Field to deliver talk on the velocity of climate change

Internationally renowned scientist has studied global ecology for 30 years


The International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability (I-CARES) at Washington University in St. Louis will host Christopher Field, PhD, one of the leaders of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as an I-CARES Distinguished Speaker at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21, in Graham Chapel.

Field’s talk is titled “The Velocity of Climate Change.” The talk is co-sponsored by WUSTL’s Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences and the Murray Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy.

As global temperatures rise, plants and animals are shifting their ranges. But how successful will these migrations be? Plants and animals that tolerate big temperature swings may not need to move, while others may need to move faster than they are able.

Combining current climate and temperature gradients worldwide with climate model projections for the next century, Field and a team of scientists at Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science have calculated temperature “velocities,” measurements of how fast temperature zones are moving across the landscape, and, by implication, how fast plants and animals will need to migrate to keep up.

Field hopes these predicitons will help guide the development of management strategies that minimize biodiversity loss.

“Expressed as velocities, climate-change projections connect directly to survival prospects for plants and animals,” Field says. “These are the conditions that will determine whether species move or have to cope in place.”

Field is a professor of biology and environmental earth system science at Stanford University. He is the founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology and faculty director of Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

In 2008, he was elected co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group 2 and will lead the next assessment on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. For nearly 30 years, Field has pushed the emergence of global ecology as a unique discipline.

For more information, e-mail Suzanne Loui at

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