About this Course
This class describes the science of global warming and the forecast for humans’ impact on Earth’s climate. Intended for an audience without much scientific background but a healthy sense of curiosity, the class brings together insights and perspectives from physics, chemistry, biology, earth and atmospheric sciences, and even some economics—all based on a foundation of simple mathematics (algebra).

100% online course

Start instantly and learn at your own schedule.

Approx. 52 hours to complete

Suggested: 4 hours/week
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Subtitles: English

100% online course

Start instantly and learn at your own schedule.

Approx. 52 hours to complete

Suggested: 4 hours/week
Comment Dots


Subtitles: English

Syllabus - What you will learn from this course


1 hour to complete


What you will find in this class. ...
1 video (Total 4 min), 4 readings
Video1 videos
Reading4 readings
Debriefing Quizzes10m
Explainer Assignments10m
A Supplemental Class to This One10m


3 hours to complete

Heat, Light, and Energy

A primer on how to use units to describe numbers when describing temperature, energy, and light. Even if you don't plan on doing calculations yourself, understanding how units work will help to follow the rest of the lectures in the class. If you are interested in practicing your analysis skills, using units to guide calculations, there are some exercises in the Part II of this class. ...
6 videos (Total 28 min), 3 quizzes
Video6 videos
Units of Energy5m
Units of Light3m
Blackbody Radiation6m
Quiz2 practice exercises
Optional Problems: How Much Coal to Run a Light Bulb4m
Optional Problems: Comparing Energy Prices16m


1 hour to complete

First Climate Model

The balance of energy flow, as incoming sunlight and outgoing infrared, allow us to create our first simple climate model, including a simple greenhouse effect. There are two extended exercises in Part II of this class, one an analytical (algebraic) model of the equilibrium temperature of a planet, the other a numerical model of how that temperature might evolve through time. ...
2 videos (Total 18 min), 4 quizzes
Video2 videos
The Greenhouse Effect 9m
Quiz4 practice exercises
Optional Layer Model Problem: How Hot is the Moon?4m
Optional Layer Model Problem 2: A Stronger Greenhouse Effect22m
Optional Layer Model Problem 3: Nuclear Winter2m
Quiz 122m


1 hour to complete

Greenhouse Gases and the Atmosphere

The Layer Model above assumes that the pane of glass representing the atmosphere absorbs all of the infrared radiation that hits it and that it radiates at all infrared wavelengths. In other words, the layer model atmosphere is an infrared blackbody, but transparent in the visible. In reality, greenhouse gases are not "black" at all; they are very choosy about which frequencies of light they absorb and emit. This selective absorption of infrared light by greenhouse gases leads to the band saturation effect, which makes rare, trace gases like methane disproportionally powerful relative to higher-concentration gases like CO₂....
2 videos (Total 20 min), 1 quiz
Video2 videos
The Band Saturation Effect12m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Model Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere12m


1 hour to complete

The Structure of the Atmosphere

The greenhouse effect works because the air in the upper atmosphere is colder than the ground, so that absorption and re-emission of IR by greenhouse gases decreases the amount of energy leaving the planet to space. Here we explore the physics responsible for keeping the upper atmosphere cold. ...
4 videos (Total 30 min), 1 quiz
Video4 videos
Pressure in a Standing Fluid10m
Water Vapor and Latent Heat8m
Moist Convection2m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Model the Lapse Rate and Greenhouse Effect10m


1 hour to complete

Weather and Climate

Another property of the real world, missing in our model so far, is that the real world is not everywhere the same temperature, and the heat fluxes to and from space do not necessarily balance at any given time or location. This is because the winds in the atmosphere and the currents in the ocean carry heat around, in general from the hot tropics up to the cold high latitudes....
4 videos (Total 18 min), 1 quiz
Video4 videos
Coriolis Acceleration5m
Geostrophic Motion5m
The Turbulent Cascade3m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Quiz 224m


4 hours to complete


Feedbacks are loops of cause-and-effect that can either stabilize Earth's climate or amplify future climate changes. There is an exercise in Part II of this class where you solve for a planet's temperature by iteration, and in the process demonstrate a runaway ice albedo feedback that might have led to the Snowball Earth climate state 700 million years ago. ...
6 videos (Total 34 min), 8 quizzes
Video6 videos
Ice Albedo Feedback2m
Water Vapor Feedback7m
Climate Sensitivity4m
Quiz7 practice exercises
Model Sunlight, Albedo, and Climate12m
Extract the Water Vapor Feedback from Climate Model Results6m
Model Clouds 1: IR6m
Model Clouds 2: Full-spectrum10m
Model Aerosols and Climate8m
Calculate the Climate Sensitivity24m
Quiz 326m


2 hours to complete

The Carbon Cycle

Now we shift gears in a major way — away from climate physics (you now have seen its main ingredients) to the emergent miracle that is the carbon cycle on Earth. Not only is carbon the chemical element of life, it is also the means of storing life's energy. We will look at how carbon cycles through the land, the oceans, and the deep earth, going in and out of the atmosphere -- and how that stabilizes the earth's climate. ...
9 videos (Total 48 min), 4 quizzes
Video9 videos
The Goldilocks Planets3m
The Oceans in the Carbon Cycle5m
The Land Biosphere in the Carbon Cycle5m
The Battery of the Biosphere5m
Oxidation and Reduction of Carbon6m
Natural Gas2m
Quiz4 practice exercises
Model the Global Carbon Cycle22m
Model Ocean/Land CO₂ Uptake with ISAM12m
Model Intended vs. Greenhouse Yields6m
Quiz 422m


6 hours to complete

The Perturbed Carbon Cycle

On the carbon locked up in fossil fuels and what happens when we burn those fuels. In Part II of this class, you can create a simple but somewhat realistic model of Earth's temperature evolution in the coming decades, in response to the release of CO2 (or in the sudden stop of emissions in a scenario called "The world without us"). ...
7 videos (Total 37 min), 7 quizzes
Video7 videos
Where Our Carbon Is Going3m
Ocean Buffer Chemistry6m
The Perturbed Carbon Cycle2m
Methane as a Greenhouse Gas8m
The Long CO₂ Tail5m
Why the CO₂ Tail Matters6m
Quiz5 practice exercises
Model Hubbert's Peak8m
Model Kaya Identity20m
Model Methane and Slugulator18m
Model the Long Tail12m
Quiz 516m


3 hours to complete

Looking for a Human Impact on Climate

You have now seen the ideas behind the forecast for a human impact on Earth's climate. The next question is: Do we see it happening today? It turns out that the "smoking gun" for a human impact on climate is the global average temperature record since about the 1970's. In order to interpret that temperature change, we need to consider it within the context of natural climate changes in Earth's geologic past....
10 videos (Total 45 min), 7 quizzes
Video10 videos
Sea Surface Temperature Records3m
Satellite Temperature Records2m
The Smoking Gun: Warming Since the 1970s6m
Paleoclimate and Proxy Measurements3m
Tree Rings4m
Borehole Temperatures2m
Oxygen Isotopes4m
Solar Intensity and the Hockey Stick6m
Glacial - Interglacial Cycles6m
Quiz6 practice exercises
Make Maps of Climate Models Warming4m
Look for the Smoking Gun10m
Browse the Global Glacier Length Data4m
Model Borehole Temperatures4m
Analyze Recent Solar Intensity Changes8m
Quiz 612m


4 hours to complete

Potential Impacts

This unit we focus on the potential impacts of continued business-as-usual CO2 emissions. This is also the topic of the Working Group 2 volume of the IPCC reports (the Working Group 1 report is on the scientific basis, which is what we've been studying so far this course). You may find this material distressing, but hang on, because next week we'll go over "Mitigation", which is what it takes to avoid climate change (treated in the Working Group 3 report). Remember that most of the carbon we're worried about is still in the ground, so these impacts are inevitable only if we continue to decide to make them so. In Part II of this class, you can create a simple ice sheet model of your own. ...
12 videos (Total 30 min), 10 quizzes
Video12 videos
Impacts of Sea Level2m
Antarctic Ice Sheet2m
Greenland Ice Sheet3m
Paleo Sea Level Changes2m
Water Vapor and Storminess1m
Extreme Weather1m
Ecosystem Impacts2m
Human Impacts1m
Quiz9 practice exercises
Water Stress in Climate Model Results6m
Model Permafrost6m
Model Changes in Sea Level10m
Play with an Ice Sheet Model, ISM12m
Short vs Long Term Sea Level Change12m
Find the Increase in Low-Level Humidity in Models4m
Extract AR5 Model Lapse Rates6m
Model Hurricanes12m
Quiz 720m


6 hours to complete


The last unit of the class finds us considering the options for avoiding, or "mitigating," a human impact on Earth's climate. Bottom line: I think it would be a challenge that humankind could beat if we decided to. If there hypothetically were no more coal on Earth, our potential to alter the climate would be much less. Finding energy sources in that world would not be an existential threat would just be a business opportunity. The hard part, in my opinion, is making that decision....
8 videos (Total 38 min), 1 reading, 10 quizzes
Video8 videos
Temperature Targets1m
Slug Theory5m
Geoengineering: CO₂ Capture and Sequestration6m
Geoengineering: Solar Radiation Management3m
Economics of Climate Change8m
Mitigation: Short-Term4m
Mitigation: Long-Term3m
Reading1 readings
Survey on Attitudes toward MOOC technology10m
Quiz8 practice exercises
Model Stabilization Scenarios2m
Model Temperature Targets2m
How well does Slugulator do at Slug Theory?12m
Model CO2 Sequestration2m
Model SRM Geoengineering4m
How Many Wedges?2m
How Much Carbon-Free Energy by 2100?2m
Quiz 828m


got a tangible career benefit from this course

Top Reviews

By SLOct 6th 2016

A great introductory course into Global Warming as well as modelling which gives you a better insight into what is actually happening with our planet. Started another course and it all fits in.

By JBMay 19th 2016

Excellent course. My understanding of the world and how we are affected by climate has grown tenfold if not more. I recommend this to anyone who has an interest in living on this planet.



David Archer


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