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Summer Institute focuses on climate change


by Kurt Kleiner

Scientists from around the world came to UTSC this summer to learn the nitty-gritty of how to study climate change. Participants counted trees, worked with computer climate models, examined the effect of climate change on Niagara region wineries and learned other practical skills.

The 15 participants finished the two-week program on July 29. The Applied Climate Change 2011 course was offered through the Climate Lab at the University of Toronto Scarborough, located at the Department of Physical and Environmental Science.

William Gough, associate professor and chair of the department, says that the course is designed for scientists and students in disciplines like biology, geology and geography, who need to know some basic techniques of climate change research.

In the classroom they learned things like how to download and use climate data sets, how to analyze a community’s vulnerability to climate change, and how to write a cost benefit analysis of proposed mitigation measures. Outside of the classroom they ventured into the ravine to learn how to track species diversity in a forest test plot.

“We’re trying to impart some practical skills. It’s not the usual lectures,” says Adam Fenech, an adjunct professor in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences and co-organizer of the summer institute with Gough.

Touring Niagara

Earlier in the week, participants toured the Niagara region, where they visited wineries, hiked the Niagara escarpment and saw the falls, all while studying the impact of climate change. By Wednesday they were back on campus for the last three days of the course.

In addition to students from Peru and Tanzania, seven participants were from China – faculty from Northwest University in Xi’an. Gough had made contact with them in October while on a visit to their university.

“I think it is very important for us to learn these analytic methods,” says Prof. Xinjun Yang, deputy dean of the College of Urban and Environmental Sciences at Northwest University, and a student at the Summer Institute. “It is very useful. All the instructors are very professional.”

The Summer Institute grew from a series of shorter workshops that have been offered in previous years at UTSC, as well as in Panama and Whitehorse, Yukon. The Smithsonian Institute is a partner in organizing the program. Next year’s Summer Institute will also be held on UTSC’s campus, but in the future might be held at one of the Smithsonian’s locations in the US, or even at China’s Northwest University.

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