Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) Columbia University
Home PageContact Info

About Us
Programs and Projects
Data & Information Resources
Education & Outreach
News and Events

Dr. Robert S. Chen

Annual Message from the Director:   2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 20102009 | 2008 | 2007

Earth Institute Profile

Dr. Robert S. Chen - Director of CIESIN Columbia University Biography

Robert S. Chen is the director of CIESIN and a senior research scientist. He served as CIESIN’s deputy director from July 1998 to April 2006 and as CIESIN’s interim director from May 2006 to January 2007. Chen has managed the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC), one of the distributed active archive centers in NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System, for more than 20 years.

Chen is an ex officio member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Task Group on Data and Scenario Support for Impact and Climate Analysis (TGICA) and co-manager of the IPCC Data Distribution Center (DDC). He is currently a co-chair of the Thematic Network on Sustainable Development Data of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN). He also serves on the Governing Council of the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan, the Science Advisory Board of the Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Council of the American Geographical Society (AGS), and the Board of Directors of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). In fall 2014, he was one of 25 members of the UN Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development.

Chen has provided leadership on national and international scientific data management issues in a range of venues. He is one of the co-chairs of the Data Sharing Working Group of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and the Legal Interoperability Interest Group of the Research Data Alliance (RDA). He contributed to the Belmont Forum e-Infrastructures and Data Management Project 2014–2015. In October 2012, he completed two four-year terms as secretary-general of the Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) of the International Council for Science (ICSU). He served as a member of the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) Board on International Scientific Organizations (BISO) 2012–2014 and as an ex officio member of the NRC Board on Research Data and Information (BRDI) 2009–2012. He was a member of the ICSU ad hoc Strategic Coordinating Committee on Information and Data 2009–2011 and the Committee on Spatial Data Enabling USGS Strategic Science in the 21st Century of the NRC Board on Earth Sciences and Resources 2009–2010.

At Columbia University, Chen serves as an ex-officio member of the Earth Institute (EI) Faculty and as a member of its Practice Subcommittee. As director of one of the EI’s larger centers, he has helped lead several EI cross-cutting activities in areas such as cyberinfrastructure development, disaster risk assessment, climate adaptation, and access to environmental impact statement data. He is also active in the Alliance Program, which fosters faculty and student interactions between Columbia, École Polytechnique, Sciences Po, and Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, and with Columbia’s Data Science Institute. He is currently a member of the faculty steering committee for the Columbia Global Centers|East Asia.

During more than 20 years at CIESIN, Chen has helped initiate and manage a wide range of projects and data development efforts, including SEDAC’s widely used Gridded Population of the World (GPW) data set, its global environmental sustainability indicators, and its online Web mapping tools. He is currently leading or co-leading research and data development projects on topics such as earthquake risk assessment, climate adaptation, and sustainability education. As a member of the Scientific Leadership Group of Terra Populus, he is helping the Minnesota Population Center to develop an integrated data resource on population and environment with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). He also contributed to a NSF-funded project led by the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) that resulted in the innovative immersive exhibit, Connected Worlds, at the museum in Queens, New York. A new two-year NSF project with NYSCI, Computational Thinking in Ecosystems (CT-E), seeks to integrate computing concepts and skills with learning about ecosystems in both formal and informal educational settings.

Chen is one of the co-principal investigators of the Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast (CCRUN), a multi-university initiative led by the Earth Institute with support from the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment (RISA) program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He also leads projects with ImageCat on population and infrastructure exposure to hazards, funded by NASA and the World Bank. From 2002 to 2005, Chen co-led an interdisciplinary study on global natural disaster risks, conducted in collaboration with the World Bank, the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI), and other partners, that received a Good Practice Award from the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group in 2006.

As CIESIN’s director, Chen has helped establish a range of external partnerships and ensured CIESIN participation in key national and international networks. These include the ESIP Federation, the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association (GSDI), the Alliance for Earth Observations, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), the ICSU World Data System (WDS), the RDA, the Eye on Earth Alliance, the Global Partnership on Sustainable Development Data, and various UN geospatial initiatives. He has recently helped to develop a collaboration with Facebook on high-resolution population mapping.

Prior to joining CIESIN, Chen served on the faculty of the Alan Shawn Feinstein World Hunger Program at Brown University. He has held research fellowships at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, and the NRC in Washington, DC. He received his PhD in geography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and holds master’s degrees in technology and policy and in meteorology and physical oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His undergraduate degree was in earth and planetary sciences from MIT.

Selected Publications

Beisheim, M., R.S. Chen, and L. Pintér. 2015. “Monitoring and review.” In Review of Targets for the Sustainable Development Goals: The Science Perspective. Paris: International Council for Science (ICSU).

United Nations Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. 2014. A World That Counts: Mobilising the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development.

Janetos, A.C., R.S. Chen, D. Arndt, and M.A. Kenney et al. 2012. National Climate Assessment Indicators: Background, Development, & Examples. Washington, DC: National Climate Assessment, U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Kenney, M.A., R.S. Chen, J. Maldonado, and D. Quattrochi. 2012. Climate Change Impacts and Responses, NCA Report Series Vol. 5c, Societal Indicators for the National Climate Assessment. Washington, DC: National Climate Assessment, U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Chen, R.S. 2011. Book Review: A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming. Environ Health Perspect 119:a182-a182.

Downs, R.R. and R.S. Chen. 2010. Self-assessment of a long-term archive for interdisciplinary scientific data as a trustworthy digital repository. Journal of Digital Information 11 (1), ISSN: 1368–750.

Uhlir, P.F., R.S. Chen, J.I. Gabrynowicz, and K. Janssen. 2009. Toward implementation of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems data sharing principles. Journal of Space Law 35 (1):201–290. Simultaneously published as Uhlir, P.F., R.S. Chen, J.I. Gabrynowicz, and K. Janssen. 2009. Toward implementation of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems data sharing principles. 2009. CODATA Data Science Journal 8:GEO2–GEO91.

de Sherbinin, A., R.S. Chen, and M. Levy. 2007. What does climate change mean for the hazards community? Natural Hazards Observer XXXI (6):11–13.

Arnold, M., R.S. Chen, U. Deichmann, M. Dilley, A.L. Lerner-Lam, R.J. Pullen, and Z. Trohanis, eds. 2006. Natural disaster hotspots case studies. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

Chen, R.S., and E. Sydor, eds. 2006. Where the poor are: An atlas of poverty. Palisades, NY: CIESIN, Columbia University.

de Sherbinin, A., and R.S. Chen. 2006. Global change: Revealing humanity’s impact on the environment. Earth Imaging Journal (May/June):12–17.

Downs, R.R. and R.S. Chen. 2005. Organizational needs for managing and preserving geospatial data and related electronic records. Data Science Journal 4 (December 31): 255–271. Release Date: January 25, 2006.

Iwata, S., and R.S. Chen. 2005. Science and the digital divide (editorial). Science 310 (October 21):405.

Dilley, M., R.S. Chen, U. Deichmann, A.L. Lerner-Lam, M. Arnold with J. Agwe, P. Buys, O. Kjekstad, B. Lyon, and G. Yetman. 2005. Natural disaster hotspots: A global risk analysis. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

This page last modified: Feb 26, 2016