What is often neglected in scientific and political debates about climate change and other environmental issues is that humans undeniably influence and are influenced significantly by the environment on local to global scales. From the air we breathe, water we drink, and weather we experience on a daily basis to the long-run costs of food, housing, transportation, and energy, our lives and livelihoods depend on a wide range of environmental factors both near and far. Unfortunately, we still tend to treat human and environmental systems separately, hampering our ability to monitor and understand human interactions with the environment and to develop more effective approaches to resource management, environmental protection, and sustainable development.
CIESIN has established a unique track record in developing and making accessible data and information critical to improved understanding and management of human-environment interactions. I am proud to have contributed to this endeavor for more than 14 years and I am honored by the Earth Institute’s decision to appoint me as CIESIN’s Director.
Here at Columbia University, CIESIN is well-positioned to strengthen its role as the premier research center focused on interdisciplinary data development and integration in support of sustainable development. Our unique experience and capabilities are especially vital in an era when the Internet has opened up the promise of more accessible, more usable, and more relevant scientific information and knowledge, but the tools and expertise to access, translate, and apply the rapidly growing variety and quantity of scientific data to real-world problems are still in the early stages of development.
Over the next few years, I believe that CIESIN’s role and impact at local, national, and international scales will continue to increase, building on our close collaborative relationships with experts and institutions within the Earth Institute and Columbia University, in the New York metropolitan region, across the United States, and around the world. We are expanding our efforts in support of key national and international initiatives such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS), the International Polar Year (IPY), and the United Nations Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development (GAID).
We are actively assisting the Millennium Villages Project initiated by Jeffrey Sachs, Pedro Sanchez, and others at the Earth Institute and contributing to disaster data management activities of the UN Geographic Information Support Team (GIST), the UN Development Program (UNDP), The World Bank, the ProVention Consortium, and other groups. We remain committed to the development of high-quality interdisciplinary data and information products and to making these accessible to a wide range of users through innovative tools and services. We are also working to expand and deepen our research portfolio in areas where human-environment interactions are increasingly critical: population, urbanization, health, poverty alleviation, conflict, hazards, resource management, and climate change.
We will continue to emphasize the importance of long-term scientific data stewardship, clear and open data policies, and innovative information technology as essential foundations for science and its application to societal problems. Working with Earth Institute scientists and the Columbia University libraries, we are exploring new ways to strengthen the overall cyberinfrastructure available for research, education, and applications, integrated with the University’s traditional long-term focus on knowledge preservation and transmission. We remain very active in national and international geospatial data efforts led by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) Association, and the United Nations. We are also collaborating with the Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA), for which I currently serve as secretary-general, and with other organizations such as the Science Commons to implement a new Global Information Commons for Science Initiative (GICSI). GICSI will focus on “scaling up” the many innovative but still fragmented “open science” activities developing around the world, including open access journals, open data centers and data networks, virtual laboratories and collaboratories, and open source software and tools. This is an exciting time for CIESIN, with both major challenges and unique opportunities. As CIESIN’s new director, I welcome suggestions on ways to strengthen our efforts and magnify our impacts. We plan to fill several key positions in the near future and are seeking highly motivated and productive individuals who can provide both scientific and organizational leadership not only at CIESIN, but across the Earth Institute and for the community at large. We welcome new collaborative partnerships and opportunities and look forward to tackling new scientific and applied problems as they emerge. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions, comments, or suggestions about CIESIN’s plans and activities.
February 1, 2007