View of clouds over the Cascade Mountains

Climate Impacts on the Pacific Northwest

Winter Quarter 2011

ATMS 585A / ENVIR 585A / ESS 585A / SMA 585A

Amy Snover & Nathan Mantua

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30-12:30
John M. Wallace Hall (formerly Academic Computing Center) Room 120


Dr. Amy Snover
aksnover at u dot washington dot edu
(206) 221-0222

Dr. Nathan Mantua
nmantua at u dot washington dot edu
(206) 616-5347

Office Hours

By appointment.

Our offices are on the first floor of John M. Wallace Hall (formerly Academic Computing Center), 3737 Brooklyn Avenue NE.

Course Links

Course website: htpp://

Electronic drop box:

Course list-serve:


This interdisciplinary course focuses on determining cases in which an understanding of Pacific Northwest climate and its regional influence could be used to improve regional natural resource management. Students will develop an understanding of the causes and consequences of natural variations in regional climate (driven by large-scale climate oscillations such as El Niño/La Niña and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation) and projected trends resulting from global warming. We will study the importance of both climate fluctuations and society's reactions to those fluctations for the region’s natural resources, focusing on PNW water, fish, forest, and coastal resources. We will examine the natural, economic, and institutional contexts of regional resource management decisions in order to identify real-world opportunities where existing information about natural climate variability and human-caused global warming could improve regional resource management.

The following core questions will guide our work throughout the quarter:

  • What is the sensitivity of PNW natural resources to climate variability and change?
    • What are the key pathways by which climate fluctuations result in noticeable changes in PNW natural resources?
    • How do the sizes of past climate variations compare to projected anthropogenic climate change?
  • What is the adaptability of PNW natural resources to climate variability and change?
    • What are the current challenges facing natural resource management?
    • Where might climate information improve natural resource management and planning?
    • What are the barriers to using climate information in management and planning and how might they be overcome? We will consider barriers stemming from policies, scientific understanding of underlying processes, and/or inherent properties of the system.

Using this analysis we will assess the vulnerability of PNW natural resources to climate variability and change.

Course Goals

In this course, you will:

  • Understand the multi-faceted context surrounding regional resource management decisions and recognize trade-offs inherent in natural resource management, especially concerning the impacts of climate variability and change
  • Analyze resource management practices from a "climate perspective"
  • Identify the causes of regional vulnerability to climate variability and change
  • Suggest strategies for decreasing regional vulnerability to climate variability and change
  • Collaborate across academic disciplines in order to tackle current real-world environmental policy/management issues.

Course Objectives

As a result of this course, you will be able to:

  • Identify and diagram (using the Kaje system) the impacts of ENSO, PDO, and climate change on PNW climate, water resources, forests, fish, coasts, and associated human systems, and characterize the associated uncertainties.
  • Locate up-to-date information on climate forecasts, resource forecasts, climate change projections, and climate change impacts.
  • Identify the steps necessary for characterizing the decision making environment around a natural resource issue.
  • Develop a climate vulnerability and adaptation assessment that recognizes and accounts for current understanding of the decision making framework, the uncertainties associated with the climate information, and relevant trade-offs.
  • Demonstrate the ability to communicate complex scientific information, without compromising accuracy, to (a) scientists in other disciplines and (b) lay people.
  • Use the Kaje system to create conceptual maps of complex topics.

Course Format

Each week, class time will be devoted to lectures, discussion and in-class activities. Outside readings will provide the necessary background to understand these lectures and participate in these discussions; this understanding will be evaluated via weekly assignments.

The first 2.5 weeks of the course introduce the science of PNW climate variability and climate change, as well as the uncertainty and applicability of this type of information.

For each natural resource (water, forests, salmon, coasts), we will spend one day reviewing the specific pathways by which climate fluctuations manifest as impacts on the resource and one day examining the implications of this climate sensitivity for management of that resource. As a term project, students will work in interdisciplinary teams to develop a climate vulnerability and adaptation assessment for a real-world management or policy-making body in the Pacific Northwest.


The course readings consist of a selection of scientific journal articles, book chapters and reports, available via the course website.

Note on Reading in an Interdisciplinary Course

The assigned readings are complex and will cover many subjects, of which you will probably only be familiar with a few. Part of what you’ll practice in this class will be reading journal articles and reports in fields other than your own, striving to glean both the big picture and some supporting details. The key to avoiding getting bogged down by the reading is to focus on understanding the big picture and the key arguments supporting the overall conclusions. Essay assignments and class discussions will require demonstrating this level of understanding rather than rehashing the details of each reading. The readings listed as “background” were chosen to provide additional information for those new to a topic or those wishing to delve in further. We encourage you to utilize your fellow classmates, in addition to the instructors, as resources for further clarification of or insight into issues outside of your field.

Assignments & Expectations

In addition to brief lectures by the instructors and guest lecturers, part of almost every class meeting is spent in discussion. You will be evaluated on your preparation for these discussions, on eight short review assignments, on the weekly essays you write in response to the readings and guest lectures, and on the term “white paper” project.

  • Preparation & participation: Students are expected to be active, thoughtful and prepared participants in discussion every day of class. The assigned readings are to be completed prior to each class meeting, as they provide the basis for in-class discussions and activities. Because the topics build on each other, regular attendance is essential for informed discussion. Participation expectations are described here. We will ask you to provide an evaluation of your own level of participation in class part way through the quarter.
  • Assignments: There will be nine brief review assignments throughout the quarter, including three short assignments on finding and interpreting climate data and six ("Kaje") diagrams of climate impacts pathways.
  • Essays: Two short (1-2 pg) essays will be due at 5:00 pm Friday in weeks 6 and 8. We would like you to go beyond the readings and class discussions in your writing (but to use them as your foundation); to present a clear, focused, well-developed and substantiated argument; and to get the facts right. Length = 700 words maximum!
  • White paper: Each student will work with a group to write a 10-15 page policy-oriented “white paper” on the application of climate information to the resource issue of their choice. More about the white paper assignment can be found here.
  • There are no exams.


Review assignments
White paper: proposal
WP: oral presentation
WP: written report

We will grade each of you on the quality of your work; we will not grade on a curve. The average grade during previous years was ~3.5.

Because the assignments are essential for helping you keep up with the topics, and because the essays will often form the basis of class discussions, we hope you will make every effort to turn all assignments in on time. Late assignments (without prior approval) will have a 10% penalty subtracted for each day late.

Disability Accommodations

To request academic accommodations due to a disability, contact

Disability Resources for Students
448 Schmitz
206-543-8924 (V/TTY)

If you have a letter from that office indicating that you have a disability which requires academic accommodations, present the letter to the instructor so that we can discuss the accommodations needed for the class.

Academic Conduct

Plagiarism, cheating, and other misconduct are serious violations of the student conduct code. We expect that you will know and follow the UW's policies on cheating and plagiarism. Any suspected cases of academic misconduct will be handled according to UW regulations. More information, including definitions and examples, can be found in the Faculty Resource for Gracing and the Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-120).