Course Description

Global climate is controlled by physical processes, and

by-and-large we understand what processes are involved and how they work. Actually calculating the climate that results from a given set of forcings is a much more difficult problem. This course is about how physical processes create global climate, and how changes in the rates and intensities of those processes can change climate. Along the way, we will develop a better understanding of what “climate” really means.

Three phases of growing to understand climate include getting the basic physical science background (you have already done this), understanding how the observed climate system behaves in response to physical forcings (this course), and learning how to predict the climatic response to changed forcing (barely touched in this course, but see Geog 657).


Geog 412/612 Physical Climatology

Spring 2016

Printable course summary:


Lecture: Allison 228

11:00–12:15 Tuesday & Thursday,

Lecture Log/Plan

Lecture Resources

Labs: Pearson 203

    20: 5:00–7:00 Monday

    21: 5:00–7:00 Wednesday

Lab Exercise Assignments and Resources - Lab exercises will be directly worth 25% of the points

Office Hours

Text:  K. H. Cook, 2013, Climate Dynamics, Princeton University Press.

Additional readings will be placed on the course Canvas site.

Quizzes: Every other week, starting with the third Thursday of class. These will be worth approximately 50% of the course points.

Term Paper: A short term paper will be worth 15% of the course.

Group Project Assignment leading to a class presentation at the end of the term.

Canvas login page

Hanson Home Page

Tentative Course Outline

(Quiz placements show breaks in the material, not timing.)

1. Defining the balanced climate (1 week; Ch. 1)

    a) Robock Diagram

    b) Turning Kiehl & Trenberth 1997 into a model

2. Survey of the observed climate.  (3 weeks, Ch. 2, 3)

    a) Looking at the atmosphere vertically and horizontally. (§2.1)

    b) Basics of the ocean. (§2.2)

        Quiz 1

    c) Diurnal and seasonal forcings and cycles. (§3.1)

    d) Internal oscillations and variability (§3.2--3.4)

        Quiz 2

    e) History of the earth and its atmosphere (§3.5)

3. Radiative transfers.  (4 weeks, Ch. 4)

    a) Planck, Wien, Stefan-Boltzmann (§4.1)

        Quiz 3

    b) Planetary solar constants (§4.2--4.3)

    c) Absorption in the atmosphere (§4.4--4.5)

    d) Layers, clouds, lapse rates (§4.6--4.7)

        Quiz 4})

4. Energy Balance Revisited. (3 weeks, Ch. 5)

    a) Nonradiative heat transers. (§5.3)

    b) Revisiting Kiehl & Trenberth 1997, with imbalance (§5.4)

        Quiz 5

5. Hydrologic Cycle. (2 weeks, §2.3--2.4, Ch. 9)

6. Forcing changes. (1 week, Ch. 10)

        Quiz 6