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Geography 416 Global Warming/Climate Change

Fall 2012 
Class No. 11910
Tues, Thurs, 4:00 – 5:15 p.m.    
Sierra Hall 103
Office Hours: TTh. 1:00 p.m.– 2:00 p.m.


Dr. Helen Cox
Office: Sierra Hall 130K
phone: (818) 677-3512 or 7710


To educate the student about the climate of the Earth and the processes that shape its evolution. Global warming refers to contemporary changes to the surface temperature of the Earth which are occurring in large part due to changes in the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere as a result of our consumption of fossil fuels. We will examine the science behind this, evidence for warming, and projections for the future. We will learn about current legislation for limiting carbon emissions, what this means for industry and for ourselves, and how carbon emissions (‘footprints’) are determined.
We will learn about evidence for climate change from both in-situ and satellite data, and how satellite data can be used to examine changes to the global environment as a result of climate change. Students will gain hands-on experience working with NASA satellite data to explore these changes.
Since greenhouse gas emissions are largely the result of energy consumption, mitigating climate change depends on our ability to reduce the use of energy and/or find alternative sources for that energy. Students will learn about our energy consumption, where our energy comes from and the extent to which our needs can be met by renewable energy sources.


We will cover the following broad topic areas in this course. 

  • What controls our temperature?
    • the sun
    • atmospheric constituents
    • the earth’s surface
    • the ocean
  • Climate history of the earth
    • 4.6 billion year history
    • the past 600,000 years


  • Global warming
    • observations
    • modeling climate change
    • projections
    • emissions scenarios
    • skeptics
    • policy
    • consequences
  • Satellite data
    • remote sensing of the earth and the atmosphere
    • instruments and satellite data
    • using satellite data to monitor the earth


  • Energy
    • energy consumption
    • sources
    • conventional energy
    • alternative energy
    •  “clean coal”, carbon burial
    • geo-engineering



Class attendance is required. Under no circumstances should students miss more than two classes during the semester. We will be carrying out discussions, exercises and projects in class. It is important that everyone participates. Exam material is taken primarily from the material covered in class with a portion from assigned readings. Students are expected to participate in class, and are expected to arrive at class on time and remain in class for its entire duration. Cell phones must be turned off.


Reading material (articles and reports) will be made available electronically (for downloading and printing). Students are responsible for reading assigned material in preparation for class discussion.

Exams and grading

Grades will be based on two exams, assignments, and a project. Each mid-term exam will be worth 100 points; assignments will be worth 100 points, and the project will be worth 100 points. (The total number of points for the course is 400.)

Tentative dates for the exams are:
Mid-term I: Monday, Oct 4
Mid-term II: Monday, Nov 22

The plus and minus system will be used in awarding grades.
Make-up exams will only be given in exceptional circumstances.  A doctor’s note is required to make-up an exam missed for illness.  No extra-credit is available.

Schedule of classes

The following table shows the tentative schedule of classes (and is subject to change).  Some topics may change, and we may progress faster or slower than this schedule.  If you miss a class please make arrangements with a classmate to obtain class notes.


week 1

Aug 28, 30

What controls our temperature?

Greenhouse effect, feedbacks.

week 2

Sept 4, 6

Climate history of earth.

Carbon cycles.


week 3

Sept 11, 13

Climate history of earth.


week 4

Sept 18, 20

Recent climate change – global warming.

week 5

Sept 25, 27

Observations, models, projections, impacts.


week 6

Oct 2, 4


Public and political opinion

Policy and legislation



week 7

Oct 9, 11

Mid-term exam I

Energy consumption (units, myths, facts)

week 8

Oct 16, 18

(AASHE conference)
Personal energy consumption - assignment

Sources of energy - assignment
week 9 Oct 23, 25

Renewable energy
wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, biofuels, nuclear


week 10

Oct 30, Nov 1

Renewable energy


week 11

Nov 6, 8


Alternative technology


week 12

Nov 13, 15

Monitoring the earth – using satellite remote sensing

Exercise: Carbon emissions from deforestation: Part I

week 13

Nov 20

Nov 22

Mid-term exam II

Thanksgiving break



week 14

Nov 27, 29

Monitoring the earth – using satellite remote sensing
Exercise: Carbon emissions from deforestation: Part II


week 15

Dec 4, 6

(AGU conference)


week 16

Thurs., Dec 13      Final Exam: 5:30 – 7:30 pm. Project presentations

Learning Outcomes and Assessment

Goal A: Knowledge

      Students will understand the climate history of the Earth.
Students will understand the electromagnetic spectrum and the Earth’s energy balance.
Students will understand the greenhouse effect and feedback effects.

  • Assessment/Evaluation tool: assignments, discussions, exams

Students will understand how climate history is measured and how future climate is predicted
Students will understand the utility and limitations of model predictions.
Students will learn to think critically about the data with which they are faced.

  • Assessment/Evaluation tool: assignments, discussions, exams

Students will investigate the consequences of global warming on the environment.
Students will learn about global warming legislation, emissions trading and carbon footprinting.

  • Assessment/Evaluation tool: research, writing, class discussions, exam

Students will research and learn about energy consumption, energy sources, and fuels.
Students will learn about the geography of energy sources.

  • Assessment/Evaluation tool: mapping project, research, writing, presentation.

      Goal B: Acquiring Knowledge

Students will develop skills for acquiring new knowledge.
Students will take comprehensive lecture notes during class.
Students will read journal articles and supplementary material referenced in class.
Students will research material for class discussion and for group project.
Students will learn where and how to access energy data online.

  • Assessment/Evaluation tool: writing assignments, discussions, class exercises, exams.

      Goal C: Problem Solving Skills

Students will demonstrate their ability to apply facts to their understanding of climate change and global warming.
Students will assimilate knowledge from different parts of the course to understand global environmental problems.
Students will apply critical thinking skills to tackle problems posed in class.
Students will apply critical thinking skills to participate in class discussions.
Students will learn to work cooperatively with others in group projects.

  • Assessment/Evaluation tool: class participation and discussion, writing assignments

      Goal D: Communicating Knowledge

Students will communicate the knowledge they have gained to discussing and debating climate change, the factors that control it, and its environmental consequences

  • Assessment/Evaluation tool: class discussion, writing assignments, exams

Useful web pages:

Energy statistics and CO2 emissions from the US government:

Renewable energy data for US at
Available in .pdf (EIA_RenewableEnergyConsumptionData.pdf) or download Excel spreadsheets.

Annual energy review (for US) on all types of energy available in .pdf or .xls from: Includes historical consumption of each type of energy and GHG emissions.

Graph of solar insolation (TOA) wrt latitude and month:

GO HERE for solar energy – kWh/m2/day maps - monthly

Conversion factors:

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how hot is the earth? global ice viewer climate time machine sea level viewer eyes on earth 3D