Course Summary

Climate Change

Unit 1- Climate in the Spotlight

This unit is an introduction to Climate Change. It looks at some of the controversy it has caused and introduces the science and observations which led to the realization that our world is warming and that this is probably caused at least in part by human greenhouse gas emissions. It briefly examines the reaction to this recognition and what is being done on the global stage to mitigate the problem.

Unit 2 -The Weather and Climate

This unit looks at meteorology and the distinction between weather and climate. It examines the main drivers of the Earth’s weather systems and the way they are influenced by the heat from the Sun. It examines how weather changes throughout the year and depends on location on the Earth’s sphere. It also looks at the extreme weather events which affect human activities and examines their cost to society.

Unit 3 - The Goldilocks Planet

Here we examine how fortunate the Earth is in terms of its environment and how this is related to climate. We look at the balance between the incident solar radiation and outgoing infrared energy and relate how the complex of interrelated networks of the Earth’s climate system may be viewed in terms of system dynamics.

Unit 4 - Earth's Climate History

What was the ancient climate like and how does it compare with current times? What caused changes in past climates and how do we determine their characteristics? Let us find out.

Unit 5 - Earth's Energy Budget and the Greenhouse Effect

This unit examines the flow of energy to and from the Earth on a global scale. How is the shortwave (visible) energy coming from the Sun balanced by the outflow of infrared energy emanating from the Earth? How is this energy balance affected by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? How sensitive is the Earth’s climate to these energy changes; what global temperature increase or decrease would result from a particular shift in the energy balance?

Unit 6 - Earth's Geochemical Cycles

There are a number of cycles taking place between the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and geosphere which are critical to Earth’s ability to sustain life. The natural carbon cycle exchanges carbon between these four spheres which all contain reservoirs of carbon. The water cycle describes the continuous movement of water above, below and on the Earth’s surface. The nitrogen cycle is the process whereby nitrogen is converted between its various chemical forms in the atmosphere and on the surface. The carbonate-silicate cycle exchanges silicates to carbon during weathering and back to silicates during the subduction process and subsequently ejects it in volcanic eruptions.

Unit 7 - Climate Models and Future Scenarios

In the same way that it is not possible to investigate the internal mechanisms of stars or nuclear explosions in a test room, a planet’s climate cannot be directly simulated in a laboratory. Crucial tools to investigate these phenomena are computer models. These are built using mathematical equations of physics and Earth processes and applying an initial set of conditions to obtain a result of these processes expressed in a computer model. The model may then be refined in an iterative process by comparing the model output to observed values in the real world. Climate modelling allows scientists to answer “what-if” questions and investigate possible future scenarios.

Unit 8 - Climate Change Impacts and Adaption

What are the many impacts of a rise in average temperature of several degrees? Will there be a chain reaction with rising sea levels, ocean acidification, more severe weather systems and changing rain patterns affecting agriculture and biodiversity?
Adaptation seeks to manage the impacts of global warming and reduce the vulnerability of biological and infrastructure impacts such as a policy to build structures on higher ground to circumvent the rise in sea levels.

Unit 9 - Climate Change - Mitigation of Causes

Mitigation deals with the causes rather than the consequences of climate change. What can be done to minimise the amount of global warming by reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses and enhancing the ability of the Earth to absorb carbon dioxide.

Unit 10 - Climate Change - The Future

In this final unit, we look at the state of the climate. What is being done in Australia and around the world to combat climate change? What do climate models predict for future years? What can be done if climate change gets “ugly”? Is “climate change” a reality or just a massive hoax?