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 an 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 (GEOMAR) 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, past President of the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors, and Chair of the Earth Institute's Faculty Development Committee, 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 as well as being a reviewer for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Professor Pfirman is currently principal investigator of the Polar Learning and Responding: PoLAR Climate Change Education Partnership supported by the National Science Foundation.  She was a member of the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education (AC-ERE), and served as the AC-ERE’s first Chair when it was established over a decade ago.  Other 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.  In 2016, in honor of extraordinary service, Pfirman was designated a lifetime National Associate of the National Research Council.

Significant Accomplishments and Selected Publications

Research -- see Nature Feature "Arctic 2.0: What happens after all the ice goes?"

Education -- see Science Feature "Straight Talk About STEM Education"

Human Resources -- see Nature Feature "Interdisciplinary research: Break out"

  • 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, Martin and Pfirman, 2017)     
  • 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
Science and climate education in formal and informal settings
Advancing women in science and interdisciplinary scholars


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

Office Hours: 

BA, Colgate
PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Related Web Sites: 

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