PHYS-016: Earth’s Energy Balance and Climate Change

Professor: Rhonda Dzakpasu

Do you have a favorite renewable energy source? Can it really make a major contribution to global energy needs? How can you estimate its environmental impact as compared to the use of fossil fuels?

We will distinguish the two forms of Earth’s energy sources: the fixed energy stores that, once used cannot be replenished and the sources of energy that flows to or around the Earth’s surface that we can harness at will.

We will discuss the physics of climate. How do we articulate Earth’s energy balance and the radiative forcing that perturbs this balance? Moreover, the Earth is a complex system with many interacting parts. How does feedback – positive or negative – impact the energy balance? What is the role of modelling in climate physics and how are such models validated?

This course does not require any math beyond high school algebra. Potential quantitative exercises will only consist of approximations in the spirit of “back of the envelope” calculations as well as extractions of quantitative information from graphs. Such skills will contribute to any argument that supports whether – or to what extent – a particular renewable source can truly serve the needs of humanity.

The ability to communicate scientific findings to the society at large is a vital skill. To this end, assignments will consist of writing in a variety of forms that will be suitable to the intended audience.

  • Categories:
    2018 Fall Semester, 2018 Spring Semester, Environmental Sciences, Physics
  • Fall
    Module A and B

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