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Climate Hustle

Science of Climate Change online class starting next week on Coursera

Posted on 17 October 2013 by David Archer

This is a repost (with a few amendments) of a post by David Archer at Real Climate.

Maybe you remember the rollout a few years ago of Open Climate 101, a massive open online class (MOOC) that was served sort of free-range from a computer at the University of Chicago. Now the class has been entirely redone as Global Warming: The Science of Climate Change within the far slicker Coursera platform. Beginning on October 21, the class is free and runs for 8 weeks. The videos have been reshot in a short and punchy (2-10 minute) format, for example here (8:13). These seem like they will be easier to watch than traditional 45-minute lectures from a classroom. It’s based on, and will show you how to play with, all-new on-line computer models, including extensive new browsing systems for global climate records and model results from the new AR5 climate model archive, an ice sheet model you can clobber with slugs of CO2 as it evolves, and more. Come and watch the train wreck join the fun!

Course content

The class follows the general structure of Open Climate 101, based on the textbook Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast. This is class about science, but it is intended to be understandable by people without a strong science background.

Weeks 1-4 start from the very simplest model for the temperature of a planet, and build a picture of the complexity of the real climate system on Earth, with the greenhouse effect and climate feedbacks.

Weeks 5-6 consider the past and future carbon cycle.

Weeks 7-8 explain where we are and what can be done.

New On-line Climate Stuff

Coursera seems like a powerful medium for teaching any topic. But my class in particular is like no other Coursera class that I’ve heard of, in that it offers a suite of on-line interactive models that you can see here. They are always up and publicly available, so you teachers can throw students at them, no problem.

A time-series browser provides access to the GHCNM (NOAA link is currently shut down) global meteorological station monthly mean temperatures (7169 stations), and global glacier length records (472 records). These records can be compared with climate model results from the new AR5 model results, extracted from their grids. There are 12 different models and four scenarios, including Historical, HistoricalNat (natural-only), RCP2.6 (an optimistic ramping-down scenario), and RCP8.5 (less optimistic). This is a very open-ended system; my intent is to allow students to investigate a topic of their own devising, which they will write up and submit to grading by other students, a bit of Coursera wizardry.

An AR5 output mapper makes colored maps of output from climate models, including 3-D atmospheric temperature, specific humidity, cloud fraction, and 2-D fields of precipitation, soil moisture, runoff, leaf area index, and snow cover. These are monthly mean values from the Historical then RCP8.5 scenarios. The browser buffers the maps so that you can switch between them quickly, or show them in a slide show or movie. This is only a tiny fraction of the AR5 model respository, but it’s still enough data (about 130 GBytes) that serving this to a large MOOC audience is going to be a challenge.

The time-series browser and the map maker are both designed to be easily extended (by me, not by users). The system takes AR5 netcdf files directly as they download from the CMIP archive, and new climate records can be added to the time-series browser as simple csv format. Maybe Skeptical Science readers or students in the class will have suggestions of what to add (I almost hate to ask!).

A new model for comparing the climate impacts of CO2 and CH4, called the Slugulator, lets you release slugs of either greenhouse gas and compare the antics that ensue. A favorite feature of mine is the comparison of the energy yield from fossil fuels, next to the total greenhouse energy trapped over the lifetimes of the gases.

And we have an interactive ice sheet model, you can clobber with slugs of CO2 (or just drag the temperature around) as it’s running. This comes from Frank Pattyn’s Excel-based GRANTISM, recoded as javascript by Martin O’Leary. I added the replay button and the CO2-clobbertron myself, however.

Plus there are retreads of the old favorites like Modtran, with which you can demonstrate the band saturation effect, Geocarb, which shows the long tail of fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere, and lots more.

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Comments 1 to 5:

  1. To join in on all the interesting ways of presenting interactive information, I have been adding climate models to my environmental context model server:

    This particular example demonstrates how natural fluctuations contribute to the temperature pause.

    Archer has certainly been improving his online apps, as the Modtran interface has gone through an upgrade.    Other good online applications include Climate Explorer, of course the ones here at SkS developed by Kevin, Nick Stokes' Moyhu work,  and WoodForTrees.


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  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for that course. I was a fan of your Modtran model. I'm looking forward to some good in-depth learning of Carbon cycle (i.e. 3 stages of ocean sink as I learned them from Archer 2005) and experimenting with the new models. Perfect content and perfect timing for me.

    Thanks again

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  3. I have watched David Archers original videos of his lectures based on his book.
    I found them very useful in understanding the basics, so I imagine the new course will be just as good with the new materials and additional learning facilities that Coursera enables.

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  4. I'm teaching a section on climate change and the censoring of science in my Theater and Justice Class at John College of Criminal Justice: dramatic readings An Enemy of the People, my play Extreme Whether about climate change scientists and deniers, and Euripides The Bacchae.  I've gathered some basic readings about climate change, but wonder  if you have suggestions.  I would also hope to see climate change and global warming integrated more broadly into (what is left of) The Humanities.

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  5. I think I see a way to improve the lecture a bit:
    The videos (as in the above example tagged: here (8:13) ) which is less than 10 minutes lecture - is a more than 400MB huge *.MOV file.

    Maybe the lecture videos should be added into YouTube-format for easy broadcasting without having to download locally?

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