Undergraduate Research Report

by Julio Enrique Herrera Estrada, Applied Mathematics Senior

This past summer I worked with Professors Eric Wood, Kelly Caylor, and Justin Sheffield from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Princeton University. The project that I worked on was sparked by a World Bank report that stated that there is enough rain in the Guinea Savanna to support a large expansion of agriculture in the region. This would help combat hunger, which is a pressing issue throughout Africa. Nevertheless, crops do not only depend on the amount of water that falls throughout the rainy season, but also on the distribution of rain events (i.e. its variability). Agriculture would not succeed if all of the rain came in only a few episodes, for example, even if the total amount seems right. This is something that the World Bank did not take into account, yet it is crucial given that embarking on an expansion of agriculture is expensive. Without a rigorous analysis on how the variability of rain in the region affects the probability of crop failure (or success), such an expansion would put at risk resources that are not abundant in the area in the first place.

This research opportunity was funded by the Columbia University Scholars Program Summer Enhancement Fellowship. Furthermore, this semester, I will be working with Professors Adam Sobel (from the APAM Department and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory) and Michela Biasutti (from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory) on a project that studies the effect of intraseasonal variability in the Sahel region in Africa.

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