Climate System Dynamics

METEO 570: Climate System Dynamics

Fall Semester 2020 

Prof. Chris E. Forest
Office:  507 Walker; Phone: 814-865-0710; Email:
Office hours: Monday 11:00a-1:00p, Thursday 2:30-4:00p 

Class meeting time and location 
TR 9:05-10:20, Zoom Online 

Course Designation

This course is an elective for both METEO graduate students and for the Climate Science Dual-Title PhD Program. 

Course Description

Climate Dynamics delves into the fundamental processes that control the earth's climate of the past, present, and future. Fundamentals are developed from concepts of basic dynamic meteorology, radiative transfer, and thermodynamics. The surface energy and hydrologic budgets, and the atmospheric and oceanic circulation are covered. The cryosphere and its interactions with the atmosphere are also discussed. A survey of the earth's climate through geologic history is also explored. The concepts developed in this course are applied to the topic of anthropogenic climate change and how various aspects of the climate system could be influenced by global mean, long-term warming. 

This course will be a survey of six (6) conceptual climate phenomena that are key examples for understanding the climate system behavior.    

Here is the current list:

  • Global mean climate basics (more planetary science perhaps)
  • Feedback basics via global mean equations (focus on timescales and responses)
  • Advective transports for distributing heat/moisture and influencing global means (Arctic vs Tropics; surface vs tropopause)
  • Air-sea interactions via wind-driven and density driven behavior (long timescales)
  • Air-sea interactions via ENSO (short timescales)
  • Global carbon budget and responses (biogeochemistry, land, oceans, and climate)

These will be setup as “class modules” and should each take approximately two weeks to complete. 

Prerequisites: none

The course will cover graduate level material and expect background knowledge from geophysical fluid dynamics, radiative transfer, atmospheric thermodynamics, and biogeochemistry. 

Textbooks: Recommended

  • “Atmosphere, Ocean, and Climate Dynamics” by J. Marshall and R. A. Plumb, 2008, Academic Press.
  • “Global Physical Climatology” by D.L. Hartmann, 2015, Academic Press **
  • “Climate Dynamics” by K. Cook, 2013, Princeton University Press **
  • “Principles of Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry” by R. Goody, 1995, Oxford University Press *
  • “Physics of Climate” by Peixoto and Oort, 1992, American Institute of Physics Press *

Additional Reading:

  • “Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Third Assessment Report, Working Group I.
  • “Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group I.
  • “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fifth Assessment Report, Working Group I.

All are available at: 

Additional materials will be available on the CANVAS course website ( 

Climate Modeling Tools

This course will be using Climate Modeling tools in homework sets from the ClimLab Python package.   This package was developed by Brian Rose at University of Albany ( for similar course work.  Documentation and tutorials are available at: 

Course Topics will be chosen from: 

  • Introduction
    • Goals and scope of the course
    • Observations and Motivations
  • Radiative Equilibrium
    • Energy balance of Earth
    • Emission temperature of a planet
    • Greenhouse effect
    • Distribution of insolation
    • Poleward heat flux
  • Climate sensitivity and feedback mechanisms
    • Zero-dimensional energy balance model
    • One-dimensional energy balance model
    • Ice-albedo feedback and Snowball Earth problem
  • Atmospheric general circulation and climate
    • Atmospheric motions and the meridional transport of energy
    • The Axisymetric circulation
    • The Wave (weather-) driven circulation
    • Large-scale Circulation Patterns and Climate
    • Moist effects on circulation and hydrologic cycle
  • Ocean general circulation and climate
    • Properties of seawater
    • The Mixed Layer
    • The wind-driven circulation
    • Thermohaline circulation and the two-box model
  • Natural variability in climate
    • El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO): Rossby and Kelvin wave
    • Arctic Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation
    • Madden-Julian Oscillation
  • Cryosphere
    • Roles of ice sheets and sea-ice
  • Biosphere
    • Roles of land and ocean ecosystems
    • Introduction to Carbon-cycle dynamics
  • Climate Change
    • Natural climate change
    • Solar luminosity variations
    • Orbital parameter theory of ice ages
    • Anthropogenic climate change and future predictions 

Assessment tools

  1. Homework problem sets – 20%
  2. One mid-term exam – 40% (tentatively Nov 12)
  3. Term project (paper and presentation) – 40% (Due dates: proposal, SEP 5; draft, NOV 23; final, DEC 14) 

Grading policy

The overall course grade will include distributional effects due to strengths of exams and homework sets and the quality of term projects. 

Term Project: 

The aim of including a term project in this class is three-fold. One is to gain insights into the interactions amongst various components of the climate system. For example, the interaction between the atmospheric and the oceanic circulations, stratospheric ozone and atmospheric circulation, and ice-sheet and radiation, etc. A second is to gain insight into complexity and workings of real climate system phenomena (in the sense of non-idealized systems) that are relevant for ‘climate’.  A third is to improve one’s ability to communicate climate science to a broader audience. 

The first can be most simply accomplished by studying idealized, climate models (e.g., Budyko, 1969). The second approach is ideal if one is to appreciate complexity (as well as simplicity) of a phenomenon that has broad scientific and societal impacts, such as ENSO and North Atlantic Oscillation. 

Whether you choose to study a simple climate model or more complex, real phenomenon, your term project must demonstrate your originality through new hypothesis, interpretations, and/or new calculations.  The presentation and communication are key aspects of the project. 

The academic research paper should follow these guidelines:

  • 2500-3000 words
  • double spaced
  • 12 pt Times Roman font (not including figure captions and citations))
  • AMS citation style (Author, Date).

The topic will be based on climate dynamics material and explore a specific phenomena or relevant problem in the climate science literature.  It can explore issues related to future, present-day, or past climate behavior.  Data analysis and climate modeling projects are encouraged. 

Please submit the term project proposal (approximately 1-2 pages text  + figures + bibliography) 

no later than September 5, 2020.  The proposal should include (1) identification of a specific problem, (2) approach(es) to take, (3) analysis and/or experimental method, and (4) work schedule. The length of the proposal should not be longer than 5 pages with double-spaced text. The term-project grade will be based on the content of the project, the written research paper, and the oral or video presentation.

Course Objectives

  1. Students can demonstrate knowledge of the dynamics and thermodynamics governing the ocean, atmosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere on spatial and temporal scales appropriate for climate systems. (relate to program objectives 1 and 2)
  2. Students can demonstrate knowledge of the basic mechanisms of climate variability that are related to the coupling of the ocean, atmosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere. (relate to program objectives 1, 2, and 3) 

Course Outcomes

Students can demonstrate knowledge of:

  1. radiation and its role in determining the atmospheric thermal structure (related to program outcomes b and c)
  2. the atmospheric general circulation and energy budget as well as their roles in determining the climate state and its variability, with possible applications to ocean-atmospheric responses such as El Nino/Southern Oscillation and/or ocean circulation dynamics (related to program outcomes a and c)
  3. the appropriate temporal and spatial averaging of the governing equations relevant to the description of climate and its variability (related to program outcomes a and b)
  4. the state of the ocean, wind-driven oceanic circulations, thermohaline circulations, and coupled ocean-atmosphere processes, and their roles in determining the climate state and its variability (related to program outcomes a and c)
  5. internal and forced climate variability (related to program outcomes b and c)
  6. past climates (related to program outcomes b and c)
  7. the processes responsible for climate change and how global climate models are used to assess it (related to program outcomes b, c, and d) 

Course policies

This course abides by the Penn State Class Attendance Policy 42-27:, Attendance Policy E-11:, and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35:  Please also see Illness Verification Policy:, and Religious Observance Policy:  Students who miss class for legitimate reasons will be given a reasonable opportunity to make up missed work, including exams and quizzes.  Students are not required to secure the signature of medical personnel in the case of illness or injury and should use their best judgment on whether they are well enough to attend class or not; the University Health Center will not provide medical verification for minor illnesses or injuries. Other legitimate reasons for missing class include religious observance, family emergencies, and regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activities.  Students who encounter serious family, health, or personal situations that result in extended absences should contact the Office of Student and Family Services for help:  Whenever possible, students participating in University-approved activities should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form available from the Registrar's Office:, at least one week prior to the activity. 

Academic integrity statement

Students in this class are expected to write up their problem sets individually, to work the exams on their own, and to write their papers in their own words using proper citations.  Class members may work on the problem sets in groups, but then each student must write up the answers separately.  Students are not to copy problem or exam answers from another person's paper and present them as their own; students may not plagiarize text from papers or websites written by others.  Students who present other people's work as their own will receive at least a 0 on the assignment and may well receive an F or XF in the course. 

Please see: Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Policy:, which this course adopts.  To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students."

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for students with disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: ( For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website ( 

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation: If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations. 

Statements on Campus Emergencies

Campus emergencies, including weather delays, are announced on Penn State News: http:/ and communicated to cellphones, email, the Penn State Facebook page, and Twitter via PSUAlert (Sign up at:  


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities. 

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis. 

Inclement Weather

In case of weather-related delays at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to weather delays. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements. 

Reporting Bias-Motivated Incidents

Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff.  Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated ( and can be reported through Educational Equity via the Report Bias webpage. 

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation.  Services include the following: 

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail (see to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information. 

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40 ( To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period. It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion.  If, for any reason, the course work for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript. 

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made. 

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the Dutton Institute Technical Requirements page (, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the ITS Help Desk ( 

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot. 


The term "Netiquette" refers to the etiquette guidelines for electronic communications, such as e-mail and bulletin board postings. Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions, but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of forum messages. Please review some general Netiquette guidelines that should be followed when communicating in this course. 

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site which means that your connection is encrypted.  We do however link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted.  This is called mixed content.  By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.  This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed.  Follow the directions on our technical requirements page to view the mixed content. 

Disruptive Behavior

Behavior that disrupts normal classroom activities will not be tolerated, in accordance with Items 9 and 14 in the Student Code of Conduct


In the case of an emergency, we will follow the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Critical Incident Plan (  In the event of an evacuation, we will follow posted evacuation routes and gather at the Designated Meeting Site.  Evacuation routes for all EMS buildings are available at  For more information regarding actions to take during particular emergencies, please see the Penn State Emergency Action Guides

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework.  For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website. 

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:

Accessible Syllabus

Notes: Any syllabus posted online (e.g. a Word/PDF file or an online syllabus) should make destinations clickable links such as is done throughout this page. Also, in order to comply with Penn State Policy AD69(Accessibility of Penn State Web Pages,, PDF documents cannot be the sole source of presenting online information. Such documents include syllabi, homework assignments, and scanned notes.  

Disclaimer Statement

Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. Changes to the syllabus shall also be given to the student in written (paper or electronic) form.