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Earth 103N - Earth in the Future

This is a sample syllabus.

This sample syllabus is a representative example of the information and materials included in this course. Information about course assignments, materials, and dates listed here is subject to change at any time. Definitive course details and materials will be available in the official course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.


Earth has a complex, fascinating, interconnected system of processes that control the state of the climate. If we can understand how this system works, then we can make intelligent predictions about the climate in the future. The future of climate is of great importance to the quality of life in the future. In this class, we will explore the workings of the climate system — at the present, and in the past — through a series of modules with hands-on learning activities. We will learn how simple and sophisticated computer models can provide useful tools for making predictions about what our climate will be like in the next few hundred years, which will be a critical time for our species as we endeavor to find a more sustainable way of living. A changing climate means changes in, among other things, temperature and precipitation, which will affect our water supplies, our energy consumption, and our ability to grow enough food to feed the people of Earth. A changing climate also means a range of stresses on the global economy. We will examine these climate impacts, but we will not stop there — we will also focus our attention on what can be done to help us successfully meet these challenges.


Students who excel in this course are able to:

  • explain how the climate system works, including something about its natural variability and the factors that drive climate change on a range of different timescales;
  • understand how scientists approach the question of climate change through a combination of data, models, and hypotheses;
  • explain the basic principles of climate models including their limitations and their uses, and what they predict about our future climate;
  • explain the primary consequences of climate change for water and food supplies, coastal damages, relocation costs, energy consumption, and economic growth;
  • explain the options for minimizing the effects of climate change and for adapting to a changing climate.

Required Materials

The materials listed here represent those that may be included in this course. Students will find a definitive list in the course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.

Yellowdig discussion platform




What we expect of you

We have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. How much and how well you learn is dependent on your attitude, diligence, and willingness to ask for clarifications or help when you need them. We are here to help you succeed. Please keep up with the class schedule and take advantage of opportunities to communicate with us and with your fellow students. You can expect to spend an average of 8 - 10 hours per week on class work.

What You Can Expect From Me

I am excited about the topic of the class, and I love it when others get excited about this material too, so I will always be happy to answer your questions. I am using an online learning environment for this course, and as such, I will answer all questions via email. Please feel free to contact me with questions and I will respond to you within 24 hours in most cases (weekends and holidays being exceptions). If I am going to be out of touch for a while, I will let you know ahead of time.

Major Assignments

8 Lab Exercises (30% of total course grade)

Eight of the modules include a lab exercise that will engage you in studying data, maps, and models. These exercises build on the topics covered in the module and they will deepen and enhance your understanding of the material in that module.

Weekly Capstone Discussion: Earth in 2100 (20% of total course grade)

The goal of the Discussion is to develop engaging conversations on the theme Earth in the Year 2100.  Each week we will focus on different topics related to this theme and the current module. The goal is to take what you have learned in the module and synthesize it with your own research and analysis.  You will be required to (1) submit an original entry every week and (2) to reply to other students’ posts.  Your grade will be based on how active you are. We use the Yellowdig platform for the discussion as it offers a much better experience than traditional Canvas discussion boards. 

Two Midterm Exams (30% of total course grade)

These exams will cover material related to the module content and the lab exercises.

Weekly Quizzes (20% of total course grade)

Students’ understanding of the module content and lab exercises will be assessed through electronically administered and graded quizzes (in Canvas). The quizzes will be designed to assess the extent to which students have mastered the science presented in the modules.

Course Schedule

Course Schedule
  • Participation: Introduce yourself to the class in the Getting to Know You discussion.
12Past Episodes of Climate Change
  • Begin Module 1 Lab: PETM.
  • Complete Module 1 Quiz.
  • Participate in the Capstone Discussion.
23Recent Climate Change
  • Begin Module 2 Lab: Hurricanes.
  • Complete Module 2 Quiz.
  • Participate in the Capstone Discussion.
  • Submit Module 1 Lab
34Earth's Climate System
  • Begin Module 3 Lab: Climate Modeling.
  • Complete Module 3 Quiz.
  • Participate in the Capstone Discussion.
  • Submit Module 2 Lab.
45Introduction to General Circulation Models
  • Complete Module 4 Quiz.
  • Participate in the Capstone Discussion.
  • Submit Module 3 Lab.
56The Global Carbon Cycle
  • Begin Module 5 Lab: Carbon Cycle Modeling.
  • Complete Module 5 Quiz.
  • Participate in the Capstone Discussion.
67Ocean Circulation and Its Impact on Climate
  • Complete Module 6 Quiz.
  • Submit Module 5 Lab by Tuesday.
  • Participate in the Capstone Discussion.
MT8Midterm Exam #1
  • Complete Midterm Exam #1
79Ocean Acidification, Red Tides, and Monster Jellyfish
  • Begin Module 7 Lab: Reef Ecology.
  • Complete Module 7 Quiz.
  • Participate in the Capstone Discussion.
810Water Resources and Climate Change
  • Begin Module 8 Lab: Stream Flow.
  • Complete Module 8 Quiz.
  • Participate in the Capstone Discussion.
911Climate Change and Food Supply
  • Complete Module 9 Quiz.
  • Submit Module 8 Lab.
  • Participate in the Capstone Discussion.
1012Rising Seas
  • Begin Module 10 Lab: Impact of Sea Level Rise on Coastal Communities.
  • Complete Module 10 Quiz.
  • Participate in the Capstone Discussion.
1113Terrestrial Ecosystems in Peril
  • Complete Module 11 Quiz.
  • Participate in the Capstone Discussion.
  • Submit Module 10 Lab.
1214Adaptation and Mitigation
  • Begin Module 12 Lab: Options for the Future of Climate, Energy, and Economics, Including Geoengineering.
  • Complete Module 12 Quiz.
  • Participate in the Capstone Discussion.
MT15Midterm Exam #2
  • Complete Midterm Exam #2