Research Initiatives & Centers

Department of Geography faculty contribute to programs and institutes that conduct research around the world.


Arctic PIRE: Promoting Sustainability in the Arctic

Fieldwork in the Arctic

Fieldwork in the Arctic: Luis Suter, GIS Certificate ’17, MS ’18, was a research assistant on a department trip to measure climate change’s effects on the tundra and cities in Siberia.

The Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE): Promoting Urban Sustainability in the Arctic project was created to study the accelerated pace of change in the Arctic, both environmentally and socioeconomically. Launched in April 2016 with support from a National Science Foundation grant, the project’s ultimate goal is to develop an Arctic Urban Sustainability Index.

An international coalition of scientists and migration experts, including GW’s own geography faculty and students, examines environmental issues, such as thawing permafrost, as well as social factors, including economic and labor cycles.

The Arctic region has experienced urban growth and rapid change in recent years, with detrimental effects, including pollution, encroachment and contribution to climate change. These concerns have spurred an interest in measuring the state of urban centers, their promotion of sustainability and the efficacy of such projects. Arctic PIRE aims to serve as a model for other cities around the globe as they adapt to the effects of climate change.

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Luis Suter

Luis Suter

GIS Certificate ’17
MS ’18

"In terms of climate change, the Arctic sees all the challenges that cities around the world are facing but at a quickened pace."

Center for Urban & Environmental Research

GW students alongside students from Moscow State University. Photo Luis Suter


Housed in the Geography Department, the Columbian College’s Center for Urban and Environmental Research (CUER) provides opportunities for faculty and students to engage in research and urban development activities.

The center collaborates with the National Institutes of Health, the Pan American Development Institute, Children's Hospital, Casey Trees and the World Bank. Researchers within CUER have expertise in GIS and remote sensing, tools that are transforming the field of geography into an increasingly interdisciplinary science. The center also incorporates a broad spectrum of fundamental and applied studies across geographical scales and regions.


CUER Research Spotlight

CUER Project Mapping the Developing World

Ryan Engstrom, associate professor of geography and director of CUER, uses high-spatial resolution satellite data to map slums in developing world cities. Engstrom’s student research team — including a master’s and a postdoctoral student — applies a computer algorithm to more quickly sort through complex and numerous satellite images. Gathering and mapping accurate data can have a profound impact on issues like pollution, public health, water, land use and quality of life. The team has also traveled to Ghana to get an on-the-ground perspective and meet city residents.

Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring

Students performing fieldwork


The primary goal of the Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM) program is to observe the long-term response of the active layer and near-surface permafrost to climate change across decades. Established in the 1990s, the CALM network boasts more than 200 observational sites around the world and participants from 15 countries.

The broader impacts of this project are based on the hypothesis that widespread, systematic changes in the thickness of the active layer could have profound effects on the release of greenhouse gases, on the human infrastructure in cold regions and on landscape changes. Therefore, CALM conducts observational and analytical procedures over several decades to detect trends and changes.


CALM Research Spotlight 

CALM Project Awarded $1.2 Million for Permafrost Observation

The CALM project, led by Associate Professor of Geography Nikolay Shiklomanov, won a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to increase its activity in measuring carbon emission levels in the Arctic. Undergraduate and graduate student researchers play a critical role in the data collection process, visiting Alaska or Siberia each summer to measure permafrost (which releases carbon into the atmosphere as it melts) and visit the cities there impacted by climate change.

GW Climate and Health Institute

Chimneys puffing smoke over a cloudy sunrise


The GW Climate and Health Institute brings together an interdisciplinary team of scholars to find solutions and opportunities to mitigate the harm of climate change on human health.

The institute's mission is to promote equitable protection of population health at the local, national and global levels.

Members of the Geography Department faculty contribute to the institute's cross-university team.


Visit the Climate and Health Institute Website