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Cross-Cutting Initiative (CCI)


This initiative aims to facilitate studies of complex problems in the fields of sustainable development to achieve new insights into intrinsically cross-disciplinary problems and to enable solution-oriented outcomes.

There is no sharp dividing line between the Earth Institute core and its research units or affiliated departments. In fact, most of the scholars involved in Earth Institute research programs are also actively engaged in the more discipline-oriented research activities of their respective research units and/or affiliated departments. Core research questions that scholars are pursuing through the Earth Institute tend to have two distinguishing characteristics: greater complexity and interdisciplinarity, and a more direct link to the Earth Institute’s mission of understanding and advancing sustainable development. As such, these core research initiatives are designed to encourage greater synergies between disciplines and across units. The Earth Institute’s Cross-Cutting Initiative (CCI) is one of the initiatives largely responsible for shaping these core research activities.

Through allocation of seed funding through the CCI, Earth Institute scholars are able to apply their expertise to theme-driven research in response to complex global challenges. The CCI aims to establish new methods for bridging disciplines to enable scientists from different fields to achieve new insights into intrinsically cross-disciplinary problems and work toward practicable solutions (leading to work in the Earth Clinic).

Interdisciplinary research programs that draw from and integrate across many of the disciplines pursued in the Earth Institute research units and affiliated departments are central to achieving the mission of the Earth Institute. The Earth Institute identified nine themes that are deemed central to addressing the challenges of Sustainable Development. These catalytic activities are designed to stimulate ideas, research and knowledge that underpin the emerging academic discipline of sustainable development and include:

  • Climate and Society Interactions
  • Managing Water Scarcity
  • Clean Energy
  • Poverty Alleviation
  • Ecosystems Health and Monitoring
  • Food, Ecology and Nutrition
  • Hazards and Risk Reduction
  • Urbanization

Underlying these integrating, cross-cutting themes is research focused on achieving basic understanding of the principal Earth systems. This research is mainly conducted in the constituent units of the Earth Institute and in the affiliated departments and covers a very broad range of topics from paleoclimate to hydrology, oceanography, biodiversity, infectious disease, carbon management, hazards and urban planning.

The CCI is a central focus of the Earth Institute’s activities and demonstrates the following attributes:

  • Mission-Critical: The initiative addresses a critical issue in the mission of the Earth Institute.

  • Global in Scale: Projects may be specific to place-based work, but the overarching theme addresses problems that are relevant on a global scale or are scalable.

  • Outcome-Driven: Intellectual inquiry is outcome-driven. Examples include creating technologies that improve the quality of life, or using new kinds of science and public policy to have direct impact on individuals.

  • Cross-Cutting: The initiative must be interdisciplinary by seeking new and innovative ways of drawing together faculty from across academic disciplines, bringing their knowledge, experience and expertise to bear on the task of finding practicable solutions to complex global challenges.

  • Research Contribution: The initiative should feed back to the research within the five clusters of the Earth Institute: Earth Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering Sciences, Social Sciences and Health Sciences. The initiative should also further the sustainable development goals within the clusters.


  • Professor of Professional Practice in the Faculty of International and Public Affairs
  • Donald C. Waite III Professor of Social Enterprise in the Faculty of Business, Professor of International and Public Affairs
  • Adjunct Senior Research Scientist in the Earth Institute, Adjunct Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering
  • Alan and Carol Silberstein Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering and of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Director, Columbia Water Center in the Earth Institute
  • Professor of Earth and Environmental Science, Professor of International and Public Affairs
  • Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
  • Maurice Ewing and J. Lamar Worzel Professor of Geophysics and Professor of Earth and Environmental Science, Chair, Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, Associate Director, Earth Institute