John Mutter

Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and of International and Public Affairs


International Affairs Building, Room 1433

Personal Details

Focus areas: The role of natural disasters in reducing or enhancing development opportunities for poor and emerging societies

John Mutter's research focuses on the role of natural disasters in constraining development opportunities for poor and emerging societies. Meteorological extremes are expected to increase as a result of human-induced climate change, and his work attempts to assess who are most vulnerable to disasters such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake and Hurricane Katrina.

At SIPA, Mutter created and teaches the core course Environmental Science for Sustainable Development which provides the basis of understanding Earth systems behavior needed for students in the PhD program in sustainable development as well as masters candidates in several programs. He also created and teaches Climate Change, Development and Human Rights.

In undergraduate programs, Mutter co-teaches Disasters and Development and Science for Sustainable Development which is a core course in the undergraduate major in sustainable development in Columbia College. He also teaches graduate level marine seismology in Earth and Environmental Sciences.

He leads the Earth Institute's partnership with the UNEP's Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch, researching environmental degradation as both an outcome and driver of disasters and conflicts.

Mutter's work in the natural sciences focuses on the use of marine seismology technologies to study processes in the formation of the earth's crust and mantle at mid-ocean ridge and continental rift settings. In 2008, he served as chief scientist aboard Columbia University research vessel Marcus G. Langseth, conducting the first 3-D seismic imaging experiment of seafloor spreading at the East Pacific Rise. This study will reveal how magma rises from deep in the Earth's interior to create new crust and controls the distribution of biological communities at hydrothermal vent systems.

Mutter is also a principal investigator on the National Science Foundation-funded ADVANCE program, designed to create institutional change that will improve the opportunities for women in earth science and engineering at Columbia.

Mutter is co-founder of the Bamboo Bike project, which creates a new type of bicycle for Africans.

Many of his commentaries on natural disasters and other current issues can be found at OECD insights and in Earth magazine.


Research And Publications

In The Media

Climate & Sustainable Development

John Mutter said that as the technology used to measure earthquake strength wasn’t widely standardized until the 1950s, it means measurements before that were less reliable than those conducted with more modern technology.

Apr 08 2024

John Mutter comments on why New York City experiences numerous small earthquakes every year, and the impacts that these have on infrastructure.


Jan 02 2024
The New York Times

As climate change drives hurricanes to become more severe around the world, John Mutter says, “poorer communities could bear the brunt of the destruction."


Jun 01 2023

John Mutter writes on science communication, in the wake of New Zealand's White Island (Whakaari) volcano disaster.

Oct 14 2021
Climate & Sustainable Development

A look at SIPA’s past, and future, at the intersection of policy and the environment.

Sep 19 2021