850hPa Temperature in growing bariclinic wave

Weather and Climate Prediction

ATMS 380

 Time 9:00-10:20 Tu/Th (3 credit), ATG 310c

  Office Hours AGT 502: Monday noon to 1pm or by appointment

Instructors: Cecilia Bitz

Course Description

The atmosphere is part of a complex system that is often best investigated with models. Atmospheric models offer the opportunity to probe real phenomena, and models can be used as a learning tool to explore ideas though "what if" experimentation. This course will provide an overview of what weather and climate models entail, and how these models are used in the atmospheric sciences. Students will learn to run state-of-the-art models used for research in the atmospheric sciences. The course will cover techniques to visualize and analyze atmospheric phenomena. Students will be introduced to numerical methods and high-performance computing. Prerequisite: MATH 124-126, PHYS 121-122, and ONE of the following ATMS 101,111,211,301; ASTR 150,321; or ESS 201.

We will likely spend every Thursday in the computing lab for hands-on activities. The computer lab is room ATG 623.

Learning Goals/Objectives

The objective for this course are to learn how weather and climate models are applied to solving problems in atmospheric sciences.  To learn modeling and visualization of model output as resources for professional careers in the environmental sciences. To learn the basics in numerical methods and high-performance computing. To learn a phenomenological approach to understanding complex problems.To empower undergraduates with research skills for independent learning and to assist with university research projects.

Text book

Unfortunately there is no perfect text book for this course for all the topics. The required text is "A Climate Modeling Primer" by McGuffie and Henderson Sellers. There will be supplementary reading material handed out in class.

If you feel the text book is too expensive, I think an article by the same authors might serve as a good alternative.


Weekly exercises will involve running, analyzing, and interpreting models. When running a model for the first time in the course, designing a reasonable experiment, successfully setting it up and running the model will be the main goal of an exercise. In subsequent weeks, students will be judged on their interpretation of the results.Thus homework will be evaluated for a combination of following instructions, application of scientific method, and analysis of results. Exams will test students' understanding of reading and lecture materials. The course grade will be weighted 50% from homework and 50% from participation, midterm and final exam. A final project may be substituted for the final exam for everyone, depending on the class opinion at about midterm.

Late policy - I will allow each of you to turn in one assignment late, but you must give me notice by email at least 24 hours in advance of the due date. I may allow more than one under special circumstances, but I want to discourage getting into the habit of turning in work late. It is not wise for you to get behind, and it makes grader more difficult for me.

This animations shows the atmospheric temperature at 850hPa starting from a steady zonal-mean distribution that is an unstable equilibrium. When perturbed, a baroclinic wave grows. This is a simulation with a global circulation model using a dry adiabatic approximation.

Draft Schedule of Topics






Introduction to numerical modeling in atmospheric sciences. Basics of turning equations of motion, thermodynamics, etc. into numerical schemes. Boundary value problems versus initial value problems. Basics of using matlab and writing a simple script. lecture1.pdf

HW1 due 1/17 basics of matlab and finite difference

McG&HS Ch 1


Introduction to CAM. The value of idealized studies. Introduction to first case study: Baroclinic wave. Analyzing model output from the case study, model validation. lecture2.pdf

HW2 due 1/24
Optional Reading (rather advanced) by Jablonowsky and Williams (2006) about this exercise.
HW2 exemplar answers New!

Chapter on weather modeling handed out in class.


What is a parameterization? What is resolved in a model? What is uncertainty? Introduction to sensitivity studies. Hypothesis testing to investigate the case study. Few lecture notes this week since I mostly wrote on the board and demo'd software. lecture3.pdf
HW3 due 1/31
HW3 results New!


Examples of research using models for mesoscale and synoptic scale applications. Ensemble forecasts. Analysis of an ensemble.
lecture4.pdf  Lorenz model matlab script, also get this one
HW4 due 2/7
Katrina animation


Blocking and predictability lecture5.pdf
Nice story about blocking, motivation for HW5

Sample midterm questions

HW5 due 2/14
discussion of same event with animations


Midterm in class on Tuesday
  Wildly varying obliquity planets in lab on Thursday

HW6 due 2/21

Reading for next week paper by McG&HS or
McG&HS Ch 2 and 3


Climate modeling introduction. Planetary atmospheres and energy balance modeling. lecture6.pdf and written notes
HW7 due 2/28

McG&HS Ch 5

 Energy balance climate modeling lecture7.pdf  and written notes PLEASE BE AWARE, there are a few mentions of sign error corrections in the written notes. They refer to 2011. I did not make any errors when writing on the board in class nor in the EBM model itself that I know of in 2013. I'm sorry I didn't erase them in the notes. I only just realized on my flight today and now I can't change them.
HW8 due 3/7


Climate Feedbacks and why climate models disagree about future warming

lHW9 due 3/14


Examples of climate research using CAM. Class summary.

HW10 due 3/20

Optional reading Hawkins_Sutton_2008 on Climate Model Uncertainty

10:30-12:20 Final exam in class

Useful books

Goosse H., P.Y. Barriat, W. Lefebvre, M.F. Loutre and V. Zunz. Introduction to Climate Dynamics and Climate Modeling Free Web Book.

Durran, D., Numerical Methods for Fluid Dynamics with Application to Geophysics, Springer, 2010. Available by pdf from UW network. An advanced book. The first three chapters are relevant for homework 1.

Hartmann, D., Global Physical Climatology, Elsevier Academic Press, 1994

McGuffie, K., and A. Henderson-Sellers, A climate modeling primer, 2nd ed., John Wiley and Sons, 2005.

Robinson, W., Modeling dynamic climate systems, Springer, 2001.

Wallace, J. M. and Hobbs, Atmospheric Science: An Introductory Survey. 2nd ed. 2006.

Washington, W., and C. Parkinson, An introduction to three-dimensional climate modeling, 2nd ed., University Science Books, 2004.

Useful links

Climate Modeling 101

http://www.theweatherprediction.com/ A web site with useful information about weather prediction.

Nice animations

What is in a typical Earth System Model, here the French IPSL model

My own web site with animations from an ultra-high resolution climate model