From March 15-17, the University of Toronto’s Department of Physics and the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences (DPES) hosted the university’s first Climate Impacts Hackathon, supported by Climate Positive Energy (CPE), the Centre for Climate Science and Engineering, and the Cosmic Future Initiative. The hackathon, which welcomed more than 40 participants, was organized by Paul Kushner, Professor in the Department of Physics, Karen Smith, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream in UTSC DPES, Michael Morris, PhD Candidate in the Department of Physics, and Francisco Camacho, Master of Environmental Science student at DPES. 

The event brought together students, alumni, and members of the U of T research community, along with some students from other universities, who worked in teams to investigate regional climate change impacts and to propose solutions to adapt to these impacts. The hackathon emphasized the use of the University of Toronto Climate Downscaling Workflow for approaching the problem of climate change impacts assessment. 

The hackathon served as an extension of Prof. Kushner’s CPE-funded research on the application of the University of Toronto Climate Downscaling Workflow to the Just Energy Transition. As part of the project, Prof. Kushner and his research team are developing tools to accelerate research and applications using downscaling, which maps available climate information with engineering requirements, while accounting for sampling, biases, and uncertainty. 

Prof. Kushner spoke about his research during opening remarks at the hackathon. With CPE funding support, the research team prototyped a new learning tool, the University of Toronto Climate Downscaling Workflow, which consists of a guide and a workflow process generator for technical practitioners in engineering fields to carry out analysis on climate impacts. “In our CPE proposal, we committed to holding this hackathon to roll out this tool. The intent is to encourage a better understanding of climate change impacts on different domains of application in an atmosphere of fun engagement and community cohort building.” 

Shatha Qaqish-Clavering, CPE Executive Director, spoke on the numerous ways that CPE researchers are making an impact: “I am pleased to see in the room not just engineers, but also computer scientists, communicators, and others who have joined us from across different disciplines and campuses to come together and tackle climate change. This hackathon shows the real-world impact that our researchers are having, and is a great example of the evolution of our grants into applications and tools that then have purpose inside and outside of classrooms and research labs.” 

Following a panel discussion on climate challenges in Toronto and beyond, the organizers introduced three “challenges,” or case studies, for participating teams to generate solutions for: 1) Toronto Heat Vulnerability, 2) Irrigation Demand in East Africa, and 3) Future Snowstorms in Canada’s Capital Region. On March 17, the teams presented their work in a showcase to a panel of judges, who then chose the winners. 

The winners of the challenge were team BSh who investigated Toronto Heat Vulnerability, and were awarded $1,000 CAD to be shared equally among members. The projections they analyzed and their insight into factors controlling vulnerability to climate risk suggested practical approaches for the City of Toronto to locate and build new cooling centres to help deal with the dramatic increase in very hot days the city is likely to experience because of warming from anthropogenic climate change. 


Congratulations to the winning teams, and to all participants for completing the hackathon. We look forward to future events celebrating student innovation at the university. 

Photos by Milan Ilnyckyj.