Joerg Michael Schaefer

Joerg M. Schaefer


Joerg Schaefer is a Lamont Research Professor, Director of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s Cosmogenic Nuclide Group, a faculty member of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (adjunct professor at DEES), and a senior fellow of the Center of Climate and Life at Columbia University. His key interests include how glaciers and ice-sheets respond to past and modern warming, how changing ice and related hazards, such as tsunamis and glacial lake outburst floods, impact environment and society and how science can assist in developing solution strategies for these climate-related challenges.


Schaefer founded the Lamont Cosmogenic Nuclide Laboratory in 2004, and his research group has become a world-leader in ‘Climate and Glacier Change’ science. Scientists in Schaefer’s Group apply cosmogenic isotope techniques to evaluate the response of ice on the Earth’s continents to past, modern and future warming. Schaefer, who is a climate geochemist, has advanced the cosmogenic dating method to the point where they can now determine whether a rock has been exposed by changing ice for thousands of years, hundreds of years, or just a few years. Schaefer and his team complement the isotope techniques with remote sensing approaches and cutting-edge ice-sheet modeling, to understand, and better predict, the accelerating changes of polar ice-sheets and mountain glaciers in past, present and future. Most recently, the NSF funded a large multi-million $, 5 year - 4 institution research program that Schaefer designed and leads, the GreenDrill project, to drill through the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) at strategic locations and apply cutting-edge cosmogenic nuclide techniques to bedrock under the ice, to map the response of the GrIS to past warm periods.


Studying the impacts of these cryosphere processes on society, and creating multi-disciplinary networks to develop cross-cutting ideas how to respond to, how to find solutions to these paramount climate-related challenges, has become a recent focus area of Schaefer’s work. Schaefer loves to teach science, and is leading the development of the new ‘Climate Science Major’ program at Columbia together with Prof. Suzana Camargo and the DEES curriculum committee. This program consists of three coordinated Climate Science Majors, one within DEES (‘Climate System Major’), one shared with the ‘Sustainable Development’ program (‘Climate and Civilization’) and one (‘Climate Physics and Chemistry’) shared with the department of ‘Applied Physics and Math (APAM)’. Schaefer is actively engaged in Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion efforts in US Geosciences, as well as in anti-harrassment and anti-bullying campaigns within the US science community.

Schaefer earned his Ph.D. in 2000 from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, his thesis awarded with the ETH medal prize. He was a postdoctoral researcher at ETH before joining Lamont as a postdoctoral research fellow in 2001.

Fields of Interest

Application of isotope physics on environmental processes; Mass spectrometry; Dynamics of earth surface processes and their interaction with climate in general. In particular: ice ages and their inter-hemispheric pattern; tele-connection between glaciations and abrupt climate changes; dating and quantifying landscape formation and evolution and their connection to climate and tectonics; long-term landscape denudation and climate of Antarctica; analysis of paleoclimate archives (terrestrial versus marine records); cosmogenic dating of earth surface processes and the underlying noble gas and radionuclide geochemistry.