EPS 231: Climate Dynamics
Spring 2023
Canvas course web page for EPS 231
last updated: Thursday 27th October, 2022, 15:57


1 Logistics

This is:
Earth and Planetary Sciences 231: Climate Dynamics.
Eli Tziperman (eli@eps.harvard.edu)
Camille Hankel, Camille_Hankel@g.harvard.edu. Office hours: Canvas course website.
Day, time:
Tuesday, Thursday, 10:30–11:45
Geological Museum, 4th floor, room 418. 24 Oxford St, Cambridge.
Office hours:
Eli: Monday/ Wednesday 1–2, please feel free to write or call me with any questions.
Electronic homework submission:
via https://www.gradescope.com/courses/408399: upload your submission as pdf following this tutorial video.
Course forum:
Please post questions regarding HW to the course forum on Ed Discussions (https://edstem.org/us/courses/30869/discussion/), you are very welcome to respond to other student questions.
Course downloads:
Detailed teaching notes:
including links to source materials, Matlab codes and more


 1 Logistics
 2 Outline
 3 Prerequisites
 4 Syllabus
 5 Homework assignments
 6 Requirements

2 Outline

The course covers climate dynamics and climate variability phenomena and mechanisms and provides hands-on experience running and analyzing climate models, as well as using dynamical system theory tools. The material includes principles of climate dynamics, from feedbacks that maintain different mean climates to phenomenology and mechanisms of climate variability on multiple time scales. Energy balance and climate equilibria, stability and bifurcations with Snowball Earth as an example. Climate variability: El Niņo (~4 yr period), the meridional overturning circulation and its multiple equilibria and variability (decadal and longer); meridional overturning variability as a possible explanation for the medieval warm period and the little ice age (hundreds of years); the Dansgaard-Oeschger warming events observed in the Greenland ice cores (every 1500 yr), Heinrich events involving massive collapses of ice during glacial times (every 7–10,000 yr), glacial-interglacial variability (100,000 yr) including ocean, atmospheric and ice dynamics, ocean carbonate chemistry and CO2. Warm climates, from the Pliocene’s (3–5 Myr) permanent El Niņo to the Eocene (50 Myr) equable climate, and with lessons to possible surprises in a future warmer climate. In each case, we will discuss physical mechanisms and demonstrate them with a hierarchical modeling approach, from toy models to General Circulation Models. The needed background in nonlinear dynamics will be covered.

Course homepage: http://www.seas.harvard.edu/climate/eli/Courses/EPS231/2023spring/

3 Prerequisites

The course may be taken as a sequel to MIT’s Climate Physics and Chemistry (12.842) or Harvard’s introduction to climate physics (EPS 208), but can also be taken independently of these courses. Familiarity with some basic Geophysical Fluid Dynamics (the equivalent of MIT 12.800, or Harvard EPS 232) is assumed; (students who took EPS 131 or EPS 132 and are interested in taking the course are requested to contact the instructor).

4 Syllabus

A detailed outline of the lectures, and a complete list of reference materials used in each lecture is available here. The course Supporting materials including slides, notes and code are available here.

  1. Outline and motivation: supporting material,
  2. Basic climate feedbacks: supporting material.
  3. El Niņo—Southern Oscillation: supporting material.
  4. Meridional overturning circulation: supporting material.
  5. D/O and Heinrich events: supporting material.
  6. Glacial cycles: supporting material.
  7. Pliocene, 2–5Myr: supporting material.
  8. Equable climate: supporting material.
  9. Data analysis tools for observations and model output (hands-on practice in sections): supporting material.
  10. Review. supporting material.

5 Homework assignments

Assignments from a recent time this course was taught, although not necessarily from this current year, are available here; please email if you are teaching a similar course and are interested in the solutions.

6 Requirements

Homework assignments every 9–10 days are 50% of the final grade, and a final course project constitutes the remaining 50%. There is an option to take this course as a pass/fail with an instructor’s approval during the first week of classes. The subject of the final project would be discussed in a couple of individual meetings with students during the semester, and would ideally be related to either climate subjects, modeling approaches, nonlinear dynamics methods or data analysis covered in class, and may be related to the research project of the student. The length of the final report should be some 6–10 pages including a few figures, 12pt, in pdf format, and the expected effort is of some 6–8 days of work. Please include an abstract, an introduction with the background/ motivation, a methods section including the precise details of data sources or model versions/ configuration with relevant links, results, and discussion/ conclusions.

Collaboration policy. We strongly encourage you to discuss and work on homework problems with other students and with the teaching staff. Of course, after discussions with peers, you need to work through the problems yourself and ensure that any answers you submit for evaluation are the result of your own efforts, reflect your own understanding and are written in your own words. In the case of assignments requiring programming, you need to write and use your own code. Please appropriately cite any books, articles, websites, lectures, etc that have helped you with your work.