Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2022/2023

Learning outcomes

Students will acquire knowledge of the various components of the Earth climatic system and the temporal scales of their interactions. They will acquire an understanding of the climate change through worked examples. Outputs of numerical models used for climate projections will be used to illustrate how climate change evolves. The student will be able to assess trends of the climate system.

Course contents

Generality: The purpose of this course is to explore the basic physics of the Earth climate system and its forcing, evaluating the role of each component on climate and its variability. A deep learning of the evolution of the Earth climate is given to understand the ongoing climate change. The students will learn to navigate the intricacies of the earth system, learning the role of atmospheric and ocean circulations, water cycle, greenhouse gases and aerosol, energy balance and solar heating variability, and the complex nature of climate feedback. Students will also learn the effects of natural and anthropogenic forcing on climate, to comprehend the state-of-the-art knowledge on future climatic scenarios.


Module 2: The Earth Climate System

· Introduction to the Earth climate system

  • Overview of climate components
  • The scales of weather and climate
  • Global scale observations

· Observation of the Earth climate

  • The climate observatory
  • History of Earth monitoring
  • Proxy data
  • The problem of climate data quality

· The global energy balance

  • Hints on radiative transfer
  • The energy budget at the top of the atmosphere
  • The energy balance at the surface
  • Energy balance models and greenhouse gases
  • Impacts of clouds and aerosol

· The atmospheric circulation

  • Observations of the global scale circulation
  • Tropospheric motions and meridional energy transport
  • The stratospheric circulation and the stratospheric ozone
  • Tropical and extratropical patterns and climates

· The oceanic circulation

  • Observations of the global scale circulation
  • The wind-driven circulation
  • The thermohaline circulation
  • Atmospheric-ocean coupling and climate

· The Earth cycles

  • The water cycle: surface water storage and runoff
  • The water cycle: precipitation, evaporation, and transpiration
  • The carbon cycle
  • The oxygen cycle

· Climate sensitivity and feedback

  • Definition and simple experiments
  • Example of natural and anthropogenic enhanced feedback

· Statistical methods for climate

  • Principal component analysis and empirical orthogonal functions
  • Stochastic processes
  • Extreme events theory

Module 1: Climate Change

· Natural climate change

  • Natural forcing of climate change
  • Solar cycle
  • Vulcanic eruption and stratospheric aerosol
  • Ice-age theory

· Anthropogenic climate change

  • Anthropogenic forcing of climate change
  • Anthropogenic emissions
  • Land-surface modification
  • Sea-level rise and cryosphere deterioration

· Climate change modelling & The attribution problem

  • Introduction to global and regional climate modelling
  • Emission scenarios
  • Mid and long-term future projections
  • Outlook on the attribution problem: what is causing the climate change? 


Course slides

Dennis L. Hartmann: Global Physical Climatology; Academic Press, (2015). 2nd edition, ISBN: 978-0123285317

Wilks D. S.: Statistical Methods in the Atmospheric Sciences, 3rd Edition (2011)

J. Houghton, Global Warming, The Complete Briefing, 5ed, Cambridge University Press, 2015

Teaching methods

Frontal lectures held in presence. 

Assessment methods

A final exam to verify the students have understand and assimilated the aspects presented in the course.

The final exam will consist of an oral exam where the students will be asked three questions on the argument presented during the course. As a first question, each student can present a topic of her/his choice.

Teaching tools

PC and projector

Office hours

See the website of Natale Alberto Carrassi

See the website of Francesco Barbano