12.340 | Spring 2012 | Undergraduate

Global Warming Science



The term project goal is to address the validity of an interesting and controversial issue in climate science, possibly a controversial statement often found in popular literature.

In your essay and presentation, your assignment is to

  1. Present the pro side of the argument.
  2. Present the “con” side of the argument.
  3. Describe the underlying observations and their limitations. Describe the underlying physics. Where applicable, use equations to estimate size of the effect.
  4. Conclude with your own opinion.


You may choose one of the following or choose your own topic with approval from the class instructors (one student per topic)

  1. Water vapor is by far the most important greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. Thus variations in other greenhouse gases, such as CO2, are irrelevant.
  2. Solar variability accounts for much of the climate change that occurred over the past 1000 years and also accounts for most of the warming of the last 150 years.
  3. Global mean temperature peaked in 1998 and has been lower since then. Thus the idea that the earth is warming is a myth.
  4. Although CO2 and temperature are strongly correlated during the great glacial cycles, as revealed by ice core data, most evidence indicates that CO2 follows temperature, so temperature changes cause CO2 changes, not the other way around.
  5. Changes in cloudiness counteract the direct effects of CO2—induced warming.
  6. Most of the observed increase in CO2 was caused by volcanoes.
  7. Mars is warming too. Thus, the warming on Earth is not anthropogenic.
  8. The globe failed to warm, and the northern hemisphere actually cooled, from around 1950 to around 1980, a period during which the concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases increased. So increasing greenhouse gases cannot cause warming.
  9. It was warmer during the medieval warm period than it is today. Thus, the recent warming we have seen is not significant.
  10. Since we can’t predict what the weather will be doing 10 days from now, there is no way to predict climate change.

Guidelines and Deadlines

The term project has two components:

  • Paper: Your term project should be 8 to 10 pages of text (single spaced) not including figures or tables.
  • In-class presentation: 15 minute class presentation (+ 10 minute discussion) during the last week of classes.


The project grade accounts for 40% of the class grade. For the project overall, 40% of the grade will be based on the presentation and 60% on the essay.

Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets
Lecture Notes