Columbia Engineers an Impact on Water Sustainability

by |November 3, 2010

The most recent issue of the Columbia Engineering Magazine profiles many of the Columbia University Engineering faculty who are addressing the issues of sustainability in the water, climate and energy fields.

Several of Columbia Water Center’s researchers and collaborators were featured. Here are some teasers that demonstrate the depth and breadth of the talent at Columbia University dedicated to finding answers to the problems of climate change and water sustainability:

Upmanu Lall, Director of the Columbia Water Center and the Alan and Carol Silberstein Professor of Engineering, Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering. “Today, Lall sees a looming global water crisis, but one that is overshadowed in some quarters by climate change. The problem may arise from the fact that the water crisis, as he sees it, is actually three separate crises—one of access, one of pollution, and one of scarcity—that do not lend themselves to simple solutions.”

Kartik Chandran, Assistant Professor and Director of Environmental Health Engineering and CUBES, and the recent winner of the Water Environment Research Foundation Paul L. Busch Award 2010. “The obvious need for continued treatment of wastewater coupled with increasing concerns over the impacts of improper treatment have led to efforts by Chandran and others to launch the new field of azotomics, which examines the microbial structure and function of the global nitrogen cycle. In addition, Chandran’s work has resulted in a new unit of measure, the Chandran number, which describes the propensity of microbes to produce nitrous oxide.”

Vijay Modi, Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “The key, he has found, lies in assembling people with the skills he needs and a desire to apply them to what, at first, might seem to be a problem not traditionally associated with those skills. For example, in recent work to understand the problem of local water access in Africa’s Sahel region, Modi assembled a team that included a remote sensing specialist, an expert on entrepreneurship and business, and a social scientist with experience understanding people’s environmental decision-making.”

Mark Cane, the G. Unger Vetlesen Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences and a professor in the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. ‘In 1985 Mark Cane and his student, Steve Zebiak, published the results of a model they developed to predict the movement of warm water across the tropical Pacific Ocean in a cyclical phenomenon known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO. ‘Science should be more than just an academic exercise,’ said Cane. ‘We’re not just predicting this thing in the Pacific; we’re trying to predict all these consequences around the world that people care about.'”

Adam Sobel, Associate Professor, Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, and Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “Sobel is trying to develop models to predict the variations within a monsoon season, known as “active” and “break” cycles, which have so far been beyond the ability of climate modeling. Recently, he helped demonstrate the central importance of heat stored in the oceans, particularly in the so-called mixed layer that encompasses the top 10 to 50 meters of water, on the formation of active and break cycles.”

Ponisseril Somasundaran, the LaVon Duddleson Krumb Professor of Mineral Engineering.Somasundaran has begun to focus on agriculture, which is notorious for its enormous demand for water. In many parts of the world, water scarcity is a rapidly growing problem affecting millions of people. As a result, even a relatively modest savings in agricultural water use could translate to huge gains globally. He is exploring the use of cellulose nanoparticles, which naturally curl to trap droplets of water and which uncurl under certain conditions. He is trying to develop a targeted release mechanism to water just the roots of crops and only when the soil is too dry or when high temperatures threaten crops.”

Patricia Culligan, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering & Engineering Mechanics. “Studying the role of small-scale infrastructure projects by examining the effectiveness of green roofs—flat roofs covered in a thin layer of vegetation—to cool buildings and reduce or mitigate storm runoff that flows from buildings into overburdened water treatment facilities. Despite their growing popularity, Culligan has found that many arguments in favor of green roofs are lacking.”

Peter Schlosser, Vinton Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering, Senior Staff Scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Associate Director and Director of Research at the Earth Institute. “He studies Earth’s hydrosphere, past and present climate, and human impact on the environment. ‘Whether we can turn the world from a non-sustainable to a sustainable path has been on my mind a lot,’ said Schlosser. ‘I don’t think we have a real answer yet, but the important thing is that we can see a path forward that is supported by technological innovation.'”


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I have been learned that the amount of water is never change if you consider all world. is it true ?