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Professors secure weather and climate grant

UMW News Bureau

Two professors from the University of Montana Western environmental sciences department recently secured a $47,282 grant from the Montana Space Grant Consortium. The grant will fund a new class entitled “Weather and Climate Change.” Two professors from the University of Montana Western environmental sciences department recently secured a $47,282 grant from the Montana Space Grant Consortium. The grant will fund a new class entitled “Weather and Climate Change.” Montana Western geology professor Sheila Roberts was the principal investigator of the grant. She and co-investigator, physics professor Craig Zaspel, will teach the class together for the first time in Block 3 of 2010. “Seven of the ten hottest years on record, globally, have happened since 2000,” Roberts said. “We need to address climate change with our students in a strong scientific context and provide opportunities for them to participate in long-term monitoring of changes occurring right here in Beaverhead County. That’s how to help them make sense of this issue.” The new class will take the place of the existing general education meteorology class, which had an emphasis on atmospheric physics. The revamped course will cover a broader range of applications such as local and global climate and the basic physics of the atmosphere by the development of student projects using weather data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The grant money will involve professors from three disciplines. Physics professor Craig Zaspel, who taught the previous meteorology class, will co-teach the class with Roberts. Montana Western psychology professor Mark Krank will provide a new element to the course by evaluating how student learning and attitudes toward science change as a result of this specific class. The concept of the interdisciplinary class is specifically built around Experience One (X1), Montana Western’s block scheduling program. “It is necessary to do this in the X1 format so that students have the time to complete these projects,” Zaspel said. The extensive research students will conduct will include analysis of solar radiation data from the University of Oregon Solar Radiation Monitoring Lab. These local data are collected from the solar monitoring station on the roof of Block Hall on the Montana Western campus. Paleoclimate data are available from ice cores, salt cores, and marine and lake sediment, which can cover a 100,000-year time period. On a 100-150-year timespan scientists can use recorded data such as rainfall, snowpack and temperature to create a picture of past historic weather and climate. Vegetation is another source of climate change data that will be used in the course, including tree cores and alpine tree-line change obtained from NASA and NOAA photographs. The professors hope to give students a glimpse of the complex field of climate science while putting weather and the often politicized issue of climate change into a strictly scientific context. “We expect that this course will enable students to understand that there is a difference between weather that we experience on a daily basis and local climate, which is based on trends and long-term averages,” Zaspel explained. “In other words, a cold winter in the Midwest does not negate global warming.”

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