Spring 2021

Climate Dynamics: Past, Present, and Future

Listed in: Geology, as GEOL-331


Nicholas D. Holschuh (Section 01)


The basic controls on Earth’s climate are simple. We take in light energy from the sun, we radiate that energy through our atmosphere back into space, and the balance of inputs and outputs sets our surface temperature. Thus, changes in solar radiation, Earth’s orbital dynamics, and atmospheric chemistry can explain the large-scale climate changes throughout Earth’s history. But the details that matter to individual cities, countries, species, are much more complicated -- the atmosphere and ocean, engines driven by energy from the sun, work to distribute heat around the globe and control regional climate. Thus, physical models of the ocean and atmosphere are important in characterizing modern and past change. Independent of climate models, much of our understanding of climate dynamics comes from the paleoclimate record: physical and chemical proxies, preserved in geologic materials, that tell the story of Earth’s past. In this class, we explore the processes that control Earth’s climate, identify the tools we use to understand the climate of the past, and contextualize modern change using the geologic record.

GEOL 331 will be conducted in the “hyflex” format, including both synchronous and asynchronous material, with lectures recorded and provided for asynchronous viewing. Lab activities will be synchronous, and involve the interpretation of modern and paleoclimate data, execution (if possible) and evaluation of fluid dynamics experiments, and calculations using simple climate models. The course will also involve discussion and group work, independently scheduled among small groups.

Requisite: GEOL 112 or 121 or CHEM 151 or PHYS 116 or consent of the instructor. Spring semester.


Lab Science Course, Quantitative Reasoning


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2021