Earth and Sky: Climate and Change

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Spring 2018
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

geology, earth science, biogeochemistry
EJ Zita Square portrait
physics, math, astrophysics

The Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are affected by human activities, the sun, and geologic activity. Over many millions of years, the Earth has experienced wide fluctuations in climate—from ice ages to very warm periods. Earth is currently experiencing an unusually rapid warming trend, due to anthropogenic (human-caused) changes in atmospheric composition. Historically, a major factor determining global climate has been the intensity of the sun's energy reaching the Earth. However, climate changes cannot be explained by variations in solar radiation alone. We will focus on the role of the sun and greenhouse gases in regulating Earth’s climate, examine climate records to understand how and why climate has varied in the past, and consider studies modeling how climate change will occur into the future.

Interactions between oceans and atmosphere affect the composition of both, and oceans impact global climate by redistributing the sun's energy. What is the evidence for causes of contemporary global warming? What are the expected consequences? What can be done? What about proposed schemes to engineer solutions to global warming, such as the sequestration of anthropogenic carbon into the deep sea? We will study diverse and interconnected physical, chemical, geological, and biological processes. This requires a basic understanding of chemistry and facility with algebra. No physics prerequisite.

Students will learn through lectures, workshops, laboratories, and seminars, often using primary scientific literature. Students will do significant teamwork and will research questions that particularly interest them. We will have weekly online assignments, so students should be comfortable using computers and the internet.

Fields of study: 

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in: climate studies, education, natural science, environmental science, and science studies

Online learning:
  • Hybrid Online Learning - This offering delivers < 25% of its instruction online, rather than via face-to-face contact between you and your instructors.

$200 for an overnight field trip to the Columbia River Gorge.


Students need a basic understanding of chemistry and facility with algebra. No physics background is needed.

Scheduled for: Day

Located in: Olympia

2018-02-05This program has been cancelled. Abir Biswas will be teaching in Counting on Soils and EJ Zita will be teaching Science Seminar.