Skip to main content

Unit information: Earth System Modeling in 2016/17

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Earth System Modeling
Unit code GEOGM0030
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Arndt
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


This unit will provide hands-on learning in and a chance to explore the dynamics of the Earth’s climate system. Learning will be facilitated through a mix of interactive seminars, with personal research and literature review, and practical work, together with a strong emphasis on computer model based practical classes using two real Earth system models.

The cumulating objectives of the Unit will be to develop a deeper understanding of the role and nature of feedbacks in the Earth system and provide context to the impacts of current human activities. The Unit will also and importantly, foster a critical appreciation of the nature and limitations of climate and Earth system modelling in understanding and predicting global change.

Unit aims:

  • Develop an appreciation regarding the regulation of the earth system through feedbacks, such as those associated with albedo, freshwater fluxes, and weathering.
  • Develop an appreciation regarding use of global environmental models in exploring topical questions and concerns, both past and future, and how past climates are reconstructed.
  • Develop an in-depth appreciation of the use of computer models in environmental science as well as their limitations.
  • Develop an appreciation of the use of High Performance Computing in climate science.

Intended learning outcomes

Upon completion of the Unit, students will have gained knowledge in:

  • The role and nature of feedbacks in the climate system, and how climate is "regulated".
  • The relationship between global carbon cycling and climate and associated feedbacks.
  • How to utilize numerical models to address scientific questions and test hypotheses.
  • The limitations of numerical models of climate.
  • Describe the fundamental basis of General Circulation Models

This Unit will provide transferable skills in:

  • Written communication.
  • Data analysis and presentation.
  • Computer modelling techniques
  • Problem solving and analytical skills.

Teaching details

Lecturer-led seminars with student input and computing tuition: 3 x 1 hour sessions + 3 x 1 hour sessions = 6 hours.

Computer practical classes: 3 x 3 hour sessions + 5 x 2 hour sessions = 19 hours

Assessment Details

Group oral presentation of the 'snowball Earth' computer modelling practical exercise = 30%

Coursework consisting of a write-up of the GCM experiments, in the style of a Climate of the Past paper = 70%.

Reading and References

Surface Ocean--Lower Atmospheres Processes, Eds. C. Le Quéré and E. S. Saltzman, AGU Geophysical Monograph Series, Volume 187, 350 pp.

IPCC 5th Assessment Report.

McGuffie K and Henderson-Sellers A. (2005). A Climate Modelling Primer. 3rd Ed. Wiley