Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Join world-renowned climate scientist Scott Denning on an exploration of our origins in time and space. In a series of workshops centered in the present canyons of Ghost Ranch, we’ll trace the long story of our past. We’ll delve deeply into human evolution, biology, geology, astronomy, and cosmology as we follow our transformations from light to stardust to rock to a living planet. Scott is a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University and has been a UU since 1988.

Session 1: How deep is the past?

How and when did people come to Ghost Ranch? What did people do before that? How did people come to be at all?

Stories of the Ghost Ranch landscape: how did these canyons come to be? What are they made of? What landscapes were here when the rock itself was being laid down? When was that, and how does the story of these rocks fit into the larger story of the Earth?

How does life work, down at the material level? What are living beings made of, and how do we weave the elements to perpetuate its miracle?

Session 2: Stories of the Earth and Moon

How did these lovely celestial spheres of rock come to be so alike, yet so very different? What can we learn of our origins by looking at the full Moon this week?

Where did the material come from that forms the rocks of Earth and Moon? How did it get here? What was it before it was rock, and what changes did it go through along the way?

How does life weave the elements of stardust into the living protoplasm from which consciousness emerges? Among all the rock around us, whence comes the ephemeral wet fluff of life?

Session 3: Cosmic Origins

How do stars work? How are they born, how do they age, and how do they die? Where do they go when they are done being stars? How does the structure and function of our galaxy give rise to waves of creation and destruction of stars and worlds?

How do galaxies fit together into a cosmic web of matter and energy? What holds it up against gravitational oblivion? How does the web of galaxies reflect the origins of time and space?

What do these largest structures of creation tell us about the beginning of time? How can we listen to the echoes of the Great Whoosh whose inflation started it all?


Guided afternoon hikes through millions of years of time, while walking through the Ghost Ranch landscape.

Guided evening explorations of the landscapes of the Moon, our sister planets, and the galaxy around us with powerful telescopes and cameras.


I wanted to be an astronomer when I was a kid. After hiking the Grand Canyon one summer during college I changed my major from Physics to Geology. I published my first research article on radiometric dating of igneous rocks in northern Maine in 1984, then worked in the oil industry until it imploded in 1986. I studied effects of air pollution in an alpine watershed in Rocky Mountain National Park for 5 years before going to graduate school in Atmospheric Science. I earned a PhD in 1994 and was an assistant professor at UC Santa Barbara from 1996 to 1998, then returned to CSU where I’ve been on the faculty ever since.

On New Year’s Day 2020, I sailed from San Diego on Semester at Sea into the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I taught Oceanography (NR 150) and Global Studies (IE 300) to 560 students while sailing from California to Japan, Vietnam, Mauritius, and South Africa. Teaching and learning oceanography from the middle of the Pacific and Indian Oceans was the educational experience of a lifetime! The vast, powerful physicality of the sea, the changing weather, and ship moving with the waves formed the backdrop for an adventure like no other. Students and faculty worked, studied, ate, lived, and played together in a tight-knit community on the waves as the pandemic swept the world and we shared trauma and grief as our voyage was repeatedly diverted due to contagion. On March 17, 2020 we were forced to abandon our journey in South Africa and all of us had to make our ways home as the world shut down.

My research is on the global carbon cycle, focusing on interactions between the Earth’s living surface and the atmosphere that affect CO2 and climate. I’ve written more than 110 papers in the refereed literature, was Editor of the Journal of Climate and founding Science Chair of the North American Carbon Program.

For 20 years, I led a group of graduate students and scientists using many kinds of observations and models to understand the metabolism of the Earth’s biosphere. A key contribution of our work is the identification and prediction of sources and sinks of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere using new satellite instruments and modeling of trace gas transport. In addition to using global models and data, our research has included extensive field work in the great north woods of Wisconsin, the farms of Iowa, the Oklahoma prairie, the African Savanna, and the Amazon rainforest.

I’m extremely passionate about teaching and learning and spend moonless weekends at a mountain cabin photographing the cosmos.

Scott Denning CSU Faculty Page

Mark your calendars for June 17-23 2024 to attend WUULF at Ghost Ranch

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