Science Student Spotlight: Corey Scher

February 16, 2021

Corey Scher is helping to uncover scientific discoveries on glacier melt in the Himalayas as a second year PhD student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He also uses his methodological expertise in image analysis and data science to support international humanitarian investigations and community-based organizing for police accountability. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Geology from the University of California, Berkeley and an M.S. in Geology from the City College of New York.

The depth of Corey’s doctoral dissertation research at CUNY is founded in the science of understanding flows of water on earth from space using satellites. He works in the lab group of Professor Kyle McDonald, a NASA Jet Propulsion Lab alumnus and the co-creator of existing and upcoming NASA satellite radar missions. Corey’s masters and early doctoral dissertation research has uncovered that all glaciers across the Himalayas are melting even where air temperatures never exceed 0ºC. With Professors McDonald and Nick Steiner he developed a method and system to monitor the timing and duration of glacier melt using tens of thousands of satellite radar images and cloud-computing analytical techniques. The work extends recent revelations from a National Geographic expedition to Mount Everest, which collected meteorological data used to show that the sheer intensity of sunlight at these extreme heights caused snow and glaciers to melt while air temperatures were less than -10ºC. Decades of numerical model studies assumed that glaciers at permanently frozen elevations were shielded from the effects of global climate change. A number of these studies were highlighted in a recent International Panel on Climate Change special report on the cryosphere in a changing climate. Corey’s work shows that, at extremely high elevations, glaciers in the Himalayas are in fact melting and it is most likely happening despite air temperatures remaining well below freezing.

Corey’s remaining dissertation work will combine satellite observations with numerical models of glacier melt driven by the surface energy balance (the combined energy resulting from the effects of sunlight, air temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity, etc.). This type of scientific exercise is important to characterize the risk to water resources for upwards of 240 million people living within a rapidly changing climate and along contested international boundaries in the high elevation Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). Most of the available water resources in the HKH are delivered through melting of snow and ice; and this meltwater supply is expected to briefly increase as glacier melt accelerates and then rapidly decrease as glaciers melt away toward the end of the century. Corey’s work blending satellite radar time lapse imagery with surface energy balance models of glacier melt, he hopes, will help to mitigate the hazards of a future with fewer available freshwater resources at the extreme elevations of the HKH region.

Beyond academic research, Corey supports social and environmental justice work using his methodological expertise. When he isn’t developing science to monitor melting of glaciers, he is mapping asymmetric depletion of transboundary aquifers, implicating transnational palm oil corporations with intentionally setting peatland forests on fire, and helping to build a photo-indexed database of US police officers’ disciplinary histories, extending an effort to document and database NYPD officers who refused to wear facemasks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Corey Scher student

Corey loves to learn and is enriched with his experience learning while teaching undergraduate earth science and engineering courses at City College of New York. He values CUNY both as an institute of higher education and an agent for social and political change, specifically matriculating experts in earth and environmental sciences who largely buck the trend of a persistent lack of diversity in the field.

Growing up on the eastern shores of the San Francisco Bay, Corey has an affinity for worker-owned businesses and workplace democracy. After graduation, he plans to spend his time growing the worker-owned company he has co-founded while at CUNY, the Water Data Lab.

For now, he could not be happier situated within the multi-disciplinary Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences while learning and growing alongside his peers and colleagues.