Where Can I Learn Key Concepts In Climate Science?

This stratified silt deposit represents seasonal deposition of fine particles into Glacial Lake Thompson. Climate science on paleoclimates could focus on this type of deposit to learn more about past climates.

Have you seen a documentary about climate change and the impact it’s having in communities around the world? If so, you likely understand how the greenhouse effect works. You’ve probably also seen important climate science graphs that reflect how much carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere or the rate of retreat for many of the world’s largest glaciers.

But how do people who practice climate science come up with and make sense of these graphs? The following free online courses provide insight into key concepts in climate science. Each course is self-paced and developed by experts in the field.

  1. Climate Change: The Science | Available on the University of British Columbia’s edX platform, this course is taught by oceanographer and paleoclimate expert Dr. Sara Harris. Topics covered:
    • carbon and energy flows
    • climate modelling
    • climate history
    • forecasting
  2. Introductory e-Course On Climate Change | This course is offered through One UN Climate Change Learning Partnership. You’ll need to set up an account to take this course, but it’s free and takes under a minute. The e-course is broken down into six two-hour segments, the first of which deals with climate science. But why not take part in the entire course? Topics covered:
    • climate science
    • climate policy
    • climate change adaptation
    • climate change mitigation
    • climate finance

    Those who complete this course are awarded a certificate.

  3. Atmosphere, Ocean and Environmental Change | Offered by Yale’s Dr. Ronald Smith, this is a full length course that goes into greater detail on the natural laws that effect Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. This course can be downloaded through the iTunes U app. Topics covered:
    • introduction to atmospheres
    • retaining an atmosphere
    • perfect gas law
    • vertical structure of the atmosphere
    • Earth systems analysis
    • greenhouse effect
    • hydrostatic balance
    • horizontal transport
    • water in the atmosphere
    • clouds an precipitation
    • coriolis force
    • convective storms
    • frontal cyclones
    • seasons
    • ocean bathymetry
    • ice
    • evidence for climate change
    • ocean currents
    • global warming
    • climate sensitivity and human populations
    • energy resources
    • renewable energy

Are there other courses you’d recommend to the online community? Which topics do you look forward to learning more about?

5 Star Wars / Exoplanet Climate Connections You May Have Missed

An image of planet Tatooine from Star Wars.

This year I studied climate with a professor who liked to use examples from exoplanets to help students learn key concepts in climate science. Star Wars introduces over 750 planets several of which we know the climates of. What are the top five climate connections you may have missed?  Read on to find out.

  1. Planets with oxygen-filled atmospheres and life possess a variety of climate zones and would not be all swamp or desert as Dagobah and Tatooine.  See “Hey, What’s Up With The Planets In Star Wars?” by Leslie Pitt for analysis from volcanologist Dr. Andrews and astrophysicist Dr. Carpineti.
  2. Dr. Andrews and Dr. Carpineti discuss how it would be unrealistic for a life-supporting planet’s surface to be all desert or all swamp, but Climate Central points out that an all ice-covered planet can exist. See Climate Central‘s take in “The Star Wars Universe & Planetary Climates.”
  3. A planet’s atmosphere is responsible for whether it has colourful sunsets. The colourful sunsets we’re used to on Earth arise from light scattered by the particles that make up the atmosphere. NASA scientists ponder what sunset on a Star Wars universe planet could look like in “Are Star Wars-like planets really out there?
  4. It’s hard to say how water would remain available to support life on a desert planet, but astrophysicist Dr. Greg Laughlin believes a planet like Tatooine would be more resilient to climate change than an ocean planet like Earth because its water-free surface would not be as good at trapping incoming solar radiation as our planet is. See more in Wired‘s “Could the Planets in Star Wars Actually Support Life?
  5. Molecular biologist Dr. David Ng has painstakingly crafted a “Tatooine Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” (IPCC) report, in part as a pedagogical tool, but also to help inspire us all to pay attention to IPCC reports about our own planet.  When’s the last time you had a look at the latest on our changing climate?