Published: Feb. 12, 2021
homes with larges piles of drywall and construction junk outside

Dr. Elizabeth Tellman
Earth Institute
Columbia University and Cloud to Street

Friday, February 12th at 12:00PM MT
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Floods affect more people than any other hazard, and the frequency and magnitude of exposure is growing with demographic and climatic changes. Yet the ability to predict and monitor floods from local to global scales remains a challenge and limits access to financial protection for vulnerable populations. The increasing availability, frequency, and spatio-temporal resolution of both satellite and news media data provides new opportunities to monitor floods locally and globally. Advances in cloud computing and machine learning techniques enable increasingly accurate flood event monitoring by fusing observations from multiple sensors. I will show how new methods and data enabled by machine learning, satellites, and online media improve our ability to understand and adapt to flood risk from global to local scales. This talk will demonstrate how improved flood observations yield insight into where populations are moving into flood plains, inform decisions to relocate refugee camps, and underpin innovation insurance schemes in Bangladesh. Despite the potential benefits of satellite flood data, unequal access to flood information could further exacerbate vulnerability for the most marginalized and may already be reshaping housing markets in the U.S. I conclude with the ethical consideration of how to ensure these new technological and scientific advances reduce rather than deepen existing inequalities in who loses most when a flood hits.


Beth Tellman is a human-environment geographer whose research addresses the causes and consequences of global environmental change in vulnerable populations, with a focus on access to water, flood risk, and land use change. She engages in a wide array of disciplines and methods from land system science, to hydrology, to the social sciences. Her field work focuses on Mexico and Central America, where she has studied informal urban settlements, vulnerability and adaptation to water risk, and the role of narcotrafficking in forest loss. She is currently a Postdoctoral Scientist at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, working on index-based flood insurance in Bangladesh. She is a co-founder of Cloud to Street, a public benefit corporation that leverages remote sensing data to build flood monitoring and mapping systems for low- and middle-income countries. Beth will be an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Arizona in August 2021. To learn more about her publications, projects, and PhD and post-doc opportunities see:

Downloadable Colloquium Poster PDF