Yale to launch new Center for Geospatial Solutions
Yale will create a new Center for Geospatial Solutions (YCGS) to enhance the university’s research, training, and engagement infrastructure in the rapidly evolving areas of geospatial science, data, and analysis, university leaders have announced.
Geospatial methods have a wide range of practical applications, including the potential to help address global challenges such as human displacement related to climate change and more accurately forecast economic activity. YCGS will draw upon this potential to help the university community amplify its mission and its work in a variety of fields, including economics, public health, and environmental science, said Yale Provost Scott Strobel.
YCGS will be led by inaugural co-directors Karen Seto, the Frederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science at the Yale School of the Environment and director of the Hixon Center for Urban Ecology, and Costas Arkolakis, professor of economics in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
The center will offer new advanced geospatial research support for faculty and students, while integrating and leveraging existing geospatial support that is currently distributed across campus. It will also lead in strengthening geospatial data science course offerings, develop advanced training programs, and foster interdisciplinary research collaborations and partnerships with industry to enhance knowledge and training infrastructure.
“Addressing the challenges and opportunities of our modern world requires a wide range of experts working in concert,” Strobel. “The Center for Geospatial Solutions will heighten our ability to collaborate in this way at Yale. It will help us engage powerful new tools and modes to improve our teaching and research and, by extension, the global communities we serve. We are fortunate to have Professor Seto and Professor Arkolakis to lead us in this important work.”
A geographer and urban scientist by training, Seto is one of the world’s foremost experts on urbanization and its impact on the planet, including on climate change, biodiversity loss, and food systems. In addition to her groundbreaking research using remote sensing to study urbanization, she is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Council on Foreign Relations. She serves on a variety of national and international bodies, including co-chairing the National Academies’ Climate Security Roundtable and as a coordinating lead author for two United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate reports.
In his research, Arkolakis specializes in international economics, spatial economics, and macroeconomics, including on gains from international trade, transportation infrastructure investment, and the effects of renewable energy growth. He has received multiple National Science Foundation grants, including the CAREER grant, was a recipient of the Bodossaki Foundation Prize in Social Sciences for distinguished Greek scientists, and is as a joint editor of the Journal of International Economics.
The new YCGS originated as a response to a 2022 call for proposals from the Yale Planetary Solutions Project, with members of the campus community suggesting that the university strengthen its geospatial research and teaching to help respond most effectively to global climate change and biodiversity loss. In September 2022, Strobel convened a committee of 13 Yale faculty and staff from six different university units, which used several key criteria to develop the center’s vision and strategy, including:
- Focus and elevate the university’s support for geospatial research — particularly new, transformative place-based research — to address the most pressing challenges facing society and the planet
- Strengthen the link from geospatial research to applications with societal and policy impact
- Train the next generation of leaders in all fields with geospatial science skills
“From cell phones to satellite imagery, the scale and pace of new geospatial data and analytical methods are transforming how we see and understand the world,” Seto said. “Our goal is to harness the geospatial data revolution and connect it with Yale’s domain expertise on issues of global importance to develop solutions for specific places and also at scale.”
The center will be strategically located in a central campus space that positions it to serve as a geospatial hub supporting all units across the university. It will engage closely and collaboratively with the Data-Intensive Social Science Center, the Yale Institute for Foundations of Data Science, the Marx Science & Social Science Library, the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture, and the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, among others. It is currently slated to be built out in multiple phases. The first year will focus on the center’s establishment and the search for an executive director, Yale administrators say. The second year will see continued buildout and the recruitment of key operational and research staff positions.
“This is an exciting field and an exciting time to be building Yale’s capacity within it,” said Michael Crair, vice provost for research. “Under Karen and Costas’s guidance, we expect the center to distinguish itself for its integrative approach, its ability to tie insights directly to solutions, and its great convening power.”