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Open Climate 101 Online

Filed under: — david @ 16 January 2012

Almost 3000 non-science major undergraduates at the University of Chicago have taken PHSC13400, Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, since Ray Pierrehumbert and I (David Archer) first developed it back in 1995. Since the publication of the textbook for the class in 2005 (and a much-cleaned-up 2nd edition now shipping), enrollment has gone through the roof, it’s all I’ve been able to teach the last few years, trying to keep up with demand. I hear it is the largest class on campus, with 4-500 students a year out of an annual class of only around 1400. Now the content of this class is being served to the internet world at large: Open Climate 101.

You can watch video lectures followed by quizzes to challenge and hopefully stimulate your understanding, and work your way through tutorials with interactive models and simple mathematical ideas. Actually all that stuff has been available for a long time, online or in the textbook, but now it’s packaged into an interactive assessing system, which admittedly lacks the personality and finesse of our graduate student teaching assistants, but I hope it’ll get the job done. You can work at your own pace, on your own time. You don’t get University of Chicago credit, but it’s free, and if you get to the end of it you can download a certificate of accomplishment with your name and a verification code, signed by me. I hope people find it useful.

99 Responses to “Open Climate 101 Online”

  1. 1

    Thanks David, this is a wonderful gift. I was about to start my first quiz to see what I knew and then realized I need to the road soon. Does it have a save in place feature so one does not blow ones first attempt if interrupted? Otherwise, I will hold off until I have enough time.

    [Response:I'm just getting to learn "moodle" myself, but, yes, it does seem to remember where you are in a quiz from last time. On weird thing I've found is that if you blow the first attempt and then pass the second, the system knows you passed and will give you the certificate, but the gradebook doesn't show the updated score. David]

  2. 2
    Edward Greisch says:

    Not exactly free. The book is $51.06, not a download.

    [Response:Apologies for that sticker shock, that's what they do to textbooks. But you can get the same information for free from the video lectures. David]

  3. 3

    OK I’m game sign me up. Ive already watched a couple of Dr Archer’s videos on Peter Sinclair’s climate crocks site. It’d be useful if you could give us some idea of how long the whole course is supposed to take(or even better each module).

    [Response:A few people have signed on already, but I don't see your name. There's a link "Create a new account" under the login prompt, let me know if you have problems. The class is a non-trivial amount of work to get through. The students here do it in 10 weeks, coming to three lectures (some of them) and on 90 minute "lab session" a week. They take maybe four classes at a time. They're non-science majors but they still go through some pretty technical stuff. David]

  4. 4

    For what it’s worth, I just self-published (through a short nonfiction book: The Greenhouse Effect: What It Is, How It Works. $2.99 from, Kobo, Google Editions, and I think a couple of others as well. It’s about 40 pages, an e-book.

  5. 5
    Tom Mellis says:

    Many thanks, David. I am definitely looking forward to taking your on-line class.

    And thanks to all of you at RC for the time you devote to keeping the general public (e.g., me) informed on this very serious issue.

    You are the perfect antidote to much of the nonsense we see, hear and read on a regular basis from the so-called experts who know very little but are quite loud in their opinions. To them I have only this to say: Show me your evidence!

    Keep up the good work! You have more friends “out there” than you will ever know. I am one.

  6. 6
    Harry Kal says:

    Another scaremongering scenario I guess?

    [Response:The class discusses the Ultraviolet Catastrophe and the Collapse of the Wave Function, scary stuff. Actually the scary stuff is in the lecture about Lynas' book Six Degrees, the stuff also known as "impacts" and "working group II" in IPCC-speak. David]

  7. 7
    Snapple says:

    Could I copy this post on my blog with attribution so I can find it later? I think I will give this a try.

  8. 8
    Paul Gee says:

    Harry Kal
    Why guess?
    Sign up, do the course and find out for yourself

  9. 9
    Radge Havers says:

    Harry Kal @ 6

    If what you mean by ‘scare mongering scenario’ is histrionic predictions of economic apocalypse following any attempt to deal with AGW, then no, you’re probably guessing wrong. Do you do a lot of guessing?

  10. 10
    Jim Eager says:

    Why guess, Harry? Why not take the curse and watch the lectures for yourself so you’ll know for sure?

    Having read David’s book and watched the lectures I can assure you it’s just basic physics and chemistry, but then perhaps you found high school science ‘scary.’

    Come on, what do you have to lose, other than your own ignorance, that is?

  11. 11

    Love to get the book, but my shelves are bending under the weight of my statistical textbooks. Happy to pay for it, but I’d far prefer it on my Kindle.

    I am definitely checking out and recommending the course.

    [Response:Just found out the textbook has a kindle edition, available here. David]

  12. 12
    Frank Grober says:

    I think the science should be something that most voters can understand well enough to to make intelligent choices and I applaud anyone who is trying to spread the word. It just won’t be easy. I’m assuming that most readers will have had experiences like mine watching as the numbers in my Halliday and Resnick physics class declined as students who wanted to be scientists and did well in high school math and science found it tough going. Good luck getting the majority of Americans who didn’t even take high school chemistry to grasp all the details of many important arguments. Now I think a lot of people won’t even try to understand the science because they acccept arguments like the scientists are saying it to get grant money or it’s all a plot to make money for Al Gore or “Climategate” proves it was all a fraud. I think there would be a lot to be said for producing a complimentary package that for starters explains where money for science comes from and how many scientists work for fossil fuel and smokestack industries whereas a paid climatologist of any description is a rare bird indeed. I will spare you all of my arguments I use against deniers based on social science analysis, but I’m sure most readers will have their own largely overlapping set of comebacks. I personally happen to like this stuff at least as much as “real science” and I think they’re both essential to avoiding a planetary catastrophe. I will confess to having grown up in a family that loved to talk politics and enjoying high school debate so this sort of thing may come easier to me than it would to much better scientists, but when the mob is trying to burn down your lab trying to talk them out of it can be an important skill for scientists.

  13. 13

    When I click the introductory lecture on a Mac (OS X Lion, Firefox) I get nothing. I could get to the lecture by instead by following the Video Lectures link at the top of the page, that worked fine, although the first link is to a php page while the one that worked right away was a link directly to the mp4 file.

    I look forward to the course, however. Thanks for it.

    [Response:I just figured out how to enable a multimedia plugin which brings the videos up embedded in the pages, except for the intro lecture, and I also figured out that the intro lecture link wasn't working. Fixed now, tested and works in Safari, Chrome, and Firefox (which seems to be bizarrely slow). David]

  14. 14
    Spencer says:

    Great service. But did you test it in Google’s Chrome browser? I can’t download a lecture (although I can in Firefox).

  15. 15
    Salamano says:

    What is the method of assessment of mastery for such a class..? That sounds like an exceedingly large class size for an individual to reliably assess using what modern pedagogy reaches for in terms of ‘authentic’ methods. I can’t muster more than 25 per class without going into the fetal position correcting the writing work, etc. ;)

    [Response:The enrolled students at UC do get individual attention from graduate student TA's in lab sections of 20. I use scantron forms to give quizzes and exams; actually the questions for the on-line class came from compiling old exams for the last couple of years. Most students do well on the labs if they care enough to work at it, which pulls their grades up some from the exams, which do differentiate between students. Yeah, grading written answers is really hard and time consuming, we used to do that. I'd divide up the exam questions, one per TA, and everyone had to sit and read hundreds of answers. Scantron rules. David]

  16. 16
    Dave Rado says:

    I’ve tried creating a new account but whenever I click “Create my new account”, it just reloads the page. Although I suspect the problem is reCAPTCHA, there is no error message whatsoever, the page just reloads, so I don’t know whether that’s actually the problem or not. I’ve tried 10 times, 5 with the image CAPTCHA and 5 with the audio one, and have now given up. Is there any way you could sign me up for the course?

    [Response:Tried to set up an account for you. Send me an email. David]

  17. 17

    Ummm…”You can work at your own pace, on your own time.” But please hurry.

    Because destabilizing climate change unfolds according to physical laws that seems to be an increasing pace…. and whether our goals are adaptation or mitigation – too many people going at their own pace and time is one of the reasons we are in this mess.

  18. 18
  19. 19
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    This is great (as were your previous course materials). We just now got an Environmental Studies Minor approved to start next year, and I’ve been working on the science faculty to offer courses the non-science major students can take (without 8 science course as prereqs, as required for their Env Science courses in their Env Sci major).

    We had an expert, Shirley Vincent, Director of Educational Research at the National Council for Science and the Environment, come and give a faculty teaching workshop last spring, and she said that the trend in environmental studies and sciences education is for truly interdisciplinary studies that include the sciences, social sciences and humanities, etc.

  20. 20

    Hopefully! But – look,0,2808837.story

    Climate change skepticism seeps into science classrooms
    Some states have introduced education standards requiring teachers to defend the denial of man-made global warming. A national watchdog group says it will start monitoring classrooms.

  21. 21

    Thanks so much David, this is a wonderful resource.

    I teach environmental law in Australia and when talking about climate change law and policy I recommend to my students, if they aren’t up to speed with climate change science, to read:

    1. Spencer Weart’s book, ‘The Discovery of Global Warming’; and

    2. your book for a more technical understanding without being overwhelmed by lots of complex maths and physics.

    Spencer’s book reads like a detective novel and gives a good background to the history and development of ideas. It’s a great introduction for the lay-person. Your book gives a more technical understanding of the physics involved.

    I haven’t looked at the new edition of your book yet but I look forward to reading it.

    Thank you for the work you do and the new online course.

    Dr Chris McGrath
    Senior Lecturer (Environmental Regulation)
    The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

    [Response:I remember thinking, as I read Weart's book, how could he know all that stuff? It was like he was there. The magic of the historian. I agree, a great book. David]

  22. 22
    Bill says:

    In the last six months I have made two copies of Archer’s lectures and sent them off to friends who were non-science majors a decade or three ago and they both have really enjoyed them. Maybe they will take the quizzes?
    Thank you for doing this.

  23. 23
    Ernst K says:

    I watched your videos when you linked them back in 2009 (“an offering”). It definitely helped fill some gaps in my knowledge (particularly the geologic regulation and the reason why CO2 is a GHG and O2 and N2 are not). Together with continued reading of Stephen Weart, it really helped organize the many lines of evidence underlie climate change science.

    By coincidence, I was asked a year later to teach an undergraduate course that included a major unit on climate change. So, to the extent that your lectures helped improve my lectures, you can add 150+ future civil engineers to your running total.

    And I concur with Chris McGrath that between you and Weart, your “offerings” lay an excellent groundwork for understanding the science of climate change.

  24. 24
    danny bloom says:

    This is fantastic! Bravo. Some good, positive news. Go go go.

    In related news, in the distant
    future — some say the near future — North America, northern Asia and
    Europe will see millions of climate refugees from southern lands
    trekking northward, as you know, and our descendants in 2121 or 2222 might all might be under threat from the
    devastating impacts of ”climate chaos” — from rising sea levels to a
    scary scarcity of food, fuel and shelter.

    So please read “Polar City Red,” sci fi writer Jim Laughter’s cli-fi fiction novel set in an imagined
    Alaska in the year 2080. Forget NASA’s missions to Mars, says Laughter, and start thinking
    about mass migrations of ”climate refugees” north to Alaska. (By the
    way, the term “climate refugees” was coined by Robin Bronen, a woman
    professor in Anchorage.)

  25. 25
    Thomas Bleakney says:

    Good show. I have read your “Understanding the Forecast,” the “Long Thaw,”" Weart’s “Discovery of GW” as well “6 degrees.” I have tried my best to spread the word, and I find receptive people part of the time. So many people are stuck at denial stage 2, asking how we are so sure GW is anthropogenic. I point to the ISOTOPIC SIGNATURE of the rising CO2 that shows it originates mostly from fossil fuel (no C14) and deforestation (surface organic). Do you get good response from your students on this point ?

  26. 26
    Edward Greisch says:

    6 Degrees is a good book and I read it a long time ago. Why did you prescribe a book by Friedman? I have read the first chapter, and so far it lives up to my expectation of Thomas Friedman: not interesting, mostly sideshow issues.

    [Response:Seems to me interesting ideas about how energy issues fit with other global sociopolitical trends. Maybe the first chapter wasn't the best, it's been a while. David]

  27. 27
    Trent1492 says:


    I went looking for your book at Amazon through a title and author search and your book is not popping up.

  28. 28
    CM says:


    Registration and enrollment: check. Oddly, “Course completion status” still says “You are not enrolled in this course”. “Course administration” offers the option of unenrolling, though.

    [Response:That's weird. I don't get that in my student account. You do show up as enrolled. Can you take a quiz etc? David]

    Textbook: check, ordered. I may just have snatched Amazon’s last copy in stock this side of the Atlantic — sorry, folks.

    Video lectures: working in Firefox.

    Projected pace: glacial, regulated by the mounting in-tray homeostat.

    Captcha, sensing my new academic ambitions, is trying to get me to typeset set theory.

  29. 29
    Alexandre says:

    I second Ernst K above.

    I watched the videos back then, and it really helped me filling the gaps of my internet-based self-teaching. Playing around with the online models also helped. Highly recommended.

    Thanks David!

  30. 30
    Warren Hendricks says:

    Thank you for putting this course on line! I will spread the word. Also, for those interested, used copies of the textbook are available from Amazon for about $10. And for those who use Itunes on your portable devices, you can get the video lectures in ITunes U.

  31. 31
    John Atkeison says:

    I’m interested in hearing about the response to your announcement– I posted on facebook and got a bigger response than I expected, both in “Likes” and “shares.”
    John ClimateHawk Atkeison

    [Response:Currently 340 students enrolled, about 26 hours after I posted the announcement on realclimate. My largest class, evah! David]

  32. 32
    Christoph Rose says:

    This is very nice, but the interface is slightly confusing, as you have to register, enroll in the system, and then enroll for the course in order to be able to start it.

    One extremely slight complaint: During my second attempt at the exam for the first lecture, I got a question about blackbody radiation, which hadn’t been addressed during the filmed lecture.

  33. 33
    CM says:

    David, re #28,

    After logging out and in again, everything looks right – sorry about the noise.

  34. 34
    Jeff Rubinoff says:

    @BPL, just bought your book on my Kindle. Not to be confused with Big, Blooming & Wild! Greenhouse Effect, which also popped up in my search.

  35. 35
    BillC says:

    looking forward to it. many thanks.

  36. 36
    Chris Colose says:


    Thanks for this. This is a tremendous resource. My graduate advisor is using your text for his undergrad Climate Change classes, so hopefully some of his students gain from this online supplement. The quiz’s certainly help reinforce some of the concepts very well. A couple comments:

    - it might help to expose answers that the student was unable to get, especially since a lot of questions (for example in Lab 1 on units) require using previous answers for several later questions; if one were unable to get an answer to a question, it might prevent them from answering three or four more after that.

    - I also think some of the answers are wrong, for example the question on converting kW hr to joules for the PV cell (600 kW hr *(3600000 J/KW hr) doesn’t work), or need re-wording (like “what is the ratio of the Hoover dam to the solar farm”, what does that mean?) In another case, you ask “FM radio operates at a frequency of about 100 MHz. What is its wavelength?” but you don’t specify what units the answer should be in.

    - I continue to get an Internal server error when trying to use the NCAR radiation code module, which for example prevents me from answering the first question in Lab 3 or 6.

  37. 37
    Peter Bellin says:

    I would like to use some of this material in my class on Air Pollution. the last third is climate change. I have seen your lectures on youtube, and thank you for your sharing this online.

    I only have to decide how to utilize it. I will take some time to start viewing the material in the next few days.

  38. 38
    Edward Greisch says:

    26 David: Sciopolitical trends: How about books on wars started by GW effects? Those big new rich populations won’t be rich long. China is loosing a Rhode Island sized chunk of farmland to desert annually. A new green revolution is not going to happen. India and China could have a nuclear war over water from Tibet.

    72 billion people’s worth of consumption? Sorry, I just don’t believe it can happen. Sciopolitical trends can be interrupted by Mother Nature so easily that I don’t believe in the sciopolitical trends. It finally snowed this winter in January. Did the winter wheat survive?

    I guess if I just leave my computer on a lecture it will eventually download so I can watch a whole lecture. It won’t save, so I have to watch the lecture after waiting for the download.

  39. 39
    Edward Greisch says:

    So where do I register?

  40. 40


    Sorry about that. I posted a day before it actually went on sale. It’s up now and the URL is


  41. 41

    Thanks, Jeff! I appreciate it.
    Realclimate hosts: Thanks for revising the reCaptcha thingy. It’s a heck of a lot easier to use now.

  42. 42
    Tony says:

    signed up last night!

  43. 43
    Septic Matthew says:

    I think that making this available online is a great idea.

  44. 44
    Septic Matthew says:

    Edward Greisch: A new green revolution is not going to happen.

    FWIW, the old green revolution was predicted not to happen as well. You might just as usefully predict that electricity from solar power will never be as cheap as electricity from coal.

  45. 45
    Daniel C Goodwin says:

    This online course is a wonderful gift for aspiring climate geeks. I’m signed up and raring to go after the Introductory Lecture video. Thanks so much!

    One question for the cheapskates: the first edition of your textbook can be had (from a used-book site like at a fraction of the price of the second edition. For folks who like to follow along with a textbook, would the first edition work out okay with the video lectures?

    [Response:Yes, either will be fine. The layout etc are the same. The 1st edition makes me cringe a bit, but it'll do. David]

  46. 46
    CM says:

    Hi, BPL,

    Got your booklet, so now I can crib from my Kindle should anyone put a gun to my head and make me write down the equation of radiative transfer. I don’t know why anyone would do that, really, but I remember you raising the hypothetical a couple of times. :-) Typo alert: density should be in kg per cubic meter, not square.

  47. 47
    Lee Norton says:

    I downloaded your course last year and have viewed it with my wife. I’ve also re-visited several sections that my slow brain needed to review. I also sent your website to Audrey at Canada’s Climate Reality Project who in turn made it available to all presenters. From emails, I know she has looked at it. In summary thanks for putting out such a great learning resource.

  48. 48
    John E. Pearson says:

    I just had my copy of Barton’s little book delivered to my kindle. You can get it here:

  49. 49

    CM, John, thanks. CM, you’re absolutely right about the density. Don’t know how I missed that. Oh, well, if there’s ever another edition…

  50. 50

    CM, John, thanks!

    CM, thanks for pointing out the typo–you’re right, of course. If there’s ever another edition…

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