Multidisciplinary Training Program Targets Global Challenges of Climate Change


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego more than $3 million to create a new generation of cross-trained scientists able to address the complexities of climate change.

The project, “Global Change, Marine Ecosystems, and Society,” funded by NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program, will combine leading climate expertise at Scripps with economic, legal, business, policy, and historical perspectives throughout the UCSD campus. Also participating will be NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla and the non-profit Environmental Law Institute. The program also links with UCSD’s new Sustainability Solutions Institute.

“In a time of economic crisis we need to rethink the way we do education when it comes to training the next generation of scientists, managers, politicians, and others,” said Richard Norris, the leader of the program and a professor of paleobiology at Scripps Oceanography. “We need experts, but we also want them to be able to work effectively with other people for maximum benefit to society.”

Norris said the program will, for example, enhance capabilities for climate scientists to effectively communicate with economists, lawyers, and businesspeople to tackle real-world problems brought on by climate change.

“To manage our fisheries in the face of changing climate, scientists cannot just count the number of fish in the ocean. Scientists also need to know international maritime law, economic issues facing the ocean, and the political landscape,” said Norris.

Norris said the program will draw from a varied pool of people with an interest in learning about global change.

“The mix of humanities, social sciences, and climate science will be wonderful. Scientists have to be able to work in teams with people from many different areas of expertise,” said Norris.

Major research themes of the new IGERT program include: global change effects of greenhouse gas drivers from the scientific, economic, legal, and political perspectives; ecosystem impacts of changes in temperature, sea level, runoff, and ocean acidification; societal impacts of population changes, human health, sustainability of fisheries, transnational legal issues and impacts on tourism; and impact on public perception, communications strategies and public policy.

Norris said the timing of the program will be key as more people around the world are affected by global change. Sea-level rise, in particular, will become a critical issue as coastal population centers—from San Diego to the Eastern United States and around the world—become disrupted by rising seas over the next century. But even farmers in the Midwest will be affected by global change in the ocean, he said, since most of their rain comes from the sea.

“None of us can ignore the ocean when it comes to climate change,” said Norris.

Also embedded in the program will be tools for training scholars to more quickly and efficiently put their scientific findings to societal use and teaching them effective ways to communicate their results to the public.

“Everyone benefits if scientific information is more accessible to people,” said Norris.


-- Mario C. Aguilera


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