Physics provides the foundation to climate science. Last year’s March meeting of the APS began with a “Nobel special session,” which celebrated the prize-winning contributions of climate scientists Syukuro Manabe and Klauss Hasselmann to our understanding of the climate system. It also summarized the consensus on anthropogenic climate change in the long-awaited Sixth Summary Assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Earth’s climate embraces a dizzying array of physical processes, which are often hard to parse. The radiative energy received at the Earth’s surface is profoundly influenced by its reflectivity or albedo which varies dramatically due to the heterogeneous nature of the surfaces encountered (deserts and mountains, marshes and wetlands, forests and vegetation covered), ranging from different kinds of landforms to atmosphere, ocean, and ice. In general, however, radiative processes are driven by the need to balance (net) incoming solar radiation with outgoing thermal radiation, the latter emitted primarily from the atmosphere by greenhouse gasses.
Radiative energy balance is achieved via three main pathways: vertical energy transport via infrared radiation, vertical energy transport via atmospheric convection (e.g. thunderstorms), and poleward energy transport via large-scale atmospheric and oceanic circulation. Moreover, relatively small-scale variability contributes to destructive phenomena including hurricanes, tornadoes, ice-sheet melting, sea-level change, and flooding.
This tutorial will review the basics of these intersecting phenomena as a system, emphasizing fundamental physical principles, and will also touch on climate impacts and areas for future research relevant for physicists.
- Radiation Balance
- Large-Scale and Global Circulation
- Small-Scale Atmospheric Dynamics
- Future Prospects and Impacts
- Nadir Jeevanjee, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton
- Tiffany A. Shaw, University of Chicago
- Allison Wing, Florida State University
- Michael Mann, University of Pennsylvania
Who Can Attend?
This tutorial is intended for graduate students, postdocs, and researchers who are interested in climate as a possible subject of research, as well as those simply interested in learning about the basic physics of climate.