Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

Distinguished Lecture Series: Dr. Roger S. Pulwarty

Distinguished Lecture Series: Dr. Roger S. Pulwarty

Title: "Slow onsets, abrupt changes, and fast reflexes: Research on adaptation in a changing world"

Abstract: Adaptation is higher than ever before on the global agenda. Countries, communities and businesses are demanding access to authoritative, usable science and risk assessment information for making both near and long-term decisions in the face of changing weather and climate trends and extremes. Scientific advances over the past few decades have led to an improved understanding of drivers and precursors of a changing climate, and of social, environmental, and economic thresholds and impacts. The modern world is also significantly more connected and technologically advanced than when the first IPCC assessment was conducted.  An oft-articulated observation is that an increase in integrated knowledge about environment-society interactions will result in improvements in the quality of public and private decisions-a decidedly idealized view. Much recent work has shown that this expectation is most difficult to meet when decision stakes are high, uncertainty is great, technologies are new, experience and engagement are limited, and there are unequal distributions of burdens and benefits. How these factors facilitate or impede efficient and equitable adaptation depends on historical but ingrained pathways, and financial and technical constraints and opportunities, among others. As essential as the urgency for assessing the causes and impacts of climate extremes and trends, is the critical need to avoid a false image of risks being faced (e.g. spurious certitude on local manifestations of change) and the attendant underestimation of the complexities of adaptation. The gap between conceptual feasibility and practical implementation to meet multiple and emerging goals remains immense. Key guiding questions, include “How often should we revise our assumptions about the direction and magnitude of changes?” “Where are the barriers to coordinated decision-making in different contexts, and how might they be overcome?” and “How can the diversity of research-based knowledge and input to problem-solving be best managed, as events unfold?” This lecture, drawing on the author’s research and experience in efforts to address such questions, outlines, (1) existing and projected risks, including lessons from significant events, across the globe, (2) options, challenges and opportunities for implementing adaptation strategies in different sectors and countries, (3) regional and local climate information systems that share research, decision support tools and smart practices, and (4) the coordination and capacity needed for securing the co-benefits of weather and climate risk management across economies, ecosystems and communities. Added to this, are the professional risks assumed when undertaking interdisciplinary research aimed at addressing such questions.

Bio: Roger S. Pulwarty is the Senior Science Advisor for Climate Research at the NOAA Climate Program and the Physical Sciences Division in Boulder, Colorado. Roger’s publications focus on climate extremes and adaptation in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. Throughout his career, Roger has helped design and lead, widely-recognized end-to-end programs focused on climate, impacts, and services, including the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments, the National Integrated Drought Information System, and the first major adaptation program of the Global Environment Fund, on Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change in the Caribbean. Roger is a lead author on the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction global assessments, the IPCC Special Reports on Water Resources and on Extremes, and a convening lead author on the IPCC Working Group II Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.  He has provided testimonies before the U.S. Congress, and has served on Presidential task forces focused on the water-energy-food nexus, and on national security. Roger acts as an advisor on climate risk management to a number of national and international agencies, including the Western Governors, the Organization of American States, the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent, the OECD, UNDP, and the InterAmerican and the World Banks. He is the chair of the WMO Climate Services Information System, a key pillar of the Global Framework on Climate Services, and a member of the Global Climate Observing System Steering Committee.  Roger’s work on integrating scientific research into decision-making has been awarded by NOAA, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and by the Gold Medal for Excellence in Applied Sciences and Technology from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean Academy of Sciences. Most recently, he was the keynote at the Adaptation Futures Conference, the largest gathering of adaptation researchers and practitioners in in the world, and received the 2016 AGU Gilbert F. White Award and Distinguished Lecture. Roger is the co-editor of “Hurricanes: Climate and Socio-Economic Impacts” (Springer, re-issued in paperback in 2012), and the forthcoming “Drought and Water Crises” (CRC Press, 2017).


Friday, April 7, 2017


CIRES Auditorium, Room 338


Event Type



Refreshments provided