The conference grew out of the Gary Comer Abrupt Climate Change Fellowship. The fellowship was established to support scientists studying the causes and consequences of abrupt changes in climate by funding post-docs, graduate students and technicians. Comer Fellows and their guests continue to gather each year to share their work.
From 2002 to 2007, the Fellowship supported climate research at 31 institutions. Mentors at each institution selected fellows and approved research projects. The program seeded special abrupt climate change fieldwork that focused primarily on Greenland, mountain glaciers and drylands and projects requiring fast-track funding.