2023 Summer Momentum Fellowship


LEAP’s Summer Momentum Fellowship welcomes doctoral students in data science who are interested in having a summer research immersion in climate data science, with the opportunity to apply their data science/machine learning skills in climate modeling, and developing research interests in climate data science.

Each fellow receives a summer stipend, travel support, and access to LEAP resources, such as LEAP Pangeo and workspace at Columbia University’s Innovation Hub.

Momentum Fellowship Faculty work closely with fellows throughout the summer (June – August 2023) on a well-defined, yet open-ended, machine learning research problem in climate data science. Faculty also guide their fellows to present their summer research at future LEAP events and other workshops / conferences. 


Tian Zheng, LEAP’s Education Director/Chief Convergence Officer, and Carl Vondrick, LEAP’s Data Science Director

2023 Summer Momentum Fellows

Mohammad Erfani

Mohammad is graduate research assistant currently pursuing his PhD in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of South Carolina. He graduated with a MSc in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran. Since joining iWERS in August 2019, Mohammad has been applying Computer Vision and Deep Learning techniques to develop real-time flood mapping and early warning systems. His work has the potential to mitigate the devastating impacts of flooding by providing a framework that captures flood information with a higher spatiotemporal resolution and renders visual outcomes easier to interpret for decision-makers, emergency responders + the public.

Yu Huang

Yu is a PhD student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University, and a member of the Gentine Lab. She received a B.Sc. degree in Atmospheric Sciences from Nanjing University, and is now studying land-atmospheric interactions. She is especially interested in how water cycle and carbon cycle are coupled through land-atmosphere processes. Using climate models, machine learning techniques, and causal inference in her research, her professional goal is to be a professor or research scientist in either academia or industry.

Matthew Beveridge

Matt is an incoming doctoral student at Columbia University in the Columbia Imaging and Vision Lab (CAVE) with Prof. Shree Nayar and a Visiting Researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder with Prof. Morteza Karimzadeh. He completed his Master of Engineering (M.Eng.), advised by Prof. Daniela Rus, and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at MIT, with a double major in Mathematics and minor in Theater Arts. Matt's research focuses on computer vision and machine learning for robust perception and its application to the science of the physical environment. Matt has also been involved with startups in the field of autonomy, organized community events around energy and climate, and worked on spaceflight at NASA.

2023 Summer Momentum Fellowship Faculty

Dhruv Balwada

Assistant Research Professor, Columbia Climate School / Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Kara Lamb

Associate Research Scientist, Department of Earth + Environmental Engineering at Columbia University

Carl Vondrick

Carl Vondrick

Associate Professor of Computer Science, Columbia University

Pierre Gentine headshot

Pierre Gentine

Director, LEAP; Maurice Ewing and J. Lamar Worzel Professor of Geophysics, Departments of Earth and Environmental Engineering and Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University

2023 Summer Momentum Fellowship Research Projects


Project Lead: Dhruv Balwada 

Project Description: One of the best ways to observe the Earth’s ocean is from space. Space-based observations allow for spatial and temporal coverage that is hard to achieve from in-situ observations, which are usually point measurements made by ships or other in-water platforms. While we routinely observe the sea level (also called sea surface height – SSH), temperature and color from space, other variables of interest, such as the ocean currents, are not directly observed. Estimating these currents is important since they transport materials, like heat, carbon, phytoplankton, and better knowledge of these currents can help to improve climate predictions, fisheries management, and oil spill monitoring. 

The LEAP momentum fellow will work on the task of estimating ocean currents from measurements of SSH. This will be in service of a new SSH measuring satellite, SWOT, which was recently launched to measure SSH at unprecedented spatial resolution. However, these new measurements come with a challenge – the conventional physics based approaches for estimating surface currents from SSH do not work at the finer scales that will be observed. The reason being that the SSH at these scales is usually dominated by internal waves, and the currents and SSH corresponding to these waves are not linked by simple mathematical relationships. Recent work has shown that ML based techniques can potentially help address this challenge (eg. Xiao, Balwada et al 2023, Wang et al 2022). 

However, important questions remain about the response of the ML models to wave amplitude, the generalization of the ML models trained on simulation data to real flows, the potential to apply transfer learning to improve predictions using in-situ observations, and the ability to estimate the errors in the predicted fields. The fellow will tackle some of these questions.

Learning Outcomes + Deliverables: A well organized github repository showcasing the jupyter notebooks and codes used during the internship. A final research paper written with the goal of submission to an academic journal.



Project Leads: Kara Lamb and Carl Vondrick

Project Description: Forest fires and fossil fuel combustion are an important source of aerosols (small particulate matter) to the atmosphere. Aerosols from these sources strongly absorb sunlight, which can influence the atmospheric temperature profile, impact cloud formation, and cause snow to melt more quickly– all of which have important effects on the climate.

Understanding the role aerosols play in the climate remains a major challenge due to limitations in our modeling and observational capacities. Aerosols are a variety of sizes, shapes, and chemical compositions, all of which impact their optical properties. Atmospheric models and observational retrievals typically approximate these particles as spheres or ellipsoids, which leads to biases in determining how much sunlight aerosols absorb and scatter. Accurate methods (such as the Multiple Sphere T-Matrix Method, MSTM) to calculate aerosol optical properties for arbitrarily shaped particles are very computationally expensive, often requiring hours or days to compute the optical properties of single particles with complex shapes. 

Our recent work demonstrated that graph neural networks (GNN) are a promising approach for emulating expensive aerosol optical properties codes such as MSTM that may be capable of generalizing to new (and previously unseen) particle shapes. The goal of this summer project would be to extend and improve this GNN modeling approach by including physical constraints in the machine learning model architecture (such as equivariant neural network layers or spherical harmonic basis functions). Novel training methodologies for random orientation calculations of aerosol optical properties (calculating optical properties over all possible orientations and polarization states) will be explored. The Fellow will explore methods to improve the zero-shot performance (i.e. without re-training) of this GNN model.

Learning Outcomes + Deliverables: This research will lead to research papers submitted in scientific journals and/or in papers submitted to machine learning conferences. It would also contribute to the development of a code base to train and test machine learning methods for aerosol optical properties codes.



Project Lead: Tian Zheng and Pierre Gentine

Project Description: Presented in partnership with the Summer at SEAS program, the DSI Scholars program and the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) program at UCAR, LEAP’s 2023 REU Program offers summer undergraduate research experiences (SUREs) on synergistic innovations in data science and climate science. The program hosts undergraduate researchers and offers a wide array of enrichment learning and networking opportunities. 

This summer, six (6) undergraduate students from around the United States will participate in the REU Program, starting with a 3-week-long Momentum Bootcamp during which they will gain familiarity and skills with the ClimSim dataset, baseline “ML Operations” such as quality controlling and data engineering, building training pipelines to perform machine learning, assessing goodness of fit, and exploring new algorithms. For those who already come with this basic foundation, advanced learning outcomes could include experimenting with stochastic and generative deep learning algorithms that attempt to fit the non-deterministic component of chaotic cloud dynamics. Momentum Bootcamp will be followed by 5 weeks of on-campus research at Columbia University, culminating in Final Research Presentations on July 27, 2023.

The Momentum Fellow will join Tian Zheng and Candace Agonafir on the Bootcamp’s team of instructors, and mentor the REU students through their on-campus research experiences.

Learning Outcomes + Deliverables: Measurable skill set in teaching and academic mentoring in the fields of climate science and machine learning. Maturation as a project manager and independent researcher with an eye toward establishment as a Principal Investigator capable of guiding the next generation of climate data science scholars.

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