Center for Climate and Life Announces 2017 Fellows

December 10, 2016

Standing on a frozen lake in Greenland, William D'Andrea's team inspects a coring tube that will be lowered through the ice to collect sediment from the lake bed below. Photo courtesy of William D'Andrea

The Center for Climate and Life at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has announced the selection of four junior and mid-career scientists as its 2017 Climate and Life Fellows. The Fellows program supports scientists to work on projects that accelerate our understanding of how climate impacts the security of food, water, and shelter, and to explore sustainable energy solutions.

Fellows are selected competitively and receive funding equal to one-third of their annual salary for up to three years, with additional funding for research travel and fieldwork.

The 2017 Fellows have research interests spanning a range of climate topics and regions:

Laia Andreu-HaylesLaia Andreu-Hayles, a dendrochronologist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, will investigate how global change affects forests and climate in the tropical Andes, including changes in the past, present, and into the future. Andreu-Hayles will collect tree-ring samples in Bolivia and Peru and use a model to simulate forest productivity under scenarios such as increased temperatures or changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. These new tree-ring records will help fill the large gap of terrestrial paleo data in tropical South America and provide records of past temperature and precipitation variability. This project could lead to transformative changes in understanding of tropical terrestrial ecosystems, with significant advances in the fields of global environmental change, paleoclimate, ecology, and applied water management policies.

William D'AndreaWilliam D’Andrea, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, will seek to bring new analytical tools to bear on the controversies and mysteries surrounding the decline of the early settlers of Easter Island, who rapidly overexploited the island’s resources through deforestation. By collecting new sediment cores with near-continuous sediment accumulation during the past 3,700 years and by applying novel analytical tools, D’Andrea seeks to determine when the first people settled Easter Island; what the timing and amplitude of hydroclimate variability was prior to and following settlement of the island; and how long after settlement the Easter Islanders began their practice of burning forests to create arable land for agriculture. The work aims to improve understanding of the interactions that took place between the people of Easter Island, their environment, and the climate of the eastern Pacific.

Chia-Ying LeeChia-Ying Lee, an atmospheric scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, based at Columbia University, will address how wind field asymmetries and variability impact tropical cyclone risk and how asymmetries can be included in risk models. Lee will characterize wind field asymmetries using the best-available observational data, as well as output from a high-resolution numerical model. This research has implications for coastal flooding: wind drives storm surge, contributes to economic losses, and is a critical parameter for planning for adaptation to climate change. Lee's work will advance knowledge of the role played by wind asymmetries and a wind-asymmetry model that will benefit the larger scientific community.

Pratigya PolissarPratigya Polissar, a geochemist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, will map vegetation history using molecular fossils to examine how climate shapes Earth’s ecosystems. Polissar plans to compare recent vegetation histories with existing records of climate to illuminate the contributing factors to particular vegetation transitions. He will focus on the revolution in terrestrial ecosystems that occurred during the past 25 million years, when ancient and long-lived forests in North America, Africa, Asia, and Australia were replaced by the iconic modern grasslands of these regions. The likely culprits for these defining events were a combination of changing temperature, atmospheric CO2 levels, and the distribution of rainfall—all parameters being altered today due to greenhouse warming. Findings from the geologic past can therefore help map out how ecosystems and human food supplies may be affected in the future.

The Center for Climate and Life supports scientists involved in research aimed at understanding how climate change impacts the security of food, water, and shelter, and to explore sustainable energy solutions. The Center partners with industry, finance and governments, creating and transferring the knowledge needed to build a more resilient, sustainable world.