Experts to gather at the University of Miami for climate summit

The University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
By Robert C. Jones Jr.

The University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Experts to gather at the University of Miami for climate summit

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
The three-day event—Miami Climate Symposium 2020: Predicting and Living with Extremes—will explore the growing link between climate change and extreme weather events.

Its winds on the threshold of Category 5 status, Kyarr this week became the second most powerful tropical cyclone on record in the Northern Indian Ocean’s Arabian Sea. 

Meanwhile, in Northern and Southern California, fires fanned by windstorms continue to burn, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate. 

And in dozens of U.S. cities in the South and East, October temperature records were toppled when a fall heat wave pushed the mercury into the 90s. 

With evidence mounting that climate change is worsening everything from wildfires to hurricanes, the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science will host in January a three-day symposium that will examine the science behind predicting extreme weather events within changing global and regional climate patterns. 

Miami Climate Symposium 2020: Predicting and Living with Extremes, January 22-24, will explore how hurricanes, storm surge and coastal flooding are exacerbated by climate change issues such as sea level rise, salt water intrusion, harmful algal blooms and extreme heat waves; analyze adaptation policies and strategies; and assess responses to extreme events at the local level. 

“It is a dangerous mistake to think of climate change as a problem we’ll have to confront down the road,” said University of Miami President Julio Frenk. “On the contrary, the impact of climate change is already affecting the lives of people everywhere. It is time for us to accept the science and harsh reality of climate change and commit ourselves to finding solutions before our planet faces irreversible damage. The Miami Climate Symposium is a major step in the right direction toward achieving that goal.” 

Scholars and researchers from the Rosenstiel School, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and institutions such as Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania and Colorado State University, will gather at UM’s marine school on Virginia Key for the first two days of the summit, discussing cutting-edge research on climate dynamics and weather events during talks and presentations open to city, county and state decision-makers and stakeholders. 

Miami-Dade County resiliency officers and a team of science translators—journalists who will summarize the presentations and discussions—also will attend the January 22-23 talks. 

“And that is what’s unique about this symposium—having all three communities represented in the room at the same time,” said Ben Kirtman, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the Rosenstiel School, who is chair of the organizing committee of the three-day event. A researcher who uses atmosphere-ocean general circulation models to study the predictability and variability of the Earth's climate system, Kirtman will also present during the scientific portion of the conference. 

“The idea is that by bringing these groups of people together, scientists will have a better understanding of what’s needed and will be able to open up new avenues of research while at the same time build the kinds of trust relationships with the people who have to make decisions using the best available science to support those decisions,” Kirtman said. 

A public forum on Friday, January 24 is also planned, with details to follow.

“We are witnessing the severe impacts of a changing climate around the world at an alarming rate, from melting glaciers in Iceland to wildfires in California to crippling drought in Africa to violent storms in the Atlantic,” said Rosenstiel School dean Roni Avissar. “Action, education and communication are needed more than ever to address this problem. This symposium will assemble some of the finest minds to address the tough questions and issues that go to the very core of understanding extreme weather and climate events.” 

A chance to provide leadership to help solve one of the world’s most pressing problems is how Jeffrey Duerk, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, describes the upcoming symposium. “It is crucial for us as the University of Miami to seize the initiative to serve as a connector, allowing our researchers an opportunity to explore complex questions,” he said. “In hosting this first Miami Climate Symposium, we encourage further collaboration and robust discussion among researchers and stakeholders. There is truly no better place to launch the symposium than at our Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.” 

The symposium will come more than a year after the landmark 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that painted a bleak picture of the immediate impacts of climate change. As such, the conference, which could become an annual event for UM, is crucial, said Kirtman. 

“We need to make good decision about how we adapt and how we respond to the climate that’s changing around us,” he said. “But equally important, we have to make sure the science is addressing the questions that need to be answered, and that’s something we haven’t been doing a very good job at. 

“As a scientist, I’m more than happy to look at a particular issue the way I want to look at,” he continued. “But is it truly useful to emergency and first responders? Is it truly useful to Miami-Dade County resiliency officers? We want to make sure we open the aperture so that we allow our best and brightest to work on the problems that actually need to be solved.  Our responsibility to our community is to be not only excellent but also relevant.” 

The symposium, said Amy Clement, a professor of atmospheric sciences who is a member of the organizing committee for the event and will moderate some of its scientific sessions, said the summit is an ideal “opportunity to bring the best and brightest scientists together” to further explore the link between climate change and extreme weather. 

“As climate scientists, we are increasingly called upon to explain the connection between high impact events such as hurricanes, droughts and wildfires, and climate change,” she explained. “Sometimes the connection is quite straightforward, and in other cases we are still figuring it out.” 

UM professor of atmospheric sciences Brian Soden said “climate change is making many types of weather events more severe” and “the impact of these changes on life, property and the environment are already being felt in South Florida.”