Research: The Foundation of the Earth Institute

The overarching goal behind the research of the Earth Institute is to achieve environmental sustainability in the context of a world of environmental challenges—from rapid population growth and climate change to extreme poverty and infectious disease. With Columbia University as its foundation, the Earth Institute draws upon the scientific rigor and academic leadership for which the University is known to create an interdisciplinary community dedicated to cutting-edge research. The Earth Institute is grounded in the hundreds of research projects that involve over 850 scientists, students and postdoctoral fellows across more than 30 Columbia-based research centers and programs.

The interdisciplinary aspect of the Earth Institute is centered around nine fundamental research themes:

Research in Climate and Society investigates humankind’s role as both driver of and responder to global climate. Water-based research addresses the potentially global crisis of freshwater scarcity. Research projects that address Energy focus on major energy sustainability objectives—such as the development of energy resources without increased carbon emissions and the recovery of renewable energy from solid wastes. Our research in Urbanization looks at how growing urban populations threaten the sustainability of cities and natural resources. Hazards and Risk research at the Earth Institute aims to deepen the world’s understanding of a range of hazards and risks, from drought to earthquakes to landslides, which often become particularly threatening in highly populated areas.

Global Health research addresses both the environmental factors that affect human health, the ways in which a population’s poor health in turn inhibits environmental sustainability, and the methods of delivery of health systems. Poverty-related Earth Institute projects aim to reveal and work toward the mitigation of root causes of extreme poverty while research on Food, Ecology and Nutrition works to ensure the sustainability of regional factors of human health, such as agriculture, clean water access, and nutrition. The Earth Institute’s research theme of Ecosystems Health and Monitoring aims at stemming the loss of biological diversity in order to achieve environmental sustainability.

Our interdisciplinary projects are focused on solving the pressing issues of sustainable development. Scientists and experts involved in these projects work in collaboration with local communities, many in the poorest areas of the world, with the aim to achieve sustainable development while preserving the natural systems that support life on Earth.

The Cross-Cutting Initiative

The Earth Institute¹s Cross-Cutting Initiative (CCI) challenges Columbia researchers to examine problems that have greater complexity and interdisciplinarity, and with a more direct link to the Earth Institute’s mission of advancing the understanding and achievement of sustainable development. The initiative is largely responsible for shaping the core research activities of the Earth Institute, where projects are designed to encourage greater synergies between disciplines and across research units.

The Earth Clinic—Solutions for Sustainable Development

As the Earth Institute’s main practice instrument, the Earth Clinic is designed to serve the immediate needs of global society by creatively responding to pressing economic and environmental problems with emphasis on developing countries. The Earth Clinic applies the results from our basic research to real-world problems and offers science-based assistance to urgent issues of economic development, public health, energy systems, water management, agriculture and infrastructure. The clinic’s work brings a solid academic component to problem solving around the world.

The Earth Institute Fellows Program—Supporting Emerging Scientists

The Fellows Program is designed to offer a platform for young researchers to position them for leadership positions in designing solutions for the challenges of sustainable development.