research staff assistant John Squires, and director Robert Chen. Downs also attended a pre-workshop tutorial March 9 on cost-benefit analysis, sponsored by the workshop organizers and the Association of European Operational Research Societies (EURO). GEOValue is an international group concerned with the value and socioeconomic impacts of geospatial information for decision making.
Some 50 high level representatives of leading international research institutes assembled in Laxenburg, Austria, March 7–9 for the second annual workshop, “The World in 2050” and to participate in the kick-off of the technical phase of the project. CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy is pictured second from upper right, front row; Jeffrey Sachs is second from the left at the bottom.
CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy joined Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs and some 50 other representatives of research institutes from around the world in Laxenburg, Austria, March 7–9 for the second annual workshop of the project, “The World in 2050” (TWI2050). The workshop included the kick-off of the technical phase of the TWI2050 project, which was launched in March 2015 by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. The project aims to develop equitable pathways to sustainable development within safe planetary boundaries in order to build human and environmental resilience to global change.
Alex de Sherbinin, CIESIN associate director for science applications and deputy manager of SEDAC, participated in an expert meeting, Land-Based Indicators for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 15.3, in Washington, DC, February 24–26. The meeting was convened by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and co-hosted by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility (GEF-STAP). Participants focused on refining a proposed indicator of land degradation that will be presented at the forthcoming session of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) in Mexico City. This indicator would be complemented by additional data and indicators on land use/cover change, change in land productivity, and change in above- and below-ground carbon, that could also support reporting processes for the UNCCD, CBD, and GEF.
CIESIN has begun working with Facebook’s Internet.org initiative to conduct systematic validation and quality assessment of high-resolution gridded population data, as announced by Facebook at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona February 22. Last year, Facebook launched a project to utilize high-resolution (50-centimeter) remote sensing imagery in combination with the Gridded Population of the World version 4 (GPWv4) data set, to produce a 5-meter population map in order to better understand population and settlement patterns in rural areas of the developing world. Their main objective is to optimize strategies for extending Internet to these populations as part of the organization’s larger goal to bring connectivity to the four billion people who are not yet online. Recognizing the potential value of these data for a wide range of applications, Facebook decided to work with CIESIN to assess and improve the quality of the data. Facebook plans to make the new population distribution data for more than 20 developing countries openly available by summer 2016 and to continue expanding the data’s coverage to additional countries.
A workshop on climate vulnerability and risk mapping and identifying best practices was held February 16 at the National Socio-Ecological Synthesis Center (SESYNC) in Annapolis, Maryland. Alex de Sherbinin, CIESIN associate director for science applications, organized the workshop, in which twelve scientists and two individuals from decision making communities worked together over three days to design a protocol for assessing existing studies, including outputs of method (conceptual models, data, and spatial analysis techniques) and mapping (clarity of communication and adherence to cartographic convention). The goal was to develop best practice guidelines for use in climate vulnerability and risk mapping. Such mapping is increasingly used for targeting adaptation programs and for local planning. Saleem Khan, visiting Fulbright-Nehru Fellow at CIESIN, was one of the participants in the workshop. SESYNC is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
Bogdan-Mihai Cîrlugea discusses his work validating OpenStreetMap data for integration into the Global Roads Open Access Data Set (gROADS), at a presentation of his master's research February 11 at the Lamont Campus, Palisades, New York.
A presentation, “Validation of OpenStreetMap for Integration into the gROADS v1,” was given by visiting staff associate Bogdan-Mihai Cîrlugea at the Lamont campus in Palisades, New York, February 11 at the conclusion of his five-month visit to CIESIN. Launched in 2004, OpenStreetMap (OSM) is the largest collaborative project to date to create free and editable cartographic data of the world. Cîrlugea’s work advances understanding about OSM's data structures and the potential advantages and limitations of using the OSM roads data set in geospatial research and applications. The work is the basis of Cîrlugea’s thesis for his master’s degree in environmental engineering, with a specialization in environmental modeling and monitoring, from l’École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausannne (EPFL) in Switzerland. It is also a contribution to the work of an international task group of the Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) of the International Council for Science, which is developing a digital, publicly-available database of intercity roads, the Global Roads Open Access Data Set (gROADS). The current version of gROADS is available via the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN.
CIESIN senior research associate Paola Kim-Blanco was one of two presenters in the February 10 webinar, “Crowdsourcing Data and Quality Control—The Experience of OpenStreetMap,” sponsored by the World Data System (WDS) of the International Council for Science (ICSU). Co-presenter Mikel Maron of the OpenStreet Map Foundation, Humanitarian OSM Team, and Mapbox described the evolution of approaches to providing guidance to members and of applying quality assurance/quality control methods to the data. Kim-Blanco summarized the literature on independent validation of the road and street data developed by more than 2.3 million registered OpenStreetMap (OSM) users, and reported on CIESIN’s efforts to validate intercity roads data in low-income countries. Launched in 2004, OSM is the largest crowd-sourced spatial data effort to date, having mapped more than 34 million kilometers of roads throughout the world. The Webinar was the eighth in a series organized by the WDS. The NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN is a regular member of the WDS.
A team from Google Earth Engine, Google’s cloud platform for petabyte-scale analysis of satellite imagery and other geospatial data, visited CIESIN February 4–5 to provide training and discuss potential areas of collaboration. Tyler Erickson, Matt Hancher, and Allison Lieber met in the morning of February 4 with staff and researchers from CIESIN, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. That afternoon at the Comer Building, Hancher and Erickson led a public workshop tutorial on using Google Earth Engine. Hancher subsequently gave an evening presentation at Butler Library on Columbia's Morningside campus, in which he talked about the trends and technologies that have informed Google’s development of the Earth Engine platform over the past six years. On February 5, CIESIN director Robert Chen, deputy director Marc Levy, and associate director for geospatial applications Gregory Yetman met with Lieber and Rebecca Moore, Google's director of engineering for Google Earth, Earth Engine and Earth Outreach, to explore collaboration on population data access and integration. Originally conceived in 2009 as a platform for global forest monitoring, Earth Engine today is used by scientists, governments, and organizations around the world in diverse areas, ranging from food and water security to disaster risk management and public health to biodiversity and climate change adaptation.
CIESIN senior research associate Meredith Golden demonstrates the National Priority List (NPL) Superfund Footprint Mapper at the Lamont-Doherty Open House in Palisades, New York, October 6, 2012. Before retiring, Golden led development of the mapping tool, with support from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
After more than 35 years working in the field of environmental health, Meredith Golden, senior research associate at CIESIN, has retired. Golden joined the Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network in Saginaw, Michigan, 22 years ago, with a background in economics, medical geography, and epidemiology. She relocated to Columbia when CIESIN became an Earth Institute Center in 1998. She has served as a principal investigator of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Columbia Superfund Research Program, leading the interdisciplinary Research Translation Core and coordinating development of the National Priorities List Superfund Footprint Mapper, a decision-making tool for researchers, regulators, and community partners. Golden also led the environment and health mission area of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center and contributed to other CIESIN and Earth Institute activities on health and hazards. Going forward, Golden plans to continue to use her public health expertise in assisting communities in environmental education and hazard mitigation.
The post-1990 trend towards lower global insecurity is in reversal, with unanticipated and poorly managed climate shocks partly to blame, according to Marc Levy, CIESIN deputy director, in a presentation given in New York City January 25. The event, “Planetary Security: An Action Agenda on the Frontlines of Climate Change,” was hosted by the government of The Netherlands. Levy’s talk, “Time to Move from Talk to Action,” argued against scare tactics and overwhelming the public with large amounts of data. Among other recommendations, he called for the development of tools, techniques, and methods that drive effective action coalitions.
More deaths globally occur from poor air quality than from water, and more than half the world’s population is subject to unsafe air—these are some of the findings of the 2016 Performance Environmental Index (EPI) released January 23 at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The biennial report, produced this year by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy (YCELP), Yale Data-Driven Environmental Solutions Group at Yale University, and CIESIN, in collaboration with the Samuel Family Foundation, McCall MacBain Foundation, and the World Economic Forum, ranks country performance on high-priority environmental issues in two broad policy areas: protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems. The 2016 EPI measures the performance of 180 countries in nine categories of environmental concern.
A major goal of the EPI is to organize the best available information to make it as relevant as possible. “Even when data exists, policymakers often struggle to apply this information appropriately,” notes Marc Levy, CIESIN deputy director. “The EPI works to identify and address these blind spots within existing policy goals. For instance, a new biodiversity indicator weeds out protected areas that do not intersect with species’ habitats, showing where national parks may be ineffective at protecting species.”
The 2016 version of the EPI awards Finland the top slot, followed by Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Slovenia. These five environmental leaders have policies that target protections to natural and built environments, with strong commitments to renewable energy. Finland’s top rank indicates its commitment to achieving a carbon-neutral society that will not exceed nature’s carrying capacity by 2050. Countries performing poorly—such as lowest ranked Somalia, Eritrea, Madagascar, Niger, and Afghanistan—are reminders that stable governance is necessary for effective environmental management and conflict disrupts environmental performance. Around one-third of countries that were scored on Climate and Energy are reducing their carbon intensity, and globally, trends in carbon intensity show a slight decline.
Experts gathered in Geneva, Switzerland; Huntsville, Alabama; and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for three different technical meetings addressing data access and management of scientific data related to climate change, remote sensing, and the social sciences. Alex de Sherbinin, associate director for science applications, participated in an experts meeting January 26–27 in Geneva, organized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to examine the future role and activities of its Task Group on Data and Scenario Support for Impact and Climate Analysis (TGICA). The TGICA oversees the IPCC Data Distribution Center (DDC), which is co-managed by the British Atmospheric Data Center (BADC), the World Data Center-Climate in Germany, and the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by CIESIN.
At the same time in Huntsville, CIESIN director Robert Chen, in his capacity as manager of SEDAC, attended the annual meeting of the NASA Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) managers hosted by the Global Hydrology Resource Center (GHRC) DAAC at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Together with NASA personnel from the Goddard Space Flight Center, the DAAC Managers planned cross-DAAC activities to improve the ability of users to seamlessly access, integrate, and analyze diverse Earth and social science data available from the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS).
Chen subsequently traveled to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a workshop on public access to social science data, organized by the Minnesota Population Center (MPC) with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). The workshop brought together more than 25 scientists and data experts from a diverse set of social science disciplines to develop recommendations to the NSF on how to improve data management plans and their implementation. Chen is a member of the workshop organizing committee that is drafting the workshop report and recommendations.
Geospatial Data Preservation and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation the Focus of New PublicationsJanuary 14, 2016
Geospatial data management, curation, and preservation are the focus of three special issues of the Journal of Map & Geography Libraries, guest-edited by senior digital archivist Robert Downs. Due to a large number of high quality submissions, Downs and the editorial team were able to expand the original planned special issue into a sequence of three. The first issue, published in September 2015, contains an editorial by Downs, “Management, Curation, and Preservation of Geospatial Data: Introductory Perspectives,″ and six research articles. The second issue, published in December 2015, includes another introductory editorial, “Progress on the Management, Curation, and Preservation of Geospatial Data,″ and five more articles. The third special issue will be released in early 2016.
CIESIN research scientist Susana Adamo has published the opinion piece, “About Mitigation, Adaptation, and the UNFCCC’s 21st Conference of the Parties,” in REBEP-Revista Brasileira de Estudos de População. She argues for greater attention to linkages between mitigation and adaptation, and in particular to the role of population dynamics, in the context of international climate negotiations. Also appearing in the same journal is the paper, “Climate change and mitigation in the forestry sector: REDD+, national policies and local sustainable development in the Legal Amazon,″ by visiting senior research scientist Douglas Sathler, with Adamo and Everton Lima as co-authors.
The NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) has released three new geospatial data products for external user testing.
The Global Urban Heat Island data set estimates the average land surface temperature within urban areas in degrees Celsius (summer daytime maximum and nighttime minimum), as well as the difference between those temperatures and the temperatures in surrounding rural areas, defined as a 10-kilometer buffer around the urban extent.
The Global Grid of Probabilities of Urban Expansion data set assesses likely future areas of urban expansion up to the year 2030. The projections are based on a model of global urban land-cover change developed by Karen C. Seto of Yale University, Burak Güneralp of Texas A&M University, and Lucy R. Hutyra of Boston University, described in a 2012 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Gridded Population of the World, version 4 (GPWv4), data collection is the fourth version of SEDAC′s flagship data product, which models the global distribution of human population on a continuous surface. New features of GPWv4, which is expected to be released in production in early 2016, include more recent census data; a smaller grid size; and many more input census units.
Users are invited to submit comments and suggestions regarding these test versions of the data through the online “Feedback and Support″ link on the SEDAC Web site or by contacting SEDAC User Services at firstname.lastname@example.org. A free Earthdata Login is now required to download data from SEDAC.
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