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2017/18 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

SOEE5540M Climate Change: Physical Science Basis

15 creditsClass Size: 30

Module manager: Prof Piers Forster

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2017/18

This module is approved as an Elective

Module summary

This module introduces the students to the physical science base on climate change. The module includes sessions on the global climate system, carbon cycle, radiative forcing, past climates, climate modelling, climate predictions, and the handling of uncertainty in climate change research. The module lays down the foundation for literacy in the physical science base on climate change, which is important for understanding climate mitigation and adaptation. It is useful for professionals, policy makers and academics alike. It also strengthens the students' ability to engage in further climate change related studies for example in the writing of a thesis.


On completion of this module, students should be familiar with and understand the key issues in the physical science base on climate change. The module provides a critical analysis and strengthens the students' ability to interpret and analyse environmental issues that they will encounter as part of their studies or professional or academic career.

The course in particular encourages students to critically assess the state of climate change science for themselves, developing their understanding from first principals. It brings in and discusses topical research ensuring that it is based in a wider background understanding of the science. It develops a scientific evaluation of the research that is free from value-judgments.

The course lays down the foundation for literacy in climate change science, which is essential for academics as well as practitioners, policy makers at all levels of policy making. The module also strengthens the students' ability to engage in further climate change related work in the writing of a thesis, for example.

Learning outcomes
The students should develop knowledge of the background physical basis of global climate change.

Key understanding of:
- the greenhouse effect
- the causes of climate change
- how the Earth responds to these causes
- the components involved in Earth System modelling
- the causes of past changes in climate and the role of human emissions.

They should be able to assess popular articles in the press and online for their scientific merits.

Skills outcomes
- Disseminate and critique literature on the science climate change.
- Ranking potential causes of climate change and the degree of risk for various outcomes.
- Framing credible climate change arguments using physics and literature sources.


1. Course Introduction
2. Introduction to Global Climate Change
3. The Global Climate System: The greenhouse effect
4. Observations of Climate Change
5. Atmospheric Composition Changes and Radiative Forcing
6. Past Climates and Paleoclimatology
7. Modelling Climate I: climate sensitivity and feedback
8. Modelling Climate II: global and regional climate models
9. Modelling Climate III: socio-economic scenarios
10. Detection, Attribution and Uncertainty
11. Climate Change Projections and Mitigation

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Computer Class81.008.00
Class tests, exams and assessment31.002.50
Private study hours127.50
Total Contact hours22.50
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)150.00

Private study

The students are expected to prepare for each lecture by reading 3-6 core assigned texts and/ or research articles so that they will be able to participate in discussion and group work in lectures and in seminars (10 x 4 hours).

The course assessment will also involve the writing of two written assignments in the form of computer practical laborartory report write ups (2 x 44 hours)

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

- Formative feedback provided during seminars starting in week 1.
- Summative feedback in the form of a 2,000 word computer practical and report write up, set in week 3, returned in week 9.
- Summative feedback on 3,000 word computer practical adn report write up as a short research paper - set in week 5, returned after Christmas.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Computer ExerciseDetection and attribution: Computer Practical and report write up40.00
Computer ExerciseClimate Projection: Computer Practical and report write up as a short research paper60.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Resits will be arranged for the essay on an individual basis.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 17/08/2016


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