The class follows the general structure of Open Climate 101, based on the textbook Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast. This is class about science, but it is intended to be understandable by people without a strong science background.
Weeks 1-4 start from the very simplest model for the temperature of a planet, and build a picture of the complexity of the real climate system on Earth, with the greenhouse effect and climate feedbacks.
Weeks 5-6 consider the past and future carbon cycle.
Weeks 7-8 explain where we are and what can be done.
New On-line Climate Stuff
Coursera seems like a powerful medium for teaching any topic. But my class in particular is like no other Coursera class that I’ve heard of, in that it offers a suite of on-line interactive models that you can see here. They are always up and publicly available, so you teachers can throw students at them, no problem.
A time-series browser provides access to the GHCNM (NOAA link is currently shut down) global meteorological station monthly mean temperatures (7169 stations), and global glacier length records (472 records). These records can be compared with climate model results from the new AR5 model results, extracted from their grids. There are 12 different models and four scenarios, including Historical, HistoricalNat (natural-only), RCP2.6 (an optimistic ramping-down scenario), and RCP8.5 (less optimistic). This is a very open-ended system; my intent is to allow students to investigate a topic of their own devising, which they will write up and submit to grading by other students, a bit of Coursera wizardry.
An AR5 output mapper makes colored maps of output from climate models, including 3-D atmospheric temperature, specific humidity, cloud fraction, and 2-D fields of precipitation, soil moisture, runoff, leaf area index, and snow cover. These are monthly mean values from the Historical then RCP8.5 scenarios. The browser buffers the maps so that you can switch between them quickly, or show them in a slide show or movie. This is only a tiny fraction of the AR5 model respository, but it’s still enough data (about 130 GBytes) that serving this to a large MOOC audience is going to be a challenge.
The time-series browser and the map maker are both designed to be easily extended (by me, not by users). The system takes AR5 netcdf files directly as they download from the CMIP archive, and new climate records can be added to the time-series browser as simple csv format. Maybe realclimate readers or students in the class will have suggestions of what to add (I almost hate to ask!).
A new model for comparing the climate impacts of CO2 and CH4, called the Slugulator, lets you release slugs of either greenhouse gas and compare the antics that ensue. A favorite feature of mine is the comparison of the energy yield from fossil fuels, next to the total greenhouse energy trapped over the lifetimes of the gases.
Plus there are retreads of the old favorites like Modtran, with which you can demonstrate the band saturation effect, Geocarb, which shows the long tail of fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere, and lots more.