Plenary Speakers


Disappearing Ice and the Rising Sea

Shad O'Neel (USGS) and Tad Pfeffer (CU Boulder)

Listen to a pre-conference interview with Shad O'Neel about Alaska's volatile glaciers.

Shad O'NeelGlaciers dominate much of the landscape in Alaska. Although few venture out to explore these stark, often brash landscapes that cover over 90,000 km of Alaska and neighboring Canada, glacierized landscapes have captivated humans since first sight, and provide a substantial economic base as a result of tourist traffic. The seemingly foreign and remote glacierized landscapes are indeed characterized by an under-appreciated importance to all humanity through their integral role in water resources and modulating global sea level. Although much smaller than the ice sheets (mountain glaciers comprise only 3% of the glacier covered surface of Earth), mass losses from mountain glaciers and ice caps yield >30% of the eustatic sea level budget, and are changing at rates outpacing the ice sheets.

Glaciers are sensitive indicators of climate change. They smooth the climate record, thereby revealing changes in climate through their mass balance history. The process can be complicated by dynamic instabilities that present themselves at calving glaciers. To date, such instabilities have prevented accurate projections of glacier response to future climate forcing – hence accurate projections of the global sea level budget. Prince William Sound’s Columbia Glacier provides the best-studied example of the dynamic instability process. Since the onset of rapid retreat in the early 1980s, the glacier has shed ~140 km directly into the Gulf of Alaska, and today's rate of mass loss exceeds recent estimates for the entire Chugach Range (1950-1990).

This talk will discuss the various roles of glaciers in the global sea level budget, paying particular attention the key factors in dynamic instability. Discussion will shift to making accurate and meaningful projections of future sea level rise, then return to current focus in glaciology and how research aims will improve our ability to understand the socio-economics of climate change.

About the Speaker
Shad O’Neel’s research focuses on the importance of mountain glaciers, particularly how ice dynamics are involved with glacier mass balance. Through the spectacular process of iceberg calving, tidewater glaciers can instantly transfer large masses from terrestrial storage to the sea.  This poorly understood process plays an important role in the global sea level budget.  Shad’s work, through recent developments in time-lapse photography and passive seismology strives to provide glaciological constraints on sea level rise. His training at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Colorado Boulder, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego has focused on Alaska’s glaciers, and drew Shad to the USGS Alaska Science Center, where he’s worked as a research glaciologist since 2008. 

Columbia Glacier has been a focal point of Shad’s work, and projects there have been highlighted in Science Magazine and other peer-review Journals. Recently produced time lapse sequences and narrative compiled by Extreme Ice Survey has drawn substantial attention to Columbia, resulting in outreach media by Nova, Scientific American, 60 minutes and Discovery channel.

Mark Meier, and co-author of this presentation Tad Pfeffer have inspired Shad’s work on Sea level rise. Lacking physical models that included glacier dynamics prompted a more empirical approach, which resulted in a recent appointment for Tad as lead author of the IPCC fifth assessment of sea level rise.


Nature and Human Nature

Charles Wohlforth

Listen to a pre-conference interview with Charles Wohlforth on the human potential to cooperate and live sustainably.

Charles Wohlforth

Nature and Human Nature" is a lecture and slideshow highlighting Charles Wohlforth's book "The Fate of Nature," which is focused on the Chugach region and covers the history of the creation of Chugach National Forest. Wohlforth discusses how culture, not technology, holds the key to humankind's ability to cooperate to solve environmental problems, including climate change. Alaska and the Chugach provide a clear example of conflicting world views that lead to different fates for nature and our relationship to the Earth. Wohlforth peels back the issues to look at the roots of how we think and relate to each other to answer the question, do we have the capacity to cooperate as we need to in order to preserve nature?

About the Speaker

Charles Wohlforth is a life-long Alaska resident and prize-winning author of numerous books about Alaska. His work includes writing about science and the environment, politics and history, travel, and as-told-to biography. A popular lecturer, he has spoken all over the United States and overseas. Wohlforth lives with his wife, Barbara, and their four children. They reside in Anchorage during the winter, where they are avid cross-country skiers, and in summer on a remote Kachemak Bay shore reachable only by boat.

Wohlforth, 47, graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University in 1986 before returning to Alaska to work six years as a newspaper reporter, including covering the Exxon Valdez oil spill for the Anchorage Daily News. He became a full-time freelance writer in 1993, publishing articles in The New Republic, Outside, Discover and other periodicals, and writing four travel books published by Wiley. He also hosts a show on public radio in Anchorage and served two 3-year terms on the Anchorage Assembly. For six years he was a consultant and speechwriter to U.S. Senator Mark Begich.

In 2004, Farrar, Straus & Giroux published Wohlforth’s widely acclaimed non-fiction account of climate change in the Arctic as experienced by the Eskimos and the scientists studying it, titled The Whale and the Supercomputer. The book won The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology, among numerous other national and regional citations for science, culture, and journalism. His current book from St. Martin’s Press is The Fate of Nature: Rediscovering Our Ability to Rescue the Earth, which has been featured on MSNBC, ABC News Now, NPR’s Science Friday, the Los Angeles Times, and many other national broadcasts and publications.


A National Perspective: Opportunities in a “Post-Restoration World”

JP Leous

Listen to pre-conference interview with JP Leous about where the green jobs will be.

JP Leous

As we enter an era where emerging future conditions will fail to match historic norms, the concept of “restoration” becomes increasingly problematic. Maintaining community and wildland resilience in the face of climate change will require new, adaptive approaches that are forward-looking. In this “post-restoration world” getting out ahead of and coping with climate-disruptions “on the ground” will require additional resources and political commitment. Unfortunately, calls for such are currently met with inaction on Capitol Hill. America has a narrow window in which to invest in climate-smart conservation—and doing so will pay huge dividends for generations.

Say “green jobs” and most people think of clean energy production or building retrofits. However, there is a little-discussed, but large collection of professionals on the front lines of global warming who are working to keep our communities, economy and health safe from climate changes by protecting our public lands. 

The challenges posed by the economic downturn and climate change create a powerful opportunity to revitalize our economy while restoring the backbone of our natural heritage and helping it adapt to climate change. From hydrologists to project managers to heavy equipment operators, a diverse collection of professionals can be employed across the country building the resilience of America’s public lands. Projects including removing unwanted forest roads, repairing fish culverts, treating invasive species and restoring wetlands can employ thousands and have high rates of return: it is estimated that a $1 million restoration project can create and protect nearly 30 jobs and generate $2 million in economic activity.    Additionally, these projects support the $730 billion annual recreation economy that relies on healthy wildlands.

However, unlocking the economic potential climate-smart conservation will require leadership—from federal agencies and Congress.

What are our federal land management agencies doing to address climate impacts? What does a national climate-smart conservation strategy look like? What stands in the way of jumpstarting this green generational jobs program?

From inside “The Beltway” to America’s last frontiers, this presentation will cover current progress and necessary next steps if we are to protect our treasured landscapes and dependent communities.
About the Speaker
J.P. Leous is The Wilderness Society’s Climate Change Policy Advisor. Based out of Washington, D.C., J.P. covers a diverse portfolio of policy issues ranging from natural resource adaptation policy to energy efficiency’s ability to mitigate land use change. As co-lead of a diverse coalition of traditional environmental nonprofits, sportsmen groups, state fish and game agencies, and tribal organizations, J.P. has worked on and off Capitol Hill to build support for a national natural resources adaptation strategy. In addition to his work at The Wilderness Society, he also serves as Lecturer at The George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services, where he teaches policy development and solution framing, as well as encourages exploration of the environment-health nexus.  Prior to joining The Wilderness Society, he was a Project Manager with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Division of License Renewal. A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, J.P.  received his graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs where he co-authored an Andrew Wellington Cordier Prize-winning essay on marine debris. Also while at Columbia J.P. co-establish the School’s first scholarship for cross-disciplinary approaches to environmental sustainability—the Award for Progressive Sustainability. Examples of J.P.’s advocacy have appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Wall Street Journal. Follow J.P. on Twitter @TWSjp.