The Graduate Climate Conference (GCC) is an interdisciplinary climate conference run by graduate students, for graduate students. Over the last seventeen years, graduate students representing hundreds of academic institutions have come together to present research and share ideas on climate and climate change in an array of disciplines. We welcome abstracts from diverse fields such as atmospheric sciences, biology, environmental management, forestry and fisheries sciences, oceanography, communication, public policy studies, urban planning, public health, and any other climate-related disciplines.
The 17th Annual GCC will take place on November 2-4, 2023 at the Marine Biological Laboratory, located in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Dates & Contact
April 10, 2023
June 7, 2023
November 2 - 4, 2023
GCC 2023 Conference Recap
The Graduate Climate Conference (GCC), now in its seventeenth year, represents a rich tradition tied to the history of the PCC. First held in 2006, the GCC has grown and evolved while remaining true to its core mission of highlighting student-led work at a conference run by graduate students for graduate students. Hosting responsibilities have alternated yearly between students in the PCC at UW and students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Program on Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate.
The 17th annual Graduate Climate Conference was held on November 2 – 4, 2023, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the first GCC to be held at Woods Hole since the pandemic. The event featured around 100 participants, and an unprecedented number of travel grants were offered to both U.S. and international attendees, which was made possible by generous support from the National Science Foundation, PCC, and other sponsors at MIT (for a full list of sponsors, see the GCC website). This year the conference accommodated a record number of students from different fields and universities, a total of 21 different fields and 58 institutions in the U.S. and abroad, a big win for interdisciplinary research on climate studies! Another important demographic aspect is that women comprised about 61.5% of attendees in 2023.
The Conference featured two outstanding keynote speakers, six oral sessions, four poster sessions, and four enriching student-run workshops, all summarized below. Social activities during the weekend included a Jeopardy Game, a Movie night, a Halloween costume party, and a guided tour of Boston after the conference. The Marine Biological Laboratory provided meals, refreshments, and lodging. Responses to a post-conference feedback survey included the following testimonials: “Thank you so much for organizing such a great conference!! I could see that you put so much work into organizing, and it really paid off, it was an awesome experience” and “Overall, I had a great time and met great folks at GCC. This was organized extremely well, and the quality of the speakers and posters was truly unparalleled. This is truly an impressive feat accomplished by the organizers”.
Our first keynote speaker, Dr. Christine (Yifeng) Chen (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), opened the event with a talk titled “Racial Disparities in Research Funding”, where she dove deep into the systemic racial disparities in funding rates at the National Science Foundation, which was covered in various outlets such as Science Magazine and The New York Times and recognized by President Biden with an invitation to the White House for the CHIPS and Science Act signing ceremony. The presentation by Dr. Chen uncovered systematic disparities in research funding within NSF, where white funding rate advantage was 1.9x and 1.2x for Black and Asian applicants, respectively. The speech emphasized that these results are only possible if organizations collect, store, and analyze the demographic data. It is difficult when organizations use excuses such as their computer systems “lacking the capacity” to collect the data.
Our second keynote speaker, Dr. Rachel White (University of British Columbia, Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences), was our early career scientist speaker who emphasized the need for finding balance, whether in academics or life in general. Dr. White emphasized that her path did not fall into place, but was etched through experiences and rejection; whether it was failing an entrance exam for Applied Mathematics and making the switch to Natural Sciences, or applying for grants and not being granted them. Dr. White also spoke about her experiences working with the media when talking about climate-related issues and events. The presentation finished off with an interactive discussion that encouraged students to submit comments about topics such as; general tips for finding balance, places you need help finding more balance, generating new research ideas versus getting research done, full self versus professional self, and new tools versus established methods. This public bulletin board provided an avenue for everyone attending to be inspired by the ideas of one another.
Session 1: “Paleo-Perspectives on Climate Variability” and “Ocean Biogeochemistry” was chaired by Ben Tiger (MIT-WHOI Joint Program) and Shawn Wang (MIT-WHOI Joint Program).
- Ariana Castillo presented results from the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model, showing a decrease in Brewer-Dobson Circulation (BDC) strength during the LGM, with tracer-interrelationships indicating shifts in global circulation patterns.
- Kelly McKeon discussed results from a 1000-year sediment core study on Unalaska Island showing 22 storm deposits and indicating a recent decline in storm activity attributed to a strengthened Aleutian Low-pressure system, aligning with regional reconstructions and observed changes in western Pacific typhoon frequency.
- Celeste Pallone presented results from a paleo-record from marine sediments over the Eastern Equatorial Pacific that suggests precession-scale variations in the thermocline depth over the past 160,000 years, supporting the hypothesis of low latitude insolation influencing El Niño or La Niña-like states.
- Josephine Dianne Deauna discussed results from climate projections of the California Current Systems which suggest that by the end of the century, there will be increased temperature and nitrate, and decreased oxygen, particularly under high-emission scenarios, potentially impacting fisheries and wildlife.
Session 2: “Cryosphere and Polar Climate” and “Ocean Circulation and Dynamics” were chaired by Alan Gaul (MIT-WHOI Joint Program) and Elena Perez (MIT-WHOI Joint Program).
- Andrew Jones discussed a novel dataset using 14C and 10Be as a proxy for Sierra Nevada glacial extent, with the finding that Sierra Nevada glaciers likely persisted over the past 10,000 years; this conflicts with findings using rock flour in distal lakes.
- Christina Draeger discussed the drawbacks of extrapolating sparse observations in space and time for input into glacier-melt models, with machine learning providing a possible workaround.
- Yan-Ning Kuo gave an excellent talk about evidence for how the negative phase of Pacific Decadal Variability might be forced by anthropogenic aerosols and how that has contributed to the observed decline in precipitation over the U.S. southwest in the last 40 years.
Session 3: “Advances in Weather, Climate, and Ocean Modeling” and “Atmospheric Chemistry, Aerosols, and Clouds” were chaired by Eva Gnegy (University of British Columbia) and Amy Liu (University of Washington).
- Mary Korendyke discussed the challenges of accurately forecasting extreme weather events in the 3-4 week time scale, particularly in the Pacific North America region, but highlighted that by combining large-scale atmospheric pressure patterns (circulation regimes and intraseasonal oscillations) in a novel forecasting framework can potentially improve skill and enhance predictions for sectors such as forestry, water management, emergency response planning, and farming.
- Keqi He presented their random forest regression model to estimate high-spatial-resolution and long-term wetland methane (CH4) fluxes in the Southeastern United States, indicating air temperature and drought severity as key predictors, with the model's estimations validated against measured and remote sensing-derived data.
- Dimitri Kalashnikov employed convolutional neural networks to predict lightning occurrences in the western United States from 1995 to 2022 based on large-scale meteorological variables, revealing high prediction skill in regions with common summertime lightning, and lower skill in coastal states; atmospheric moisture and instability were found to be crucial predictors, and the approach will be extended to analyze future lightning risk using global climate model projections.
- Abdulamid Fakoya presented their work on the impact of biomass burning aerosols from southern Africa on the southeast Atlantic Ocean's climate, emphasizing the need to understand their evolution during long-range transport, as indicated by distinct changes in aerosol age, single scattering albedo, and Angstrom exponent observed through remote-sensed measurements and model simulations.
- Cindy Wang shared scientific insights on a hot topic, geoengineering, about the nonlocal effects and radiative feedback of sea salt aerosol engineering on radiation and their nonlocal effects in the GFDL coupled model.
Session 4: “Social Science, Climate Justice, and Policy” and “Extreme Events in a Warming Climate” were chaired by Chinedu Nsude (University of Oklahoma) and Lily Zhang (University of Washington).
- Samuel Bartusek discussed extreme humid heat, combined with air pollution, poses a significant health risk globally, as identified through a 16-year analysis of particulate matter and ozone concentrations, revealing regions where pollution tends to be higher during humid heat extremes, particularly in densely populated subtropical areas.
- Jacob Cohen presented how the ocean's absorption of 90% of recent anthropogenic climate change warming has led to increased frequency and intensity of marine heatwaves (MHWs), exemplified by "The Blob" in 2013, causing lasting damage; the study demonstrates the predictive capabilities of MHW forecasting using the Ocetrac tool, aiming to offer real-time forecasts for informed decision-making in marine ecosystems worldwide.
- Sofia Menemenlis discussed how individuals seeking legal compensation from cities for flooding-related damages face challenges as cities often use legal precedents, such as the 1907 Holzhausen v. City of New York case, to argue exemption from liability for damages caused by extreme rainfall events, despite scientific evidence indicating that global warming alters the thresholds for such events in a changing climate.
- Adam Cooper examined the fossil fuel companies' increasing influence on academic research, particularly within the University of California system, emphasizing the Fossil Free Research coalition's global efforts and the role of graduate students in challenging industry-driven agendas and promoting a Just Transition in the face of climate change.
- Andrea Manson presented about high-elevation tropical mountains in Africa, particularly the Rwenzori Mountains, exhibiting climate change impacts, such as glacier retreat and extreme weather events, with lake sediment core analysis revealing that while hydroclimate historically drove fire variability, human activity has been the primary driver of increased fire activity at middle elevations over the last 2,000 years.
Session 5: “Ecological Response to Climate Change” was chaired by Amy Liu (University of Washington). “Water Pathways in the Earth System” was chaired by Richelle Moskvichev (University of Hawai'i at Mānoa).
- Emily Mailman blended Western science and indigenous knowledge with her work on education and risk-based evaluation of harmful algal blooms in sea otters, helping increase the knowledge and understanding of toxin congener profiles in food webs to provide insight for rural communities.
- Grace Melone talked about using automated computer vision-based tracking to understand the impacts of heatwaves on social thermoregulation in bumble bees, showing that nutrition is important for buffering the effects of heatwaves.
- Alex Chang discussed how the Amazon rainforest faces increasing droughts and wildfires, with 65% of vapor pressure deficit (VPD) increases attributed to human-induced climate change, emphasizing the urgency of mitigation efforts to preserve its carbon sequestration capabilities and counteract global climate impacts.
Session 6: “CDR Technologies and Climate Solutions” and “Environmental Management and Climate Adaptation” were chaired by Mariya Galochkina (MIT-WHOI Joint Program) and Ciara Willis (MIT-WHOI Joint Program).
- Meg Yoder discussed how anthropogenic CO2 contributes to climate change, but the impact is influenced by complex ocean processes, with the subpolar North Atlantic playing a notable role; detailed analysis of seven years of data in the Irminger Sea reveals significant variability in the amount of carbon removed by biological processes annually.
- Xueya Lu presented on investigating the reactivity of ultramafic mine waste, particularly ultramafic mine waste rich in metal cations, to address knowledge gaps in carbon mineralization for efficient and permanent carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage (CCS), aiming to overcome challenges in large-scale implementation and offering broader implications for sustainable mining industry and climate-related efforts.
- Ruby Yee discussed how ocean alkalinity enhancement (OAE) is a proposed method for climate change mitigation, involving the addition of alkalinity to the surface ocean to draw down atmospheric CO2, with in-situ experiments and models still needed to confirm its efficacy and address challenges in monitoring, reporting, and verification.
- Zia Lyle revealed geographical variations in drinking water utility manager concerns about climate change hazards, emphasizing historical exposure as a key factor, with a focus on water supply and infrastructure, rather than operational, maintenance, or business aspects, and highlighted a lack of comprehensive climate adaptation plans among surveyed utilities, despite available guidance.
The poster sessions were before and mostly after dinner, allowing participants to have deeper conversations on specific topics. All four poster sessions included presentations that ranged all the categories that were presented orally (see above). These poster sessions were spread out over 2 days and allowed participants to have one-on-one conversations about their research with their peers. Participants used the more interactive poster session to network with those who conduct similar or complementary research to advance their careers.
This year, we hosted a total of four engaging and diverse workshops. Workshops took place before lunch and dinner, and attendees could pick which ones they preferred during the conference since two workshops were conducted simultaneously. Attendees could choose from:
Workshop Session A, “Inquiry-Based Science Activities: Bridging Graduate Research and K-12 Classrooms”, was led by Lindsey Anderson (CU), where attendees had the opportunity to learn and experience how inquiry-based science activities can be beneficial in the classroom. Lindsey emphasized how inquiry-based science education allows students to develop their science identity and have ownership over their learning. Lindsey guided the attendees to design inquiry-based activities for use in K-12 classrooms related to their graduate research or field of study. Additionally, the attendees discussed how to engage in their communities by implementing these lessons and how to complement existing programs at their university with the principles of inquiry-based learning.
Workshop Session A, “Effectively Communicating Climate Science to Lay Audience, Media, and Climate Skeptics”, was led by Eva Gnegy (UBC) and Dr. Rachel White (UBC). During this workshop, participants explored skills necessary for climate scientists to communicate their research and climate science to diverse audiences effectively. It is critical to conduct scientific analysis related to the climate, but even more critical to effectively communicate these findings to audiences such as journalists, climate skeptics, and the general public. The workshop empowered graduate students to incorporate evidence-based climate advocacy and effective strategies to engage audiences in productive conversations.
Workshop Session B, “Nurturing Resilience in Climate Scientists: Meditation and Nature-Based Mindfulness Practices”, was led by Vivian Hulugh (SD) and Lilli Enders (MIT). The leaders of this workshop provided an entry point into the vast world of mindfulness and meditation. Activities were designed specifically for graduate students in the field of climate science, with a focus on cultivating inner resources to manage the many demands of the academic journey. The workshop provided a space to deepen the attendees' sense of connectedness with themselves, one another, their science, and the environment. A group meditation, a guided journaling session, and a mindfulness nature walk were some activities participants enjoyed during this workshop.
Workshop Session B, “Roundtable Discussion on Careers for Climate Science Graduates”, was led by Sean Chen (MIT) and Abdulamid Fakoya (OU). The leaders of this workshop provided a platform for attendees to discuss individual careers among their peers. They spoke about their experience of different career options throughout their schools and departments and how they could incorporate a healthy and encouraging environment that fosters career conversations back home. Since the career landscape for Ph.D./M.S. graduates is becoming increasingly diverse, students must think about these conversations and their future, especially since many feel opportunities to discuss individual career options are quite limited in academia.
Written by: Hrag Najarian (University of Oklahoma, School of Meteorology); Published by: Richelle Moskvichev (University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, Climate Resilience Collaborative), November 2023