Modeling the Climate System

Course Syllabus

METEO 523: Modeling the Climate System

Spring Semester: 2020 

Instructor: Prof. Chris E Forest

Contact info: 507 Walker Bldg, (preferred), 814-865-0710 (office) 

Class meeting times and locations: TR 12:05-13:20, 105 EE-West

Office Hours:  Primarily by Appointment with a standard time on Wednesday at 1-2p

Course designation: Graduate Elective 

Course description

This course is an introduction to the mathematical description and modeling the climate system. This includes all climate system components including the atmosphere, ocean, land, cryosphere, and biosphere.  This course provides both a conceptual and practical approach to modeling the climate system.  The course will discuss the expectations and limitations in using climate models to do scientific research and how the results can be used in applications. 

Textbooks: Required

None. Reading assignments will be chapters from the Recommended Texts or available online.

Textbooks: Recommended

  • “An Introduction to Three-Dimensional Climate Modeling” by W. M. Washington and C. L. Parkinson, 2005, 2nd Ed., University Science Books ISBN-10: 1891389351, ISBN-13: 978-1891389351 
  • “A Climate Modelling Primer” by K. McGuffie and A. Henderson-Sellers, 2005, 4th Ed., John Wiley & Sons, ISBN-13: 978-1119943372, ISBN-10: 111994337X
  • “Physics of Climate” by J. P. Peixoto and A. H. Oort, 1992, American Institute of Physics, ISBN-10: 0883187124, ISBN-13: 978-0883187128
  • “Climate Change and Climate Modeling” by J. David Neelin, 2011, Cambridge University Press, ISBN-13: 978-0521602433

Reserve materials available at:  Penn State Earth & Mineral  Sciences Library

  • “Global Physical Climatology” by D.L. Hartmann, 2015, Academic Press.
  • “Principles of Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry” by R. Goody, 1995, Oxford University Press.
  • “Atmosphere, Ocean, and Climate Dynamics” by J. Marshall and R. A. Plumb, 2008, Academic Press. 

Internet materials and links

The CANVAS course management system will be used as the primary contact point for course material. 

Course Content will be chosen from these six major topics: 

  • Numerical methods applied to climate models
  • Computing Boot Camp
  • How-to download, configure, build, install, and run a climate model
  • Governing equations for climate models and Earth System models
  • Climate system components:
    • Atmosphere
    • Ocean
    • Land
    • Cryosphere
    • Biosphere
  • Role of Parameterizations
  • Model coupling
  • Model diagnostics and testing/evaluation
  • ESM Relevant Statistical method
  • Uncertainty quantification of models (uncertainty, errors, and internal variability)
  • Role of observations in model development and model testing
  • Scientific inquiry using climate models
  • Understanding Computing Trade-offs
  • Comparing Resolution, Ensemble size, and Processes
  • Limited computing resources and how to use them 

Course expectations

  • This course serves as a graduate elective and provides expertise related to multiple disciplines (including but not limited to meteorology.) These sub-disciplines cover the components of the climate system: including the atmosphere, ocean, land, cryosphere, and biosphere.
  • The course will provide instruction on development of climate models and the students will be expected to understand:
    • the governing equations for the individual model components, 
    • the numerical methods applied to solving the climate model equations,
    • the computing architecture for running climate models, and
    • the basic elements of the software development process. 
  • The course will provide instruction on the use of climate models for understanding the dynamics of the climate system processes and behavior.
  • The course will provide practical experience for running climate models and analyzing the outputs.
  • The course will provide instruction on the use of model hierarchy for understanding climate system response from global to regional scales. 

Assessment tools

Required written/oral assignments: There will be six (6) homework assignments (given as milestones) and one term project paper. The homework assignments will include programming and model simulation components.

Grading policy

The weighting for homework and term projects is given below.  A grading curve will be applied. 

  1. Homework problem sets – 60%
  2. Term project (both written paper and oral presentation) – 40% 

Term Project: The goal of the term project is to provide practical experience to build, modify and run a state of the art climate model. This will further provide experience in developing scientific hypotheses related to climate system dynamics and using climate models to test them.  The term project must demonstrate originality through new model development (including specific parameterizations) and experimental design. The project presentations will be given in the last week of classes and communicate the basic elements of the project and the key results.  

The research paper should be ~2500-3000 words, double-spaced, 12 pt font (not including figure captions and citations)).  The topic will be based on class material and explore a specific phenomenon or relevant problem in the climate science literature.  It can explore issues related to future, present-day, or past climate behavior. 

Please submit the term project proposal by no later than February 10.  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. Collaborations are possible but not encouraged.  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 presentation. 

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.

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 abides by the Penn State 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, 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 Care and Advocacy 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. 

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 

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 (


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. 

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.