NFYK13000U Climate Change Mechanisms and Tipping Points

Volume 2015/2016

MSc Programme in Climate Change
MSc Programme in Agriculture
MSc Programme in Physics
MSc Programme in Nature Management


Introduction to the fundamental physical and bio-geo-chemical mechanisms defining the climate and climate variations on Earth.

  • Introduction to the fundamental processes in the climate system.
  • Energy balance considerations.
  • The physics of the greenhouse (atmospheric) effect.
  • The concepts of radiative forcing, feedback and climate sensitivity.
  • Different types of forcing: Direct and indirect solar forcing, long wave forcing (i.e. greenhouse gases), the direct and indirect forcing related to aerosols and atmospheric chemistry.
  • The most important fast feedbacks (water vapour, snow-albedo, lapse rate, high cloud, low cloud).
  • Climate drivers or feedbacks? A discussion of forcing versus longer term feedbacks involving the ocean circulation and the ice sheets.
  • The role of oceanic and terrestrial carbon cycles (feedbacks and/or forcing).
  • An overview of the role of the cryosphere in climate feedbacks.
  • The processes behind so-called tipping elements.
Learning Outcome

After having completed the course the student should have an overview of the physical and bio-geo-chemical mechanisms behind climate variations/changes on Earth. More specifically the student should be able to


  • Understand the nature of the globally averaged energy-flows.
  • Understand the nature and role of the greenhouse effect.
  • Account for the concepts of radiative forcing, climate feedbacks and climate sensitivity and be able to perform simple exercises involving these concepts.
  • List the most important climate drivers and feedback mechanisms operating on different time scales and to separate climate drivers from climate feedbacks.


  • Apply the relevant scientific terminologies correctly.
  • Present the results of an analysis or exercise in a well-structured, logical, coherent and scientifically correct form.


  • Provide qualified contributions to discussions on climate change mechanisms.

Will be annouced in Absalon

Lectures and theoretical exercises
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Exam
  • 1
  • Lectures
  • 35
  • Preparation
  • 128
  • Theory exercises
  • 42
  • Total
  • 206
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 25 minutes
25 minutes oral examination in unknown question with 25 minutes preparation time.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners.

25 minutes oral examination in unknown question with 25 minutes preparation time.

Criteria for exam assesment

The grade 12 is given for the excellent performance fulfilling the learning outcome of the course with few or no important misses.