Global Warming I: The Science and Modeling of Climate Change
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assignment Level : Introductive
chat_bubble_outline Language : English
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About the content

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).

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Syllabus

  • Week 1 - Overview
    What you will find in this class.
  • 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 interes...
  • 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 ...
  • 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 trans...
  • 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...
  • 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 atm...
  • 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 runawa...
  • 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...
  • 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 ...
  • 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 th...
  • 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 ...
  • 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 ...
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Instructors

David Archer
Professor
Geophysical Sciences

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The University of Chicago
One of the world's premier academic and research institutions, the University of Chicago has driven new ways of thinking since our 1890 founding. Today, UChicago is an intellectual destination that draws inspired scholars to our Hyde Park and international campuses, keeping UChicago at the nexus of ideas that challenge and change the world.
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Coursera

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Coursera works with top universities and organizations to make some of their courses available online, and offers courses in many subjects, including: physics, engineering, humanities, medicine, biology, social sciences, mathematics, business, computer science, digital marketing, data science, and other subjects.

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