AOSS Climate System Course

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Last Thursday, November 29, 2007, in a meeting concerning the future of AOSS 475 Tamas, asked me to think about a climate system course for AOSS graduate students, with the possibility of doing something next semester, Winter 2008. The meeting included Paul Drake and John Boyd. John will be teaching AOSS 475, concentrating on large scale ocean dynamics, and how the ocean fits into the climate system.

The names that were mentioned by Tamas to help with such a QuikCourse (ol' NASA naming) were Natasha Andronova and Derek Posselt. I have talked with Christiane Jablonowski and more with Tamas Gombosi.

We all agree that there is a need for more climate courses, and atmospheric courses in general, especially at the graduate level. We also all agree that having a professor-driven lecture course in place in a month is impossible. It causes stomach pain, eye twitching, whatever ways we express the anxiety of the impossible. Therefore, the idea of a student-driven, faculty-guided course seems possible.

I have talked with a couple of graduate students, and have sought clarification from Paul Drake and Christiane Jablonowski about what they are hearing from the students. The students seem to be asking, with some urgency, for two courses. One of those courses is a quantitatively based climate course, followed, by a climate modeling course that includes hands on experience with real climate model codes.

Ideas from ad hoc discussions

  • The following ideas have been posed to address the quantitatively based climate course:

1) A seminar course, of faculty lectures on climate subjects selected with intention to cover the elements of the climate system.

2) Team teaching with 4-5 faculty members taking 2-3 week sections.

3) A student-driven course through a textbook, perhaps Piexoto and Oort or Hartmann, with faculty providing integration and the systems part of the climate system. (Or finding the outline of a similar successful course elsewhere and starting with that.)

4) A student-driven course through a set of faculty chosen papers, with faculty providng integration and the systems part of the climate system.

5) Some flavor of integration with Rood's course AOSS 480.

  • Other ideas that have been posed:

1) Setting some standard of lecture preparation and form, for instance like Jablonowski, Posselt and Rood have followed for the undergraduate dynamics sequence, and thereby, generate core material for the second instantiation of the course.

2) Using a wiki to generate lecture notes and "text book" for the course. Contributions by students and faculty.

  • Outline from Natasha Andronova

(1) the Earth's climate system,

(2) the instrumental, historical and geological observations of the present and past climates of the Earth,

(3) the theories of the causes of past, present and potential future climates,

(4) the development of mathematical climate models to quantitatively simulate and understand climate and climate change;

(5) the results of such climate model simulations.

    • The following ideas have been raised to address the climate modeling course:

1) Understand more broadly how this builds or follows from AOSS 410.

2) Identification of existing courses, ?MATH 572? is often menetioned, that could be put together for those interested in hard-core numerical modeling.

3) Development of a model-based course integrated with 1 and 2.

4) Coordination with, for example, NCAR, which is considering developing a summer course to meet a growing community demand for such a course.

5) Ideas that parallel the quantitatively based climate course mentioned above.

Analysis from the ad hoc discussions

There are two possibilities.

To try to do the course.

To not do the course and shoot for next year. (Tamas assures us that this is an okay answer.)

To try to do the course

The idea that seems to have floated to the top as optimal is the following.

  1. Require prerequisites of atmospheric dynamics and radiative transfer.
  2. Use AOSS 480, and divide that into two sections. One section will be the AOSS students who want the physical climate course. The second section will be the business, policy, etc., students who want the intersection with the rest of society course. All students would meet together the first six weeks and get a non-mathematical systems view of the climate, as well as exposure to the core issues of climate change.
  3. After 6 weeks the sections split and the science students pursue a student-driven course through a textbook, perhaps Piexoto and Oort or Hartmann, with faculty providing integration and the systems part of the climate system. (Or finding the outline of a similar successful course elsewhere and starting with that.)

The topics in the course would include

  • Solar variability and solar-terrestrial interaction.
  • Atmospheric general circulation
  • Ocean general circulation
  • Cryospheric physics
  • Land-surface physics
  • Surface atmospheric interaction
  • Role of water in the climate system
  • Cloud radiative feedback

Since the texts have some age on them, it would perhaps be useful to design the lectures, lecture topics to have both a fundamentals part as well as an update of issues associated with each a particular discipline topic ... I am thinking, especially, the melting of ice.

Maintain some rigor in format and content of presentations to use as a core to build the course.

Reference materials

Scanned table of contents

Piexoto and Oort Physics of Climate Table of Contents

Hartmann Physical Climate Table of Contents

IPCC Physical Climate Documents

IPCC Working Group I: The Scientific Basis

Community Climate System Model (CCSM)

CCSM Homepage

CCSM Documentation

Links to Courses

Caltech Climate Courses

Caltech Climate Course 1

Caltech Climate Course 2

Caltech Climate Course 3

Colorado State University General Circulation Course

MS Level General Circulation Course

Link's to Rood's Courses

AOSS 480 ("Rood's Policy Course")

AOSS Dynamical Meteorology

Paul Drake's notes from curriculum discussion

Based on the discussion at the last faculty meeting, led by Allison Steiner, I will make the following motions at the Friday Nov. 16 meeting. If you are unable to attend and wish to vote, please let Kristi Hansen know who has your proxy.

 Motions (for discussion and vote at the Nov. 16 faculty meeting)

1. Eliminate course 5xx from row 2 of the AOSS graduate program structure. Discussion: While many students should take statistics, it seems likely to remain impractical for us to offer such a course. Even if we did, it is not clear that it ought to be required of all atmospheric grad students.

2. Eliminate row 3 from the graduate program structure, replacing it with a requirement that all Ph.D. students take 3 additional AOSS courses relevant to their research, and list the other courses that we offer with "example program electives" on the chart. Discussion: The present structure is needlessly complex and not necessarily appropriate for each and every student. We should independently discuss whether to adopt a total hours requirement, but that is not part of the present motion.

3. Agree to distribute the undergraduate tech com requirement across the undergraduate curriculum to reflect current practice. Discussion: We already have requirements in most undergraduate courses that are relevant to the tech com requirement, and it is more appropriate for the students to develop their skills in this area over several courses. Thus, this change makes sense independently of other considerations regarding AOSS 475. It is not the best approach to place the entire tech com burden on that one course.

Item for discussion but most likely not any votes

The discussion regarding AOSS 475 did not converge at the last meeting and this represents a challenge for the graduate program. At present, our graduate students have no place to obtain a mathematical and conceptual study of the integrated climate system, with links to related phenomenology. We need to discuss whether 475 can be turned into a course that can address both the undergraduate needs and provide a useful and quantitative introduction to the climate system for graduate students. If this cannot be done, we need to develop a strategy to address these needs in separate courses, including a decision about what course we are going to drop in order to fit in a new course for this purpose.


From Xianglei (Extract from email)

One question: if our goal is to give the first-year grad (or even senior undergraduate) a full (or comprehensive) view of the climate system, is a one-semester course enough? Hartmann's book is quite dense, hard to go in depth within one semester. Meanwhile, both Hartmann's book and Peixoto&Oort's book were written a decade ago. They do not have enough emphasis on aerosols, global biogeochemistry (e.g. carbon cycle), and land-atmosphere interactions, topics worthy to be introduced to students. If we are to cover Hartmann's book plus these topics in one semester, it would be a very packed agenda.

   The gradschool I attended has a 3-term course with similar objectives.

(see links above)

From Joyce (Extract from email)

... but if we want to do this next term, I think a good course might be to have students read and summarize the IPCC report. The report certainly is up to date, and it is possible for even undergrads to understand it (though I'm not sure I would use it in a class with both grads and undergrads). This could be a great student-lead course.

(see link above)

Comments from Chris Poulsen

Both graduate courses, the climate system and modeling courses, are badly needed and represent big holes in the UM climate science curriculum. I will gladly encourage my graduate students to enroll and am happy to help in any way possible.

In the short term (next semester), I like Joyce's idea of reading and summarizing the IPCC report. But, ultimately, I don't think the IPCC report is sufficiently rigorous or detailed to provide graduate students with the type of climate background that they need. I also don't think this course should try to cater to undergrads and grads. AOSS 321 is shaping up to be an undergraduate-level climate dynamics course. The need is really at the graduate level.

Unfortunately, in my experience, there are no good texts to follow at the into-graduate level. In principle a team taught course would be great, but in practice it is hard to pull off well. Despite my dour tone, I think a team effort is probably worth a shot, particularly if it were to develop into a package of course notes.