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Climate is an ideal topic for interdisciplinary education. Essential environmental concepts and everyday observations of weather and water offer natural extensions into the physical, chemical, biological, geographical, and social dimensions of Earth System Science. Making these connections enables comprehension of regional and global climate regimes.

In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its fourth comprehensive assessment of Earth’s Climate. This publication includes the efforts of over 2,500 scientific reviewers, 800 contributing authors and 450 lead authors from 130 different countries.
There were four parts to the report:
       The AR4 (IPCC Fourth Assessment Report) Synthesis Report
       Working Group I Report "The Physical Science Basis"
       Working Group II Report "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”
       Working Group III Report "Mitigation of Climate Change"

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts, the IPCC laid the foundation for measures that are needed to counteract climate change but left a chasm between the well-documented evidence presented in the report and the public’s ability to comprehend climate change mechanisms. This course helps bridge the climate literacy gap by clarifying the graphs and topics presented in the summary of Physical Science Basis report developed by Working Group I, with updates from the 2021-2023 IPCC (AR6) report.

Content development for this course was guided by the Climate Literacy Framework
set out by NOAA and NSF and therefore linked to the following essential principles:

  1) The Sun is the primary source of energy for Earth's climate system.
  2) Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system
  3) Life on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate
  4) Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes
  5) Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling
  6) Human activities are impacting the climate system
  7) Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives

This course was originally created for middle and high school science teachers as part of the NASA-funded Climate Literacy Ambassadors program with input from faculty and staff from the following UW-Madison departments:

    Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS)
    Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC)
    Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS)
    Center for Climatic Research (CCR) and
    Geology and Geophysics (G&G)

Subsequent updates, based on the latest data and updated IPCC reports, have been tailored to all science-interested individuals.


Revisions and updates have been made possible by the NASA GCCE program


 and the the UW-Madison Office of Sustainability.