University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Geosciences : Postgraduate Courses (School of GeoSciences)

Postgraduate Course: The Science of Climate Change (ENVI11001)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Geosciences CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe University has many courses in the general area of climate change but none that focuses on the physical science background and the impacts of climate change to the extent necessary to fully understand mitigation and adaptation options. This course aims to fill that gap.
Course description The course would cover the most important scientific background for understanding mitigation and adaptation and use the 4th assessment report of the IPCC (Climate Change: The physical basis and Climate Change: Impacts and Adaptation).

Outline Sessions (10 in all)
Proposed Staff: Simon Tett (ST), Chris Merchant (CM), Ruth Doherty (RD), Gabi Hegerl (GH), Mat Williams (MW), Pete Nienow (PN). The Course Organiser (ST) or when the CO not present another member of the teaching team will "top and tail" each session. The "top" part will be to introduce the session, put the session in the context of the whole course and the academic running the session. The "tail" part will be to ask the students to reflect on what they have learnt and how it relates to their programme. These two parts will last about 20 minutes each.

1. Introduction, course objectives. (ST)
a. Components of the climate system
b. How they interact
c. Climate variability on all timescales
d. Role of external forcing
e. Main changes in radiative forcing - Mauna Loa record, aerosols, solar, volcanism, CO2 & other greenhouses gases.
2. Records of past climate change - from Ice Ages to the Little Ice Age (CM)
a. Converting weather observations to climate records and their uncertainty, including homogeneity concerns
b. What do we know about 20th century climate change from them
c. Reconstructing climate and forcings further back in time (very briefly)
d. What do they teach us about climate in the past
e. Observed impacts - e.g. changes in flowering date, drought

3. Modelling the climate system (ST)
a. Energy balance models (feedbacks and the ocean as a slab).
b. Perturbation of the energy budget: The greenhouse effect
c. Radiative Forcing - role of various gases in radiative forcing
d. General circulation models construction. (general)
e. Parameterization schemes - perturbed physics as a method to explore uncertainty
f. Weather models, and models for decadal forecasts - how well do they do?
g. Using models to predict the future - large scale temperature change
h. Demonstration of MAGICC or other simple model. A 2-hour tutorial on how to use the simple climate model will be given in week 4.
4. Causes of climate change then and now (GH)
a. Research questions: reintroduce changes over last millennium and 20th century
b. Comparing model simulations and observations for last millennium and 20th century;
c. Quantifying contribution by forcings using fingerprint methods.
d. Examples
i. Case study - large scale temperature
ii. Case study - ocean temperatures
iii. Case study - land rainfall
iv. Case study - changes in flowering date.
v. Which other periods can be used as model testbeds? The wet Sahel in the Mid Holocene, LGM SSTs.
All case studies focus largely on comparison and a bit on d+a results.
5. The carbon Cycle (MW)
a. Natural carbon cycle - and why a small perturbation matters
b. How do we know people are increasing atmospheric CO2?
c. Where is the Carbon going?
d. Where does the carbon come from? Brief tour of origin of oil and coal, CO2 in atmosphere over earth history (very long time look) and magnitude of reserves of oil and gas
e. Carbon as a feedback - introduction as a research frontier..
f. Role of carbon cycle in mitigation options - de-reforestation
g. Timescales of the carbon cycle (at what timescale peak CO2 could come down again) and why does it take so long/does so much remain in the atmosphere
Break for a week.
6. Student Presentations (ST)
Series of 5 minute student presentations& posters on the role that climate change science has in their master's programme with the aim of getting students to reflect what they have learnt from course and relate it to their Masters Programme. Students should work in groups for this. Feedback will then help students with their essay on the impacts of climate change.

7. Predicting future climate change: (GH)
a. Scenarios used in AR4 & planned for AR5
b. Different forcings - CO2 & other well mixed GHG, aerosols, tropospheric ozone
c. Simulations of future climate change: main points to bring across: timescale of change for individual climate components (SAT, sea level rise as examples); baseline 'commitment scenario', changes in precipitation and why they are predicted
d. The climate sensitivity - why is projected climate change uncertain, what are the main sources of uncertainty and how do they vary over time (Ed Hawkins uncertainty diagram + the AR4 figure comparing between scenarios); uncertainty estimate in IPCC
e. Decadal predictions as a research frontier
8. Impacts of past and future climate change (RD)
a. Reliability of regional detail of climate change
b. Downscaling methods
c. Case studies
a. Impacts on human health
b. Impacts on Africa
d. Understanding of uncertainty in these

9. Predicting future climate change: Sea level and Ice (PN)
a. Sea level rise: based on thermal expansion, with uncertainties
b. Ice melt: processes, timescales, evidence from deep past (eg Overpeck Greenland paper)
c. Long timescales: changes in sea level with commitment, long-term changes with stabilization scenarios
d. Impact of sea level rise. Dependence of impacts on timescale, example sea level rise: - how much trends can systems adjust to? (coral reefs; wetlands as example); natural adjustment mechanisms (migration of barrier islands) and their timescale

10. Geo-engineering and Mitigation (CM)
a. what would happen in response to mitigation scenarios (some recent papers)
b. change on the long timescale -
c. An easy way out? Geoengineering and its side effects

f. Rapid changes and surprises: THC, methane, rapid melting
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
At the end of the course the students would be:

Familiar with the observed evidence for climate change, and the role of greenhouse gases and other external drivers in these changes.

Have an understanding of the main components of the carbon cycle, its timescales and key components.

Have an appreciation of how climate models work

Understand the timescales at which projected climate change is expected to occur, and why their predictions are uncertain.

Understand the tools used to predict impacts, including regional modelling, downscaling, and impact models and their increased uncertainty.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsClimate Change Modelling Observations Carbon Cycle Impacts of Climate Change
Course organiserProf Simon Tett
Course secretaryMrs Christine Wilson
Tel: (0131 6)50 4866
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information
© Copyright 2015 The University of Edinburgh - 18 January 2016 4:03 am