12.842 | Fall 2008 | Graduate

Climate Physics and Chemistry


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 3 sessions / week, 1 hour / session

Course Description

This course introduces students to climate studies, including beginnings of the solar system, time scales, and climate in human history. It also talks about:

  • methods for detecting climate change, including proxies, ice cores, instrumental records, and time series analysis
  • physical and chemical processes in climate, including primordial atmosphere, ozone chemistry, carbon and oxygen cycles, and heat and water budgets
  • internal feedback mechanisms, including ice, aerosols, water vapor, clouds, and ocean circulation
  • climate forcing, including orbital variations, volcanism, plate tectonics, and solar variability
  • climate models and mechanisms of variability, including energy balance, coupled models, and global ocean and atmosphere models

This course meets with graduate subject 12.842 (Climate Physics and Chemistry), but assignments differ.


3.091 Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry, or 5.111 Principles of Chemical Science, or 5.112 Principles of Chemical Science, and 18.03 Differential Equations


  1. Overview. Overview of the Entire Course, including descriptive aspects of present climate system to the paleorecord to problem of seeing trends in observations to modeling issues.
  2. Paleorecord. Evolution of the earth, ocean, atmosphere, and life. Climate history through geologic time. Carbon and carbonate-silicate cycles. Greenhouse gases. Tectonics. Orbital forcing. Oxygen and carbon isotopes. Sediment and ice cores. Abrupt climate change.
  3. Atmospheric chemical cycles. Composition and evolution through time. Methane. Feedbacks.
  4. Ocean chemical role. Carbon cycle, revelle factor, etc. biological pump. Gas exchange process. Solubility pump.
  5. Tectonic contributions. Determination of continental movement. Plate tectonic mechanisms and inferences. Interpretation of sealevel curves.
  6. Interpretation. Time series and statistical inference.
  7. Radiative equilibrium models. Radiative/convective equilibrium. Zonally symmetric circulations. Entropy budget.
  8. Ocean circulation issues. Convective processes. Mixing. Stommel/arons. Eddy problem. Wind-driven and buoyancy driven circulations. Ocean heat budget.
  9. Climate feedbacks and climate models. Basic atmospheric models. Ocean processes. Upwelling diffusion models. Coupled box models. GCMs.
  10. The Water cycle.

Homework and Project

There are 4 homework assignments and each student will be asked to do a term project. Reporting on the term projects will take place at the end of the term in both written (no more than 10 pages) and oral presentation (about 20 minutes). Oral presentation is optional for undergraduate students.


Homework 50%
Term project 50%

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets
Lecture Notes