NFYK13000U Climate Change Mechanisms and Tipping Points

Volume 2020/2021

MSc Programme in Climate Change

MSc Programme in Environmental Science
MSc Programme in Nature Management
MSc Programme in Physics



'The course aims at providing an up-to-date introduction to fundamental physical and bio-geo-chemical mechanisms defining the climate and climate variations on Earth. The following topics are covered:

  • Blackbody radiation, the planetary energy balance, and the greenhouse effect.
  • Recent global warming and future climate scenarios.
  • The concepts of radiative forcing, feedbacks, and climate sensitivity.
  • The major atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns.
  • The role of the cryosphere in the climate system and changes in sea level.
  • Plate tectonics and its impact on Earth’s climate.
  • The major components and mechanisms of the organic and inorganic carbon cycles.
  • Quaternary climate variability on orbital, millennial, and annual time scales.
  • Past, present, and future abrupt climate change and tipping elements of the climate system.
Learning Outcome

The aim of the course is to provide an overview of the physical and bio-geo-chemical climate system, to put recent global warming into a paleo-climatic context, and to qualify the student to discuss and assess future climate scenarios.

Basic physical understanding of the major elements of the Earth climate system and their interaction.

Mechanisms of Quaternary climate and climate variability on various time scales.

Understanding of the causes for recent global warming and knowledge of future climate scenarios

Ability to put recent global warming into a paleo-climatic context.

Distinguish between gradual and abrupt climate change and impacts of climate change.

Present a topic on climate change in a well-structured, logical, and scientifically correct form.

Provide qualified contributions to discussions on climate change mechanisms.

Ability to critically read and understand recent physical science literature on climate change.

Form an opinion of the need for actions to limit the impacts of future climate change.

See Absalon for final course material. The following is an example of expected course literature.


Selected chapters of the newest edition of the text book ‘The Earth System’ by Kump, Kasting, and Crane. Selected sections of the most recent IPCC report WG1, ‘The physical science basis’ (

A number of recent scientific papers: Please see Absalon course page.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.
Lectures, reading and discussion of scientific papers, and theoretical exercises.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 35
  • Preparation
  • 128
  • Theory exercises
  • 42
  • Exam
  • 1
  • Total
  • 206
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
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

see learning outcome