GEOL 437
Global Climate Change
Spring 2014

last updated May 15, 2014
This course will next be offered in Spring 2016
(check back frequently and reload cached pages for updates)

Schedule Policies

Click for options and more information

<1976-2000> - <1951-1975> NCEP-NCAR Reanalysis surface T (colors),
pressure (contours), winds (vectors); click on  figure for data sources

"Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get" -- Robert A. Heinlein

But the climate itself is subject to change.  How has climate changed in the past?  How are these changes similar to and different from forecasted human-forced climate change?  How sensitive is the climate to such forcings, and can the paleorecord be used to measure that sensitivity?  

We will address these questions by reviewing the processes by which modern climate varies, and by analyzing the record of climate change.  In the process we will learn about, compare and employ results from historical data analysis, proxy paleoclimatology, and global coupled climate model simulations.  Class sessions will be divided among instructor-led lectures on relevant fundamentals, and student-led parsing of classic and current topical literature.  Assignments will include short weekly homework assignments, a final project, and a final exam.


By the conclusion of the semester, students should be able to:

  1. Link the primary features of climate variability at resolutions of 100 to 106 years with their underlying mechanisms.  
  2. Compare the hypothesized processes of pre-anthropogenic and anthropogenic climate change.
  3. Develop and defend opinions on the sensitivity of climate to natural and anthropogenic forcing.
And will have practiced the following skills:
  1. Interpretation of climate data, proxy climate observations, and general circulation modeling results.
  2. Formulation, presentation, defense and discussion of a scientific argument.



Instructor: Michael Evans , Department of Geology and ESSICChemistry Bldg (#091), Rm. 1212B.  ph 301-405-8763;  email:

Office hours: Tues 12:15-1:15pm (right after class), or by appointment (email me), location: Geology Bldg, Rm. 3116.  Please use the card reader for access to Rm 3116; you should have access within the first few weeks of class.  We will also set up a class email list.  Please also use email for questions or more information.  I will try to answer emails within 24 hours; I may copy the class list on replies of interest to all.

Location and Time: Plant Sciences (PLS), Rm. 1162,  Tuesday and Thursday, 11:00am-12:15pm.  We are section 0101.  See the catalog listing for details. 

Prerequisites: MATH115 (Precalculus); GEOL100 (Physical Geology) or GEOL120 (Environmental Geology), and CHEM131 (General Chemistry) or the equivalent.  Please contact the instructor if you have questions about the prerequisites and your preparation for this course.  

Reading and course materials: There is no single textbook required for this course this semester.  Per copyright fair use guidelines, I will provide readings electronically as password protected PDF files, served from this webpage; and I will be happy to recommend further readings on various topics discussed during the semester.  You will have access to EdGCM on the Geology Department's student computers in GEOL 3116, but if you want your own copy, you will have to purchase a student license here ($29).


Assignments and Assessment



Further background on modern climate and paleoclimatology is available from the following excellent sources, some of which I have available for loan (links to commercial vendors are convenient descriptors and give access to tables of contents, but are not intended to be sales endorsements):


Policies (per UMD guidelines)

Schedule (subject to revision)
Jump to:
Present Climate
Past Climate
Future Climate

Discussion Leader
January 28/30
Overview and logistics; the nature of science Thurs: Le Treut et al. (2007), Ch. 1.2  (pp. 95-98).
Reading focus questions are here.
Mike Evans (MNE) Homework 0; my preassessment responses are here. Homework 1 (in class).  An exemplary response is here.
Present Climate
February 4/6
Feb 7th: add/drop deadline and religious observance absence excuses  due
Radiation balance and the greenhouse effect; annual cycle and radiative perturbations. (MNE will be absent Thurs; class to be led by Richard Gaschnig)
Tues: Kump et al. (2004), Ch. 3 (pp. 34-44); Thurs: Hansen et al. (1992).  Reading focus questions are here.
Rich G./MNE
Rich G./MNE

Homework 2 (in class).  An exemplary response is here.
Feb 11/18 (Feb 13 - snow day) Atmosphere and ocean circulation; interannual variability: the northern annual mode.  Here is a movie of geostrophic balance in a laboratory experiment (see movie of experiment VIII), courtesy J. Marshall/MIT, and establishment of geostrophic balance,  courtesy UIUC.
Tues: Kump et al. (2004), Ch. 4 (pp. 55-66); Discussion: Thompson and Wallace (2001).  Reading focus questions are here.
Yuan-Yuan X.
Ivy D.

Homework 3 (in class). An exemplary response is here.
Feb 20/25 Water in the climate system (updated); deep ocean circulation. Chahine (1992);
Discussion: Cunningham et al (2007); also see summary piece by Church (2007).  Reading focus questions are here.
Alex K. + Lindsay P.
Jessica B.

Feb 27/Mar 4
Carbon in the climate system; Role of biota in climate change. Moorcroft (2006);
Discussion: Sarmiento (2000) and  Cox et al (2000) (note Erratum). Reading focus questions are here. 
Tanya K. + Ivy D.
Kristy N.

Homework 4 (in class). An exemplary response is here.
Mar 6
Climate system feedbacks
Tues: Kump et al (2004), Ch 2.
Thurs: Soden et al (2005); see also Cess (2005).  Reading focus questions are here.
Alex K.
Tim D.
Homework 5 (in class). An exemplary response is here.

Review all course materials; bring questions to class Tuesday.
Mar 11/13
Review; Midterm A practice midterm (non-credit) is here. Midterm solutions are here. Estimated midterm grades by fake student number are here.

Mar 16-23
No Class (Spring Break)
Past Climate
March 25/27 Introduction to paleoclimatology; drought reconstruction from tree-ring data.
results of mid-semester course evaluations are here.
Tues: Evans et al (2013), pp. 16-18 (section 1).
Thurs: Meko et al. (2007).  Reading focus questions are here.
D(Thurs): Jessica B. + Ivy D.
S(Thurs): Julia S.

Homework 6 assigned; due at beginning of class on Tues 4/8.  An exemplary HW6 is here.  Term project assignment details are here.
Apr 1/3

The 20th century; the last millennium. Tues: Stott et al. (2000) [see also summary piece by Zwiers and Weaver (2000)]; Thurs: PAGES2K Consortium (2013).  Reading focus questions are here.
Christiane E. + Tim D.
Alex K.
Kristy N. + Julia S.
Yuan-Yuan X.

Apr 8/10

The late Pleistocene; abrupt climate change.

Tues: Lisiecki and Raymo (2005); Thurs: Severinghaus and Brook (1999) [see also summary by Jouzel (1999)].  Reading focus questions are here.
Kirk G. + Tim D.
S(Tues): Christiane E.
D(Thurs): Julia S. + Michael L.-L.
Peter H.

Homework 7 assigned; due at beginning of class on Tues 4/15.  An exemplary HW7 is here.
Apr 15/17
Apr 14th - last day to drop courses with a "W"
The mid-Pliocene; a role for the tropical Pacific. Tues: Haywood and Valdes (2004) [see also overview by Robinson et al (2008)]. Thurs: Wara et al. (2005) [see also summary by Kerr (2005)].  Reading focus questions are here.
D(Tues): Tanya K. + Christiane E.
S(Tues): Yuan-Yuan X.
Lindsay P.
S(Thurs): Julia S.

Homework 8 assigned; due at class on Tues Apr 22nd; an exemplary HW8 is here.
April 22/24

Neoproterozoic climates: Modeling and observations. Tues: Hoffman (2009), pp. 107-108;  Thurs: Hoffman (2009), pp. 109-114.  Paul Hoffman's Snowball Earth webpages are an excellent resource for further reading.  Reading focus questions are here.
Jessica B.
S(Tues): Lindsay P.
D(Thurs): Peter H.
S(Thurs): Kirk G.

Homework 9 assigned; due at class Tues Apr 29th. An exemplary HW9 is here.
Future Climate
Apr 29/May 1
CourseevalUMD evaluations open 4/29-5/14
Climate of the 22nd century; Climate change commitment.
Collins et al, IPCC WG1 AR5 (2013), Ch. 12:

For Tues, focus on understanding and interpreting the following figures from this reading:  Figs 12.3 (top panel, p. 1046), 12.4 (p. 1053), 12.11 (middle column of panels, p. 1063), 12.12 (p. 1065), 12.20 (p. 1075), 12.23 (p. 1080), 12.28 (p. 1088), 12.35 (p. 1094), 12.36 (p. 1097).

For Thurs: Chapter 12.5.2 and FAQ 12.3, pp. 1102-1105; pp.  1106-1107.

Reading focus questions are here.
Kirk G. + Peter H.
Kristy N.
Michael L-L.

Homework 10 assigned; due at beginning of class Thurs May 8th.   An exemplary HW10 is here.
May 6/8th
Climate sensitivity: Equilibrium and Transient
Tues (optional): Paleosens Project Members (2012), Figs 1,4.
Thurs: Collins et al. (2013), Ch 12, pp. 1110-1112.
Reading focus questions are here.
Michael L-L.
MNE (was Tanya K)

independent/team work on term projects
May 13
May 14: reading day; CourseevalUMD evaluations close 5/14
Wrap up and Course summary.
post-course assessment is here.
Your end of semester haiku are here.
Focus questions are here.

May 15
Final Exam (Term Project Presentations):
8:00a-10:00a, PLS 1162
Term project presentations Final grades submitted to UMEGS 5/15/14.