Climate change in context


About this course

This course focusses on the Earth’s climate system and the various (non-linear) feedbacks between its different components (atmosphere, ocean, land and ice). The global energy (im)balance is of great importance in controlling the present-day climate. We explore the various climate disciplines and create insights on the governing dynamics behind present-day observed changes. We create a deeper understanding of the global energy (im)balance and the climate feedbacks by building an idealised climate model. This model consists of various concepts from physics, chemistry and biology. We will also discuss timely and societal-relevant subjects, such as geo-engineering, climate impacts and climate-related policies.

Students form groups to enhance collaboration, each group hands in weekly exercises. Students are tested with short periodic (weekly) tests from the course content or guest lectures. All course material is provided English. Students with a chemistry background may experience some content overlap in the first few lectures.

General skills that are covered in the course

  • Apply a spreadsheet program (specifically Excel): e.g., translate model parameters into formulas, generate relative and absolute references
  • Application of radiation transfer models
  • Scientific writing and presenting
  • Create calculation tasks

Requirements and final grade

  • Obligatory attendance, assignments and/or presentation

  • Final grade composition:

  • Course content (50%, hand-in exercises, (guest) lecture tests, writing assignment)

  • Final exam (50%, minimum grade 5.0 required)

  • Retake possible if both course content and final exam have a grade > 4

You pass the course when your final grade is 5.5 or highe
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Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student is able to:

  • Describe and apply basic principles from following disciplines in a simple climate model: physics (radiation, energy conservation, absorption of radiation), biology (photosynthesis, net primary production of ecosystems, biomass and degradation), chemistry (Carbonate chemistry, carbon cycle, acidification) and mathematics (parameterization of processes, time integration, dynamic equilibrium).

  • Generate a simple box-climate model based on meteorological, biological, chemical and oceanographic parameters arising from the various disciplines.

  • Based on the understanding of a simple box model, describe the operation of more complex climatic models.

  • Describe how changes in ice, and land surface and in biosphere, ocean, and atmosphere affect the climate system.

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Required prior knowledge

VWO profile N&T or N&G with mathematics B, specific: differentiating, integrating, logarithms, solving 2 equations with 2 unknowns, exponential functions. Recommended Knowledge: basic knowledge of Excel

Link to more information

If anything remains unclear, please check the FAQ of Utrecht University.


  • Start date

    3 February 2025

    • Ends
      11 April 2025
    • Term *
      Period 3
    • Location
    • Instruction language
    Enrolment starts in 134 days
For guests registration, this course is handled by Utrecht University