Global Warming I: The Science and Modeling of Climate Change

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When you enroll for courses through Coursera you get to choose for a paid plan or for a free plan

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About this course: This class describes the science of global warming and the forecast for humans’ impact on Earth’s climate. Intended for an audience without much scientific background but a healthy sense of curiosity, the class brings together insights and perspectives from physics, chemistry, biology, earth and atmospheric sciences, and even some economics—all based on a foundation of simple mathematics (algebra).

Created by:  The University of Chicago
  • Taught by:  David Archer, Professor

    Geophysical Sciences
Language English How To Pass Pass all graded assignments to complete the course. User Ratings 4.6 stars Average User Rating 4.6See what learn…

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Didn't find what you were looking for? See also: Climate Change, Science, Software / System Engineering, English (FCE / CAE / CPE), and Teaching Skills.

When you enroll for courses through Coursera you get to choose for a paid plan or for a free plan

  • Free plan: No certicification and/or audit only. You will have access to all course materials except graded items.
  • Paid plan: Commit to earning a Certificate—it's a trusted, shareable way to showcase your new skills.

About this course: This class describes the science of global warming and the forecast for humans’ impact on Earth’s climate. Intended for an audience without much scientific background but a healthy sense of curiosity, the class brings together insights and perspectives from physics, chemistry, biology, earth and atmospheric sciences, and even some economics—all based on a foundation of simple mathematics (algebra).

Created by:  The University of Chicago
  • Taught by:  David Archer, Professor

    Geophysical Sciences
Language English How To Pass Pass all graded assignments to complete the course. User Ratings 4.6 stars Average User Rating 4.6See what learners said Coursework

Each course is like an interactive textbook, featuring pre-recorded videos, quizzes and projects.

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Syllabus


WEEK 1


Overview
What you will find in this class.


1 video, 4 readings expand


  1. Video: Video Introduction
  2. Reading: Resources
  3. Reading: Debriefing Quizzes
  4. Reading: Explainer Assignments
  5. Reading: A Supplemental Class to This One


WEEK 2


Heat, Light, and Energy



A primer on how to use units to describe numbers when describing temperature, energy, and light. Even if you don't plan on doing calculations yourself, understanding how units work will help to follow the rest of the lectures in the class. If you are interested in practicing your analysis skills, using units to guide calculations, there are some exercises in the Part II of this class.


6 videos, 2 practice quizzes expand


  1. Video: Using Units
  2. Video: Units of Energy
  3. Video: Heat
  4. Practice Quiz: Optional Problems: How Much Coal to Run a Light Bulb
  5. Practice Quiz: Optional Problems: Comparing Energy Prices
  6. Video: Units of Light
  7. Video: Light
  8. Video: Blackbody Radiation

Graded: What is heat and how can you warm up something in space?

WEEK 3


First Climate Model



The balance of energy flow, as incoming sunlight and outgoing infrared, allow us to create our first simple climate model, including a simple greenhouse effect. There are two extended exercises in Part II of this class, one an analytical (algebraic) model of the equilibrium temperature of a planet, the other a numerical model of how that temperature might evolve through time.


2 videos, 3 practice quizzes expand


  1. Video: Naked Planet Climate Model
  2. Video: The Greenhouse Effect
  3. Practice Quiz: Optional Layer Model Problem: How Hot is the Moon?
  4. Practice Quiz: Optional Layer Model Problem 2: A Stronger Greenhouse Effect
  5. Practice Quiz: Optional Layer Model Problem 3: Nuclear Winter

Graded: Quiz 1

WEEK 4


Greenhouse Gases and the Atmosphere



The Layer Model above assumes that the pane of glass representing the atmosphere absorbs all of the infrared radiation that hits it and that it radiates at all infrared wavelengths. In other words, the layer model atmosphere is an infrared blackbody, but transparent in the visible. In reality, greenhouse gases are not "black" at all; they are very choosy about which frequencies of light they absorb and emit. This selective absorption of infrared light by greenhouse gases leads to the band saturation effect, which makes rare, trace gases like methane disproportionally powerful relative to higher-concentration gases like CO₂.


2 videos expand


  1. Video: Greenhouse Gas Physics
  2. Video: The Band Saturation Effect

Graded: Model Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere

WEEK 5


The Structure of the Atmosphere



The greenhouse effect works because the air in the upper atmosphere is colder than the ground, so that absorption and re-emission of IR by greenhouse gases decreases the amount of energy leaving the planet to space. Here we explore the physics responsible for keeping the upper atmosphere cold.


4 videos expand


  1. Video: Atmospheric Temperature Structure
  2. Video: Pressure in a Standing Fluid
  3. Video: Water Vapor and Latent Heat
  4. Video: Moist Convection

Graded: Model the Lapse Rate and Greenhouse Effect

WEEK 6


Weather and Climate



Another property of the real world, missing in our model so far, is that the real world is not everywhere the same temperature, and the heat fluxes to and from space do not necessarily balance at any given time or location. This is because the winds in the atmosphere and the currents in the ocean carry heat around, in general from the hot tropics up to the cold high latitudes.


4 videos expand


  1. Video: Heat Transport
  2. Video: Coriolis Acceleration
  3. Video: Geostrophic Motion
  4. Video: The Turbulent Cascade

Graded: Quiz 2

WEEK 7


Feedbacks



Feedbacks are loops of cause-and-effect that can either stabilize Earth's climate or amplify future climate changes. There is an exercise in Part II of this class where you solve for a planet's temperature by iteration, and in the process demonstrate a runaway ice albedo feedback that might have led to the Snowball Earth climate state 700 million years ago.


6 videos expand


  1. Video: Positive and Negative Feedback
  2. Video: Ice Albedo Feedback
  3. Video: Water Vapor Feedback
  4. Video: Clouds
  5. Video: Aerosols
  6. Video: Climate Sensitivity

Graded: Model Sunlight, Albedo, and Climate
Graded: Extract the Water Vapor Feedback from Climate Model Results
Graded: Model Clouds 1: IR
Graded: Model Clouds 2: Full-spectrum
Graded: Model Aerosols and Climate
Graded: Calculate the Climate Sensitivity
Graded: Quiz 3
Graded: What are positive and negative feedbacks?

WEEK 8


The Carbon Cycle



Now we shift gears in a major way — away from climate physics (you now have seen its main ingredients) to the emergent miracle that is the carbon cycle on Earth. Not only is carbon the chemical element of life, it is also the means of storing life's energy. We will look at how carbon cycles through the land, the oceans, and the deep earth, going in and out of the atmosphere -- and how that stabilizes the earth's climate.


9 videos expand


  1. Video: The Weathering CO₂ Thermostat
  2. Video: The Goldilocks Planets
  3. Video: The Oceans in the Carbon Cycle
  4. Video: The Land Biosphere in the Carbon Cycle
  5. Video: The Battery of the Biosphere
  6. Video: Oxidation and Reduction of Carbon
  7. Video: Coal
  8. Video: Oil
  9. Video: Natural Gas

Graded: Model the Global Carbon Cycle
Graded: Model Ocean/Land CO₂ Uptake with ISAM
Graded: Model Intended vs. Greenhouse Yields
Graded: Quiz 4

WEEK 9


The Perturbed Carbon Cycle



On the carbon locked up in fossil fuels and what happens when we burn those fuels. In Part II of this class, you can create a simple but somewhat realistic model of Earth's temperature evolution in the coming decades, in response to the release of CO2 (or in the sudden stop of emissions in a scenario called "The world without us").


7 videos expand


  1. Video: Forecasting Future Emissions
  2. Video: Where Our Carbon Is Going
  3. Video: Ocean Buffer Chemistry
  4. Video: The Perturbed Carbon Cycle
  5. Video: Methane as a Greenhouse Gas
  6. Video: The Long CO₂ Tail
  7. Video: Why the CO₂ Tail Matters

Graded: Model Hubbert's Peak
Graded: Model Kaya Identity
Graded: Fossilizing a Carbon Atom
Graded: Model Methane and Slugulator
Graded: Model the Long Tail
Graded: Quiz 5
Graded: Burning a Carbon Atom

WEEK 10


Looking for a Human Impact on Climate



You have now seen the ideas behind the forecast for a human impact on Earth's climate. The next question is: Do we see it happening today? It turns out that the "smoking gun" for a human impact on climate is the global average temperature record since about the 1970's. In order to interpret that temperature change, we need to consider it within the context of natural climate changes in Earth's geologic past.


10 videos expand


  1. Video: Land Surface Temperature Records
  2. Video: Sea Surface Temperature Records
  3. Video: Satellite Temperature Records
  4. Video: The Smoking Gun: Warming Since the 1970s
  5. Video: Paleoclimate and Proxy Measurements
  6. Video: Tree Rings
  7. Video: Borehole Temperatures
  8. Video: Oxygen Isotopes
  9. Video: Solar Intensity and the Hockey Stick
  10. Video: Glacial - Interglacial Cycles

Graded: Make Maps of Climate Models Warming
Graded: Look for the Smoking Gun
Graded: Browse the Global Glacier Length Data
Graded: Model Borehole Temperatures
Graded: Analyze Recent Solar Intensity Changes
Graded: Quiz 6
Graded: Is it Warming? Is It Us? How Do We Know?

WEEK 11


Potential Impacts



This unit we focus on the potential impacts of continued business-as-usual CO2 emissions. This is also the topic of the Working Group 2 volume of the IPCC reports (the Working Group 1 report is on the scientific basis, which is what we've been studying so far this course). You may find this material distressing, but hang on, because next week we'll go over "Mitigation", which is what it takes to avoid climate change (treated in the Working Group 3 report). Remember that most of the carbon we're worried about is still in the ground, so these impacts are inevitable only if we continue to decide to make them so. In Part II of this class, you can create a simple ice sheet model of your own.


12 videos expand


  1. Video: Global Weirding
  2. Video: Monsoons
  3. Video: Vegetation
  4. Video: Impacts of Sea Level
  5. Video: Antarctic Ice Sheet
  6. Video: Greenland Ice Sheet
  7. Video: Paleo Sea Level Changes
  8. Video: Water Vapor and Storminess
  9. Video: Hurricanes
  10. Video: Extreme Weather
  11. Video: Ecosystem Impacts
  12. Video: Human Impacts

Graded: Water Stress in Climate Model Results
Graded: Model Permafrost
Graded: Model Changes in Sea Level
Graded: Play with an Ice Sheet Model, ISM
Graded: Short vs Long Term Sea Level Change
Graded: Find the Increase in Low-Level Humidity in Models
Graded: Extract AR5 Model Lapse Rates
Graded: Model Hurricanes
Graded: Quiz 7
Graded: Global Weirding

WEEK 12


Mitigation



The last unit of the class finds us considering the options for avoiding, or "mitigating," a human impact on Earth's climate. Bottom line: I think it would be a challenge that humankind could beat if we decided to. If there hypothetically were no more coal on Earth, our potential to alter the climate would be much less. Finding energy sources in that world would not be an existential threat would just be a business opportunity. The hard part, in my opinion, is making that decision.


8 videos expand


  1. Video: Stabilization Scenarios
  2. Video: Temperature Targets
  3. Video: Slug Theory
  4. Video: Geoengineering: CO₂ Capture and Sequestration
  5. Video: Geoengineering: Solar Radiation Management
  6. Video: Economics of Climate Change
  7. Video: Mitigation: Short-Term
  8. Video: Mitigation: Long-Term

Graded: Model Stabilization Scenarios
Graded: Model Temperature Targets
Graded: How well does Slugulator do at Slug Theory?
Graded: Model CO2 Sequestration
Graded: Model SRM Geoengineering
Graded: How Many Wedges?
Graded: How Much Carbon-Free Energy by 2100?
Graded: Quiz 8
Graded: Is there Hope for the 11-year-old?
Graded: Term Project: Explore Climate Data and Models
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