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Climatology

Cindy Shellito,
Earth Sciences, University of Northern Colorado
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Summary


This course is designed to help students gain a scientific understanding of the physical aspects of Earth's climate system and the factors that influence climate change. We explore the global balance of energy and transfer of radiation in the atmosphere through in-depth quantitative analysis, as well the hydrologic cycle and the general circulation of the oceans and atmosphere. Students become familiar with global climate models and learn to examine model output with an eye toward quantifying climate sensitivity and identifying feedbacks.

Course Size:
fewer than 15

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is a required senior-level course for meteorology majors, and is one of the final courses taken in the core meteorology curriculum. Prerequisites for the course include calculus, physical meteorology, and at least one semester of dynamic meteorology.

Course Content:

This course focuses on providing students with an understanding of the components of the climate system, climate system dynamics, and factors that lead to changes in the climate system. Topics are presented in order of increasing complexity, beginning with the global energy balance and radiative transfer in the atmosphere. Following this, we explore: the role of the land surface in climate forcing (surface fluxes and the hydrologic cycle), global atmospheric and oceanic circulation, climate variability and its role in weather forecasting (ENSO, the NAO, and monsoons), and long-term climate forcing. The topic of climate modeling is integrated throughout the course, as students begin to work on their term projects. For example, an introduction to simple energy balance models is integrated into the discussion of the global energy balance and radiative transfer.

Course Goals:

By the end of this course, students will be able to do the following:

Course Features:

This course features a term project where students develop a research question and run climate-modeling experiments (using simple energy-balance models, or simple 3-D models available online: EdGCM, MAGIC/SCENGEN, or the UNEP Java Climate Model). Students apply their understanding of climate dynamics in the analysis and interpretation of results. At the end of the semester, students present their results in the form of a paper and poster presentation.

Course Philosophy:

I wanted to develop a course that would require students to integrate not only what they had learned in my class, but concepts they have learned in other meteorology courses as well. So often, we take a 'piece-meal' approach to teaching about the atmosphere – which is necessary to understand the individual pieces. But I wanted students to begin to see the bigger picture – how each of the components of the earth system interact and feedback on one another, and how changes in one part of the system affect the whole. This is accomplished when students run modeling experiments and begin to see, firsthand, the effect of changing one aspect of the system. My other goal for this course is that students would begin to think like scientists – to develop a question and then develop a methodology for answering that question.

Assessment:

I wanted to develop a course that would require students to integrate not only what they had learned in my class, but concepts they have learned in other meteorology courses as well. So often, we take a 'piece-meal' approach to teaching about the atmosphere – which is necessary to understand the individual pieces. But I wanted students to begin to see the bigger picture – how each of the components of the earth system interact and feedback on one another, and how changes in one part of the system affect the whole. This is accomplished when students run modeling experiments and begin to see, firsthand, the effect of changing one aspect of the system. My other goal for this course is that students would begin to think like scientists – to develop a question and then develop a methodology for answering that question.

Syllabus:

Climatology Syllabus (Microsoft Word 52kB Mar26 10)

Teaching Materials:

Student Handout for Climate Modeling Assignment (Microsoft Word 59kB Mar26 10)

References and Notes:

Course Textbook: Global Physical Climatology by Dennis L. Hartmann

Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (from the 4th Assessment report by the IPCC (more info) )

The EdGCM Cooperative (more info)

RealClimate (more info) – a climate science discussion board for working climate scientists and interested members of the public.

United Nations Environment Programme portal on climate change (more info)


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