PMU199H1S: Climate Change - Software, Science and Society

NOTE: This is an old page for the course in the Winter term 2011

Click here for the current course


About the Course

This course will examine the role of computers and software in understanding climate change. We will explore the use of computer models to build simulations of the global climate, including a historical view of the use of computer models to understand weather and climate, and a detailed look at the current state of computer modelling, especially how global climate models are tested, what kinds of experiments are performed with them, how scientists know they can trust the models, and how they deal with uncertainty. The course will also explore the role of computer models in helping to shape society’s responses to climate change, in particular, what they can (and can’t) tell us about how to make effective decisions about government policy, international treaties, community action and the choices we make as individuals.

The course will take a cross-disciplinary approach to these questions, looking at the role of computer models in the physical sciences, environmental science, politics, philosophy, sociology and economics of climate change. However, students are not expected to have any specialist knowledge in any of these fields prior to the course.

General Course Resources

Seminar Notes & Weekly Readings

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As a seminar course, we can be very flexible in what we cover. I've planned a set of core topics that focus on climate models and how they are used, but we can explore much more widely than this if we like.

Core topics:

Part 1: Background & History

Part 2: What do we know, and how do we know it?

(Break for reading week)

Part 3: Choosing and Using Models

Part 4: What we can know, and what we can do

Additional Topics:

We can include any of these based on interest and enthusiasm (but probably not all of them!). Some of these stray away from the "computing" them of the course, so we might need to agree on some criteria for which ones to include. In no particular order:


There are four assignments for the course:

  1. Research a topic related to the course and write a blog post about it. Due Jan 28th. Worth 15%
  2. Prepare a 10-minute power point presentation (in teams of 2). Due Feb 18th. Worth 20%
  3. Design an experiment. Due March 18th. Worth 15%
  4. Final Essay. Due April 7th. Worth 40%

Plus 10% of the course mark is for showing up for seminars and tutorials, and participating in the class blog (as you asked for it!)