Dr. Cecilia M. McHugh

Pronouns: she/her

Adjunct Senior Research Scientist, Marine and Polar Geophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), Columbia Climate School

Distinguished Professor, Queens College, City University of New York

Queens College
65-30 Kissena Blvd
Flushing, NY 11367


My research focuses on marine geology and sedimentation processes to understand earthquake and tsunamis, sea-level changes, climate and the impact of anthropogenic activities in the local rivers and estuaries such as the Hudson and Long Island Sound. I have also studied the effects of extra-terrestrial impact events as the one that happened 35 million years ago in what is today Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia. My driver for conducting research is the discovery of the unknown. Very little is known about the ocean floors in proportion to their huge coverage of the Earth 70%. Indeed there are discoveries in every expedition I participated. The beauty of studying sediments is that in the submarine environment they tend to be deposited and not disturbed as on land. So the history of events in preserved back in time for millions of years. We learn about the past to understand the future and the sediments are great sources of information. As one of the precursors of the  field of submarine paleoseismology I study earthquakes and tsunamis under the sea. This work began in Turkey in 1999 after catastrophic earthquakes caused thousands of casualties and much destruction. As Pi and CoPi, I have lead expeditions to study the M7.0 2010 and M7.2 2021 Haiti earthquakes as part of RAPID Responses, and I am studying the disastrous M 9.0, 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami as part of the International Ocean Drilling Expedition to the Japan Trench.

The burning of fossil fuels releases gases into the atmosphere creating a greenhouse effect. So the Earth is getting warmer and so are the oceans. As a result, mountain glaciers and ice sheets are melting and the oceans are warming. These processes lead to a rise in sea-level that is accentuated by thermal expansion of the ocean waters. Warmer oceans lead to increased storm activity and greater storm surges that are penetrating further landwards and maintaining their energy through longer periods of time. These factors threaten our heavily populated cities. By studying the sedimentation record I learn what climate and sea-level were in the past and hope to help understand their impact in the future.



May 22, 2024

A Glimpse at the Columbia Climate School in the Green Mountains Program

Students from around the globe spent two weeks in Vermont learning about current issues and solutions in climate change.

May 20, 2024

Scope 3 Carbon Emissions and the Management of Supply Chains

Measuring an organization’s impact on its environment is becoming a routine part of competent and effective organizational management. Extending that measurement process into the supply chain is part of current best management practices.

May 16, 2024

Rivers Exposed by Glacier Retreat Fuel Competition Between Mining Industry and Salmon

Study finds that Canadian mining companies are staking claims on future salmon habitat emerging from the ice as glaciers retreat.

May 14, 2024

Food Systems Expert Jessica Fanzo Reflects on Receiving One of Science’s Highest Honors

Professor of Climate Jessica Fanzo discusses how an "unplanned" career path led to her recent election to the National Academy of Sciences.

May 13, 2024

Congratulations to the 2024 Graduates of the Columbia Climate School

On May 10th, Climate and Society students gathered to celebrate their accomplishments during a challenging and illuminating year.