Cutting-Edge Climatology -- Seminar

Geog 696C, Physical Geography Seminar, Spring 2009
Time: Wednesdays, 4:00-6:30pm, Harvill 452
Credit: 3 units

Instructor: Andrew Comrie (

Office Hours: by appointment

Schedule, Readings & Assignments (restricted)

Climate research on the leading processes of climate variability and change, and on the climates they produce, is being published in greater volume and across a wider set of journals than ever before. Keeping up with cutting-edge results in sub-areas of climatology that neighbor one's own narrow specialties is a continual challenge. Yet, our ability to carry out insightful research depends in part upon maintaining this critical currency of knowledge. This is particularly true for interdisciplinary research on interactions between climate and our natural and human environment that may involve relations to multiple atmospheric phenomena.

This graduate seminar examines a range of cutting-edge issues in climatology. We will engage the recent climatology literature covering a set of phenomena selected by the instructor and the participating students. Examples of topics to be covered may include oceanic and atmospheric oscillations (e.g., ENSO, PDO, AO, MJO, QBO), key regional circulations (e.g., Asian monsoon, North American monsoon, Sahel), climate modeling issues (e.g., clouds, aerosols, downscaling), solar-climate links, observational and measurement studies (e.g., radiosonde records, trends in surface climate extremes) and latest debates on paleoclimate time series. Many other topics may be suitable too; we will settle on a list of topics during the initial weeks of the class based on student and instructor suggestions.

The seminar will
follow a modified journal-club format. Each week, one or two students will select and present a key paper and supporting materials on a topic and lead the ensuing discussion. Presenters will summarize the topic and its science challenges before providing a review and critical appraisal of the main paper and supporting or contradictory papers, as appropriate. The class will gain current knowledge on the advanced climatology literature and a level of understanding sufficient to articulate and debate the key scientific and research issues. We may include expert visitors from campus depending on the topic. Weekly presentations or summaries may be posted online after class, with logistical details to be decided in class.

This class webpage is at

Grades & Policies
Participation: True participation during each class meeting, as well as diligence on assignments and readings before and after each class, are essential. Simply attending class and/or attempting to participate by making ad-hoc comments will result in a low participation grade, as will poor or incomplete weekly assignments.

Readings & Review:Students are expected to pay detailed, close and critical attention to readings and assignments. For each class meeting, all students will read the assigned material and bring to class a summary with critique notes and discussion questions in response to the readings (up to about one page). These exercises will be turned in each week as part of the participation grade, and they will enable informed in-class discussion.

Paper Presentations:  Each student will be responsible for presenting and leading several weekly sessions, with the schedule to be arranged in consultation with the instructor. The student leader(s) for each week will supply a principal reference and some supporting material that the whole class will read and critique. Lead students are expected to obtain and read additional articles where appropriate and synthesize all the relevant information in their presentation and discussion. Students are required to identify articles and prepare formal presentation materials following the guidelines below.

Grades: 30% on participation, reading responses and minor assignments; 70% on paper presentations (oral and written material).

Policies: Work submitted late may be subject to penalties. Absence/attendance, withdrawal, honesty and other policies as per the UA General Catalog.

Topic Outline

The outline for the class is provided in the weekly schedule link above. Specific details, weekly announcements, updates, etc. beyond those listed will be distributed in class or via email.

Guidelines for Presenters*
Selecting your article
1. Select an original research paper (or related papers) from a quality, peer-reviewed journal (see suggestions below). The critical factors in your choice should be that you consider the paper:
      a. Highly significant and interesting in the area of research
      b. To contribute something new to the literature
      c. To be worthy of discussion
      d. To be of general interest to the members of the class
The quality of the class hinges on your selection of a good paper to discuss, so please give this some careful consideration. You should identify ~3 possible articles and email your choices to the instructor at least 2 weeks before you are scheduled to present. You may select more than one paper if there is a suitable debate worth highlighting, or published comments on a paper. The instructor will advise you which is/are most suitable for presentation.

2. Once approved, distribute information on your topic to the class.
      a. Choose a catchy title for your presentation.
      b. Email a link or a copy of the article itself to the class for distribution at least 1 week prior to presenting so that we all have time to read the article and prepare for discussion.
      c. Include not only the article but also one or two links to relevant background material (websites, reviews, figures, etc.) as needed to help explain the overall topic.

Presenting and Leading Discussion
Come prepared to present material for the first ~20 minutes of your hour. Powerpoint slides with notes/handouts (or equivalent) are strongly suggested, 4-6 slides per handout page with light background to save ink and aid readability.
Your talk will comprise 2 parts, a background to the topic and presentation of the paper itself. Edit your presentation ruthlessly: 20 minutes means no more than 20 slides, preferably less!

Presentation Format:
1. Background Section
      a. Use this first section of your talk to introduce the broader topic, quickly getting into the key background material and shaping the context for the research to be presented in section 2. 
      b. Employ figures, text bullet points, a brief "board talk" or other approaches to make sure the class has a good foundation for the paper to follow. Assume broad familiarity with the topic, consistent with textbook knowledge.
      c. Focus on moving the class from this fundamental level to an appreciation of the key science questions/debates and the particular question examined in the paper.

2. Paper Review Section
      a. In general, summarize information and emphasize the most important details. Do not simply reproduce screens of specific information; do the work for the audience and include enough information to adequately explain all that was done and why.
      b. Introduction
            i. Discuss background rationale for study – why was the study done?
            ii. Review significance of research question
            iii. State hypotheses and/or aims
      c. Methods
            i. General description
            ii. Help explain anything that is particularly complicated or not explained well in the text
            iii. Do background reading of extra papers as appropriate to summarize the methods
      d. Results
            i. Synthesize and describe important results
      e. Discussion
            i. Summarize most important findings
            ii. Did the authors address the aims/hypotheses?
            iii. State limitations of the paper
            iv. State anticipated impact
      f. Discussion Questions
            i. Is this work significant?
            ii. Is this work new?
            iii. Is the science well-designed and technically adequate?
            iv. Are the conclusions justified?
            v. Are there other papers out there that have reached different conclusions?  Why are they different?
            vi. What would be some interesting follow-up research?
            vii. Any other relevant question(s) specific to the work

Suggested Journals For Selecting Papers
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Journal of Climate
International Journal of Climatology
Bulletin of the AMS
Atmospheric Environment
Climatic Change
Geophsical Research Letters
JGR Atmospheres
Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
and many more...

* Adapted from PNIJC Guidelines and Guidelines for Journal Club Presenters.