Stephanie Pfirman

Professor of Environmental Science

Alena Wels Hirschorn '58 and Martin Hirschorn Professor of Environmental and Applied Sciences

Co-Chair of the Department of Environmental Science

Stephanie L. Pfirman, Professor of Environmental Science and Alena Wels Hirschorn '58 and Martin Hirschorn Professor of Environmental and Applied Sciences, joined the faculty of Barnard College in 1993, and serves as co-Chair of Barnard's Department of Environmental Science.  She holds a joint appointment with Columbia University where she is a member of the faculties of the Earth Institute and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Adjunct Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.  Prior to joining Barnard, Professor Pfirman was a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund and co-developer of the award-winning exhibition, "Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast," produced jointly with the American Museum of Natural History.  She has worked for the House of Representatives, as a staff scientist, for the US Geological Survey, as an oceanographer, and for the GeoMarine Research Institution in Kiel, Germany, as an Arctic researcher.  Her PhD is from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution joint program in Oceanography and Oceanographic Engineering and she has BA with high honors in Geology from Colgate University.

Professor Pfirman’s scientific research focuses on the Arctic environment, in particular on the nature and dynamics of Arctic sea ice under changing climate.  Her previous research activities have included melting and surging glaciers and pollution transported by sea ice.  In 2010, Pfirman was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the Section on Atmospheric and Hydrospheric Sciences.

As a National Science Foundation Advancing Women in the Sciences (ADVANCE) coPI and past President of the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors, Pfirman has helped to understand and foster the career trajectories of women and interdisciplinary scholars.  She has contributed to the development of innovative educational approaches in interdisciplinary, environmental, and STEM education including chairing the Education Committee of the Columbia Earth Institute, and serving as a consultant for the Andrew W. Mellon, Sherman Fairchild, and Luce foundations.

Professor Pfirman is currently principal investigator of the Polar Learning and Responding: PoLAR Climate Change Education Partnership supported by the National Science Foundation.  She is a member of the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education (AC-ERE), co-Chair of its Working Group on Diversity, and served as the AC-ERE’s first Chair when it was established over a decade ago.  Prior service includes Chair of the Advisory Committee to the Office of Polar Programs at NSF, member of the National Academy of Science’s Polar Research Board, co-Chair of the NAS study committee on Emerging Research Questions in the Arctic, Chair of the study committee on the Scientific Value of the Arctic Sea Ice Imagery Derived Products, and member of the study committee on the Legacy and Lessons of International Polar Year 2007-2008.

Significant Accomplishments and Selected Publications


  • Co-Chair of the National Academy of Sciences analysis of Emerging Research Questions in the Arctic (2014) (more than 2000 downloads)
  • Co-developed the IceTracker tool for research, education and outreach (Pfirman et al. 2009, Pfirman et al. 2013)
  • Led research identifying the dynamics of the “Last Sea Ice Refuge,” aka the “Last Ice Area” (Pfirman et al. 2009),
  • Led and co-developed the first dynamic depictions of sea ice age and origin, first to identify major decrease in sea ice age (Pfirman and Haxby 2000,, Pfirman et al. 2004)
  • Led development of sea ice as an archive to reconstruct surface ocean conditions (Pfirman et al. 2004)
  • Led development of sea ice trajectory analysis to track origin and fate of sea ice (Pfirman, et al., 1989, 1997)
  • Led analysis of potential for pollutant transport by sea ice (Pfirman et al. 1995, 1997)
  • Led analysis of basal meltwater input and dispersal from a post-surge tidewater glacier (Pfirman, 1985, Ph.D. thesis; Pfirman and Solheim, 1989)


  • Currently leading the Polar Learning and Responding: PoLAR Climate Change Education Partnership, PI NSF grant (2010-2017)
  • Co-led development and teaching of one of the world’s longest-running, required climate courses, Columbia/Barnard’s Earth’s Environmental Systems: Climate, co-PI NSF grant 1995 (Hays and Pfirman, 1998; Hays, Pfirman et al., 2000)
  • Co-PI first major NSF grant for climate education (1991) to develop the first exhibition on global warming by a natural history museum, “Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast” produced jointly with the American Museum of Natural History and the Environmental Defense Fund.  American Association of Museum's Curators' Committee award for one of the best exhibitions of 1993 (Zelig and Pfirman, 1993)

Human Resources

  • Co-led analysis of issues and options for fostering interdisciplinary scientists (Pfirman et al., 2005, Pfirman and Martin, 2010; Pfirman et al. 2011, Pfirman and Begg, 2012)             
  • Led recommendations for advancing women in science (Pfirman et al. 2007, 2008a,b; 2010)
  • Co-led analysis of women, minorities and interdisciplinary science (Rhoten and Pfirman 2007 a,b, Pfirman and Rhoten, 2007)
  • Led analysis of environmental programs at liberal arts colleges (Pfirman et al. 2005)
  • Led first 10-year outlook for NSF environmental research and education for the National Science Foundation (Pfirman, et al., 2003)
  • Co-led development of first community guide for the NSF “Broader Impacts” criterion (Pfirman et al. 2001)


Google Scholar Link

Academic Focus: 

Arctic environment
Improvement of science education
Advancing women in science


404C Altschul Hall
(212) 854-5120
at Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory:
(845) 365-8475

Office Hours: 

BA, Colgate
PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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