Atmos 1020 climate change course Description

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Course Description
Human-induced climate change is one of the great challenges of our society. Scientists warn that if we ignore the problem, by the end of this century the changes will be large enough to have significant consequences for our societies and ecosystems. But how certain are scientists that human activity is altering earth’s climate? How much more warming might we expect over the next century? Wouldn't it be nice to have tropical climate everywhere? What will be the impacts on hurricanes, tornados, floods and droughts? How might climate change impact Utah and its water resources? What is the threat to coastal regions? How might climate change impact natural ecosystems? Are there winners and losers?

ATMOS 1020 will explore the scientific evidence underlying each of these questions. It will discuss human-induced climate change and compare it with natural fluctuations in climate. The course will also cover signs of climate change, how scientists study climate, the current thinking on future changes, and what can be done to minimize the effects.

ATMOS 1020 is a three-unit, introductory course in the science of climate change, designed for students of all backgrounds. This descriptive course requires only a few very basic math skills. This course fulfills Physical/Life Sciences Exploration (SF) and adhers to university policies regarding its content.

Course Objectives
After completion of this course, you will be able to understand

  • ways how scientist study the phenomenon of climate change,

  • factors that influence climate,

  • mechanisms that cause climate change,

  • evidence for human involvement in climate change,

  • anticipated effects of future climate change and its consequences for natural and societal systems, and

  • solutions to minimize the effects of climate change.

Meeting Time and Location
Spring 2011, TH, 10:45 am - 12:05 pm
LCB 215 (map)

Class Web Page
Please consult this web-site regularly since its content will change over time.

Thomas Reichler, Associate Professor
office: 484 INSCC (map)
phone: (801) 585-0040
email: thomas.reichler (at)
office hours: immediately after lecture; you are also welcome to visit my office (make appointment per email first)

None, except an interst in this topic and some very elementary math skills.

Required Text
Mann, M. E., and L. R. Kump (2009): Dire predictions - Understanding global warming
Available at the U bookstore or at amazon for ca. $10. Look here inside.

Important Dates

  • First day of class: January 11

  • midterm I: TBD

  • midterm II: TBD

  • Spring break: March 21-26

  • midterm III: TBD

  • Last day of class: April 26

  • midterm IV: Friday, April 29, 10:30 am – 12:30 pm

Tentative Course Outline

  1. What determines the climate of a region?

  2. How does human activity change our planet's climate?

  3. What are the consequences of climate change for our ecosystems and societies?

  4. What can be done to solve the probelm of climate change?

Strategies for Success
This course builds upon itself. You must understand previous material before you will be able to understand new material. Consequently, if you do not attend class regularly or fall behind on the reading assignments, you will find this course very difficult. If you do fall behind, be sure to take advantage of the available resources. Experince shows that the following is necessary to receive a reasonable grade in this course:

  • Attend all lectures. Lectures cover topics the instructor believes are most challenging and important. Material will be given out in lecture that is not in the textbook and you will be expected to know it. Copies of slides from the lectures will usually be made available electronically through webCT the morning prior to the lecture.

  • Complete all assignments. They help you understand the material and count towards your final grade.

  • Read the text book and pertinent material.

  • Ask questions and participate constructively in class.

  • Seek help immediately when needed. Don't be afraid to ask questions in class or during office hours.


  • You should be able to apply some very basic math skill.

  • You are expected to take every exam with exceptions governed by University policy.

  • You are expected to maintain professional behavior in the classroom setting.

  • Plagiarizing, copying, cheating, or otherwise misrepresenting ones' work will not be tolerated and will be dealt with following University policy. Do not break the scientific code of honor!

  • Attendance is not taken, but missing a class will obviously result in a lack of understanding.

  • You are expected to participate in class and pay attention: use of electronic devices during class is unacceptable.

  • Be respectful to others both in class and online in webCT when using chat or the discussion forums.

  • Class policies and requirements may be modified during the semester as necessary.

There will be four exams. Lowest exam grade will be dropped. There are no makeup exams after the scheduled exam periods. With petition by the student at least two days in advance and instructor approval, a student may be able to schedule taking one of the first three exams early. However, the last exam is offered only in the regularly scheduled final exam period. The three exams are worth 75% of the total grade while assignments are worth 25% of the total grade.

Final grades are based on the following scale:

  • > 90 % guarantees an A or A-

  • > 80 % guarantees a B+, B, or B-

  • > 70 % guarantees a C+, C, or C-

  • > 60 % guarantees a D+, D, or D-

  • < 60 % may result in an E

Cutoff points for the specific grades are identified to define reasonable distribution of grades.

Email and WebCT
This course depends on students using webCT to access class content, submit assignments, participate in online discussions, etc. Students not familiar with webCT are expected to contact support at or call 585-0065 for help.

Useful Texts
This is a selection of other popular books in the field:

  • Archer D. (2007): Global warming - understanding the forecast. Available at amazon.

  • Henson, R. (2008): A rough guide to climate change, 2nd edition. Available at amazon.

  • Hidore, J., J. Oliver, M. Snow, and R. Snow (2010): Climatology - an atmospheric science, 3rd edition. Available at amazon.

  • Horel J. and J. Geisler (1997): Global environmental change - an atmospheric perspective. Available at amazon.

  • Houghton J. (2009): Global warming - the complete briefing, 4th edition. Available at amazon.

  • Moran J. (2010): Climate studies - introduction to climate science. Available at amazon.

ADA Accommodations
The University of Utah seeks to provide equal access to its programs, services, and activities for people with disabilities. If you will need accommodations in the class, reasonable prior notice needs to be given to the Center for Disability services, 162 Olpin Union Building, 581-5020 (V/TDD). CDS will work with you and the instructor to make arrangement for accommodations. All written information in this course can be made available in alternative format with prior notification to the Center for Disability Services.

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