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    Climate Drivers of Environmental Change

Geog 696C (Physical Geography, 3 units)
Spring 2011, Wednesdays, 4:00-6:30 p.m., Harvill 452
Instructor: Dr. Andrew Comrie ( 621-3512
Office Hours: by appointment
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Schedule, Readings & Assignments (restricted)

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      Climate and weather are major drivers of change in environmental systems. When studying the impacts of climate on water, health, ecology, etc. it is critical to understand the key controlling atmospheric factors across all temporal and spatial scales as well as the specific impact mechanisms that are responding to the climate (e.g., streamflow processes, disease vector biology, carbon uptake dynamics). This graduate seminar focuses on leading processes of climate variability and change and the mechanisms by which they impact a range of environmental (and social) systems. We will engage the recent literature covering both key climate phenomena and key impact areas. Examples of climate phenomena to be covered include oceanic and atmospheric oscillations (e.g., ENSO, PDO), key regional circulations (e.g., North American monsoon), sources of variability, extremes, and trends. Examples of impact areas to be covered will be tailored to student interest and might include health, land cover change, agriculture, water, etc. Suggestions are welcome; final topics will be decided during the initial weeks of class.

The seminar will follow a modified journal-club format. Each week, one or two students will, in consultation with the instructor, select and present a key paper and supporting materials on a topic and lead the ensuing discussion. Presenters will summarize the topic and leading research 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 and impact areas literature and a level of understanding sufficient to articulate and debate the key scientific and research issues. We may include occasional expert visitors from campus depending on the topic.

Student assignments for class include readings, presentations and critical discussion, plus a review report. Students will have the opportunity to coauthor a review article (for subsequent publication) by having their review report selected for inclusion. Graduate students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds are welcomed and encouraged to join the course.

This class webpage is at

Topic Outline
TBD - see notes above. The outline for the class will be provided in the weekly schedule link above-left. Specific details, weekly announcements, updates, etc. beyond those listed will be distributed in class or via email.

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 brief 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. A review report (think of it as a brief term paper) is also required and is due at the last class meeting. It should be 5-10 pages of scholarly literature review
of a small subfield, fully referenced, and presented as a synthesis rather than a paper-by-paper summary. Topic must be discussed and approved in consultation with the instructor.

Paper Presentations: In addition to attending the
weekly presentation/discussion by the instructor or the visiting guest speaker, each student will be responsible for presenting and leading several weekly sessions, with the schedule arranged in consultation with the instructor. The student leaders for each week will summarize a subset of the weekly readings and present one or more key papers. Students are required to prepare formal presentation materials following the guidelines below.

Grades: 30% on participation, weekly reading responses and minor assignments; 30% on oral presentations; 40% on written review report.

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

Presenting and Leading Discussion
Come prepared to present material for ~20 minutes. Discussion will easily fill out an hour. Powerpoint slides are strongly suggested (handouts are optional, 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 10!

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(s) 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(s).

2. Paper Review Section
      a. In general, summarize information and emphasize the most important details. Do not simply reproduce text; 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 (often this will include key figures or tables)
      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

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

Students with Disabilities
If you anticipate barriers related to the format or requirements of this course, please meet with me so that we can discuss ways to ensure your full participation in the course. If you determine that disability-related accommodations are necessary, please register with Disability Resources (621-3268; and notify me of your eligibility for reasonable accommodations. We can then plan how best to coordinate your accommodations.