UW News

May 23, 2002

Harvard expert to help launch climate change program

News and Information

Work on core curriculum is done, the first class of graduate students has been accepted and one of the world’s top experts on global climate change, Harvard University professor James McCarthy, will present a free, public lecture here May 30 as the UW launches its Program on Climate Change.

“Global Change: Effects That Should Concern Us,” the topic of McCarthy’s lecture at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday in room 130 of Kane Hall, emphasizes why now is the time for UW to have such a program, says oceanography professor Jim Murray. Murray is the first director of the Program on Climate Change created under the umbrella of the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences using support from the University Initiative Fund.

McCarthy, who teaches environmental science and public policy, is a world leader in assessing the consequences of global change, Murray says. Among other things, McCarthy has served the past five years as co-chair of the high-profile Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group II, which is responsible for assessing vulnerabilities to global climate change.

Global warming is widely considered to be one of the most pressing issues facing society in the 21st century, Murray says. He and colleagues from 10 disciplines across campus thought UW’s strengths in climate-change research and teaching could be advanced by being part of a cohesive program.

The UW can claim more expertise in fields relevant to climate change than any other university in the world, Murray says. The University has specialists in atmospheric chemistry and radiation; carbon cycling; global climate systems; physical, chemical and biological oceanography; sea ice, glaciers and continental ice; surface hydrology and landscape processes; paleoclimate reconstructions; terrestrial ecosystems; and climate impacts.

The Program on Climate Change (see http://depts.washington.edu/uwpcc/ ) is charged with coordinating research and undergraduate and graduate teaching among these units. In the past, faculty and students have, in principle, been free to move back and forth but, in practice, degree requirements and departmental responsibilities have limited the extent to which such interdisciplinary exchanges took place.

Through the new program, faculty can receive support to develop new interdisciplinary courses on climate change that will then become part of various departmental curricula. There also will be resources — such as support for equipment, technicians and programmers — to help UW researchers assemble teams and develop winning proposals for funding.

The new program will not have its own dedicated faculty, but it is expected to identify gaps in expertise for which new faculty should be hired. For example, no one on campus currently studies the paleoclimate record in ocean sediments or corals, despite its proven importance in reconstructing the Earth’s past climate, Murray says. Three other research areas where additional faculty could help catalyze interdisciplinary research and teaching are global-scale biogeochemistry, atmospheric chemistry and natural climate oscillations.

Having a coherent climate program, embodied in the Program on Climate Change, may also help attract additional federal and private funding to the UW.

Public education also is a goal of the new program, Murray says, and McCarthy’s presentation is the first of what organizers plan as an annual series of public lectures.

For more information about the lecture or the Program on Climate Change call 206-543-6521.