Teach the Earth > Oceanography > Course Descriptions > Climate Science

Climate Science

Jessica Kleiss

Lewis & Clark College,
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Introduction to the earth's climate from a physical, earth-systems perspective. Prehistoric and historic fluctuations in the earth's climate, the current climate system, and projections for future climate and climate impacts. Topics will include the radiative balance of the earth's atmosphere, the greenhouse effect, albedo, aerosols, clouds, climate feedbacks, ocean circulation, climate variability including El Nino and the Pacific decadal oscillation, the carbon cycle, paleoclimate proxy records, ocean acidification, and climate models. We will examine some responses to climate change, including geoengineering, adaptation, and mitigation. Weekly laboratory exercises with climate data observations and models (computer-based), and physical mechanisms (lab- and field-based). Lecture and lab.
Prerequisites: None.

Subject: Geoscience:Oceanography
Resource Type: Course Information
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14)
Earth System Topics: Oceans
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Oceanography
Course Size:

Course Context:

This is an introductory course in Climate Science. The only pre-requisite is the college's bare-bones quantitative reasoning exam (which includes basic algebra). The course is attended by Freshmen through Seniors, from ALL majors.

Perhaps 25% of the students are Environmental Studies majors, and this course is one of their elective courses. Otherwise, this course satisfies the college's General Education "Quantitative Reasoning" category.

This course includes a full lab: every week, for 3 hours. The lab typically takes place in the campus computer lab. Includes one required field trip.

Course Goals:

  • Students should be able to conceptualize the many interacting systems and functions in the Earth's climate system.
  • Students should be able to evaluate popular-culture discussions of climate change in the context of current scientific knowledge.
  • Students should be able to interpret localized weather in the context of climatological influences

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

The AMS textbook addresses the goals of conceptualizing the many interacting systems and functions of the Earth's climate system, and the goal of interpreting local weather in the context of climatological influences. I add the goal to evaluate discussions of climate change from the current scientific viewpoint through the use of "Climate in the News" assignment, and a "Climate Skeptics" writing assignment.

Skills Goals

  • quantitative abilities
  • interpreting figures and graphics
  • producing diagrams to demonstrate physical understanding

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

The AMS textbook is not very quantitative, so I consistently supplemented the course with quantitative exercises and assignments. Tests and in-class activities often focused on asking students to produce a drawing or figure to demonstrate a physical mechanism of the climate system.


  • Tests seem to be very effective in this course! I saw exceptional learning occur just prior to each exam.
  • Laboratory exercises were assessed according to rubrics that focused on learning outcomes for each laboratory.
  • Weekly reading quizzes and daily reading reflections assessed the level of engagement and commitment of each student.


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