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Intellect and common touch; passion and gentleness; scientific integrity and lifelong advocacy; local commitment and global reach – not ready qualities in one human being. Mark Becker had them all, and more.

Sadly, incomprehensibly, we lost Mark to a multi-vehicle, automobile accident on the New York State Thruway on the morning of February 26 in Woodbury, NY. He was 53.

Mark was the associate director of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. When the accident occurred, he was en route to Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson where he taught at the Center for Environmental Policy.

In an interview with, Lori Charkey, Mark’s partner, spoke of the accident and of their work at the Bergen Save the Watershed Action Network (Bergen SWAN), which together they founded 26 years ago, “I lost my partner of 30 years. . . I don’t know how I will be able to keep [Bergen SWAN] going without him, but I hope I can shoulder it.”

The article continued:

Charkey said she and Becker had just returned from a 3½-week research trip to Antarctica, where they had worked with Chinese scientists investigating global warming.

“I’m glad he had that last chance to see that beautiful part of the world before he died,” Charkey said.

According to, Mark is survived by Lori, his mother Edith Becker, his brother Michael Becker, and his two sisters, Patricia Shilling and Terri Becker Foschini.

Mark’s passion and expertise knew no bounds. A remembrance on the CIESIN site elaborates:

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.

Shock at the news of Mark’s untimely death spread quickly throughout the Hudson River Valley, where he is especially loved and respected for his expertise, teaching, dedication to watershed protection, and steady, warm demeanor.

Said Michelle Land, director of Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies and the Environmental Consortium of Hudson Valley Colleges and Universities:

We were very fortunate to have Mark as part of our team at the Consortium. He brought the gifts of intelligence, talent, kindness and thoughtfulness. He was passionate about education and the environment and always supportive of our mission. The breadth of his work was global, but he was firmly grounded in the local. The Hudson River watershed will long benefit from his unique contributions as a geographer, GIS specialist, geospacial analyst and teacher. It was our great privilege to enjoy Mark as both colleague and friend, and it is our great loss that he has passed. We will miss him.

Louise Jensen, executive director of the Lassen Land and Trails Trust in Susandale California, and former student of Mark’s at Bard said , “He was so beloved that he received the ‘Master of Space’ award from my classmates…which also speaks volumes for his great sense of humor. Future Bard CEP students will be poorer for the loss.”  She wrote to EarthDesk:

There are times in life when you cross paths with someone who imparts a passion and knowledge that inspires and yet is eminently practical and applicable in life. Each and every one of us who have passed through the Bard Center for Environmental Policy graduate program experienced one of those moments when we met Mark Becker. He took the time to understand each of our unique goals and objectives and helped us apply geo spacial science to that work. His global work in tracking contaminants in water and his local work in Bergen, NJ, meant he was experienced on the ground and practical about how to apply his science to achieve great things for communities. Thank you, Mark.

According to the Columbia Spectator:

Students and faculty who worked closely with Becker remember the researcher and professor as an enthusiastic environmental activist and a powerful teacher who was devoted to his work. . .

“He had a very unique ability to reach anyone and effectively teach them what they were most willing to learn about spatial analysis,” said [Marc Levy, deputy director of CIESIN]. “He was very proficient in all the latest technology. . . At the same time he had this very old-fashioned kind of explorers’ mentality that you associate with geographers of another century.”

His sister Terri told EarthDesk:

I knew he was great and now I have read so many wonderful stories and kindnesses of Mark. He was always full of energy, life and love. We, and I mean everyone, will miss his style.

Donations in Mark’s memory can be made to Bergen SWAN.

More on Mark Becker at the CIESIN website.

And more at the Columbia Spectator.