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College of Social Sciences & Public Policy

College of Social Sciences & Public Policy

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Geography Professor And Students Participate In Climate Collaboration

At right: Associate Professor of Geography Stephanie Pau at the Climate Collaboration showcase, April 27.

Associate Professor of Geography Stephanie Pau, along with 19 undergraduates in that department with a concentration in Environment and Society, took part in a unique collaborative effort targeting public understanding of the impacts climate change is already having on Florida.

The Florida Climate Change Collaboration (FCCC) showcased the student work, April 27, at the 621 Gallery in Tallahassee’s Railroad Square art park. Ten student groups presented their work, ranging from podcasts aimed at elementary schoolers to short videos that explained the science behind climate change to a sustainability guide developed with FSU’s Sustainable Campus office.

The collaboration was inspired by the 2017 book “Florida’s Climate: Changes, Variations, and Impacts,” which provides a review of the current state of research on Florida’s climate and offers accessible information for students, policymakers, and the general public.

Based on his interest in the book, Professor Andy Opel of the FSU College of Communication and Information brought together four units at the university to create the interdisciplinary, multi-course project.

The resulting collaborative effort was four classes open to students from various disciplines that met individually one day a week and together as a large group another day.

Pau worked with students on understanding the impact of climate change on the state’s edcosystems. Oceanography Professor William Landing’s classes focused on the physical basis for climate change. Chari Arespacochaga, assistant professor in the School of Theatre, helped students develop narratives and performance, and Opel provided instruction in digital media production.

The results, presented at the April showcase, were multi-media products translating the issues and science of climate change in ways that could be related to general public audiences. The final projects can be accessed at this link.

“In putting together the ten group projects, we mixed students from each of the courses to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration, which is so important for motivating social change through individual actions or supporting policy agendas,” Pau explained. “Somewhat counterintuitively, this interdisciplinary collaboration allowed students to understand their disciplinary strengths better and understand their contributions to complex social and environmental problems. They also had a chance to be creative in tackling climate change by raising awareness through social media, podcasts, documentary films or solutions-oriented projects like the sustainability guide.”

Pau’s research has been deeply involved in climate issues. In 2017, she was awarded a grant for her research on tropical forest phenology and climate change by the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration. Phenology, often referred to as “nature’s calendar,” is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events, such as the timing of plant bud bursts or bird migrations, and how these are influenced by seasonal and inter-annual variations in climate, as well as habitat factors such as elevation.

In January 2018, other research led by Pau revealed a surprising relationship between surging atmospheric carbon dioxide and flower blooms in a remote tropical forest. Pau and her team, studying the rich tropical forests of Panama’s Barro Colorado Island, found that rising temperatures and climbing rates of carbon dioxide have set the stage for a multi-decade increase in overall flower production. The study was supported by the Smithsonian Institute’s Environmental Sciences Program.