Walter Orr Roberts Distinguished Lecture

The Walter Orr Roberts Distinguished Lecture is an annual lecture given as part of UCAR/NCAR’s public outreach to the broader community, made possible through private donations.

2022 Lecture

Dr Marshall Shepherd

The extreme weather-climate gap: A discussion at the intersection of weather, climate, risk, and vulnerability. Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program and host of the Weather Channel’s show “Weather Geeks”

Climate change has created a new normal for extreme weather events. Infrastructure, policymakers, and the general public are impacted by extreme events, and people identify with them more readily than with narratives about "averages." Such events, unfortunately, have a disproportionate impact on different types of communities. Dr. Shepherd will explore the emerging science on how climate change is amplifying extreme weather and then use a risk framework to explore why certain groups are particularly vulnerable.

The lecture recording is now available, along with the presentation slides, given below.


2022 NCAR|UCAR Walter Orr Roberts Distinguished Lecture: Dr. Marshall Shepherd

The extreme weather-climate gap: A discussion at the intersection of weather, climate, risk, and vulnerability

18 February 2022

2021 Lecture

The misinformation battle: challenges and solutions. Dr. Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences

Misinformation is one of the most confounding barriers to the adoption and application of sound science for the benefit of society. It appeals to the existing biases and fears of citizens and is shared by their close associates. Given how high the stakes are in fighting misinformation on topics such as climate change and COVID-19, it is imperative that we as scientists rise to this challenge by learning from those groups and organizations that have established reputations for trust with the public.

The Misinformation Battle: Challenges and Solutions

Dr. Marcia McNutt - September 24, 2021


Walter Orr Roberts

Dr. Walter Orr Roberts presided over the founding of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) as its first director and was the first president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). Among many tributes to his considerable achievements was the United Nations Environment Programme's North America Leadership Award. Dr. Roberts was the first scientist to be so honored.

A trailblazer, Walter Orr Roberts set up the High Altitude Observatory in 1940 on the Continental Divide at Climax, Colorado, which evolved from a one-man operation affiliated with the Harvard College Observatory to a research division of NCAR. While there he laid the foundations of his scientific reputation, making original contributions about the behavior of the sun by photographing its prominences and corona through artificial eclipses of the sun by means of a newly invented solar telescope called the coronagraph, of which he completed the Western Hemisphere's first example.

Two people skiing.

Roberts and his wife Janet skiing in front of the original Climax installation below Bartlett Mountain (background), 1941.

NCAR Archives

In 1960, the National Science Foundation asked Roberts to be the director of the newly formed NCAR, which he headed until 1968. He simultaneously held the presidency of UCAR from its inception in 1960 until 1973. Roberts, a visionary, was influential in establishing Boulder’s space and rocket science communities that later spawned the University of Colorado’s Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics and Ball Brothers Research Corporation, now Ball Aerospace Systems Division.

When he retired from administrative duties, Roberts devoted more time to scientific endeavors on a larger scale in his role as a teacher/adviser to students and colleagues as well as leaders of government, business, and industry around the world. He was instrumental in fostering the first greenhouse "glasnost" teleconference between the Soviet Union and the United States; the 1988 computer-mediated teleconference linked 12 scientists from each country in an ongoing dialogue about climate change and its potential impacts, political, social, and economic as well as geophysical. From 1974 to 1981, Roberts directed the Program on Food, Climate and the World's Future of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies and was a senior fellow and trustee emeritus of that organization.

See more at

NCAR Archives High Altitude Observatory (HAO) Exhibit: About Walter Orr Roberts

Past WOR Distinguished Lectures

Date Speaker
1998 Warren Washington

John Firor
Susan Solomon
Timothy Brown
Joachim Kuettner
2004 Joanne Simpson
Timothy Wirth, Conference on World Affairs
Jim Hansen
Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University
Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences in Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Ways Forward on Climate and Energy: Getting Good from What We Do and Don’t Know
Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, MIT
Hurricanes, Climate, and Culture: How We Cope with Natural Disasters
Tracey Holloway, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison; President, Earth Science Women's Network; Leader, NASA Health and Air Quality Applied Science Team
Science and Stakeholders
A.R. (Ravi) Ravishankara
Dr. Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences