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Unit information: Earth System Modeling in 2020/21

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. Andrews
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 system. Learning will be facilitated through a mix of interactive seminars, with personal research, and group work, together with a strong emphasis on computer model based practical classes using 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.
  • Develop an appreciation regarding use of global environmental models in exploring topical questions and concerns, both past and future.
  • 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 be able to:

  1. Describe the role and nature of feedbacks in the climate system.
  2. Describe the relationship between global carbon cycling and climate and associated feedbacks.
  3. Utilise numerical models to address scientific questions and test hypotheses.
  4. Identify limitations of numerical models of climate.
  5. Describe the fundamental basis of Earth System Models

This Unit will provide transferable skills in:

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

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through a blended combination of online and, if possible, in-person teaching, including

  • online resources
  • synchronous group workshops, seminars, tutorials and/or office hours
  • asynchronous individual activities and guided reading for students to work through at their own pace
  • computer practical work; students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete practical work, or alternative activities, in person, either during the academic year 2020/21 or subsequently, in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy accreditation requirements

Assessment Details

Group oral presentation of 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%.

Both assignments test all of the ILOs.

Reading and References

Essential Reading

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