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Climate science degree will extend UCLA’s commitment to environmental research and teaching

Research in Gulf of Mexico

The new major capitalizes on the evolution of the field of climate science, and how the body of knowledge has expanded, particularly in the past decade.

UCLA’s leadership in environmental research and sustainability will take another step forward at the start of spring quarter with a new bachelor’s degree in climate science.

Housed in the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences — which was tied for the No. 1 department of its kind in rankings by the National Research Council — the program will be among the world’s very first major programs in climate science worldwide.

The new program will complement UCLA’s existing major in environmental sciences, which had its largest-ever enrollment ever in 2017–18. Many students have expressed interest in targeting their studies more specifically on climate change.

Jochen Stutz, David Neelin and Alex Hall

“From the increased frequency and severity of fires to loss of snowpack to increases in heat extremes and storm intensity, it‘s clear that our climate is already changing significantly,” said Alex Hall, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and a co-creator of the major. “It’s critical to educate the next generation of scientists to understand how and why our climate is changing, and what measures must be taken to adapt.”

The major is the latest demonstration of UCLA’s commitment to sustainability, which also is embodied by the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, a campuswide research initiative that aims to transition Los Angeles County by 2050 to using 100 percent local water and 100 percent renewable energy. The atmospheric and oceanic sciences department has a long history of research and education to improve environmental predictions. The department began in the 1940s with a pioneering program devoted to weather predictions to aid the Allies during World War II. Its breadth of expertise now includes a wide range of topics that includes air pollution and El Niño.

“Today, the department focuses on a multitude of phenomena controlling the earth’s climate and the prediction of future climates,” said Jochen Stutz, the department chair. “The climate science major, in many ways, reflects this shift in focus and continues what our department does best: preparing students to understand and manage the most pressing environmental challenge for the next 100 years.”

David Neelin, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences who co-created the program, said the new major is timely because of how the field of climate science has evolved and how the body of knowledge has expanded, particularly in the past decade. Climate modeling has become more accurate and, when scientists and students incorporate biological, chemical and human factors, they can now examine the effects of climate variability on humans and ecosystems at an unprecedented level of detail.

In addition, the atmospheric and oceanic sciences department has added new faculty members in the past few years, creating more research and learning opportunities for climate science students.

The degree program will provide undergraduates with the scientific understanding they need to assess the effects of climate change, both from human activity and from natural climate variability. It also will provide students with the knowledge and tools they need to communicate on the subject with decision-makers in the public and private sectors.

Neelin said students who complete the program will be prepared for careers in a wide range of sectors and organizations at which climate change is being incorporated into planning.

“We’ve been teaching climate science courses to students from all science backgrounds for two decades now and the demand keeps growing,” he said.

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