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2021/22 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

SOEE5540M Climate Change: Physical Science Basis

15 creditsClass Size: 75

Module manager: Piers Forster

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2021/22

This module is not 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 of climate change.
- Assessing potential causes of climate change and the degree of risk for various outcomes.
- Framing credible climate change arguments using physics and literature sources.
- Communication of climate research to different stakeholders, including policymakers and academia


1. Course introduction and history of climate change
2. Observations of climate change
3. Radiative forcing and the greenhouse effect
4. Climate sensitivity and feedbacks
5. Climate models
6. Detection, attribution and uncertainty
7. Palaeoclimate
8. The global carbon cycle
9. Socio-economic scenarios and climate projections
10. Geoengineering and carbon dioxide removal
11. Climate policy and climate metrics

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Computer Class81.008.00
Private study hours128.00
Total Contact hours22.00
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 in lectures and in seminars (10 x 4 hours). There will also be the opportunity to consolidate learning with informal, ungraded quizzes.

The course assessment will also involve the writing of two written assignments. Assignment 1 will be a policy briefing note communicating one area of climate research to an educated non-specialist audience (e.g. a Government department). Assignment 2 is in the form of computer practical laboratory report written up as a Nature Climate Change style research paper (2 x 44 hours).

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

- Formative feedback provided during class discussions starting in week 1. - Formative feedback provided by way of ungraded online multiple-choice quizzes to review learning objectives. - Summative feedback in the form of peer reviewed computer assignment. - Summative feedback on 2,500 word computer practical and report write up as a short research paper - set in week 9, returned after Christmas.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
ReportWrite a short research paper0.00
Computer Exercise2500 Word Computer Practical0.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Repeating the research writeup assessment

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 30/06/2021 16:25:49


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