97938 - The Climate System: Components

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course, the students will know the fundamental physical processes that govern the earth system in all its components (atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and the solid earth).

Specifically, the students:

  • will understand the general structure of the atmosphere, of the oceans and of the solid earth;
  • will know the main features of the general circulation of the atmosphere and the oceans;
  • will know the main physical-chemical characteristics of seawater and the ocean distribution;
  • will understand the physical mechanisms explaining ocean currents and their relationship with regard to the meridonal differential heating;
  • will know the role of the ocean in redistributing energy in the earth system and influence regional climates;
  • will know the oceanic variability from the seasonal to the decadal timescale;
  • will know the key features of the earth’s structure e will be able to qualitatively the inner dynamics of our planet;
  • will know the main components of the cryosphere and its interactions with the solid earth and oceans at different timescales.

Course contents

1. The atmosphere 

· The climate system and the role of the atmosphere; weather and climate; historical evolution of the atmospheric observations; history of weather forecasts and climate modeling.

· How to describe the atmosphere: coordinates and physical variables; main physical-chemical characteristics of air; vertical and horizontal structure; water and the hydrological cycle; numerical weather forecast; climate projections; foundamental equations of the atmosphere.

· General circulation of the atmosphere and energy transport; Hadley cell and the tropical circulation (ITCZ, monsoons); effect of the Earth’s rotation and the Coriolis force; tropical and extratropical cyclones.

2. The oceans 

· The role of the ocean in the climate system; historical evolution of ocean observation and modelling; practical applications of numerical modelling of the ocean; sea water composition; spatial distribution and vertical structure of the world’s oceans.

· Oceanic circulations: surface and deep currents; differential heating between equator and poles; physical mechanisms behind surface and deep currents.

· The ocean as a heat storage; heat redistribution within the climate system; ocean-atmosphere interactions and local and regional climates; ocean variability from seasonal to decadal timescales; the phenomenon of El Niño; anthropogenic effects on the ocean.

3. The cryosphere and the Solid Earth

· The cryosphere and its components; evolution of the cryosphere in the recent geological history of the Earth; sea ice and land ice;  glaciers and ice caps; the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets;  equivalent sea level.

· The internal structure of the Earth and its large scale dynamics;  plate tectonics; rheological behaviour of geophysical materials; global and regional deformations of the solid Earth and their observations by means of geodetic techniques.

· Interactions between the cryosphere, the solid Earth and the hydrosphere; eustatic and glacio-hydro-isostatic variations of sea level; sea level since the last glacial maximum; methods for the observations of sea-level change; sea level in the future.


1. The atmosphrere 


2. The ocean 


3. The cryosphere and the solid Earth.

Office hours

See the website of Giorgio Spada

See the website of Salvatore Pascale

See the website of Giovanni Liguori