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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Geosciences : Meteorology

Undergraduate Course: Physics of Climate (METE10003)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Geosciences CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryThe course introduces the principal physics of climate and climate modelling, focussing on the Earth. The climate system is so complex that we approach it by constructing models with several different levels of complexity. These models allow us to explain the observed distribution of temperature, in relation to the fluxes of energy and matter through the climate system, and to consider the external and internal factors (both human and natural) which cause climatic change and variability. The course also briefly covers the observed climate, recent change and projections of future change.
Course description Syllabus

Lecture outline

L1: Course Introduction, Climate Variability, observed change, attribution of change

L2: 0-d Energy Balance model & Orbital Changes

L3: Changes in Earth's energy balance: Climate Forcing, sensitivity and feedbacks

L4: Projections of Climate Change.

L5: Zonal Energy Balance models

L6: Seasonal-Zonal Energy Balance models

L7: Time dependent climate change.

Energy Balance Model Computing Practical

L8: Radiative transfer: One layer atmosphere

Tutorial (Lectures 1-8)

Festival of Learning

L9: Radiative transfer: absorption, scattering

L10: Radiative transfer in the Infra-red.

L11: Understanding the Atmospheric Vertical Structure

L12: Radiative absorption


L13: CO2 Forcing, Heating Rates & Absorption of Solar Radiation

Guest lecture on extreme events

L14: Scattering of solar radiation atmosphere, clouds and aerosols.

L15 3-D General Circulation models of ocean and atmosphere

Tutorial (Lectures 9-15)

Tutorial questions:

These are important to deepen your learning and understanding and prepare for exam. Questions are on the handouts and you should try to solve independently. Solutions will be posted 1 week later and will be discussed in tutorial.

Computer Labs

One computer lab where you can experiment with simple climate models, and see how changes in the atmosphere, the sun, and volcanic eruptions shaped climate change over the 20th century. You will also be able to run simple models outside class.


Small group (~2 to 3 people) presentations of 5 minutes based on papers; papers available on Learn. Pick a topic that interests you and find one or two other students to do the presentation. Topics are allocated on a first-come first-serve basis in week 3. Each student should individually write a 3-page literature survey of the paper and related papers. This should be submitted on Learn (deadline Friday of week 10 at 12 noon) and is assessed (20% of course mark). The hand-in should address the questions: what was done in the paper and related literature (for the papers without a reference list or very short one, eg Ruddiman, you should find literature that cites it), how was it done, and how does it relate to in the course. You should cite all the literature you reference, ideally, using Harvard style (for example Blogs, 2000; Blogs & Friend, 2001; Blogs et al, 2002). All hand-ins must be independent.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Introductory Dynamics (PHYS08052) OR Mathematical and computational methods in Geophysics (EASC09054) OR Dynamics and Vector Calculus (PHYS08043)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students who don't meet the prerequisites, but are able to manipulate differential equations and have some knowledge of physics (including fundamental conservation laws, ideal gas laws) should get in touch with the course organiser and may be able to take the course.
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  None
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 100 ( Lecture Hours 15, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 1, Supervised Practical/Workshop/Studio Hours 2, Summative Assessment Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 2, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 78 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 80 %, Coursework 20 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Assessment Details

Written Exam: 80%, Course Work: 20 %, Practical Exam: 0%.

Coursework Literature Review

Each student should individually write a 3-page literature survey of the paper and related papers using an 11 point font. The page limit is for everything including references, figures, and captions. Exceeding it will result in a fail (or below) mark for the writing component. Your report should be submitted on Learn as a PDF (deadline Monday of week 11 @ noon) and is assessed (20% of course mark). The report should address the questions: what was done in the paper and related literature (papers referred to by the paper or papers that cite it), how was it done and how does it relate to in the course. Do explicitly address these questions in your report and cite all the literature you reference ideally using Harvard style (for example Blogs, 2000; Blogs & Friend, 2001; Blogs et al, 2002). All reports must be independent.

Exam in May diet, will cover all material in lectures.

Assessment Deadlines

Literature Review Due Monday Week 11, 12noon (Submit via Turnitin)
Exam: In-Person
Feedback Tutorial exercises are given each week for you to solve, with solutions posted on LEARN the week after for you to check their work. Verbal feedback is available after lectures or on appointment. You will receive written feedback on sticky-notes from CO and peers following your group mini presentation, and written feedback with their coursework mark within two weeks of submission.
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S2 (April/May)Physics of Climate2:00
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand how changes in the earth's energy balance cause climate change, and understand the meaning of the term 'Climate sensitivity'
  2. Understand and predict the timescales of seasonal changes in climate, and climate change
  3. Understand how radiation travels through the atmosphere and how it is absorbed, scattered and emitted; and how the atmosphere causes the greenhouse effect
  4. View the climate systems as one which, although it is far too complex to represent exactly in mathematical terms, may nevertheless be modelled using physical principles.
  5. Describe the various types of simple and some specialised climate models and understand the uses and limitations of each type. Specifically the student will be familiar with energy-balance models and one dimensional radiative-convective models of the atmosphere. The students will gain some insight into the construction and use of general circulation models of atmosphere and ocean, and of earth system models.
Reading List
Recommended Reading

Essential Reading

The course is not oriented on a single book, and instead relies heavily on printed course notes posted on LEARN. The course draws on the following books:

Andrews, D. (2010): Introduction to Atmospheric Physics, 2nd Edition, Cambridge University Press. (This text covers much but not all of the material)

Recommended Reading

McGuffie and Henderson-Sellers (2005): A Climate Modelling Primer, Third Edition, John Wiley & Sons.

IPCC (2013): Climate Change 2013 - The Physical Science Basis. Cambridge University Press Full text at Excellent for state of science, but doesn't provide background.

Further Reading

Perrehumbert (2010) Principles of Planetary Climate, Cambridge University Press. A very well written book but covers much more than the course does.

Taylor, F. (2005): Elementary Climate Physics, ISBN is 0 19 856733 2 (hardback) 0 19 856734 0 (paperback) -- good on radiation transfer.

D. L. Hartmann (2016): Global Physical Climatology, 2nd Edition. Elsevier, 485 pp.

Peixoto, J. and Oort, A. (1992): Physics of Climate, AIP. Comprehensive and lucid account of climate physics, with strong emphases on real world observations and rigorous mathematical treatment.

Wallace, J. M and Hobbs, P (2006): Atmospheric Science. Academic Press. Not same emphasis as in lectures but very well done and lots of relevant material
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Additional Class Delivery Information 2 one-hour lectures per week
Course organiserDr Massimo Bollasina
Tel: (0131 6)51 3464
Course secretaryMr Johan De Klerk
Tel: (0131 6)50 7010
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