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  • Biological and Environmental Engineering
  • Climate
Vivek Srikrishnan, assistant professor, Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering

Academic focus: Climate impacts and risk management

Research summary: Climate change creates new risks and enhances existing ones. My group focuses on decision-making to improve resilience in the presence of dynamic environmental and socioeconomic uncertainties. Our research draws on statistics, decision science and systems engineering to characterize and quantify these uncertainties and to analyze the potential for various strategies to manage the resulting risks. We also work on integrating stakeholder objectives and values into our analyses, and aim to provide decision support in a way that transparently highlights tensions that may exist between different priorities.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I enjoy spending time with my wife and two cats, cooking, exercising and playing trivia. I’m also very excited to take advantage of Ithaca’s outdoor spaces.

What are your current outreach/extension projects?

I don’t currently have any outreach projects, but I’m looking forward to engaging with stakeholders to understand what potential climate impacts concern them and to help them navigate difficult decision problems.

What are three adjectives people might use to describe you?

Hopefully: Curious, principled, compassionate

What (specifically) brought you to Cornell CALS?

Addressing the profound challenges posed by climate change requires collaboration across disciplines. Cornell’s combination of a historical commitment to interdisciplinary research with its established track record of research excellence makes it an exciting place to do climate research. The land-grant mission of CALS also allows for unique opportunities to identify and work on societally-relevant problems while advancing our fundamental understanding of coupled natural-human system dynamics.

What do you think is important for people to understand about your field?

The complexities of both ecosystems and societies can make it difficult to identify tipping points and potential cascading failures. The tail risks associated with climate change are potentially devastating, and the “best-case” outcomes will still negatively impact a lot of people and species. Uncertainty isn’t an excuse not to act; it’s the reason we have to act soon! The investments that we make today will shape both the extent to which the climate changes and our ability to adapt to the resulting stresses.

Why did you feel inspired to pursue a career in this field?

I’m fascinated by the difficulty and scale of addressing climate change. It’s not simply that we are facing a widespread challenge that is deeply uncertain and requires action on local-to-global scales, but we also need to account for conflicting values and ought to take principles of environmental justice and intergenerational equity seriously. More selfishly, I get to interact with and learn from experts in a variety of disciplines, which makes this field incredibly intellectually stimulating.

What’s the most surprising/interesting thing you’ve discovered about Cornell and/or Ithaca so far?

I had somehow underestimated the beauty of the Finger Lakes area!

If you had unlimited grant funding, what major problem in your field would you want to solve?

One major bottleneck is computational: There’s a trade-off between the resolution of the model and how well we can resolve and constrain uncertainties, and this tension only becomes worse as we start thinking about the knock-on effects of stresses between and across sector and scales. Aggregation and emulation can help address the computational problem but may lead us to miss the equity impacts of both change and interventions.

We also need to ensure that our environmental monitoring systems are well-maintained and built out so we can detect early warning signals of heightened risk. Pairing these with good observational proxies of human-system responses that ensure privacy would be ideal.

Learn more about Vivek’s research on the Srikrishnan Research Group website or visit his profile page.

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