Featured Faculty: Alessandra Giannini


By Apoorva Mathur, C+S ’15

Alessandra Giannini has been interested in the nexus of climate and society since first joining Columbia’s PhD program in Earth and Environmental Sciences. When she returned to Columbia in 2003 after completing postdoctoral research at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, she joined the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) staff as a researcher. Now she teaches the fall course on the dynamics of climate variability and change for the C+S program while balancing her research interests in changing rainfall patterns in West Africa.

At the moment, Giannini is working on “improving predictability of West Africa climate on sub-seasonal time scale.” Her research has recent started t yield interesting results including beginning to quantify this predictability, while at the same time exposing the emergence of trends consistent with anthropogenic climate change. Her findings include an observed increase in daily rainfall intensity and a consistent projected delay in the onset of monsoons. She is also involved in a project funded by USAID to support collaboration between IRI and Mali meteorological service that helps improve the provision of climate services to the agricultural sector.

One of the key issues at the intersection of climate and society related to her current work is the role of climate in food security. She first approached this topic while investigating the impacts of the persistent drought in the African Sahel — a semi-arid region south of the Sahara — including recurring famine and food insecurity and the role of humanitarian aid for developing countries.

In her free time back in New York, she likes to run to the Cloisters to view the Hudson River and absorb the rich history of the land, drink freshly squeezed juices and eat patacónes in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan.

She believes that the diverse backgrounds and nationalities of all the students makes the C+S program unique. Every year, there’s a big percentage of the class that is international but she’s found that the students come together as a community, united in their quest to tackle the climate change challenge locally and globally.

This program is known for its interdisciplinary nature, and Giannini’s class — co-taught with Andrew Robertson — aims to help students take advantage of the basic tools of quantitative analysis through climate modeling and researching human-environment interactions. The ultimate goal is to understand the broader context of global climate change and come up with effective mitigation and adaptation strategies.

When asked for any tips or words of wisdom for current and future students in the program, she said “Make the most of your time at Columbia. It is an endlessly stimulating place. And learn to use the libraries!”

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