Disaster Experts: A Journalist’s Guide

by |February 14, 2017

Earth Institute scientists stand ready to help journalists cover the causes and effects of natural and manmade disasters: earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, extreme weather, wildfires, water pollution, oil spills, 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, kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu | 212-854-9729 or Kyu-Young Lee, klee@ei.columbia.edu | 212-851-0798


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


Steven Cohen,
executive director of the Earth Institute and a former EPA official, has long studied how communities can make themselves more resilient to disasters and longer-term challenges. Contact through Alix Schroder: aschroder@ei.columbia.edu | 212-854-1214

Irwin Redlener, physician and 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 and terrorism.  ir2110@columbia.edu | 212-535-9797

Jeffrey Schlegelmilch is managing director for operations at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, overseeing projects relating to both practice and policy relating to disasters.  js4645@columbia.edu

Arthur Lerner-Lam is deputy director of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. A seismologist by training, he studies both natural and social factors that drive vulnerability to hazards.  lerner@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8348

John Mutter, Earth Institute professor, studies the long-term economic costs of catastrophes, and factors that make  some populations more vulnerable. His projects have included a count of the casualties of Hurricane Katrina  jcm@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-0716

Marc Levy is a political scientist at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network. He and his colleagues map the interaction between humans and earth’s surface, generating basic information useful in assessing hazards and risks. mlevy@columbia.edu | 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.  bso5@columbia.edu | 212-854-1543


Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory deploys seismologists across the world to study earthquakes on land and under the sea. It also is the official monitor of earthquakes in the northeast United States on behalf of the U.S. Geological Survey. The Lamont Cooperative Seismic Network displays regional quake information in real time on its Seismic Events list. 

James Gaherty heads the seismology department. He has worked extensively across the globe, from North America to Asia and Africa. He can discuss quakes on land or under the sea, and related phenomena including tsunamis.  gaherty@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8450

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 continents. wykim@ldeo.columbia.edu  | 845-365-8387 / 8583

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.  nano@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8385

Arthur Lerner-Lam is deputy director of 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. lerner@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8348

Michael Steckler has assessed major seismic threats in Bangladesh, India, Turkey, Italy and other nations. His studies have elucidated major threats in large areas. steckler@ldeo.columbia.edu  |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.  scholz@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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.  armb@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8556

Heather Savage is expert in rock mechanics, fault stresses and human-induced earthquakes. She has worked in California, Wyoming and Nevada, among other places.   hsavage@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8720

Meredith Nettles has worked globally. Her specialty is earthquakes that occur within glaciers, particularly in Greenland.  nettles@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8613

George Deodatis, a member of the Earth Engineering Center, assesses the earthquake resistance of buildings, bridges and other structures.  deodatis@civil.columbia.edu | 212-854-9728


Terry Plank, a geochemist, is interested in the deep 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.  tplank@ldeo.columbia.edu  |845-365-8410

William Menke  is 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.  menke@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-304-5381

Cornelia Class is a geochemist and field geologist knowledgeable in general volcanology. She has analyzed volcanic rocks in Africa, Panama and many other places.  class@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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 many places including Hawaii, Japan, Chile and Iceland. einatlev@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8616

Maya Tolstoy, a marine geologist and geophysicist, studies the workings of undersea volcanoes at mid-ocean ridges and seamounts. She has worked on oceans across the earth.   tolstoy@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-36-8791

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.  peterk@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8728


Colin Stark is a seismologist who studies landslides from Alaska to Nepal, Taiwan and other countries. He and his partner Goran Ekstrom have shown that slides in remote areas can be detected and assessed remotely, using seismic waves.  cstark@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8742

Göran Ekström is a seismologist who studies landslides worldwide, with a special interest to assessing and mitigating hazards. ekstrom@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8742 


Adam Sobel, an atmospheric scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, heads Columbia’s Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate. Author of a book on Hurricane Sandy, he assesses hurricanes and other extreme weather, and related social issues.  ahs129@columbia.edu | 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.  suzana@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8640

Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty, studies large-scale cycles such as El Niño that influence weather, including floods, snowstorms and droughts. He has investigated the potential connection between climate and the Syrian civil war.  seager@ldeo.columbia.edu  | 845-365-8743

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.  jacob@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8440

Radley Horton, a climate scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research, does a wide variety of interdisciplinary work on the physics of coastal storms, their interaction with climate, and factors that endanger coastal residents. He has advised New York City and the U.S. president on climate and weather risks.  rh142@columbia.edu | 212-678-5649

Timothy Hall, a senior research scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, assesses the physics of cyclones and hurricanes, their landfall, and their threats to coastal communities.  timothy.m.hall@nasa.gov | 212-678-5652

Anthony Barnston is chief forecaster at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI). He monitors the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, which can spark extreme weather patterns including droughts and floods across much of the world.  tonyb@iri.columbia.edu | 845-680-4447

Andrew Robertson, head of the climate group at IRI, studies the relationship between medium-term climate swings and extreme weather including floods and droughts.  awr@iri.columbia.edu | 845-680-4491

Michael Tippett is a meteorologist at IRI who specializes in the study of tornadoes, and how to forecast them.  tippett@iri.columbia.edu | 845-680-4420

Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center, has led studies of the factors that lead to inland flooding, and how they might be mitigated.  ula2@columbia.edu   212-854-8905


Park Williams,
a bioclimatologist at Lamont-Doherty, studies the factors that lead to destructive wildfires, especially in relation to drought and warming climate.  williams@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8150

Justin Mankin, a postdoc at Lamont-Doherty and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, investigates the response of land and vegetation to drought, and resulting wildfire risk.  jsmankin@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8373


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.   avangeen@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8644

Benjamin Bostick, a geochemist, studies how arsenic and a variety of other pollutants enter and spread through drinking water. bostick@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8659

Beizhan Yan is a geochemist who studies the relationship between hydrofracking and groundwater pollution.  yanbz@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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.  andyjuhl@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8837

Ajit Subramaniam is a biological oceanographer who studies the effects of sewage, oil and other pollutants in coastal areas. Among other things, he has investigated the the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.  ajit@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8641

Timothy Crone, a marine geophysicist, produced the first credible estimate of the magnitude of the great 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, revealing its true extent.  crone@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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 water.  zappa@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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.  jig@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8467


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. mgerra@law.columbia.edu | 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. mburger@law.columbia.edu | 212-854-2372


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.  jf2788@columbia.edu | 435-764-0383

Peter Coleman is co-executive director of AC4. He studies multicultural conflicts, and ways to resolve seemingly intractable conflicts.  pc84@columbia.edu | 212-678-3112


Paul Richards 
is a seismologist who has refined techniques to detect nuclear blasts, and their application to arms control. He has studied Russia, Kazakhstan and North Korea, among other places.  richards@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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.  wykim@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8387

Lynn Sykes is a seismologist who has helped refine techniques for detecting nuclear test explosions across the world. As a technical advisor, he has been involved in evaluating key international treaties.  sykes@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8880

Timothy Kenna, a geochemist, studies the spread of radioactivity substances in the environment. tkenna@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8513



Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center, and postdoctoral researchers Maura Allaire and Michelle W.K. Ho, are studying the threats posed by decaying water infrastructure, including dams susceptible to collapse, and unsafe municipal water-delivery systems.  Upmanu Lall: ula2@columbia.edu  212-854-8905 |Michelle Ho: mh3538@columbia.edu  212-854-1695 | Maura Allaire: ma3536@columbia.edu  21-854-1695




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)

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