Overview & Introduction


Overview & Introduction

The Physics of Climate

Michael Wiescher

NSH 181



Additional speakers

to be identified!

Michael Wiescher

Alex Long

NSH 181





16 class participants


16 students & 16 projects

1 David Thomas Brouch SC ROS2/SCBU

2 Joseph Cruz Chavarria SC SCPP/ECON

3 Jessica Ann DeLalio SC SCBU

4 Michael Clark Dore SC SCBU

5 Erin Margaret Doyle SC BIOS

6 Andrew Schiller Ea SC SCPP

7 Carlton John Fernandes SC SCBU

8 Samantha Marie Genovese SC SCPP

9 Jeffrey Charles Grant AL HIST/RU

10 Savannah Meredith Hayes SC SCPP

11 Patrick Michael Kozak SC SCBU

12 Grayson Theodore Nowak SC PHYS

13 Jessica Marie Pearson SC MATH/CHEM

14 Mason Mary Perkins SC SCBU

15 Michael Andrew Stecyk SC CHEM

16 Zachary James Suriano SC ES

Drastic Climate Change

determined by :

Cl d f ti

energy absorption

and emission

Earth Climate

Cloud formation,


and ice

energy exchange

through convective

and radiative processes

Ocean currents

salinity and circulation

The Sun

‣ Solar energy production

‣ Energy emission

‣ Sunspot activities

‣ Long term evolution

‣ Energy absorption

‣ Spectral absorption

‣ Energy reflection

‣ Energy loss


Earth’s energy budget


Spectral absorption


‣ Thermal structure of atmosphere

‣ Chemical composition of atmosphere

‣ Chemistry of atmosphere

‣ Greenhouse effect

Atmospheric Motion

Origin and role of trade winds

and jet cycles

‣ Winds

‣ Storms

‣ Tornados

Condensation and Cloud Formation

Cumulus clouds Cumulonibus clouds Cirrus clouds Stratus clouds

Chemistry of the atmosphere

Dust and Aerosols

‣ Scattering of sun light

‣ Absorption of energy

‣ Chemical modification

Historic evidence of sulfuric

acid emission in Greenland

and Antarctic ice cores

20% natural sources

Krakatau eruption 535-536 AD

(volcanoes, hot sulphuric springs)

80% anthropogenic sources

(traffic, industrial pollution)

Krakatau eruption 535-536 AD

According to ancient records

“Pustaka Raya Purwa” splitting

Sumatra and Java!

“There was a sign from the

sun, the likes of which have

never be seen or reported

before. The sun became dark

and the darkness lasted for 18

months. Each day it shown for

about 4 hours and still this

light was only a feeble


John of Ephesus,

Bishop of Syria




3 H










Conversion of ejected gaseous SO 2 into H 2 SO 4

within six months

Increase of stratosphere temperature by ~4 o ,

decrease of temperature in hemisphere by ~0.2 o .

Ocean and Climate

‣ Heat storage

‣ Heat transport

‣ Salinity

‣ Hydrological cycle

‣ Carbon cycle

‣ Coupling ocean atmosphere

The Ocean Conveyor Belt

Ocean Currents

Wind driven surface water currents

Primary Forces

‣ Solar heating

‣ Wind

‣ Gravity

‣ Coriolis

Thermohaline circulation

Motors of the conveyor belt

10 o C 3 o C

Why does water with high salinity sink?

Why is Atlantic salinity locally higher

than the salinity of other oceans?

Salinity in grams of salt

per kg of water

Green House effect

Radiation Loss Imaging

(Atmospheric Infra-Red Sounder AIRS)

The Carbon Cycle

The CO 2 Distribution


The Milanković cycle –

periodic natural variability

Periodic warm and cool periods (ice

ages) are explained by Milancović

as collective effects of eccentricity,

tilt and precession of earth’s axis!

Non‐periodic changes: the little ice age

Climate Records in Corals and Tree Rings

Rings provide isotope & geochemical

tracers of climate and human impact!

Low salinity

Climate Records in Ice Cores

Greenland Ice Core Project (GRIP) is a European funded initiative, which

obtained a 3029m deep ice core (down to the bedrock) covering about 100,000

years of climate past! Byrd Station refers to a research station established by the

United States in Antarctica, the Byrd core was 2164m to the bedrock.

Analysis of isotope ratios


O, 13 C etc


SO 2

CO 2

Dust, particles, ashes

Climate History and paleoclimates

Climate Modeling

Climate change and

climate engineering

Climate change indicators

Increase in greenhouse gas emission

Increase in CO 2 concentration

Global temperature increase

Increase in heat waves and drought

Change of precipitation rate

Decline of arctic sea ice area

Decline of high altitude glaciers

Carbon sequestration

CO 2 capture

Ocean iron fertilization

Solar radiation management

Stratospheric sulfur aerosols

Space mirrors

Cloud reflectivity enhancements


Summary of class topics

1. Solar radiation and the earth's energy budget

2. Radiative and convective energy transfer

3. Atmosphere and climate

4. Clouds and aerosols

5. Ocean and climate

6. Greenhouse effect

7. Ozone layer

8. History of the earth climate

9. Climate observations

10. Climate models

11. Climate change and climate engineering

12. Consequences of climate change


Class Prerequisites

Math 10360 or 10560, & Physics concepts

Class Content

The course will focus on the description and analysis of the underlying physical and chemical processes

that define the earth climate. The course will present a short overview of the climate history of our planet

as indicated by modern techniques of climate recording.

Climate depends critically on the overall energy budget, which is balanced by solar energy and the

physical and chemical absorption and reflection processes in our oceans and atmosphere. The physics

and chemistry of these processes and the impact on climate balance and weather patterns will be

discussed. Global climate predictions require extensive mathematic modeling techniques. The underlying

principles will be presented.

The course will address questions related to observational evidence and possible consequences for

natural and anthropogenic climate change. This part will be discussed in student presentations.

Class Projects

Anthropogenic Climate Changes

1. The economic consequences and opportunities of climate change

2. Agriculture in Mesopotamia

3. Abandonment of Maya Cities

4. The large Midwest forest clearing

5. Industrial revolution and the impact on global climate

6. Nuclear testing in the 1950‐1960ies and the impact on the atmosphere

7. Consequences of tropical deforestation

8. Urban heat islands

Natural Climate Changes

9. Isotope Geology and the mapping of Earth’s climate

10. Chicxulub and the death of dinosaurs

11. Volcano eruptions and the consequences for global temperature

12. Sahara in pre‐historic times

13. The role of the Amazon jungle for global climate

14. Noah’s Flood

15. The little ice age and consequences for medieval life

16. The expansion of the Sahel zone

Textbook & grade information


F. W. Taylor, Elementary Climate Physics, Oxford University Press, 2005,

ISBN 0 19 8567340

Supplementary Reading Material

J. Marshall & R. A. Plumb, Atmosphere, Ocean, and Climate Dynamics, , Elsevier, 2008,

ISBN‐13 978‐0‐12‐558691‐7

N. Mason & P. Hughes, Introduction to Environmental Physics, Taylor & Francis, 2002,

ISBN 0 7484‐0765‐0

J. P. Peixoto & A.H. Oort, Physics of Climate, AIP & Springer Verlag, 1992,

ISBN 0 88318‐712‐4

K. E. Trenberth, Climate System Modeling, Cambridge University Press, reprint 2009,

ISBN 978‐0‐521‐12837‐7

Class Grades

Weekly quizzes 10%; Homework 25%; Midterm Exam 30%;

2 class room group presentations each 15%; participation 5%

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