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Fall 2012 graduate seminar in decadal climate and ecology

posted May 12, 2012, 3:58 PM by Scott St. George   [ updated May 12, 2012, 7:38 PM ]
Graduate seminar, Fall 2012
GEOG8280: The impact of decadal climate variability on terrestrial ecosystems
Instructor: Scott St. George
Wed, 2 to 5PM

The field of decadal prediction has emerged as a priority area for climate research, largely because the upcoming ten to thirty years are often a critical period for planning, resource management and public policy. The oceans are the main source of low-frequency behavior in the global climate system, and a growing body of evidence suggests that such long-memory behavior has a discernible influence on the hydroclimate of North America and the frequency and spatial pattern of drought across the continent. Several recent studies have further argued that low-frequency behavior in the climate system, through its influence on drought, acts to synchronize the behavior of wildfire, insect outbreaks and other aspects of terrestrial ecology on timescales that range from one to several decades. Despite the potential utility of this behavior to long-term planning and management, the specific physical mechanisms that allow decadal signals produced by the surface oceans to be transmitted remotely through the atmosphere to influence landscape-scale processes are often poorly understood.

This course will examine decadal and multidecadal variability in the global climate system and investigate how this behavior might plausibly influence the dynamics of terrestrial ecology and landscape-scale disturbances. Weekly readings and discussions will review the physical processes believed to give rise to decadal climate variability, the empirical evidence for interconnections between low-frequency aspects of the surface ocean and terrestrial systems, and potential solutions to the 'decadal problem' that afflicts observational, paleoclimate and modeling studies alike. Students will be challenged to conduct their own analysis of decadal variability in climate or ecology through the semester, either working on their own or as part of a small team.

This course may appeal to students interested in climate dynamics, disturbance ecology, statistical climatology, paleoclimatology/paleoecology, or hydrology. Prior coursework in one or more of these topics at the graduate or senior undergraduate level would be very helpful. For more information, please contact Scott St. George at

Representative readings
Hessl, A. E., D. E. McKenzie, and R. Schellhaas (2004), Drought and Pacific Decadal Oscillation linked to fire occurrence in the inland Pacific Northwest, Ecol. Appl., 14(2), 425–442.
Huybers, P., and W. Curry, 2006: Links between annual, Milakonvitch and continuum temperature variability. Nature, 441, 329–332.
Kipfmueller, K.F., Larson, E. R and St. George, S. 2012. Does uncertainty in proxy reconstructions affect the relations inferred between the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and wildfire activity in the western United States? Geophysical Research Letters. 39, L04703, doi:10.1029/2011GL05064.
Kitzberger, T., P. M. Brown, E. K. Heyerdahl, T. W. Swetnam, and T. T. Veblen (2007), Contingent Pacific-Atlantic Ocean influence on multicentury wildfire synchrony over western North America, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., 104(2), 543–548, doi:10.1073/pnas.0606078104.
Klemes, V., 2000: Drought prediction: A hydrological perspective. Common Sense and Other Heresies: Selected Papers on Hydrology and Water Resources Engineering, Canadian Water Resources Association, 163–176.
MacDonald, G. M., and R. A. Case (2005), Variations in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation over the past millennium, Geophys. Res. Lett., 32, L08703, doi:10.1029/2005GL022478.
Manabe, S., and T. Delworth (1990), The temporal variability of soil wetness and its impact on climate, Clim. Change, 16, 185–192.
McCabe, G. J., M. A. Palecki, and J. L. Betancourt (2004), Pacific and Atlantic Ocean influences on multidecadal drought frequency in the United States, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., 101(12), 4136–4141.
Meehl, M. A., et al. (2009), Decadal prediction: Can it be skillful?, Bull. Ame. Meteorol. Soc., 90, 1467–1485.
Newman, M., G. P. Compo, and M. A. Alexander (2003), ENSO‐forced variability of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, J. Clim., 16, 3853–3857.
St. George, S., and Ault, T. R. 2011. Is energetic decadal variability a stable feature of the central Pacific Coast’s winter climate? Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres 116, D12102, doi:10.1029/2010JD015325.