This year's College of Science Lecture Series will showcase UA researchers' expertise on global climate change.
This year's College of Science Lecture Series will showcase UA researchers' expertise on global climate change.

UA at the Forefront as Climate Change Heats Up

This year's College of Science Lecture Series, "Earth Transformed," will showcase UA researchers' expertise on climate change and its implications for the planet.
Jan. 20, 2016

What is the UA's role in the climate change conversation?
The UA is an expert on global climate change and adaptation and is a location for two regional climate research centers for the U.S. government. It sent a delegation to the recent United Nations COP21 climate change conference in Paris.

Why is climate change important?
Climate change remains a pressing global issue, with the potential to have significant impact on the environment, human health, food security and more. UA research in these areas can help inform policies and solutions.

Who should attend the "Earth Transformed" lecture series?
The free series is for anyone interested in learning more about the climate change problem and solutions — and the UA's expertise.

"Earth Transformed" will kick off on Monday and run through March 7 at Centennial Hall.
"Earth Transformed" will kick off on Monday and run through March 7 at Centennial Hall.
Joellen Russell will launch the lecture series with a talk on the planet's warming oceans.
Joellen Russell will launch the lecture series with a talk on the planet's warming oceans.
Jonathan Overpeck will wrap up the series with a talk on "The Changing Earth: It's Not Just a New Normal."
Jonathan Overpeck will wrap up the series with a talk on "The Changing Earth: It's Not Just a New Normal."

The University of Arizona, an international leader in global climate change research, will share its scientists' expertise with the community during the College of Science Lecture Series, "Earth Transformed."

The popular series, which kicks off Monday and runs through March 7, again is expected to play to capacity crowds at the UA's Centennial Hall. It will include six lectures on climate change and its impact on Earth today and in the future. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the lectures start at 7. The talks will be streamed live by Arizona Public Media On Demand.

Topics range from the ocean's role in climate change, which Joellen Russell, associate professor of geosciences, will address in the first lecture, to the impact of climate change on health and food security.

"It is important that we all understand what we know about global climate change and what we can do about it," said Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the College of Science.

The timing of the series couldn't be better, coming on the heels of the UA's presence at the 2015 United Nations COP21 climate change conference held in late 2015 in Paris. Seven representatives of the University participated in the conference.

Understanding the Problem, Working on Solutions

The UA's expertise on climate change is broad and varied, with dozens of researchers in various colleges working on the issue in some way. Their ongoing efforts will be among the top stories to watch in 2016.

While many are dedicated to the science behind the change, others are interested in the ins and out of climate-related policymaking and the social implications of climate change. Some are leveraging arts and humanities to communicate the issue.

Russell said she is excited to share her knowledge and talk about how the UA has become a leader on climate change — and what researchers are doing to think ahead.

Her lecture will address the amount of heat the ocean is absorbing from the atmosphere and how the ocean's uptake of heat has affected sea creatures and plant life.

"The ocean keeps warming every year without fail," Russell said. "But that's not the only thing the ocean is doing for us. If all of the heat in the ocean from just the warming over the last 30 years was put back into the atmosphere, we would be 100 degrees warmer. The ocean is like a big air conditioner, just sucking up tons of the heat that would otherwise be making us hotter."

Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the UA's Institute of the Environment, will talk on "The Changing Earth: It's Not Just a New Normal," which will conclude the series.

While climate change is a serious issue, Overpeck said he wants to talk about optimism around the topic.

He said he believes there will be much economic growth in the Southwest as part of a switch to renewable energy, which will in turn create more jobs. He also said there will be ideas for adapting to climate change that the Southwest can export.

"I want to make sure everyone in the room leaves not depressed but optimistic of our ability to solve these problems," said Overpeck, Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Professor of Science and a Regents' Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences in the College of Science.

Ruiz said he hopes the audience comes away from the lectures with new information and a desire to learn more.

"I get really excited about three things," Ruiz said. "One (reason) is our speakers presenting what we know of the particular topic, and that makes me really proud because we have fantastic faculty. Second is the response from our community. Our community is sucking it up, and that's not everywhere where that happens. We live in a special place."

The third thing that excites Ruiz, he says, is new programming designed to educate and involve students in the lecture series.

Engaging Students in the Conversation

New to the series this year will be follow-up question-and-answer sessions in which UA students will be able to interact directly with the lecturers.

Instructors across campus are encouraging students to view a live stream of the lectures at the University's Environment and Natural Resources 2, or ENR2, building. After the lecturers finish their presentations in Centennial Hall, they will head to ENR2 to answer students' questions in a feature called QA Science.

"We felt that the issue of climate change is most relevant to the generation now attending the UA," said John Pollard, associate professor of practice in the UA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who will facilitate the QA Science discussions along with Ed Prather, associate professor of astronomy, and Lisa Elfring, associate professor of molecular and cellular biology and of chemistry and biochemistry and a member of the BIO5 Institute.

The sessions build on the concept of Pollard's "Selected Topics for Science Educators" course for K-12 teachers, which for the past five years has engaged local educators in the lecture series with the goal of helping them incorporate the topics in their own classrooms.

As in years past, about 20 K-12 teachers will attend the talks and have the opportunity to ask questions of the presenters afterward. This year, UA students from varying majors will pose questions, as well.

"We hope they take away an awareness of where we're at with this issue, and that we have some really top-notch scientists here at the UA working on this problem," Pollard said. "I also hope they become reflective about their daily lives and how they can develop more sustainable habits."

The "Earth Transformed" series will showcase the tip of the iceberg in UA climate change research, which spans the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, public health and the arts.

"We are a center for excellence for climate research, and climate negotiations are always dependent on the latest science — natural science and social science," said Diana Liverman, co-director of the UA Institute of the Environment and a Regents' Professor in the School of Geography and Development.

In the fall, Liverman led a delegation from the UA — including two other faculty members, three graduate students and an undergraduate — to the climate change conference in Paris, where they attended and participated as experts in panels and discussions, observed negotiations, and hosted an information booth with Arizona State University to share the latest climate research and publications from Arizona.

At the conference, a global pact known as the Paris Agreement was negotiated that makes a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius.

'We Work in This Area'

The University is uniquely positioned to support efforts to meet that goal, Liverman said.

"It was clear in Paris that a lot of countries could reduce fossil fuel emissions through solar energy, and we work in this area," she said.

However, we still need to find ways to live in a warmer world, Liverman said.

The University is a global leader in climate adaptation and how communities can adjust to warmer and drier living conditions. It already is a location for two regional climate research centers for the U.S. government: the Department of the Interior's Southwest Climate Science Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Assessment for the Southwest, or CLIMAS. In addition, the University's Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions brings together faculty from across campus to work on adaptation.

"The U of A has enormous potential to help Arizona and the world cope with a changing climate," Liverman said. "We connect climate science to solutions and decisions and share our insights into living sustainably in warm, arid environments."

For more information about "Earth Transformed," visit the series website. The schedule of lectures:

  • Jan. 25 | Joellen Russell, "Ocean's Role in Climate: Heat and Carbon Uptake in the Anthropocene"
  • Feb. 1 | David Battisti (University of Washington), "Climate Change and Global Food Security"
  • Feb. 8 | Russell Monson, "Ecosystem Resilience: Navigating Our Tenuous Connection to Nature"
  • Feb. 22 | Kacey Ernst, "Climate Change and Human Health: Impacts and Pathways to Resilience"
  • Feb. 29 | Kimberly Ogden, "Carbon Sequestration: Can We Afford It?"
  • March 7 | Jonathan Overpeck, "The Changing Earth: It's Not Just a New Normal"

UANews is exploring six stories to watch as 2016 begins. Previously in this series:

Health & Medicine: The asthma research of Dr. Fernando Martinez 

Big Data: The UA's expanded role in turning data into discovery

Humanities: In February, a visit from Shakespeare's touring First Folio