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Earth System Science, A Climate Change Perspective: Syllabus

Week 1


Course Introduction & A Moodle Primer

During this week you will learn the features of the courseware system and practice using the Web site. We will explain the basic "flow" of a typical week's activities, how the course will be graded, and how we will seek your input on and feedback related to the course content. You will also install and test required software with our support.

Week 2


The Atmosphere

This week we will study Earth's atmosphere using two specific perspectives: climate change and Earth systems science. We will look at the behavior of the atmosphere in times (such as now, but also at various times throughout our planet's history) of climate change. We will look at how changes in the atmosphere help to drive climate change; we will also discuss the ways in which changing climate affects Earth's atmosphere. Major topics include: greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect, aerosols (small particles, including smoke and soot) in the atmosphere that may scatter sunlight and serve as cloud nucleation particles, and feedback loops in the water cycle during periods of changing climate. Employing an Earth system science perspective, we will also delve into the interactions between the atmosphere and the other "spheres" of the Earth system: the hydrosphere (oceans, lakes, rivers), the cryosphere (ice and snow), the biosphere (living creatures), and the geosphere (rocks and soil).

Week 3


The Hydrosphere

This week we will look at water in the Earth system. As with the atmosphere, we'll focus on the behavior of the hydrosphere in times of climate change and we'll look at interactions between water and other major Earth systems. We'll study ocean circulation; how the oceans store and transfer heat in the Earth system and how major currents are driven by density variations that arise from differences in salinity and temperature. We'll begin to explore the ways ice is involved in climate change: the rate at which melting ice sheets increase sea level and how changes in snow and ice cover alter Earth's albedo and thus its energy balance. We will also briefly touch upon the chemistry of the oceans as it relates to climate change; we'll mention ices called methane hydrates that are embedded in the ocean floor which might trigger a sudden increase in the rate of climate change, and we'll look at ocean acidification and other aspects of the carbon cycle that interact with the oceans. We will continue our study of the water cycle begun in the previous week. Finally, we'll discuss important interactions between the hydrosphere and the atmosphere, cryosphere, biosphere, and geosphere.

Week 4


The Cryosphere

This week we will become familiar with the various parts of the Earth's cryosphere including glaciers, ice shelves, icebergs, sea ice, snow, and permafrost. And we'll explore how this frozen part of the Earth is responding as our planet becomes warmer. The ice melts as the Earth warms, and, because of feedbacks, more warming occurs when there is less ice, compounding the problem. Since this type of global change topic can easily dissolve into a "sky is falling" moment when introduced in the classroom, we will explore and discuss a variety of methods and tools that can facilitate student understanding of sea ice melt and global change.

Week 5


The Biosphere

In this week of the course we will examine the Earth’s biosphere and how changes in the cycling of carbon and nitrogen between the living and non-living parts of the Earth system are changing climate.  We'lll also find out how Earth’s changing climate is affecting aspects of the biosphere. This week’s classroom activity will put your students into the nitrogen cycle, and an online interactive will allow them to surf through the carbon cycle. We will also discuss carbon credits, a topic of current debate among scientists, policymakers, social scientists, and policy makers.

Week 6


The Geosphere

This week we will examine the connections between the geosphere and climate change. We’ll start off with a review of some basics about the geosphere processes through resource readings and a quick quiz about the rock cycle. We will examine this topic from both the perspective of how climate change affects the geosphere and how processes of the geosphere affect climate. We will explore the research of one NCAR scientist who is looking at the correlation between volcanic eruptions, solar variations and the climate shifts during the Little Ice Age. We will test out some classroom activities that bring these topics to students through hands-on learning and assess new articles on geosphere topics.

Week 7


Exam and Synthesis

Climate Discovery, a series of six-week courses for middle and high school educators. The course offerings include:

What is an NCAR Online Education course?

The online courses, instructed by science education specialists, incorporate information about state-of-the-art research and modeling efforts of nationally renowned climate scientists with classroom-tested science inquiry activities. All activities are classroom-ready. The online course experience features a high level of interactivity, tools for assessment, and effective community-building interactive technologies.