PCC Summer Institute

An annual 3-day event where faculty, scientists, graduate students, and invited speakers focus on how climate and our physical and human world interact. Each year a new topic, showcasing emerging knowledge and ways in which disciplines intersect, is examined. Always an opportunity for team building and for full discussion of the alternative ways that research can be brought to focus on the pressing questions of today.

2018 (Next Up):  “Sources of Uncertainty in Long-Term Climate Projections” led by Kyle Armour, UW Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences and Aaron Donohoe, UW Polar Science Center/Applied Physics Laboratory.  September 12-14, 2018 at Friday Harbor Labs, Washington.

The workshop will bring together a diverse group of scientists to discuss the primary sources of uncertainty in climate change and its impacts over the coming century.

  • Can we quantify uncertainty in global and regional climate change projections? (e.g., in the spatial structure of warming and hydrologic cycle changes)
  • What are the primary sources of climate change uncertainty? (e.g., from emissions, radiative feedbacks, ocean circulation, carbon cycle feedbacks, etc.)
  • What are the major uncertainties in climate change impacts?
  • What are our prospects for better quantifying and/or narrowing climate change uncertainties?
  • How should decisions be made and climate change be communicated in light of recalcitrant uncertainties?

More details can be found here.

2017: “Climate Change and Population Health” led by LuAnne Thompson, UW Oceanography and Cecilia Bitz, UW Atmospheric Sciences

The topic of Population Health and Climate Change was inspired by the linkages forged through the Global Health and Environmental Fellows Program and by the UW Population Health Initiative. I, along with my co-organizer Cecilia, wanted to bring a variety of perspectives to how climate change interacts with human health broadly both now and into the future. The curiosity and humbleness that was present at this year’s Summer Institute typifies this interdisciplinary culture that we all experience every day on the UW campus both inside and outside of the PCC and the College of the Environment.

M Bertram
2017 PCC Summer Institute Participants

This year’s speakers did an amazing job of explaining not only their own research to a broad audience, but also in giving perspectives on what it means to engage in climate research. With little advance planning, the talks seamlessly linked those perspectives together. As a first example, we had a series of speakers who spoke about different aspects of climate driven extreme events. Extreme climate events are how most people will experience the detrimental impacts of climate change, whether it be by a hurricane that is made just that much stronger owing to a warmer ocean, storm surge that is just that much higher owing to sea level rise, or longer and more severe heat waves.

We had a series of talks that gave differing yet complimentary perspectives on understanding both the science and human impacts of extreme events. We learned from an atmospheric scientist (Bill Boos, UC Berkeley) about the causes of floods in the Indian subcontinent, how that might change in future but with an eye towards challenges that extreme rainfall brings to vulnerable populations; Fasail Hossain (UW CEE) gave an engineers’ perspective on the challenges in managing water in the same region. We also heard from Andrew Rhines (UW Atmospheric Sciences) about the science of climate related extreme events, while Beth Fussell (Brown University) talked about hurricanes, and how the impacts are driven by the differing vulnerability of populations. We also were given differing perspectives on human health, with an excellent overview by Kris Ebi (UW, Center Global Health and the Environment) of how climate change has in the past and will in the future effect human health from a disease perspective. Jeremy Hess (UW, Center Global Health and the Environment) then gave perspectives on heat extremes, and finally we heard from Jeff Reid (UW, IHME) who introduced us to the Global Burden of Disease and discussed how accounting for how people die can help us to determine the best way to ensure a healthy future for all people on the planet. Finally, we had two different perspectives on climate change and food: a quantitative approach given by Claudia Tebaldi where she discussed using data and models to create projections of the impact of climate change on staple crops over wide regions, and a thought provoking discussion by Eddie Allison of the importance of small scale fisheries to nutrition in many places, and how when we think about the impact of climate change it is important to think about the fisheries management context. Each of the speakers welcomed questions and framed their talks to be accessible to the very interdisciplinary audience. The questions ranged from basic to the very technical leading to very thoughtful discussions. I think that we were all sorry to head back to Seattle on Friday.

-by LuAnne Thompson, co-convener of the 2017 PCC Summer Institute; read also “Things I learned from leading the PCC”

More information

2016 : “The Climate of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean” led by Cecilia Bitz, UW Atmospheric Sciences

74 participants assembled at Friday Harbor Labs in the San Juan Islands for the 15th PCC Summer Institute to discuss the climate of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean. Presentations covered climate processes, current climate change, and paleoclimate records of the past few million years with a focus on better understanding the present-day and future projections.

Andy Thompson, from CalTech, kicked off the SI discussing a cutting edge view of the Southern Ocean as more than a spinning ring around an icy continent. He took us on a tour of the ins and outs of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and left us with a list of hot topics to ponder. Knut Christianson was next and discussed the fate of the Antarctic ice sheet in a warmer climate. He explained how the first signs of warming are melting at the ice shelves and the speed up of the flow down the Antarctic glaciers.

This year we held a public evening lecture with two speakers. Steve Warren led with a presentation about the Climate of the Antarctic Ice Sheet with a mix of classic hand-drawn sketches, inspiring photographs, and modern scientific graphics. He had us imagining what it would be like to don a meter pile of warm clothes to climb a 32-meter meteorology tower in the dead of winter and experience a 12 degree Celsius temperature inversion. Kyle Armour followed with an engaging explanation of the sea-saw of climate trends in the Arctic and Antarctic. He made a case for the delayed warming in the south from the damping effect of deep ocean waters upwelling around Antarctica.

One of Steve Warren’s hand-drawn sketches!

The next morning David Thompson, from Colorado State University, gave a stirring talk about the atmospheric circulation in the high southern latitudes. He explained new ideas how cloud radiative effects enhance the atmospheric circulation response to global warming. Dargan Frierson was up next with an entertaining talk about why it is cold in the Southern Ocean and how it attracted early explorers. He also showed how the extreme height of the Antarctic ice sheet alters atmospheric circulation in the vicinity, in the tropics, and even in the Arctic. The last speaker of the morning was Lorenzo Polvani, from Columbia University. He spoke about the substantial role of variability in the Antarctic, and made a case that the sea ice expansion of the last 38 years is driven by internal variability.

After an afternoon of community building biking, whale watching, hiking, and above all conversing about climate change, everyone returned for a late afternoon poster viewing and evening talks. Curtis Deutsch spoke first about the outsized role of the Southern Ocean in the global carbon cycle. Next, Amelia Shevenell, from University of South Florida, captivated us with her description of the paleoclimate proxies from Antarctica, and their importance for deciphering the climate change of the past.

The final session began with Michell Koutnik speaking about Holocene climate change and the ice accumulation changes seen in ice-core records and ice layer dynamics visualized with ground-penetrating radar. In a step further back, Louise Sime, from the British Antarctic Survey, told us about the Last Interglacial (LI) climate that is understood from ice coring campaigns and from clever modeling studies. She gave a convincing case for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse during the LI. The institute was capped off by Eric Steig, who drew connections between the climate of the past seen in Antarctic ice cores and the climate change and variability we are experiencing today.

Cecilia Bitz, Atmospheric Sciences, convener of the 2016 PCC Summer Institute

2015 PCC Summer Institute — UW participants and guest speakers focus on terrestrial ecosystems, land surface processes, and climate for 3 days at Friday Harbor Labs

65 attendees from a wide range of disciplines representing 11 different units on campus covering physical, biological and social science disciplines converged on Friday Harbor for three days of scientific talks and discussion.  The focus this year was on how we understand, measure, and model interactions between terrestrial ecosystems, land surface processes, and climate.  The Summer Institute was focused around three sets of questions and featured a diverse array of speakers from the UW community as well as 5 distinguished speakers from across the country with expertise covering a wide array of topics.

Gordon Bonan from the National Center for Atmospheric Research kicked off the meeting by discussing 500 years of history of people and forests as well as ways we can analyze the impacts of forests on climate using modeling tools.  Following dinner we heard from Scott Saleska from the University of Arizona who presented the challenges of interpreting the behavior of organisms from space along with exciting new field-based results on leaf properties observed through tree climbing and canopy access towers in the Amazon forest.  Our first discussion featured panel consisting of Bonan and Saleska, as well as day-2 speakers Neumann and Twine discussion focusedon the questions: how are land, atmosphere, climate, and biological systems coupled? And: how do we measure and model these systems, and what tools can we use to predict the future? We ended the first evening with “quick talks” where four graduate students, postdocs, and members of the UW research community gave 5-minute talks on their research.

Abby Swann leads 2015 PCC Summer Institu

We integrated the theme of our first session with additional questions about agriculture on day two: How do we meet the growing food demands of the next century given predictions of future agricultural productivity?  How might our decisions about agricultural or other land use feedback onto climate? Rebecca Neumann from Civil and Environmental Engineering at UW started the day off discussing how arsenic uptake by rice may be altered by climate change.  Tracy Twine from the University of Minnesota discussed the climate implications of different crop choices in the central US, integrating agricultural decisions with the how the land surface influences the atmosphere that integrated nicely with Bonan’s introductory talk. Nathan Mueller from Harvard University demonstrated how observed temperature extremes have been altered by crop management and productivity both across the US and across the globe.  We finished the morning session with four additional “quick talks”.  The afternoon was left open for attendees to explore the island and get to know one another.

Participants were treated to a reception and poster session featuring 12 posters from the UW PCC community, including a diverse cross section of research ranging from the sensitivity of ice sheets to meting, to primary production in the ocean, methane oxidation by roots, and science-management partnerships to create wildlife connectivity.

In the evening we re-convened for a lively talk by a sock-footed David Battisti from Atmospheric Sciences at UW on global food production changes under climate change.

Battisti, Twine, and Mueller then served as a panel for a discussion focused on the future of food production.

For the final morning we turned our focus to the impacts of and interactions between climate and organisms, asking the questions: What are the Implications of climate change for species across the globe?  How can we use knowledge about biological response to past and present change to inform predictions for the future? Jacquelyn Gill from the University of Maine discussed her work on evidence from paleo-proxy records suggesting that it is the effect of large herbivores rather than climate change that is responsible for creating novel ecosystems during the transition out of the last ice age.  Janneke Hille Ris Lambers from the Biology department at UW showed how tree communities in the natural climate lab of the slopes of Mt. Rainier are responding to changes in climate now.  Our final talk was by Lauren Buckley from the Biology department at UW on observing and understanding why traits of insects such as grasshoppers and butterflies have changed in response to climate change.  We finished the Summer Institute with a discussion on the impact of climate change on species featuring a panel consisting of Gill, Hille Ris Lambers, Buckley as well as Curtis Duetsch from Oceanography at UW.


2014 PCC Summer Institute/Friday Harbor Symposium

The 2014 PCC Summer Institute focused on “Climate Variability and Uncertainty,” and featured talks by invited speakers Myles Allen (Oxford), Clara Deser (NCAR), and Grant Branstator (NCAR), as well as a host of UW researchers.

Myles Allen kicked off the workshop with a discussion of his WeatherAtHome work linking extreme events to climate change. Dennis Hartmann (Atmospheric Sciences) and Greg Johnson (PMEL) followed with talks on the global warming hiatus. The first evening concluded with a musical session, featuring climate-themed songs by Elizabeth Maroon (piano), Dennis Hartmann (bass), and Dargan Frierson (mandolin).

The next morning’s talks featured Grant Branstator speaking about uncertainty in decadal predictions resulting from imperfect knowledge of the initial state of the climate. Mike Wallace (Atmospheric Sciences) spoke about the challenge of detection and attribution in a climate system with large natural variability. Clara Deser’s presentation was about the natural variability present within NCAR’s large ensemble of model runs, and its influence on regional climate uncertainty. Myles Allen then gave a talk on mandatory carbon capture and storage as a potential solution to climate change.

Tuesday evening’s talks were on climate uncertainty and the social sciences. Susan Joslyn (Psychology) spoke on how people interpret uncertainty. Ann Bostrom (Public Affairs) told us how mindsets affect how people see climate change. This was followed by a sprited panel discussion featuring the two previous speakers, Mike Wallace, and Myles Allen.

Wednesday morning featured three talks by UW researchers, leading off with Gerard Roe (Earth and Space Sciences) on how uncertainty in regional feedbacks leads to uncertainty in local climate responses. Eric Salathé (Climate Impacts Group, JISAO and School of STEM at the University of Washington, Bothell) told us how “time of emergence” can be a useful measure when giving scientific information about adapting to climate change. Cecilia Bitz (Atmospheric Sciences) then presented a summary of factors leading to uncertainty in polar amplification. A discussion from Eric Salathé, Cecilia Bitz, and Clara Deser about the uncertainty questions we might be studying in 2024 concluded the meeting.

We thank all the speakers for their excellent talks, and the participants for lively questions and discussion throughout the meeting. See you at the SI in 2015!


2013 PCC Summer Institute Synopsis

Will there be fish to catch in the future? What are the many flavors of ENSO? How predictable are future ecosystem changes? These were among the many big questions asked at this year’s PCC Summer Institute which addressed “Climate Forcing of Marine Ecosystems: Causes and Consequences.” A wide variety of voices from UW and national and international speakers were heard, from predictions of future distributions of fisheries to detailed analysis of the evolution of zooplankton in the Bering Sea where ice grows and melts. Many participating students and faculty who had not been previously involved in the PCC greatly added to the conversation.


Poster session discussions at the opening of the 2013 PCC Summer Institute at Friday Harbor Labs

Following the traditional poster session, the opening talks featured Charles Stock (NOAA GFDL) and William Cheung (U. British Columbia) who inspired lively discussion of large-scale climate effects on plankton and fisheries. On Thursday morning, Antonietta Capotondi (U. Colorado) educated the group on the diversity of ENSO events and their effects on the ocean. Nick Bond (UW JISAO) addressed decadal variability in the North Pacific and Andy Thomas (U. Maine) described chlorophyll variability in the California Current. The final highlight of the morning session was a panel discussion about the economics of fisheries management, policy challenges in the changing Arctic, and the management options for ocean acidification.


Emily Carrington, Ocean Acidification Lab Tour Guide, Friday Harbor Labs, 2013 PCC Summer Institute

Participants had had the afternoon (and beautiful weather!) to tour the Ocean Acidification Labs at Friday Harbor and to explore San Juan Island: some activities included sight-seeing, hiking, and whale watching. They returned for a special afternoon session in which Charles Stock presented a seminar on the use of IPCC-class models to assess the impact of climate on marine populations. Graduate students were then invited to present 5-minute “speed talks” to introduce their research to the group. It was a new component of the Summer Institute that proved popular with the students and faculty.

That evening, Simone Alin (NOAA PMEL) presented the state of our knowledge of the drivers of ocean acidification in the California Current. She was followed by Morgan Kelly (UCSB) who discussed organismal adaptation to ocean acidification. The day ended with a special evening reception for the Friday Harbor Lab donors and a lecture by George Hunt in the Dining Hall titled “Some indications of the effects of climate change on seabirds: three stories.” The talk was well attended; the reception continued well into the night.

The final, Friday morning, session of the SI focused on higher latitude systems. Mike Steele (UW APL) talked about Arctic sea ice retreat, Neil Banas (UW JISAO) discussed plankton communities of the Bering Sea shelf, and Al Hermann (UW JISAO) addressed the question of scale in forming predictions of physical and biophysical variability.

Each aspect of the Summer Institute contributed to the program’s huge success. The PCC particularly thanks Julie Keister who organized the institute, and each of the invited speakers, all of whom presented excellent talks that inspired active conversation among of the participants. We look forward to more discussions about the intersection of climate change, marine ecosystems and fisheries in the future.

See more pictures from the PCC SI on the PCC Facebook Page


2012 PCC Summer Institute: “Atmosphere-Ocean-Ice Shelf Interactions”

Recent measurements of the thickness of many glaciers in both Antarctica and Greenland indicate that they have been thinning over the past couple of decades. Many studies implicate basal melting of these glaciers by relatively warm ocean waters. At the same time, there are large-scale changes in the atmospheric circulation that may be affecting the ocean circulation near these ice shelves. The interaction between the ocean, the atmosphere, and the margins of the glacial ice shelves was the topic of this year’s PCC Summer Institute at Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island during Sept. 16th to 18th. The 67 attendees from across a broad spectrum of specializations participated in four sessions over the two days. In spite of the broad body of knowledge required to communicate across the disciplines represented in this topic (Oceanography, Atmospheric Sciences, and Glaciology), the eight speakers did well to present their respective topics to the audience. A common thread through all of these talks was the importance of regional variability due to the relatively small scales of the processes contributing to the thinning of the glaciers.


Brian Rose and Eric Steig kicking off the Monday night Banjo Boogie Bonanza at this year’s Summer Institute.

The opening session on Sunday, Sept. 16th, featured talks by two invited experts from outside UW who presented the big picture on observations of the glaciers in both Antarctica and Greenland. Dr. Christina Hulbe, from Portland State University, described the century to millennial scale variations of the various glaciers that make up the Ross Ice Shelf in West Antarctica based upon modeling of the observed features of the ice shelf. Dr. David Holland, from New York University Center for Atmosphere Ocean Science, described the ice-ocean interactions in the fjords of Greenland with a particular focus on Jacobshavn Isbrae Glacier.

The following three sessions were focused on the oceanography and ice shelves, the atmospheric forcing, and the role of the large-scale ocean circulation. Dr. Laurie Padman, Earth & Space Research, described efforts to model the coupled ocean-ice shelf-atmosphere system and its response to atmospheric and tidal forcing. Dr. Ian Joughin, from the Polar Science Center of the UW Applied Physics Laboratory, approached the interactions from the perspective of the response of the glacial ice sheets to changes in the forcing. After having Monday afternoon free to explore the island on a beautiful day, the group reconvened after dinner to learn more about the atmospheric circulation and its response to climate change. Dr. Dargan Frierson, UW Atmospheric Sciences, explained the zonally-symmetric response while Dr. Justin Wettstein, Univ. of Bergen, detailed the zonally-asymmetric atmospheric circulations in the high northern latitudes. During the final morning session, Drs. Greg Johnson (NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory) and Alex Orsi (Texas A&M) described decadal changes in the properties of Antarctic Bottom Water – a water mass that is formed at specific locations on the Antarctic continental shelves.

In addition to the oral presentations, there were several posters displayed in the Dining Hall throughout the meeting – providing fodder for interesting discussions during the welcoming reception and encouraging interactions between graduate students and visiting researchers.

Mark Warner, Oceanography, co-convener of the 2012 PCC Summer Institute


2011 PCC Summer Institute: “The Water Cycle in a Changing Climate”

The 10th annual PCC Summer Institute was held at Friday Harbor Labs on 14-16 September 2011. It was also a Friday Harbor Centennial Symposium; the theme this year was the water cycle in a changing climate and Chris Bretherton was the SI director. Among the 70 attendees were two distinguished visiting guests, Dr. Yi Ming from GFDL, an expert on global modeling of aerosols and their effect on radiation balance and precipitation, and Dr. Ed Cook from Lamont Dougherty Earth Observatory, an expert on tree-ring analysis and droughts in the paleoclimate record.


Former PCC Director Christopher Bretherton (center) with invited speakers Ed Cook (left) and Yi Ming (right).

The speakers and discussions covered a broad spectrum of topics including ocean salinity trends as a possible marker of enhanced regional differences between precipitation and evaporation (Greg Johnson of PMEL), the effects of more rainfall in the Arctic on seal dens in wintertime snow over sea ice (Ceci Bitz of the UW Department of Atmospheric Sciences,) how extreme precipitation events seem to be increasing in many parts of the world, but only maybe in the Pacific Northwest (Eric Salathe of UW Bothell), and the relative importance of temperature vs. rainfall variations on African agriculture (graduate students Brian Smoliak and Steven Po-Chedley of UW Atm Sci in collaboration with Alison Cullen of the UW Evans School of Public Affairs). We also summarized how precipitation changes connect to climate dynamics (Dargan Frierson, UW Atm Sci) and hydrology (Dennis Lettenmaier, UW CEE), and why they are difficult to project into a greenhouse-warmed world on regional scales (Chris Bretherton, UW Atm Sci). The diverse group of graduate students from many UW departments did a great job of asking good questions, setting up excellent discussions, and maintaining a tradition of active nightlife. Luckily, the weather was as pleasant as the setting and did not add a strident voice to the dialogue.

We also welcomed in LuAnne Thompson as incoming PCC director and had a collective conversation about how to best help her move PCC forward into its second decade.


2010 PCC Summer Institute: “Climate Feedbacks”

The PCC Summer Institute took place at Friday Harbor Labs from September 15-17. The topic this year was Climate Feedbacks, and we were treated to talks on all aspects of climate feedbacks from 14 speakers. The invited speakers were Alex Hall (UCLA) who spoke on constraining high latitude climate feedbacks with observations, Irina Marinov (U Penn) who discussed ocean biology impacts on the carbon cycle, and Dave Schimel (NEON) who spoke on terrestrial carbon cycle feedbacks. PCC speakers gave talks on everything from clouds and ocean heat uptake to ice sheets and atmospheric composition. Extended discussion periods made for spirited debate during many of the sessions. A complete list of speakers with links to presentations can be found at the 2010 Summer Institute event page.


On Wednesday night there was a musical performance featuring feedback-themed music including “Feedback” (to the tune of “Get Back”) about the invited speakers by Mark Zelinka. The SI was completely at capacity, with 82 attendees. This means you should reserve your seats early for next year’s SI, which will be on Water and Climate!

-2010 SI Organizer, Dargan Frierson, Atmospheric Sciences

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