Earth and Sky: Climate and Change

Spring 2018 quarter

Taught by


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

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.

Program Details

Fields of Study

geology physics

Preparatory For

climate studies, education, natural science, environmental science, and science studies


Spring Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Online Learning

Hybrid Online Learning < 25% Delivered Online


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