Disaster Experts: A Journalist's Guide

An all-purpose guide for journalists covering disasters, natural and manmade.

By
Kevin Krajick
February 14, 2017

[This list was last updated Jan. 18, 2022] 

Columbia Climate School scientists can help journalists cover the causes and effects of natural and manmade disasters: earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, extreme weather, wildfires, water and air pollution, civil conflicts, nuclear issues, infrastructure failures. Below is a guide. Unless otherwise stated, researchers are at our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. If you need help reaching someone, contact: Kevin Krajick, [email protected] | 212-854-9729  For more general questions regarding climate change, see our List of 100+ Climate Experts.

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A metal roof and a bathroom sink—almost the only remains of a home shortly after a lava flow came through Pahoa, Hawaii, in 2014. Photo: Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute

 

EPIDEMICS, DISEASE

See ‘CORONAVIRUS: EXPERT RESOURCES FOR JOURNALISTS, posted March 2020 and continuously updated.

 

GENERAL DISASTER PREPAREDNESS & RESPONSE
Steven Cohen,
Earth Institute professor and a former EPA official, has long studied how communities can become more resilient to disasters and longer-term challenges. He is author of Understanding Environmental Policy and other books. [email protected] | 212-854-1214

John Furlow, director of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, is an expert in preparing for and responding to humanitarian disasters of many kinds, including famines, floods, disease outbreaks and failures of infrastructure. He formerly led USAID’s climate-adaptation initiative.  [email protected] | 845-680-4466

Irwin Redlener, physician and founding director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, is a leading thinker regarding emergency planning and response, and in dealing with the aftermaths of all kinds of disasters, including epidemics, hurricanes, earthquakes and terrorism.  [email protected] | 212-535-9797

Jeffrey Schlegelmilch is director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. He has broad expertise relating to both disaster policy as well as the development and implementation of disaster preparedness, response and recovery programs.  [email protected] |212-535-9707

Arthur Lerner-Lam is a research professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. A seismologist by training, he also studies the broader economic and social factors that drive vulnerability to hazards such as earthquakes and hurricanes.  [email protected] | 845-365-8348

John Mutter, who began his career as a geophysicist, studies the long-term economic costs of catastrophes. He is author of the book The Disaster Profiteers, about how the rich often benefit from disasters, and the poor suffer. He led a long-term effort to reach a definitive count of the casualties of Hurricane Katrina.  [email protected] | 845-365-0716

Marc Levy is a political scientist at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network. He and colleagues map the interaction between humans and earth’s surface, generating global images vital for assessing hazards and risks ranging from sea-level rise to forced migration. [email protected] | 845-365-8964

Benjamin Orlove, an anthropologist at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, studies the psychology and sociology of disasters, and how individuals prepare for and react to them.  [email protected] | 212-854-1543

 

EXTREME WEATHER: DROUGHT, STORMS, HURRICANES, FLOODING
Adam Sobel, an atmospheric scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, heads Columbia’s Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate. Author of Storm Surge, a book about Hurricane Sandy, he assesses hurricanes and other extreme weather including the causes of cold and hot spells, and related social issues.  [email protected] | 212-854-6587

Suzana Camargo is a professor of ocean and climate physics at Lamont-Doherty. She is an expert on hurricanes and cyclones, their genesis, intensity, and their relationship to climate, from intraseasonal to centennial time scales.  [email protected] | 845-365-8640

Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty, studies large-scale cycles such as El Niño that influence weather, including floods, hurricanes snowstorms and droughts. He is author of a widely cited study about the connection between climate and the Syrian civil war.  [email protected]  | 845-365-8743

Mingfang Ting is an atmospheric physicist who studies the regional effects of climate change on droughts and extreme precipitation including rain and snow in North America and elsewhere.  [email protected] | 845-365-8374

Klaus Jacob, special research scientist at Lamont-Doherty, is expert in the consequences of coastal storms. An advisor to New York City on climate adaptation, he accurately predicted the flooding of the subways during Hurricane Sandy.  He is a seismologist by training, and has also worked on seismic hazards around the world. [email protected] | 845-365-8440

Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, has done a wide variety of interdisciplinary work on the physics of storms, their interaction with climate, and the socioeconomic risk factors, especially in coastal areas. He has advised the mayor New York City and the U.S. president on climate and weather risks.  [email protected] | 845-365-8496

Kai Kornhuber, a postdoctoral researcher at the Earth Institute, studies the physics behind extreme weather including persistent, heavy downpours that can lead to widespread flooding.  [email protected]

Yochanan Kushnir studies climate variability and change, particularly in regard to the influence of the oceans. Much of his work focuses on the Atlantic, and how it influences weather during all seasons across North America, Europe, Africa and the Mideast.  [email protected] | 845-365-8669

Yutian Wu studies the general circulation of the atmosphere including jet streams and storm tracks. She is interested in the decline of Arctic sea ice, and how this in turn may be linked to increasingly extreme weather in temperate latitudes–heat waves, cold spells, and big storms–because of its effects on air movement patterns. [email protected] | 845-365-8157

Chia-Ying Lee, associate research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, is an expert on tropical cyclones/hurricanes, how they intensify, their relationship to climate, and how we assess their potential risks. [email protected]  | 845-680-4523

Kyle Mandli studies the physics of destructive waves including tsunamis, debris flows, and especially storm surges related to hurricanes. He is an assistant professor at Columbia’s Department of Applied Physics and Applied Math.  [email protected] | 212-854-4485 

Michela Biasutti studies the dynamics of the tropical atmosphere, focusing on precipitation patterns, extreme weather and climate change. She has a particular interest in the Sahel region of Africa.  [email protected] | 845-365-8512

Lorenzo Polvani is an atmospheric scientist with a wide variety of interests in climate variability and change, including tropical cyclones, the influence of the Arctic on other regions, and related issues.  [email protected] | 845-365-8347

Andrew Robertson, head of the climate group at IRI, studies the relationship between medium-term climate swings and extreme weather including floods and droughts.  [email protected] | 845-680-4491

Andrew Kruckiewicz is a staff associate at IRI who specializes in satellite imagery of flooding and other hazards, and subsequent organization of relief; he has worked internationally with the Red Cross. [email protected]@iri.columbia.edu

Michael Tippett is a meteorologist at IRI who specializes in the study of tornadoes, and how to forecast them.  [email protected] | 845-680-4420

Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center, leads studies of the natural and manmade factors that cause inland flooding, and how they might be mitigated.  [email protected]   212-854-8905

 

EXTREME WEATHER: HEAT/COLD WAVES
Adam Sobel, an atmospheric scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, heads Columbia’s Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate. He assesses extreme weather including the causes of extreme cold and hot spells, and related social issues.  [email protected] | 212-854-6587  Adam Sobel, others on heat waves | Sobel testifies to Congress

Christian Braneon is a remote-sensing specialist who studies the physics of urban “heat islands” and heat waves. He is also involved in issues of environmental justice. He is based at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Barnard College.
[email protected]

Cascade Tuholske is an Earth Institute postdoctoral researcher hosted by The Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). He focuses on how climate change is affecting urban population exposure to extreme heat and heat waves.  [email protected]

Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty, studies large-scale cycles such as El Niño that influence weather, including extreme bouts of heat. His studies of drought and heat waves in the U.S. West are widely cited.  [email protected]  | 845-365-8743

Benjamin Cook is a leading researcher on temperature, drought and climate, especially in the western U.S. He is based at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. [email protected] | 212-678-5669 | Rising temperatures in the U.S. West Bring Megadrought

Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, has done a wide variety of interdisciplinary work on climate, including heat waves. He is coauthor of several key studies exploring literal killer combinations of heat and humidity. He has advised the mayor New York City and the U.S. president on climate and weather risks.  [email protected] | 845-365-8496   Global emergence of fatal heat/humidity

Yutian Wu studies the general circulation of the atmosphere including jet streams and storm tracks. She is particularly interested in the decline of Arctic sea ice, and how this may be linked to extended heat waves and cold spells. [email protected] | 845-365-8157

Kai Kornhuber, a postdoctoral researcher at the Earth Institute, studies the physics behind extreme weather including persistent heat waves around the world that endanger humans, crops and ecosystems.  [email protected] | Persistent heat in a warming world| How climate will worsen simultaneous heat waves

Simon Mason, based at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, produces seasonal weather forecasts around the world, including for heat waves. He works with other professionals to make U.S. eastern cities more resilient to heat waves.  [email protected] | Let’s name heat waves, just like hurricanes

Jane Wilson Baldwin, a postdoctoral researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is a climate modeler who studies the development of heat waves and related hazards, with an eye toward their impacts, and policy questions.  [email protected]

Liv Yoon is an Earth Institute postdoctoral researches who studies the intersection of environmental politics and social inequality, currently focusing on the effects of urban heat waves.  [email protected]

 

EARTHQUAKES & TSUNAMIS
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory deploys seismologists across the world to study earthquakes on land and under the sea. Their work extends to manmade quakes including nuclear tests. Lamont runs the official network that monitors earthquakes in the northeast United States, in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey. The Lamont Cooperative Seismic Network displays this quake information in real time on its Seismic Events list. 

Won-Young Kim heads the Lamont Cooperative Seismic network, covering the northeast United States. He is also expert in seismicity related to hydraulic fracking, nuclear explosions or other human activities, and in quakes that occur in unusual places within the continents. [email protected]  | 845-365-8387 / 8583

Cecilia McHugh is a marine geologist who focuses on undersea sediments, with an eye to documenting signs of past earthquakes and tsunamis, and improving hazard forecasts in quake-prone areas. She has worked off Haiti, Japan, Bangladesh and Turkey.  [email protected]  |  845-365-8648

Leonardo Seeber responds to northeast U.S. quakes. He also works extensively in quake-prone areas of Italy, India, Bangladesh, Turkey and other nations. He is expert in manmade quakes.  [email protected] | 845-365-8385

Arthur Lerner-Lam is a research professor at Lamont-Doherty. He has studied big earthquakes in many parts of the world, including China and Haiti. He also studies the socioeconomic factors that make people vulnerable to quakes. [email protected] | 845-365-8348

Michael Steckler has assessed major seismic threats in Bangladesh, India, Turkey, Italy and other nations. His studies have revealed major threats in large areas, especially in southeast Asia. [email protected]  |845-365-8479

Christopher Scholz is expert in the mechanics of earthquakes, and the possibility of quake forecasting. He has worked in Africa, and is particularly interested in quakes along the U.S. West Coast.  [email protected] | 845-365-8360

John Armbruster has worked in the U.S. Northeast, Pakistan and the Himalaya, among other places. He is highly knowledgeable about both natural and manmade quakes.  [email protected] | 845-365-8556

Anne Becel is a geophysicist specializing in undersea structures that can cause earthquakes and tsunamis. She has worked off Alaska and other places.  [email protected] | 845-365-8813 

Spahr Webb is a seismologist specializing in undersea earthquakes and their consequences, including tsunamis. He has worked globally, including in the east and west Pacific, and off Alaska.   [email protected] | 845-365-8439

Rob Skarbek is a seismologist who studies rock mechanics, and the physics of how earthquakes get started.  [email protected]

Brian Boston is a geophysicist who studies natural hazards including earthquakes and volcanoes by mapping the sub-seafloor, particularly along subduction zones and continental rifted margins.  [email protected] | 845-365-8472

Kyle Mandli studies the physics of destructive waves including tsunamis caused by earthquakes. He is an assistant professor at Columbia’s Department of Applied Physics and Applied Math.  [email protected] | 212-854-4485 

Meredith Nettles has worked globally. Her specialty is earthquakes that occur within glaciers, particularly in Greenland.  [email protected] | 845-365-8613

George Deodatis, a member of the Earth Engineering Center, assesses the earthquake resistance of buildings, bridges and other structures.  [email protected] | 212-854-9728

 

VOLCANOES
Terry Plank, a geochemist, studies the deep-earth forces that drive explosive volcanoes. Winner of a MacArthur “genius” fellowship, she has worked in Alaska, the continental United States, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Mexico and islands in the Pacific Ocean.  [email protected]  |845-365-8410

William Menke  is highly knowledgeable in general volcanology, seismology and geology, especially in volcanoes related to mid-ocean spreading ridges and hot spots. He has worked in Iceland and the U.S.  [email protected] | 845-304-5381

Cornelia Class is a geochemist and field geologist highly knowledgeable in general volcanology. She has analyzed volcanic rocks in Africa, Panama and many other places.  [email protected] | 845-365-8712

Einat Lev studies the physics of lava flows, and how they interact with topography and human structures. She is also knowledgeable about many other aspects of volcanoes. She has worked in Hawaii, Japan, Chile, Iceland and other nations. [email protected] | 845-365-8616

Peter Kelemen, a geochemist and geologist, studies igneous rocks in many areas of the world, from the Aleutian Islands to Oman. He is particularly interested in deep-earth processes that drive volcanism.  [email protected] | 845-365-8728

Yves Moussallam specializes in studying the gases that volcanoes emit, which can present both immediate dangers and longer-term effects on climate. He works in many remote areas of the world.  [email protected] | 845-365-8710

Vicki Ferrini is a marine geologist who has been involved in studies of volcanoes that arise from the ocean floors. [email protected] | 845-365-8339

 

LANDSLIDES
Göran Ekström is a seismologist who studies landslides worldwide, with a special interest to assessing and mitigating hazards. He and colleague Colin Stark have worked extensively on landslides in Alaska, Nepal and other areas. [email protected] | 845-365-8742 

Chiara Lepore studies extreme rainfall events, and their links to starting landslides. Among other places, she has worked in Puerto Rico. [email protected] | 845-680-4515

 

WILDFIRES
Benjamin Cook is a leading researcher on temperature, drought and climate, and their implications including for wildfires in the western United States. He is based at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. [email protected] | 212-678-5669

Lisa Dale is a lecturer in the Earth Institute’s Sustainable Development Program who has served in both public and academic positions where she studied wildfire prevention and response in public lands, especially in the U.S. West.   [email protected]

Ruth DeFries is an Earth Institute professor who studies large-scale human interactions with the surface of the earth, including studies of controlled and uncontrolled agricultural fires in Asia and South America, and their effects on greenhouse gas emissions, air quality and public health. [email protected] | 212-851-1647

Robert Field is a research scientist at Columbia University and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He has helped develop fire danger rating systems for Canada, Indonesia and Malaysia. He currently studies the effects of the water cycle on fires, and the cause, fate and effects of emissions from fires. (Read: El Nino and Fire Risk[email protected] | 212-678-5600

Andrew Kruczkiewicz of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society uses remote sensing to map out temperature and precipitation patterns and how wildfire risk may intersect with other natural hazards, with an eye to helping authorities plan potential responses.   [email protected]

Keren Mezuman is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Climate Systems Research. Among other things, she models how climate variations and global atmospheric circulation affect the start and spread of fires, and particularly how the resulting emissions affect the atmosphere. [email protected] | 212-678-5669

Caroline Juang is a PhD. candidate who uses satellite imagery to study wildfires, particularly in the U.S. West.  [email protected]

 

AIR POLLUTION
Roísín Commane
is an atmospheric scientist who tracks greenhouse gases and other types of pollutants as they move from ground to air throughout the world.  Much of her research is conducted from aircraft.  [email protected] |  845-365-8571 | Profile of Commane

Steven Chillrud studies air pollution in urban areas, especially fine particles of soot and metals, and their health effects. Among other things, he has led projects to track pollutants in fine details in real time, using sensors attached to bikers.  [email protected] | 845-365-8893 | Is City Biking Hazardous to Your Health? | Dust Risk for Subway Workers

Robert Field is a research scientist at Columbia and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies who studies wildfires, including the causes, movements and effects of emissions from fires.  [email protected] | 212-678-5600 | El Nino and Fire Risk

V. Faye McNeill is an Earth Institute researcher who focuses on the chemistry and physics of small-particle pollution, including soot, in the atmosphere, along with their relations to climate.  [email protected] | 212-854-2869 | Covid-19 and the Air We Breathe

Dan Westervelt studies air pollution and its relationship to climate change in both urban and rural areas in Africa and elsewhere.  He is leading a pioneering project to track pollution in African cities where currently little data has been gathered. [email protected] | 845-365-8194

Susanne Bauer, based at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia, studies how human-generated and natural emissions influence atmospheric chemistry, climate, and air pollution.  [email protected] | 212-678-5666 | A Major Source of Air Pollution: Farms

 

ENERGY/POWER OUTAGES
Melissa Lott, a senior research scholar and the Director of Research at the Center on Global Energy Policy is an expert on the power sector and energy systems. [email protected]

Vijay Modi, a Professor of Mechanical Engineering & Earth and Environmental Engineering, works closely with city and national agencies/utilities to understand how energy services can be more accessible, more efficient, and cleaner. [email protected]

 

WATER POLLUTION
Alexander van Geen, a geochemist, studies how arsenic, heavy metals and other dangerous substances enter and spread through drinking water, either naturally or through human action. Much of his work focuses on southeast Asia, but he also works in the U.S.   [email protected] | 845-365-8644

Benjamin Bostick, a geochemist, studies how arsenic and a variety of other pollutants enter and spread through drinking water. He works in both Asia and the U.S. [email protected] | 845-365-8659

Beizhan Yan is a geochemist who analyzes the relationship between hydrofracking and groundwater pollution, the prevalance of plastics in surface waters, and other types of water pollution, mainly in the U.S. northeast.  [email protected] | 845-365-8155

Andrew Juhl is a biological oceanographer who studies how sewage and other pollutants move through surface water. He has worked on the Hudson River, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Arctic.  [email protected] | 845-365-8837

Ajit Subramaniam is a biological oceanographer who studies the effects of sewage, oil and other pollutants in coastal areas from Africa to Asia. Among other things, he has investigated the the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.  [email protected] | 845-365-8641

Timothy Crone, a marine geophysicist, specializes in studying underwater physics. He produced the first credible estimate of the magnitude of the great 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, revealing its true extent.  [email protected] | 845-365-8687

Christopher Zappa is an oceanographer specializing in upper-ocean and estuary processes including turbulence, currents and waves that influence how pollutants may spread through ocean and estuary waters.  [email protected] | 845-365-8547

Joaquim Goes, a biological oceanographer, studies the factors that drive blooms of harmful plankton, known commonly in some areas as “red tides.” His work ranges from the Amazon to the Arabian Sea. He also studies the prevalence of plastics in coastal waters.  [email protected]du | 845-365-8467

 

LOCUST PLAGUES

Azhar Ehsan, a postdoctoral scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, studies climate and climate change in the locust belt, from northern Africa through the Mideast and India.  [email protected]

John Furlow, deputy director for humanitarian assistance at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, has studied how locust outbreaks occur, and how to detect and prevent them.  [email protected] | 845-689-4466

 

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW
Michael Gerrard directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. He has had a long career in all aspects of local, national and international environmental law, including litigation related to pollution. [email protected] | 212-854-3287

Michael Burger is executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. He has studied a wide variety of environmental issues, including pollution control. [email protected] | 212-854-2372

 

WARFARE/CIVIL CONFLICT
Josh Fisher
is director of the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity (AC4), which seeks to resolve the conditions that lead to violent conflict. Fisher has a focus on extractive industries; he works in Asia, South America, Africa and Europe.  [email protected] | 435-764-0383

Peter Coleman is co-executive director of AC4. He studies multicultural conflicts, and ways to resolve seemingly intractable conflicts. He is the author of 2021 book The Way Out: How to Escape Toxic Polarization[email protected] | 212-678-3112

 

NUCLEAR ISSUES
Paul Richards 
is a seismologist who has refined the modern techniques used to detect nuclear blasts, and their application to arms control. He has studied nuclear explosions in Russia, Kazakhstan and North Korea, among other places.  [email protected] | 845-365-8389

Won-Young Kim, a seismologist, has worked on techniques to detect nuclear test explosions across the world, with a particular focus on North Korea. He also heads the Lamont Cooperative Seismic Network, which monitors the U.S. northeast and also picks up signals globally.  [email protected] | 845-365-8387

Lynn Sykes is a seismologist who helped refine techniques for detecting nuclear test explosions across the world. As a technical advisor, he has been involved in evaluating key international treaties for the United States.  [email protected] | 845-365-8880

Timothy Kenna, a geochemist, studies the spread of radioactive substances in the environment. [email protected] | 845-365-8513

 

RELATED PREVIOUS PRESS ADVISORIES:

Hurricane Experts: Earth Institute Resources for Journalists  (October 2016)

The Paris Climate Summit: Resources for Journalists (November 2015)

El Niño: Resources for Journalists (October 2015)

Building Resilience: Post-Sandy Resources for Journalists (August 2013)

Post-Sandy Resources for Journalists (November 2012)

Hydraulic Fracturing: Resources for Journalists  (August 2011)

Gulf Oil Spill Resources (June 2010)

Haiti Quake and Reconstruction Resources  (January 2010)