Climate Dynamics

METEO 470 – Climate Dynamics

Spring 2020 Syllabus 

Classes: Tuesday, Thursday 10:35-11:50 AM, Hosler Building 218A 

Instructor: Prof. Colin Zarzycki
Office: 524 Walker Building            
Office hours: Monday 3:30-4:30 PM, Thursday 1:00-2:00 PM, 524 Walker (or by appointment) 

Teaching Assistant: Kelly M. Nunez Ocasio
Office hours: Tuesday 1:00-2:00 PM, 402 Walker 

Required Courses:
METEO 300 (Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science), MATH 230 (Calculus and Vector Analysis) or MATH 231 and 232, and PHYS 212 (General Physics:  Electricity and Magnetism).

Prerequisite or concurrent: METEO 431 (Atmospheric Thermodynamics) and MATH 251 (Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations).

Enrollment Policy – Students who do not meet these prerequisites may be disenrolled according to Administrative Policy C-5 if they do not have the proper prerequisite override. If you have not completed the listed prerequisites, then consult with the instructor. Students who add the course after being disenrolled according to this policy are in violation of Item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct

Class Structure:  Lectures will be 75 minutes and held on Tuesday and Thursday. 

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. Surface energy and hydrologic budgets, and the atmospheric and oceanic circulation are covered. A survey of the earth's climate through geologic history is also explored, including extinction events and the impacts on climate. 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.  

Course Objectives

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the dynamics and thermodynamics governing the ocean and atmosphere on spatial and temporal scales appropriate for climate systems
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the basic mechanisms of climate variability that are related to the coupling of the ocean and the atmosphere 

Course Outcomes

  • Demonstrate knowledge of radiation and its role in determining atmospheric thermal structure
  • Demonstrate knowledge of 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
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the appropriate temporal and spatial averaging of the governing equations relevant to the description of climate and its variability
  • Demonstrate knowledge of 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
  • Demonstrate knowledge of internal and forced climate variability
  • Demonstrate knowledge of past climates
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the processes responsible for climate change and how global climate models are used to assess it 

Course outline:

  • Introduction (Chapters 1, 8, 11, 12)
    • Goals and Scope of the Course
    • Observations and Motivations
  • Radiative Equilibrium (Chapter 2)
    • Energy Balance of Earth
    • Emission Temperature of a Planet
    • Greenhouse Effect
    • Distribution of Insolation
    • Poleward Heat Flux
  • Atmospheric Radiative Transfer and Climate (Chapter 3)
    • Reading assignments (3.1-3.5)
    • Formulation of Flux Absorption
    • Infrared Radiative Transfer Equation
    • Heuristic Model of Radiative Equilibrium
    • Clouds, Radiation, and Energy Balance of Earth
  • The Energy Balance of the Surface (Chapter 4)
    • Surface heat and radiative fluxes
  • The Hydrological Cycle (Chapter 5)
    • Potential Evapotranspiration
    • Hydrological Cycle of warmer and cooler climates
  • Atmospheric General Circulation and Climate (Chapter 6)
    • Atmospheric Motions and the Meridional Transport of Energy
    • The Axisymmetric Circulation
    • The Wave (weather)-Driven Circulation
    • Large-Scale Circulation Patterns and Climate
    • Moist effects on the Circulation and Hydrologic Cycle
  • Ocean General Circulation and Climate (Chapter 7)
    • Properties of Seawater
    • The Mixed Layer
    • The Wind-Driven Circulation
    • Thermohaline Circulation & Two-Box Model
  • Natural Intraseasonal and Interannual Variability (Chapter 8)
  • History and Evolution of Earth’s Climate (Chapter 9)
  • Climate Sensitivity and Feedback Mechanisms (Chapter 10)
  • Global Climate Models (Chapter 11)
  • Climate Change (Chapter 12 & 13) 

A detailed course schedule with specific topics, readings, and homework due dates is given separately on Canvas. This schedule will be updated accordingly throughout the semester. 

Required Textbook:

Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, contact the Office of Student and Family Services (120 Boucke Building, 863-4926, For additional needs related to socioeconomic status please visit The text is also on reserve in the EMS library. 

Supplemental Textbooks:

  • Peixoto, J. P. and A. H. Oort, 1992. Physics of Climate, American Institute of Physics.
  • Wallace, J. M. and P. V. Hobbs, 2006. Atmospheric Science: An Introductory Survey, 2nd Edition, Academic Press.

All required and supplemental textbooks are on course reserve in the college library for a check-out duration of four hours. There are a few additional required readings from other sources, which will be made available to you electronically. 

Homework:  There will be six homework assignments, assigned via Canvas approximately every 1.5-2 weeks and due at the beginning of class of the assigned date. Late homework (up to 24 hours late) will be accepted with a 25% penalty and must be turned in directly to the instructor (not the teaching assistant). Homework assignments are equally weighted with the exception of your two lowest scores, which are each given half the weight of the rest. 

Exams:  There will be three exams. When calculating your final “exam component,” they are weighted as 42%, 34%, 24% (sums to 100%) for your best, median, and worst scores, respectively. Official dates will be provided during the first few weeks of classes, no later than 14 days before the exam date. 

Quizzes: There will be eight in-class quizzes throughout the semester, with dates chosen at random. Each quiz will be scored either a 0, 1, or 2. The lowest quiz score is dropped, therefore each student is effectively allowed one unexcused absence without penalty. 

Grades:  The weighting of the components of your course grade is as follows:

  • 35% homework
  • 50% exams
  • 15% in-class quizzes 

The final grade will be based on a standard grading scale:

  • A: 93-100%
  • A-: 90-92%
  • B+: 87-89%
  • B: 83-86%
  • B-: 80-82%
  • C+: 77-79%
  • C: 70-76%
  • D: 60-69%
  • F: 0-59% 

There will be no grade curving, however, the instructor reserves the right to adjust the grading scale. In the event this is required, grades will only be adjusted upwards

Online submission of coursework: If a student is unable to turn in coursework directly to the instructor or TA (e.g., sickness, travel), they may request the ability to turn it in electronically (e.g., scans, phone pictures, typed, etc.). To do so the they must first obtain permission and then submit via Canvas by the due date. Assignments sent via general e-mail may be timestamped incorrectly and will be graded at the TA/instructor’s discretion. 

Academic integrity:  Academic honesty is required and expected in this class. This course adopts the EMS Academic Integrity Policy[1]. Students in this class are expected to write up their homework assignments individually, to work on their exams/quizzes on their own, and to write their papers in their own words using proper citations. Class members may work on the homework assignment in groups, but then each student must write up the answers separately. Students are not to copy quiz or exam answers from unauthorized source material. Students are also not to copy quiz or exam answers from another person's paper and present them as their own. Students may not plagiarize text from papers written by others. Students who do not abide by these rules will receive at least a 0 on the assignment/quiz/exam and may well receive an F or XF in the course. If in doubt about how the academic integrity policy applies to a specific situation, students are encouraged to consult with the instructor. To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students." 

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 Office for Disability Services (ODS) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: ( For further information, please visit the Office for Disability Services 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 based on the documentation guidelines 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. 

Attendance:  This course abides by the Penn State Attendance Policy E-11[2] and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35[3]. Please also see Illness Verification Policy[4] and Religious Observance Policy[5]. 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, military service, family emergencies, regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activities, and post-graduate, career-related interviews when there is no opportunity for students to re-schedule these opportunities (such as employment and graduate school final interviews).  Students who encounter serious family, health, or personal situations that result in extended absences should contact the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs (AVPSA) and Student and Family Services for help: Whenever possible, students participating in University-approved activities should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form ( at least one week prior to the activity. 

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

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. 

Course website:  The instructor will use Canvas to communicate with the class electronically. Canvas will also be used to post assignments, handouts, quizzes, and visuals that are shown in class. 

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:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling and Psychological Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741 

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. 

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 will be posted to the course website on Canvas

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