Fire and Water: The Sun, Oceans and Atmosphere in Climate Change


Fall 2013 quarter

Taught by

oceanography, marine biology
physics, math, astrophysics


A college-level science class, mastery of algebra, ability to learn pre-calculus, willingness to work in teams, and readiness to use computers and the Internet for class information and assignments.

The Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are affected by human activities, by the Sun and by 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. This program will examine some of the major interactions between the Earth and Sun, atmosphere and oceans.

Interactions between oceans and atmosphere affect the composition of both, and oceans impact global climate by redistributing the Sun's energy. Changes in ocean circulation help explain climatic changes over geologic time, and marine microorganisms play a major role in the cycling of gases that affect climate (e.g., CO2 and dimethylsulfide). What is the evidence for causes of contemporary global warming? What are 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 biology and chemistry as well as facility with algebra and ability to learn precalculus.

Students will learn through lectures, workshops, laboratories and seminars, often using primary scientific literature. Students will do significant teamwork and may research questions that they are particularly interested in. We will have weekly online assignments, so students should be comfortable using computers and the Internet.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

environmental studies, marine science, ecology, physics, biology and astronomy.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

Hybrid Online Learning < 25% Delivered Online:

Required Fees

$60 for a field trip to Budd Inlet on the sailboat Resolute .


Date Revision
May 7th, 2013 $60 fee has been added.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Fall)

Class standing: Sophomore–Senior

Maximum enrollment: 50



A basic understanding of biology and chemistry as well as facility with algebra and an ability to learn pre-calculus.

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16 credits): 10129
So - Sr (1-16 credits): 10610

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