Earth and Climate physics

Course content

The purpose of the course is to provide an overview of the Earth and its climate system and the underlying physical processes, and to develop simple numerical models of phenomena related to the Earth and its climate.

The course provides a basic understanding of the various components of the Earth’s climate system and their interactions. The course introduces the fundamental physics principles and observations needed to understand the present and past climate, and the basic processes that shape the Earth and influence climate evolution on a planetary scale. The physics principles involve thermodynamics, radiation physics, heat transfer, celestial mechanics, fluid mechanics, and various other processes. Simple numerical models are developed as an integrated part of the course to investigate Earth system phenomena. The numerical modelling will involve solving simple partial differential equations.


  • The surface energy balance and heat transport
  • Large scale ocean circulation
  • Glacial cycles and ice sheet dynamics
  • Orbital parameters and variation of temperature with season and latitude
  • Atmospheric composition and evolution of climate
  • Interactions between the major elements in the climate system: the atmosphere, the ocean, the ice sheets, the solid earth and the biogeochemical system.

The course contains lectures, exercises and computer exercises where students work with simple models. The students form groups of 2-3 students and choose an exam modelling project (which will contribute with 50% to the evaluation). The groups will work on their projects during the remaining exercises of the course. We recommend that the programming language MATLAB be used for the modelling.


M.Sc. Physics

Learning outcome

After completing this course, the student will be able to:

  • Understand the role of the atmosphere, the ocean the ice sheets and the solid Earth in the climate system.
  • Describe the climate evolution of the Earth (snowball Earth, greenhouse Earth, glacial cycle, global warming) and the key physical processes.
  • Use simple numerical models to describe the interaction between the atmosphere, the ocean, the ice sheets and the solid Earth.
  • Develop a numerical model in Matlab (or an equivalent language).
  • Present and discuss the results of the numerical model in a written report.

During the course, simple models of the Earth's climate system will be presented. Emphasis will be placed upon physical interactions and feedbacks between the atmosphere, the oceans, and the ice sheet components of this system. Some subjects that will be covered will be energy balance and heat transport, large scale ocean circulation, glacial cycles and ice sheet dynamics, orbital parameters and variations of temperature with season and latitude.

Through this course, the students will see how the fundamental physics principles governing the components of the Earth and its climate system result in complex behavior when interacting on a planetary scale. They will further see how simple numerical models can be used to obtain understanding about a complex topic such as the Earth’s climate. The student will be competent in using and extrapolation knowledge from these models. Development of numerical models has applications in a wide range of fields within physics.

Lectures, exercises, computer exercises, project work.

See the course page at Absalon.

Knowledge of physics and mathematics equivalent to the first year of the BSc in Physics

Mandatory for specialisation "Geophysics"

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Oral examination, 30 minutes
A written report based on the modelling project (contributes with 50%) and a 30 min oral exam with 30 min preparation time (contributes with 50%). The written report and the oral exam must be passed separately in order to pass the exam.
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

The highest grade, 12, is achieved if all skills are demonstrated with none or only few errors.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 35
  • Practical exercises
  • 25
  • Project work
  • 10
  • Preparation
  • 136
  • English
  • 206