Climate Impacts on the Pacific Northwest

Winter Quarter 2011
ATMS 585A / ENVIR 585A / ESS 585A / SMA 585A
Amy Snover & Nathan Mantua

White Paper Assignment

Important Dates
Jan 13 Bring list of potential topics/issue areas
Jan 18 Group assignments
Jan 18-Feb 2 Meet with instructors to discuss potential topic(s)
Feb 3 Prospectus due
Feb 17 In-class white paper workshop
March 8 & 10 In-class presentations
March 14, 10:30 pm Final paper due

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For the climate impacts term project, you will work in a group to develop a climate vulnerability and adaptation assessment for a real-world jurisdiction (management and/or policy-making body) in the Pacific Northwest. In this project, your team will take the role of a consultant to the jurisdiction, that is, analyzing and discussing options and trade-offs. You will recommend a course of action and discuss the pros and cons of following your recommendation.

Specifically, we expect you to assess and describe the utility of using one or more of the following types of climate information:

  • seasonal to interannual climate forecasts,
  • current understanding of range of regional natural climate variability, and/or
  • projected anthropogenic climate change.

Whenever possible, you will incorporate and analyze relevant quantitative climate (impacts) information.


Write your paper as if it were being submitted to your identified client.

Group Work

You will be assigned to an interdisciplinary group of 3-4 students for this project.

As preparation for the group project ... This American Life (Radio Show). 2008. Prologue: Ruining it for the Rest of Us. Episode #370. 19 December. ... Listen to the first 12 minutes -- continue through the show description at about 7.5 minutes.


A brief (<= 1 page) discussion of your proposed topic is due February 3. We ask that each group of students arrange a time to meet with us to discuss your proposed topic prior to submitting the prospectus. The prospectus should provide a synopsis of (1) the decision-making jurisdiction, the specific decision-maker, and the decision or planning activity or process, (2) the relevance of climate (impacts) information to this decision process and the type of climate (impacts) information you plan to draw on in your proposal, (3) the natural resource decision-making context (relevant laws and policies, economic and political considerations, etc.), and (4) key sources that you intend to draw on in your research.

Format & Content of the Paper

For the most part, the white paper should be written as if it would actually be submitted to the people who could make the change you propose. You may need to include some additional background information (on the agency/decision in question, for example) that the instructors would need to understand the paper.

The white paper itself should be 10-15 pages long (including figures, tables, and references) using Times 12 pt. font, 1.5 line spacing and 1" margins. It should include a one page executive summary. Think of this, and your in-class presentation, as a chance to boil your argument and the supporting evidence down to its most convincing essence – oftentimes, the executive summary is all that a policymaker will read. Does it contain all the information you need to convince your client?

Each white paper should include the following components of analysis:

  • A characterization of your client's decision-making environment and management and policy-making limits and responsibilities
  • A list of your client's primary “pre-climate” vulnerabilities and issues of concern (as previously perceived/identified by your client and/or others)
  • A climate sensitivity assessment (based on information about natural climate variations/available climate forecasts OR climate change projections for your client's region, likely climate impacts in that region, and an analysis of the sensitivity of your client's planning areas to those climate impacts)
  • A climate adaptability assessment (an assessment of your client's ability to adapt to the relevant climate impacts)
  • A climate change vulnerability (risk) assessment (based on your analysis of the consequences, magnitude and probability of climate impacts, as well as your evaluation of your client's risk tolerance and community values)
  • A climate preparedness planning proposal, which will include:
    • A list of (all) potential adaptation options
    • A discussion of budget constraints, political and jurisdictional constraints
    • A proposed prioritization of planning areas for action and specific climate adaptation strategies

Wherever possible, you will incorporate quantitative climate (impacts) information.

Some other questions to consider: Are there specific barriers that must be overcome before improved or innovative use of climate information is possible? How do you propose that your client overcome them? Are there consequences to ignoring climate information? How should scientific uncertainty about projected climate impacts be handled in the decision process?

Format & Content of the Oral Presentation

You should begin by providing your classmates sufficient background information about your client for them to assume the role of your client during your presentation. You will then make your presentation as if it were directly to your client. Both your classmates and the instructors will evaluate the soundness and persuasiveness of your proposal and will provide feedback that should be incorporated in your final paper.

Criteria for Evaluation of Final Paper

Please present a clear, focused, well-developed and substantiated argument; write clearly and carefully; and get the facts right. A quality paper:

  • is on a topic of interest or importance to managers in the region
  • is directed to those in the decision-making body who could make or implement the change you propose
  • includes a one-page executive summary
  • has analytical depth – incorporates scientific studies beyond those assigned for class
  • is clear, fun to read, well-organized and presented
  • has been edited and substantially revised at least once
  • includes components of analysis listed above.


  • Organize paper around recommendations.
  • Make sure someone reads the whole thing all the way through to edit/check for repetition!

Self-Evaluation of Group Work

On the due date of the white paper, each team member must turn in a written statement evaluating the work done in his/her group. The guidelines for this evaluation can be found here.

Additional Resources

We will be happy to provide feedback at any stage of the project, from engaging in discussions and/or brainstorming sessions to commenting on drafts.