Climate Change: The Science and Global Impact

We need to understand the science behind global warming to avoid the most damaging and irreversible climate change impacts on people and planet.

About this course

Climate change is arguably the greatest challenge of our time. Human activity has already warmed the planet by one degree Celsius relative to pre-industrial times, and we are feeling the effects through record heat waves, droughts, wildfires and flooding. If we continue to burn fossil fuels at the current rate, the planet will reach two degrees of warming by 2050—the threshold that many scientists have identified as a dangerous tipping point. What is the science behind these projections?

Join climate science expert Michael Mann to learn about the basic scientific principles behind climate change and global warming. We need to understand the science in order to solve the broader environmental, societal and economic changes that climate change is bringing.

Course details

Learning mode
8 weeks
Time investment
2–4 hours per week
Starting date
Registration date
Open for enrolment

What you’ll learn

  • Principles of atmospheric science
  • Climate data collection and interpretation
  • Zero-dimensional Energy Balance Models
  • One-dimensional Energy Balanced Models
  • General Circulation Models
  • Carbon emissions scearios
  • Future climate change projections
  • Impacts on human systems
  • Emissions reduction pathways

By the end of this course, you will:

  • Develop a deep scientific understanding of HOW the climate system has been changing;
  • Articulate WHY the climate system is changing;
  • Understand the nature of these changes;
  • Develop a systems thinking approach to analyzing the impacts of climate change on both natural and human systems.

The course covers the basic principles of atmospheric science, methods of climate data collection and tracking of greenhouse gas emissions. It introduces basic climate modeling and explores the impact of various greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Finally, it outlines the impacts of climate change on environmental, social, economic and human systems, from coral reefs and sea level rise to urban infrastructure. The course follows the general outline of the 5th Assessement Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Course partners

Course outline

Module 1: Introduction to Climate and Climate Change

1.0 Course Introduction
1.1 What is climate change
1.2 What should we care about climate change?
1.3 Overview of the climate system: How is the climate system constructed?
1.4 Overview of the climate system: How do energy balances work?
1.5 Overview of the climate system: Global circulation systems
1.6 Other fundamental principles: Feedback mechanisms and the carbon cycle

Module 2: Observing and Measuring Anthropogenic Climate Change

2.1 Changes in atmospheric greenhouse gases
2.2 Modern surface temperature trends
2.3 The oceans
2.4 Extreme weather
2.5 Sea ice, glaciers and global sea level
2.6 Paleoclimate evidence of climate change

Module 3: Modeling the Climate System: The Basics

3.1 Introduction to climate modeling
3.2 Expressing a zero-dimensional energy model as a linear equation
3.3 0d-EBM demonstration
3.4 Estimating climate sensitivity

Module 4: Modeling the Climate System: Advanced

4.1 One-dimensional energy balance models
4.2 Case Study: Using a one-dimensional EBM to model the ice ages
4.3 General circulation models
4.4 Validating climate models
4.5 Detecting climate change
4.6 Interpreting climate sensitivity

Module 5: Carbon Emission Scenarios

5.1 Emissions Scenarios
5.2 Stabilizing CO2 concentrations

Module 6: Applying Climate Models: Projected Changes in the Climate System

6.1 Surface temperature projections
6.2 Projected changes in global precipitation and drought
6.3 Atmospheric and oceanic circulation changes
6.4 The melting cryosphere
6.5 Sea level rise projections
6.6 Tropical cyclone and hurricane projections
6.7 Extreme weather projections

Module 7: Climate Change Impacts: The Future for People and Planet

7.1 Carbon cycle feedbacks
7.2 Sea level rise and coastal impacts
7.3 Ecosystems and biodiversity
7.4 Shifting water and food resources
7.5 Human health impacts
7.6 Security concerns
7.7 Tipping points

Module 8: What Is Our Path Forward?

8.1 Geoengineering: A scientist’s perspective, Part 1
8.2 Geoengineering: A scientist’s perspective, Part 2
8.3 Emissions reductions: The only viable way forward
8.4 Conclusion: A path of hope


No prerequisites.