Disaster Experts: A Journalist's Guide

by |February 14, 2017

[This list was last updated Aug. 26, 2020] 

Earth Institute scientists can 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


See ‘CORONAVIRUS: EXPERT RESOURCES FOR JOURNALISTS, posted March 2020. It will be continuously updated during the pandemic.

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. sc32@columbia.edu | 212-854-1214

John Furlow of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society is an expert in preparing for and responding to climate-related disasters, including famines, disease outbreaks and failures of infrastructure. He formerly led USAID’s climate-adaptation initiative.  jfurlow@iri.columbia.edu | 845-680-4466

Jackie Ratner, senior project manager at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, studies how to make communities resilient against multiple potential disasters, including floods, volcanic eruptions and water shortages. Jjr2200@cumc.columbia.edu | 646-845-2300

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, hurricanes, earthquakes and terrorism.  ir2110@columbia.edu | 212-535-9797

Jeffrey Schlegelmilch is deputy 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.  js4645@columbia.edu |646-845-2318

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

John Mutter began his career as a seismologist, 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.  jcm@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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. 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


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.  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, hurricanes snowstorms and droughts. He is author of a widely cited study about the connection between climate and the Syrian civil war.  seager@ldeo.columbia.edu  | 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.  ting@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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. jacob@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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.  hortonr@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8496

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, especially in the U.S. northeast.  timothy.m.hall@nasa.gov | 212-678-5652

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.  kushnir@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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. yutianwu@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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. Clee@iri.columbia.edu  | 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.  kyle.mandli@columbia.edu | 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.  biasutti@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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.  lmp3@columbia.edu | 845-365-8347

Anthony Barnston is chief forecaster at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), which seeks to make medium-term (several month) climate forecasts around the world. He especially 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

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. andrewk@@iri.columbia.edu

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, leads studies of the natural and manmade factors that cause inland flooding, and how they might be mitigated.  ula2@columbia.edu   212-854-8905


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. wykim@ldeo.columbia.edu  | 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.  cecilia@ldeo.columbia.edu  |  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.  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 revealed major threats in large areas, especially in southeast Asia. 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

Anne Becel is a geophysicist specializing in undersea structures that can cause earthquakes and tsunamis. She has worked off Alaska and other places.  annebcl@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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.   scw@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8439

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.  kyle.mandli@columbia.edu | 212-854-4485 

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, 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.  tplank@ldeo.columbia.edu  |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.  menke@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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.  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 Hawaii, Japan, Chile, Iceland and other nations. 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, including their possible relationships to sea level, tides and climate. She has worked on oceans across the earth.   tolstoy@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8791

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 that drive volcanism.  peterk@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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.  yves.moussallam@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8710

Brett Carr is a postdoctoral researcher who studies a wide variety of processes that may build up to explosive eruptions, or effusive lava flows, employs drones and thermal imaging. His current work is in Indonesia. bcarr@ldeo.columbia.edu

Julie Oppenheimer is a postdoctoral researcher studying the physics of lava and volvanic gases, and the factors that cause lava either to flow or to explode.  julieo@ldeo.columbia.edu


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. ekstrom@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8742 

Chiara Lepore studies extreme rainfall events, and their links to starting landslides. Among other places, she has worked in Puerto Rico. clepore@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-680-4515


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. bc9z@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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.   lad2189@columbia.edu

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. rd2402@columbia.edu | 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 RiskRobert.field@columbia.edu | 212-678-5600

Winslow Hansen is an Earth Institute postdoctoral fellow based at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He studies how climate change and fires affect forests and their ecosystems, and what forests of the future may look like. He has worked in Alaska and Yellowstone National Park.  whansen@ldeo.columbia.edu  (Read: Fire May Turn Yellowstone Forest to Grassland by Midcentury)

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.   andrewk@iri.columbia.edu

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. km2961@columbia.edu | 212-678-5669

Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, studies the factors that lead to destructive wildfires, especially in relation to drought and warming climate. A native Californian, he concentrates on the western United States, and is author of several seminal studies on this topic. (Read: Why Humans Can’t Control Wildfires)  williams@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8193



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.  azhar@iri.columbia.edu

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.  jfurlow@iri.columbia.edu | 845-689-4466

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.   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. He works in both Asia and the U.S. bostick@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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.  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 from Africa to Asia. 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, 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.  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 ocean and estuary waters.  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. He also studies the prevalence of plastics in coastal waters.  jig@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8467


Jeffrey Shaman of the Mailman School of Public Health studies meteorology, climate, and how atmospheric conditions in both hot and cold regions influence the spread of diseases, including mosquito-borne ailments and flu.  jls106@columbia.edu | 212-305-3590 

Madeleine Thomson of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, a trained entomologist, studies the effects of climate variability on the transmission of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, as well as air- waterborne infections, and how to combat these.  mthomson@iri.columbia.edu | 845-680-4413


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 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.  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. He also heads the Lamont Cooperative Seismic Network, which monitors the U.S. northeast and also picks up signals globally.  wykim@ldeo.columbia.edu | 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.  sykes@ldeo.columbia.edu | 845-365-8880

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



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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