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CIESIN Mourns Loss of Associate Director Mark Becker

CIESIN is sad to report that associate director for Geospatial Applications Mark Becker died in a multi-vehicle accident on Wednesday, February 26. He was 53. The accident occurred at about 10:45am on the New York State Thruway in Woodbury, NY.

In his 15 years at CIESIN Mark made contributions that will be felt for a long time. He began his CIESIN career in February 1999, and was soon appointed head of the Geospatial Applications Division. With BA and MA degrees in geography, he had deep technical skills in geographic information systems (GIS) and spatial data analysis. In many ways he helped bring GIS to Columbia, as manager of the GIS Service Center and ESRI site license. He helped install many of the early GIS labs on campus and helped train many of the people who operated them. He taught some of the first GIS classes at the university, in several departments, and was in high demand because of his reputation as a thorough, patient, and effective teacher. In the 2013-2014 academic year he was an adjunct professor in Columbia College's sustainable development department and the Mailman School of Public Health. Mark also led many training workshops around the world in spatial data analysis and related topics.

Mark was a gifted leader and manager, earning a fierce loyalty among his staff who appreciated his ability to help them achieve high levels of technical success and to grow personally and professionally. He led many research projects, with collaborators from across the university and with partners from around the world. He played a central role in the first climate assessment of the New York metro region, in 1999-2000. He developed interactive clinic-level mapping tools with the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs. He developed a range of GIS applications for Columbia's Superfund Basic Research Program: Health Effects and Geochemistry of Arsenic and Lead. He built a web tool to facilitate teaching of human health impacts from climate change. He contributed to the creation of a global building and population exposure data base for use in global earthquake damage modeling.

Although Mark was the epitome of the modern geographer, intimately familiar with advanced data technologies, sensors, and methods, he had much in common with the explorers' tradition of an earlier era. He loved traveling to new cultures and regions. He was especially excited at having the opportunity to visit Antarctica on a November 2013 cruise in which he helped lead workshops with representatives from China's Antarctic Forum. He was equally thrilled leading canoe and kayak trips in the Hackensack watershed.

Mark was highly regarded in a many influential circles, from the local to the global. He was a trustee of the Meadowlands Conservation Trust since 1999, a steering committee member of the Environmental Consortium of Hudson Valley Colleges and Universities from 2007–2013, and a board member of the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association since 2010. Within local conservation circles he was primarily known for co-directing, with his partner of 30 years Lori Charkey, the Bergen Save the Watershed Action Network (Bergen SWAN).

Information concerning memorial services will be shared at a later date. Lori Charkey asks that people wishing to memorialize Mark consider a contribution to Bergen SWAN, PO Box 217, Westwood, NJ 07675.


This page last modified: Mar 03, 2014