Astro 7: Planetary Climate Science


Instructor: Dr. Rick Nolthenius

Office: 706a

phone: 479-6506

Contact: Salsa page for contact info
Classroom this Fall '19 semester: Rm 806 2:45-5:50pm Tuesdays


Office Hours:
Monday: 11:00-12pm
in 706a

Tuesday: 6:30-7:30pm

Wednesday: 11am-noon, 5-6pm, both in 706a

Friday: 5-6pm at the Observatory (contact me first)

and by appointment


Useful Links from Cabrillo on
Life, Career, and other goodies as they arise

Lecture Schedule Fall '19

PowerPoints and short video possibilities for 10 min breaks

Quizzes and Final Exam Study Guides

Quiz Chapters and Associated PowerPoint List

Climate Science: Key Ideas

Extra Credit Opportunities and Essay List

Instructive Online Videos

The Politics and Science of Climate

Other Web Resources on Current Earth Climate Change

Local Resources on Climate Change

This non-mathematical introductory course is a 3 unit GE and IGETSE lab science transfer course for UC and CSU, fulfilling the same transferability as Astro 3 and Astro 4. Paired with Astro 8A, the Astro 7 + 8A combo will fulfill your lab science requirement for both UC and CSU lab science transfer. It is part of the "recommended electives" for the Astronomy AS degree. Also note that climate science is now part of the new Next Generation Science Standards which are in the process of adoption by the state of California for public schools. Want to pursue interdisciplinary climate change studies at a good university? Consider UC San Diego, which has made a major new initiative. UC Santa Cruz has new initiatives in this direction as well.

Most Astro 3, Astro 4, and Astro 7 students here are non-science majors, so it will be important to cover first the nature of science, and the principles of clear thinking and reasoning. This will be done the first week. The course will next introduce the basic principles of, and physical processes that govern, the atmospheres around planets. We'll then examine the other planets of our solar system and show how climate is measured and an introduction to how climate modeling is done. We will also look at the discovery of planets around other stars and the first beginnings of our understanding of their climate - a very exciting area in 21st century astronomy that is still in its infancy. The last 3/4 of the course will be devoted to the Earth Climate - the clues that inform us of its past temperatures, changing composition, and the interplay between heating from the sun, the oceans, and biosphere. Certainly, Earth is the planet whose climate we understand the most deeply and where data quality best allows us to test the predictions of climate modeling with observations. Most important, we'll be spending the last 2/3 of the course examining in detail current Earth climate change and human influences on climate. This is a vitally important subject - it is the most consequential science happening today. Why? First, because, unlike most areas of science, the layman is being bombarded with agenda-driven lies, and second, because it will profoundly affect your life and the lives of all future generations. We'll examine climate denialism, which has added so much misinformation and been so costly to the understanding of current climate change by the American public, and costly to summoning the will to implement adequate policy. We'll look at what the latest research is showing we can expect for our future given different scenarios of human actions. And, we'll also look at Civilization as a "super-organism" and how its energy consumption is linked in a simple way to Global Spending, putting sobering constraints on what can be done, as well as look at government policy, technological attempts, geo-engineering, and even the psychopathologies which are preventing meaningful human action to confront this challenge.

Important Point To Set You at Ease, Right Up Front!
*** This course is packed to the gills with vitally important Earth Climate Change discoveries, future climate, policy and technology strategies, climate politics and more. In fact, it's perhaps TOO full (I'm working on trimming and also adding new important discoveries. Both. Constantly!). A bit like drinking from a firehose? SO - in order to insure that you need not excessively worry about your grade and to insure that you attend class, I will be doing something in this course which I have only begun recently - In addition to the study guides and "red slides" (more on that below), I will be EXPLICIT during the actual lectures when we encounter material which I know you will be quizzed on. Your exam questions are already generated and I will have them in front of me during our lectures. When we get to material you will be quizzed on, I will tell you explicitly that I will be asking you a mult choice question on THIS material, and then watch to see you wide-eyed and ready to write in your notes and circle in red, and allowing you to ask me for clarification on the point I'm making at that time. I'll be very clear on your understanding relevant to what I will ask you. I want to see you with useful notes which will help you with your grades. I want you to learn everything I have to share on planetary climate and climate change on Earth. My hope is that you will pay close and fascinated attention during everything I present, absorb what you can, and then pay most special attention at those moments when I'm covering exam material so that you can FOCUS on grasping the meaning and understanding of that particular point, and put it into your notes. If you do this, your grade will take care of itself in a happy way. Look at it this way - my bargain with you is that: if you commit to coming to lecture each time, and digest all you can, then I will reward you by telling you explicitly in class what you need to know for exams. In the previous semester, most students earned an "A" or those that didn't earned a "B". And these are objective multiple choice exams, so they earned them fair-and-square. Note too that you are allowed to make an 8"x10" sheet of handwritten notes (both sides) and have that with you on Final Exam day. On our video-quiz for "Birth of the Earth", you are also allowed to take notes during the video and have them with you during the exam.

Textbook and Other Resources
There are no textbooks yet which cover exactly what this course covers at the introductory level needed here. We'll therefore be using relevant chapters from the standard astronomy textbook - "The Cosmic Perspective", or equivalent "Cosmic Perspective: Solar System (4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th edition are all fine) ". *Note that the link is just to let you examine what the book is, don't assume I've shopped for the lowest price version or edition because that changes every day on Amazon. The full textbook "Cosmic Perspective" includes many more chapters on stars and galaxies, but none relevant for our course. Get whichever you prefer and whichever is cheaper; may be helpful here. The chapter numberings are the same between each. Get whatever edition you can find, used. You can find good deals on Amazon. Don't pay new-book prices. The Bennett et al. text will cover the broad outlines of basic planetary science, solar system science, light and matter, planets, atmospheres, and a bit on climate. If you have taken, or are taking Astro 3, then the relevant first half chapters are already in your Astro 3 textbook - I hope you didn't sell it already! That said, you can just as well do very well in the course even without the textbook, because my PowerPoints are now quite extensive and include ALL relevant material, not just the non-Earth-related material you'll find in the textbook. The text is useful, but not strigtly required, I would advise. For the second half of the course, we'll be using exclusively material which I have assembled into PowerPoints linked at the top of this page. There is no textbook which has Earth climate and Earth's current climate change suitable for our course, although you're welcome to comb the web and find likely more advanced texts on these areas. (Also, I'll note that there is a course taught at the University of Chicago by Dr. David Archer on Global Warming. The lectures were all videotaped and can be downloaded and played as .mp4 files. I've watched them, and they're useful, but the only visuals are chalk on a chalkboard, and often not very clear, and it doesn't include much material we'll cover here. Still worth watching - check them out here). If you choose not to buy the Cosmic Perspective, that's not a big problem, because by far the biggest resource for you is ...

My PowerPoint Presentations
I'll be lecturing from PowerPoint presentations each week. Here are the Astro 7 Powerpoints. It's easiest to study them as .pdf files, which are also linked on your page. Climate is a very active area of research, and these PowerPoints will continue to evolve. Science - marches on! Pay special attention to the red slides at the end of the PowerPoints - they're key point summaries, critical for studying for exams. Also notice that "purple" slides are supplementary and are definitely not quiz material. (Most slides you won't be quizzed on, but some material is definitely meant to be supplementary, hence the purple). Our study guides are also valuable for helping you identify the material I'll test you on. See below.

Lecture Schedule
Our lecture schedule is linked in the top box on this page.

Online Video Lectures and other Resources
I've compiled a list of instructive videos and short videos which I invite you to watch. I also maintain a detailed website The Politics and Science of Climate which is an excellent resource for debunking climate denial claims. It's quite detailed and well worth your study before, during, and after the course. It is a dense concentration of science which includes a long list of common "skeptic" myths and their debunking, the "why" of greenhouse warming and human actions, and the latest science on where our planet is heading. While I don't edit that website very often these days, I constantly update our lecture PowerPoint Presentations as I read new scientific papers. For those wanting more, you might think about the UCSC Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) Friday seminar series. At noon each Friday during their school year they have visiting professors or post-docs give a talk on current research they're involved with. I go to these if I can (noon is not as good as the old 3:30pm time slot, alas), and in fact these are good options for your extra credit public lecture opportunity, available for you every week.

Study Guides
Your exams will all be multiple choice. I've put together a detailed study guide to help you with each question. Here is the study guide webpage. Another resource is the Key Points, which is a list of the topic ideas which I consider most important and around which I will tend to make many of my exam questions. Perhaps even more important for your studying for exams, are the red slides at the end of each of the PowerPoints. These red slides have the key points from the PowerPoint and are composed with an eye towards what my test question bank contains. Each semester, I fine-tune these red slides to more and more accurately indicate which material I use for making exam questions. If, tragically, you don't have a computer at home to study PowerPoints, at least go to the library early in the semester and print the red slides from each and every PowerPoint, to guide your study and question-asking during my lectures. As this course evolves, it is becoming more and more focused on my PowerPoints as source for all quiz question material. There just aren't yet any books I know of which are perfect textbooks for what this course covers at the lower division undergraduate level. The advantage too of working from Powerpoints is (1) they're free! and (2) they can be updated immediately as new discoveries happen - not possible with textbooks in this fast-changing field.

Compared to my Astro 3 course "Solar System Astronomy", here we will spend no time on gravity, telescopes, or the history of astronomy or solar system formation. We will, however,still talk about how light interacts with matter, which is very important for understanding climate. More than half the course will be on Earth atmosphere and ocean climate-related basics, and Earth climate history and especially on current and future climate change, including the political, economic, and engineering challenges.

Important!: Also compared to my other classes, I will be much more explicit in telling you during lecture very obviously what exactly you NEED to REMEMBER for the exams. Generally, I am not a fan of such teaching. But, what we are going to learn is so important, so vital for your understanding, that I'll be giving you a LOT of knowledge - too much to expect you to digest all of it for an exam. I'd rather have you be here and learn, rather than risk losing you because you're intimidated about your grade. If you are present in class, if you take notes in class and especially when I tell you "you will be tested on this", if you study the powerpoints, take cues from the red slides, you will do fine. The large majority of students earn "A" or "B" with this policy.

Quizzes, extra credit opportunities, and a final exam will determine your grade, as follows...
......70% from quizzes, including a quiz after watching the History Channel video "Birth of the Earth"
......30% from Final Exam
...... up to 5% additional extra credit points for news clippings, outside lectures, essays undertaken

The quizzes are all multiple choice. They will be approximately 10 to 15 questions long, and they will always be given as the last thing at the end of class. You need to go to the campus bookstore or library and buy at least 9 green, narrow scantron sheets. These sheets have room for up to 50 questions on a side. Buy a packet, for about $2.50, keep them in their plastic wrap for safekeeping in your binder, and you'll be ready to go when quiz time comes. As you see from the schedule below, there are 6 quizzes based on lectures and text, and 1 or 2 video quizzes, and one final exam. My grading software will automatically drop your lowest two quizzes. There are no makeups! So, if you miss class, you miss also the quiz that was given then. Miss a quiz, and that quiz will be dropped and also your lowest taken quiz will also be dropped from your grading. Miss two quizzes, and those will be the quizzes dropped from your grading, and all the quizzes you actually attended will be included in your grading. Beyond the two allowed dropped quizzes, additional missed quizzes are assigned a score of 30% (roughly the percent expected from a random guess - since it's not fair to give you a "zero"=0!). The grade scale is ...

A = 80% and above
B = 70% to 79.999%
C = 60% to 69.999%
D = 50% to 59.999%
F = below 50%
Pass = 60% and above

Extra Credit:
You may also earn extra credit in various ways. I will add these percentages to your cumulative final course score before assigning your letter grade. Here's the extra credit webpage. If you want to do an essay for extra credit, you must choose from my list of list of essays. However, only 5 people at most can do a given essay, so get your "dibs" in early. You MUST email me your choice. See details on the essay link. If you have a GOOD idea for an additional essay, run it by me and I'll see if I agree to add it to the approved list. The point is, I want the essay to be a meaty exercise, not just copying something quick off the web.

Notes During Exams
Most exams are closed notes, and no cell phones or computers allowed. There are two exceptions: I strongly encourage you to take good notes during the video quizze(s) and you may have these notes (and ONLY these notes; handwritten only so no computer or iPhone notes) open to you when you take the video quiz. Students usually do well on video quizzes! Also, you may bring to the final exam a single 8x10 page (both sides) of handwritten notes of your own making.

How to Approach this Course
What will make for a good class? I do love teaching interested people about their universe, and the challenge of climate change. I like to try and figure out new ways to get you to experience the light bulb feeling of genuine understanding, on the workings of the planet and the cosmos, with down-to-Earth analogies. I like listening to you and figure out how you think, how you reason, how you construct your interpretations. No matter how foolish the world may be, the workings of the universe at large have a logic, a symmetry, and a harmony which is beautiful to all who open themselves to it. If you can think of our time together as your time to just be curious, to talk, and to discover, we'll have a great time.

The ideal class esprit de corps would be informal and conversational... more a discussion than a "lecture", but focused on climate science

Added Attractions

* Get practice learning the art of thinking like a scientist! Learn healthy skepticism, and sharpen up your reasoning skills so you can debunk the pseudo-science types!  

* Purple Sucker Awards! For each quiz, those making a perfect score will earn an item of candy as a token of my esteem, and the accolades of the class.

* Bulletin boards for seeing the latest cool stuff on astronomy and climate, as well as local lecture series, star parties, etc.

* Weather permitting, a star party at Cabrillo Observatory. Stay tuned for a date. I'll post it on the schedule page when the time and weather are right.
* Most days I'll show powerpoint presentations and the occasional science video.. You'll enjoy them.

* YouTube videos: Here's a collection of some Astro 7 relevant videos and another collection of bite-size videos here. Here's my growing list of YouTube's on Great Scientists Pondering Science and Philosophy

**** Nolthenius-brand aridly dry humor to leaven the proceedings!

Here is a valuable list of Cabrillo policies and resources for you as students

Students with disabilities:

Students needing accommodations should inform the instructor. As required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), accommodations are provided to insure equal access for students with verified disabilities. To determine if you qualify or need assistance with an accommodation, please contact ACCESSIBILITY SUPPORT CENTER (Formerly DSPS), Room 1073, (831)479-6379.

Student Learning Outcomes
1. Assess the relative importance of the major determiners of climate on planets in general.
2. Analyze the link between long-term planetary evolution and long-term climate change on the inner planets of our Solar System.
3. Discriminate between junk science and valid science in assessing studies of climate change on Earth.
4. Connect the causes and responses of Earth's climate to astronomical mechanisms over the geologic past.

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