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Annual Message from the Director

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Dr. Robert S. Chen
Director of CIESIN
Dr. Robert S.Chen - Director CIESIN Columbia University
July of this year will mark CIESIN’s tenth anniversary at Columbia University; October of the following year will be CIESIN’s twentieth anniversary since it began as a Consortium in Michigan in 1989.

National Geographic Family Reference Atlas of the World Cover
Over the past two decades, CIESIN has helped to reshape our view of the world and to call attention to the importance of interdisciplinary human-environment research. Our data on population distribution, the human “footprint,” environmental sustainability, urbanization, natural hazards, coastal exposure, and poverty are widely used in scientific studies, policy reports, atlases, posters, and online map services. This past year alone, our data and research findings were cited in articles published in more than 80 different natural, social, medical, and law journals and in many different policy-focused reports by the United Nations, the World Bank, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. In recent years, maps derived from our work have been incorporated into fold-out maps in National Geographic, interactive online services developed by The New York Times and MSNBC, and a range of textbooks and reference works. Numerous UN and government agencies use our data and research findings for disaster planning and damage assessment, ecosystem management, and assessing the potential implications of climate change.

IPCC climate change assessment report cover
IPCC Climate Change Assessments
Web site

One activity symbolic of our accomplishments is our long-term support for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). CIESIN has contributed to the IPCC since the 1992 assessment, in part by helping to provide continuity between the assessments and to widen access to IPCC-generated data and scenarios especially in developing countries. We work on an ongoing basis with the IPCC Task Group on Data and Scenario Support for Impact and Climate Analysis (TGICA), collaborating with centers in the UK and Germany to operate the IPCC Data Distribution Center (DDC). We have contributed important data sets used in the IPCC assessments and are working to ensure the long-term accessibility and usability of key reference data sets. CIESIN staff have helped in the preparation and review of several IPCC reports and published research on human-environment interactions central to IPCC findings. The Nobel Prize given to Al Gore and the IPCC this past year is especially gratifying because of its recognition of the long-term commitment of the international scientific community to the IPCC process.

The first of February is also my first anniversary as CIESIN’s director. After a year in this role, I am pleased to see our progress and excited about our plans. We’ve expanded our partnerships, reorganized and strengthened our infrastructure, widely published our findings, initiated new research, and attracted new sponsors, users, and visitors (see 2007 news page).

Group on Earth Observations Web site

We continue to advance the development of open data and information resources and services, e.g., in the context of the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS), the International Polar Year (IPY), the World Data Center (WDC) system, and various National Science Foundation (NSF) cyberinfrastructure activities. CIESIN staff are co-authors of significant papers in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Global Environmental Change, and Population, Space, and Place, and a new paper on emerging infectious diseases to appear soon in Nature. We are well-positioned to meet the emerging opportunities for e-science and cyberinfrastructure development, focusing in particular on long-term stewardship of scientific data and the translation and delivery of such data to applied users and decision makers concerned with sustainable development.

Map of Global Warming

The increased recognition resulting from our successes has also brought challenges. In the past few years, a number of other organizations have tried to recruit some of our staff, sometimes successfully. Although some turnover is unavoidable, we’re mindful that we need to maintain and nurture our staff and make sure that CIESIN stays at the forefront of both science and technology. We can leverage the opportunities presented by staff changes to build new partnerships and bring in new blood. We are pleased, for example, to welcome Dr. Susana Adamo to our Science Applications division. Susana is a demographer with a strong background in population, migration, and land use issues.

The two upcoming CIESIN anniversaries provide an opportunity to reflect on our accomplishments and consider our future directions. Plans for celebrations and related events in 2008-2009 will be announced later this spring. As always, we welcome comments and suggestions regarding our plans and activities. In the meantime, we wish our colleagues and friends, alumni and visitors, and sponsors and users all the best for a successful and happy new year.

Bob Chen
January 28, 2008

This page last modified: Mar 08, 2013