2020 PCC SI: Climate Extremes and Climate and Environmental Equity

PCC held its first virtual Summer Institute (SI) over five days from September 14 – 18, 2020. The topic of this year’s SI was “Climate Extremes and Climate and Environmental Equity” 

Written by Becky Alexander, Lead Summer Institute Organizer, PCC Director and Atmospheric Sciences Professor

The topic was chosen via in-person (pre-COVID) voting at the annual Winter Welcome on February 25, 2020. The winner, from a choice of five topics, was “Climate Extremes” closely followed by “Climate and Environmental Equity”, and we decided to do both!  Both topics were timely. This year’s SI was accompanied by a week of extreme pollution here in Seattle resulting from unprecedented wildfires in California and  Oregon, forcing most of us to remain inside during the week of the meeting. It was a direct reminder for all of us on the west coast of one impact of extreme climate events on our lives. Meanwhile, Hurricane Sally was pounding the US Gulf Coast as part of a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season – another reminder of the impacts of extreme climate change on our lives. The topic of climate and environmental equity was also timely in light of a renewed focus on systemic racism in our society, and the SI provided an opportunity for us to better understand the disproportionate impacts of climate change on black and brown communities.

This year’s SI was also notable for the active participation and leadership from a large portion of the PCC community in organizing and running this event. The 2020 PCC SI covered a different topic on each of the five days of the meeting, and each day was organized and run by a different PCC faculty member and one or two PCC students or staff members. Each session had three speakers providing their expertise and state-of-the-science on each topic. After the three talks, we spent 15-minutes in small breakout group discussions, which was then followed by a panel discussion where a junior representative from each breakout group had a chance to ask the speakers a question. On three of the days, after the panel we had several 3-minute lightning talks followed by a poster session on a variety of climate-related topics. Midweek was “PCC Trivia Night: Equally Trivial and Extreme” organized by PCC graduate student representative Greta Shum. Over 180 people registered for the meeting, and each session had over 70 attendees.

The talks and discussions covered the following five topics:

“Marine Heatwaves” organized by Greg Johnson and Hillary Scannell with speakers Nick Bond (UW/JISAO/PMEL), Vera Trainer (NOAA/NWFS), and William Cheung (UBC).

“Continental Heatwaves” organized by David Battisti and Lucas Zeppettello with speakers Steve Sherwood (University of New South Wales), Karen McKinnon (UCLA), and Brian Harvey (UW).

“Equity” organized by Kristi Ebi and Chris Boyer with speakers Eileen Kazura (UW), Victoria Keener (University of Hawaii), and Cate Mingoya (Groundwork USA)

“Precipitation” organized by Angeline Pendergrass (Cornell University/NCAR and PCC Alumna), Yue Dong and Pedro Angulo-Umana with speakers Shuyi Chen (UW), Angie Pendergrass (Cornell/NCAR), and Jiawai Bao (Max Planck Institute for Meteorology)

“Hydrology” organized by Bart Nijssen, Valerie Chang and Shelby Ahrendt with speakers Fadji Maina (NASA Goddard), Guillaume Mauger (UW), and Julie Vano (Aspen Global Change Institute)

A special thanks to all of the session leads and speakers for contributing to a week of interesting talks and discussions.

Although we all greatly missed getting together in-person at Friday Harbor Labs and look forward to doing so again in the future, there were at least a couple of benefits of a virtual SI. Attendance is usually capped at 80 participants due to space constraints at FHL. This year we were able to accommodate a much larger group, and we had about twice as many registrants as in a typical year. Additionally, we have a fairly accurate accounting of the carbon emissions that we did NOT emit by staying home. At last year’s SI, Alex Stote partnered with Friday Harbor Labs to calculate the carbon emissions resulting from our in person meeting. Despite the local location for the majority of the attendees and an attempt to carpool as much as possible, the majority of the emissions from last year’s SI was from travel. Thus, this year’s virtual SI saved approximately 6500 kg of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere.  

Stay tuned for news about the theme for next year’s SI to be (tentatively) held at Friday Harbor Labs in early to mid-September 2021.

View Summer Institute talks by Angie Pendergrass and Julie Vano below