News Archive

Water Expert Wins Presidential Award

2007-11-29
PECASE Winners

Casey Brown (second row, fifth from left) and the other PECASE winners pose with President Bush. (White House photo)

Water-resources expert Casey Brown has been named one of 56 recipients of the 2006 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor given by the U.S. government that recognizes outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their career. Brown is a scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), a member of The Earth Institute. The awardees were honored by President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony on November 1, 2007.

With a doctoral degree in environmental engineering, Brown focuses on helping vulnerable communities use climate information to better manage the impacts of climate variability on water resources in poor countries, including the Philippines, India, and parts of Africa.

"The award is a great personal accomplishment, but it is also very much an institutional award. A big reason for my success is the amazing people I work with, including my colleagues at IRI as well as other experts at Columbia," said Brown. "The award is a validation of the research approach that IRI uses, and a validation that what we're doing is important."

The PECASE program was launched in 1996 by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which was commissioned by President Bill Clinton to create an award program that honors and supports the exemplary achievements of young scientists in the early years of their careers. Nine participating government agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Defense, select nominees from partner organizations and submit their candidates to the NSTC, which makes the final selection.

As a researcher with the IRI, which is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Brown was selected as a recipient of the 2006 PECASE Award for his proposal, "Improving Economic Development through Prediction and Management of Hydroclimate Variability." He plans to use the award grant to explore how different approaches can help vulnerable communities better protect themselves from the potential economic impacts of climate change.

"One good way to manage climate variability is to use available information to anticipate the impact of extreme events," said Brown. But for many countries, there are currently barriers to the use of this information. "The fundamental barrier is that the field of water resources is really developed on an outdated view of how climate works. The policies and decision-making process haven't been updated with the current understanding of climate science. It's become clear to us that we need that flexibility. We're trying to improve the adaptive capacity of their systems."

The grant will further current research in India, the Philippines, Colombia and the United States that explores how different methods, such as drought insurance, can be implemented to improve water allocation equity and reduce the economic impacts of floods and droughts on rural livelihoods.

"I am thrilled that Casey is receiving this wonderful and well-deserved award and recognition," said Steve Zebiak, director-general of the IRI. "His scientific excellence and creativity and facility in reaching the realm of climate risk management practice is inspirational, and a model for success in our institution."