This course explores the science of climate change. Students will learn how the climate system works; what factors cause climate to change across different time scales and how those factors interact; how climate has changed in the past; how scientists use models, observations and theory to make predictions about future climate; and the possible consequences of climate change for our planet. The course explores evidence for changes in ocean temperature, sea level and acidity due to global warming. Students will learn how climate change today is different from past climate cycles and how satellites and other technologies are revealing the global signals of a changing climate. Finally, the course looks at the connection between human activity and the current warming trend and considers some of the potential social, economic and environmental consequences of climate change.
During each week of this six-week course, participants will utilize essays, multimedia, other websites and online discussion forums to explore a facet of climate science. A weekly case study will focus on contemporary research on some aspect of the climate system. These include biologist Gretchen Hofmann, who studies the effect of ocean acidification on sea urchins; geologist Dorte Dahl-Jensen, who analyzes Greenland ice cores to reconstruct climate history; and meteorologist Alan Robock who investigates the effects of volcanic eruptions, nuclear weapons, and other human activity on the climate system.
Student Learning Outcomes
In this course, students will:
Please refer to the Weekly Schedule below for a detailed outline of the course.
This is a six-week online graduate course with an additional week for assignment completion. The course is asynchronous and does not have specific meeting times. Assignments and discussions change on a weekly basis. Students are expected to complete work within the specific week it is assigned.
For the current schedule of offerings, please visit www.amnh.org/learn/calendar
This graduate course is co-taught by an experienced educator along with a research scientist.
For current instructor information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This course requires the following textbook:
The following textbook is required:
Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future
by Edmond Mathez
Hardcover: 344 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press (1st edition, 2009) ISBN: 0231146426
The following book is strongly recommended:
Climate Change: Picturing the Science
by Gavin Schmidt, Joshua Wolfe, and Jeffrey D. Sachs
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (1st edition, 2009) ISBN: 0393331253
Technical support is available by calling (800) 649-6715 or emailing email@example.com.
The American Museum of Natural History welcomes learners with disabilities into its Seminars on Science program and will make reasonable accommodations for them. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you require information about requesting accommodation services. These services are only available to registered students with documented disabilities. Please submit requests at least two weeks prior to the start of the course.
Assessments are based on a detailed grading rubric developed for this course:
Weekly Overview and Expectations
Week 1: How Does Climate Work?
The course begins with an introduction to the concept of climate as a dynamic Earth system. We will discuss atmospheric and ocean circulation, which determines how heat is transferred across the globe. We then explore the concept of energy balance — how much of the Sun’s energy reaches the Earth, is absorbed, and is reflected back into space – and the greenhouse effect. This week’s case study is about Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer who uses “flotsametrics” and a network of beachcombers worldwide to trace the paths of ocean currents.
Week 2: What Causes Climate to Change?
Many factors influence climate on various time scales, including plate tectonics, Earth’s orbital variations, long- lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, variations in solar luminosity, and volcanic eruptions. This week we examine “drivers” of climate change, with an emphasis on those of the twentieth-century. A case study tells the story of Charles Keeling and his pioneering effort to measure the CO2 content of the atmosphere.
Week 3: How Does the Climate System Respond to Input?
The response of the climate system to changes in radiative forcing will be discussed this week. Also, we review how the carbon cycle works and its fundamental role in the climate system as well as the key role of feedbacks in the climate system. A case study presents Gretchen Hofmann’s work on the effects of changing ocean chemistry on ocean life.
Week 4: How Do We Bring Together Modeling, Theory, and Observation to Understand Cause and Effect?
This week we examine the utility of numerical models in investigating how the climate system works and how it will respond to continued greenhouse gas buildup. We will learn how models are constructed, their inherent reliability, and key factors affecting reliability. Additionally, we will examine how models can help identify the specific forces that caused recent climate change (attribution). A case study describes how meteorologist Alan Robock investigates the effects of volcanic eruptions on the climate system.
Week 5: What Can We Learn From the Past?
Variations in past climates are held in ocean and lake sediment cores, ice cores, corals, tree rings, and other geologic records. We will learn how past climate informs us about how the present climate system works, including the sensitivity of climate to changes in radiative balance.
Week 6: What are the Potential Consequences, Risks, and Uncertainties of Climate Change?
Some of the potential consequences of climate change, such as sea level rise and disruption of the global food supply that could have major negative impacts on humanity are examined this week. We will discuss the uncertainties in how the future may unfold, the important concept of risk as a means of dealing with uncertainty, and the different levels of risk associated with different consequences. This week includes an interview with Dr. James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.