WCRP Open Science Conference is a Success in Denver, Despite Wintery Weather

The World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Open Science Conference took place this year in Denver, Co. from October 24-28, creating an outpouring of positive reactions from the scores of scientists that attended the week-long event despite the wintery weather.

The main objectives of the WCRP, to study how predictable certain aspects of climate are and how human activities affect the climate, fit nicely with the overarching theme of this year’s conference, which was “Climate Research in Service to Society.”

Sponsored by organizations like WMO, IOC, ICSU, NASA, NOAA, the National Science Foundation, ESSIC, the National Weather Center and many others, the conference’s main goal is to bring together scientists and research groups in the field of climate research who may not get the chance to work together at any other point in time. The conference also aims to put forth details on climate research and the way that it relates to other Earth systems.

The WCRP is an organization that has been at work for the past 30 years to study climate change and predictions by coordinating the research of thousands of scientists in the field and analyzing various theories and models. In an ironic twist, Denver was hit on the Tuesday of the conference with an out-of-season winter storm that dumped over a foot of snow on Colorado and southeast Wyoming.  But even with the bizarre weather pattern, the event was a success.

This year, the conference featured a variety of different events for those who attended from over 80 different countries. Each day, a variety of presentations and panels were scheduled, along with poster sessions and receptions. In addition, the conference took advantage of its location at the center of Denver and held a Conference Gala at the Denver Art Museum on Wednesday, October 26, which was open to all those registered at the conference.

Among those in attendance were representatives from ESSIC at the University of Maryland, some of whom gave their own presentations and speeches.

Eugenia Kalnay’s presentation with several other scientists discussed the relationship between population models and earth system models, mainly grouping population and climate change. The findings from her data stressed the importance of including a human aspect when determining the importance and impact of earth systems and earth system models. In order to determine that way that population and climate models interact, we need to take into account population growth in the past, the pattern that population is moving toward in the future, data on chemicals and gases omitted into the environment and a variety of other factors related to government policies and a demand for water and energy in different areas, Kalnay said in an email about her presentation.

Also popular at the conference was the research and presentation from ESSIC’s Dr. Liang, discussing the CWRF climate prediction model he and his team are developing, which applies to regional weather forecast and climate prediction.

“CWRF not only incorporates a grand ensemble of alternative physics schemes from popular climate models, but also improves the ability of some of the weather scale physical and cumulus schemes for climatic application. In particular, many years efforts were put to move up the initializing data sets and land-atmosphere interaction,” said Yuxiang He, in an email discussing the details of the CWRF model and the response Liang’s research received that the conference.

Within ESSIC at the University of Maryland and those associated, one of the most talked about points from the conference, besides the early snowfall, were the remarks from ESSIC Director, Tony Busalacchi, who also chairs the Joint Scientific Committee for WCRP.

Busalacchi made opening remarks and expectations for the conference early on Monday morning, and as the conference drew to a close on Friday, Busalacchi discussed the future of the WCRP in comparisons with his affiliations with the program dating back to the mid-1980s.

“I drew on that historical perspective, the state of today’s science and what society is kind of asking us to do going into the future. So that kind of set the stage,” Busalacchi said. “The closing remarks were based on what my perceptions were of what happened that week and how it’s setting the stage for going forward.”

Upon returning from their week in Denver, ESSIC scientists wasted no time in praising Busalacchi’s remarks, both in person and through dozens of staff-wide e-mails. They expressed appreciation and commended him for his leadership in making the conference a success, especially due to inclusion of all sorts of scientists and students in the event.

In addition to speakers and representatives, some of the other prominent names in the conference also came from the University of Maryland.  Hugo Berbery notes that one of his students, Omar Muller, received an award for “Best Scientific Presentation,” and ESSIC scientist Junye Chen also received recognition for his early career scientist presentation.

While the representatives of the University of Maryland certainly had a tremendous presence at the conference, around 1,900 people participated in total.  The main conference meeting room only held 1,500 people, so conference coordinators put together a satellite overflow room for everyone else.

“The highpoints were the number of individuals from less developed countries; such as Africa and Asia,” Busalacchi said.  “The fact that 86 different countries were represented was tremendous.”

After the conference, Busalacchi emphasized that success does not necessarily mean delivering a finished product. The “R” in WCRP stands for research, he reiterated, and this type of research will provide actionable information, transcending both basic and applied research.

The research from WCRP focuses on what is called the physical climate system, including water, temperature, currents, and sea level; essentially linking the atmosphere, ocean, and land as it pertains to each of those variables.

At the conference, Busalacchi introduced the challenges of relating WCRP research to broader Earth system predictions, which also includes aspects like biology, ecology, chemistry. Throw in the human component of the system and anthropogenic changes, Busalacchi said, and you’ve truly got trans-disciplinary science.

“It’s really scaling up from the multidisciplinary science and interdisciplinary science of the past 20 years to actually a whole new level,” he said.  “And the progress of the past 20 years clearly demonstrates that we’re poised to take that next big step forward.”

(Related: See ESSIC News Highlight on the conference.)