MITx: 12.340x: Global Warming Science

School: MITx
Course Code: 12.340x
Classes Start: 19 Feb 2014
Course Length: 12 weeks
Estimated effort: 8 hours/week


Some college-level mathematics (calculus, including ordinary differential equations) and physics (electromagnetism, mechanics) as well as high-school chemistry are required. Beyond these...

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MITx: 12.340x - Global Warming Science

Global Warming Science

An introduction to the physics of the climate system and the basic science underpinning discussions of anthropogenic climate change.

About this Course

12.340x introduces the basic science underpinning our knowledge of the climate system, how climate has changed in the past, and how it may change in the future. The course focuses on the fundamental energy balance in the climate system, between incoming solar radiation and outgoing infrared radiation, and how this balance is affected by greenhouse gases. We will also discuss physical processes that shape the climate, such as atmospheric and oceanic convection and large-scale circulation, solar variability, orbital mechanics, and aerosols, as well as the evidence for past and present climate change. We will discuss climate models of varying degrees of complexity, and you will be able to run a model of a single column of the Earth's atmosphere, which includes many of the important elements of simulating climate change. Together, this range of topics forms the scientific basis for our understanding of anthropogenic (human-influenced) climate change.

We will not cover issues regarding policy responses to climate change. Rather, Global Warming Science is designed to be a strictly scientific introduction to this important topic.

12.340x is geared toward students with some mathematical and scientific background, but does not require any prior knowledge of climate or atmospheric science. See the prerequisites section for more details.

Course Structure
The course will be divided into weekly sections which will be released sequentially. Each section will include a set of lecture videos and practice exercises that students will be expected to work through. Additional background readings may be assigned, all of which will be sourced from material freely available online. The course will be graded based on weekly online problem sets, as well as an online final exam. 

Ways to take this edX course:

Simply Audit this Course

Audit this course for free and have complete access to all of the course material, tests, and the online discussion forum. You decide what and how much you want to do.


Try for a Certificate

Looking to test your mettle? Participate in all of the course's activities and abide by the edX Honor Code. If your work is satisfactory, you'll receive a personalized certificate to showcase your achievement.

Course Staff

  • Kerry Emanuel

    Kerry Emanuel

    Kerry Emanuel is the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Atmospheric Science in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT. He obtained his PhD from MIT in 1978, and returned as faculty in 1981. His research investigates fundamental aspects of the fluid dynamics of the atmosphere, in particular tropical cyclones (a.k.a. Hurricanes or Typhoons) and tropical circulations in general. 

  • Dan Cziczo

    Dan Cziczo

    Dan Cziczo obtained his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1999. He is currently Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT. Dan is interested in the interrelationship of particulate matter and cloud formation. His research utilizes laboratory and field studies to elucidate how small particles interact with water vapor to form droplets and ice crystals which are important players in the Earth's climate system.

  • David McGee

    David McGee has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT since 2012. He obtained his PhD from Columbia University in 2009. David's research builds records of past climate changes using geochemical tools, with an aim to improve our understanding of the response of the atmospheric circulation and hydrological cycle to different climate changes. 


Some college-level mathematics (calculus, including ordinary differential equations) and physics (electromagnetism, mechanics) as well as high-school chemistry are required. Beyond these requirements, familiarity with the concept of a partial differential equation and some knowledge of basic thermodynamics will be helpful, but not essential; extra readings will be available for students unfamiliar with the concepts.


Will this course discuss policies related to mitigating climate change?

This course will strictly deal with the science of climate change. There will not be any discussion of policies relating to mitigation or adaptation to climate change, or the politics associated with these issues.

Is there a required textbook?

You do not need to buy a textbook. All readings will be from freely available online resources.

Will I earn a certificate?

Yes. Online learners who achieve a passing grade in a course can earn a certificate of achievement. These certificates will indicate you have successfully completed the course, but will not include a specific grade. Free honor code certificates will be issued by edX under the name of MITx.

Can I still register after the start date?

Registration will be open until March 12, 2014 - three weeks after the beginning of the course. You may register anytime before this date, but you will not get credit for any assignments that are past due.

How is the course graded?

Your performance in the course will be graded on a combination of weekly online problem sets and an online final exam. There will also be short exercises accompanying the video lectures, but these will not be graded.

Will the text of the lectures be available?

Yes, transcripts of the course will be made available.

Do I need to watch the lectures live?

No. New videos will become available as the course progresses, but you may watch the lectures at your leisure - you do not need to watch the lectures at any set time.

How much does it cost to take the course?

Nothing: the course is free.