AOSC 684/484

Climate System Modeling

Credits: 3   Instructor: Prof. Ning Zeng  

Course outline

Fundamentals in building computer models to simulate the components of the climate system: atmosphere, ocean, land-surface, cryosphere, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and the biogeochemical cycles embedded in the physical climate system. Simple to state-of-the-art research models to tackle problems such as the Daisy World, El Nino and global warming.

A main goal of the course is to help students to relieve the 'fear' of sophisticated models via a hands-on simple-to-complex approach. The course will be conducted as 50% lecture and 50% lab in which students will build numerical models, analyze the model structure both in terms of programming and scientific content, and apply the models to various problems. Basic knowledge of programming language such as Fortran, C, Python, Matlab, or IDL is preferred, but prior knowledge of numerical modeling or climate is not required.


Lecture Notes+

Course content
  1. The climate system
  2. Fundamentals of building a computer model: zero dimensional models
  3. Fundamentals of building a computer model: one dimensional models
  4. 2D models
  5. Atmosphere, ocean and land models
  6. Carbon cycle models
  7. Framework of an Earth System model

Instructor: Prof. Ning Zeng (CSS 2417, phone 301-405-5377)

Office hours: by appointment/drop by


Introduction to Climate Modelling, by Thomas Stocker , 182pp, Springer 2011. ISBN-13: 978-3642007729.

Reference books:

Introduction To Three-dimensional Climate Modeling (2nd edition) by Warren M. Washington, Claire L. Parkinson

Mathematical Modeling of Earth's Dynamical Systems: A Primer by Rudy Slingerland and Lee Kump, Princeton University Press,2011, 248 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0691145143.

McGuffie, K. and A. Henderson-Sellers: A climate modelling primer, 2nd ed. Chichester ; New York : Wiley, c1997.

Trenberth, K. E., ed., 1993:  Climate system modeling, Cambridge Univ. Press, New York, 817 pp.

AOSC684 and AOSC484 :

AOSC484 (undergraduate level) is cross listed with AOSC684 (graduate level). AOSC484 will have the same course content as AOSC684, but the grading will be adjusted according to the level.

Grading method:

Each student is expected to work on a project of his or her choice. A few set of homeworks in the form of highly-simplified numerical modeling will explore the concept of numerical instability, approximation of differential equations, etc. There will be no formal exams.

Homeworks/quiz 70%

Project 30%


Any project related to the numerical modeling of the climate system, either a component or coupled components such as ocean-atmosphere interaction is welcome. This semester we will encourage the students to choose research-like topics. It is my hope that some of these projects can lead to results publishable in professional journals. In order to achieve this goal, the instructor is prepared to work closely with each student on topic selection, experiment design, and result analysis.

Possible project ideas (to be expanded/refined):

Why is W. Africa so climatically sensitive?

The future of the Sahel

Sudden climate change in the Sahara during the Holocene: solar forcing or ocean-land-vegetation interaction?

Global warming: Shift of storm tracks at 2xCO2; zonally symmetric vs asymmetric experiments; Mediterreanean: drier because the northward shift subtrop high?

Global Warming: transient CO2, atmosphere/mixed layer ocean

Global Warming: emission, coupled carbon-climate modeling

What determines the northern limit of monsoons?

Causes of climate change over the last 1000 years?

Using space aerosols to counter global warming:  dust at the Lagrangian point

Homework #1

Think of some project ideas and discuss with people around you on its feasibility such as:

Is it of  scientific merit?

Do you have the tools/models?

Do you have enough time to finish it?

Sample student porjects