EMSC 100S-003

Climate Evolution on Earth and Earth-Like Planets

EMSC 100S-003: Climate Evolution on Earth and Earth-Like Planets

Course Syllabus

Location: 10 Deike 
Instructor: Jim Kasting, 435A Deike             
email: jfk4@psu.edu, Ph: 814-865-3207
Time: MWF 11:15-12:05  
Office hours:  Mon., 2-3, Tues., 2-3 

The class will be centered around student presentations and discussions. Students will be divided into groups of 4-5. Each group will present one part of a larger discussion question. Much of the course will deal with climate history on Earth, but we will also talk about climate evolution on Venus, Mars, and exoplanets. The last part of the course will focus on modern day global warming here on Earth and what we should do about it.

Discussion questions: 

  1. How does Earth’s present climate system work? (Weeks 1 and 2)
    1. Electromagnetic waves/blackbody radiation (HP 3, ES Ch. 3)
    2. Planetary energy balance/effective radiating temperature
    3. Interaction of infrared radiation with atmospheric gases/the greenhouse effect
    4. Atmospheric circulation/regional climate differences
  2. The faint young Sun problem (Weeks 3 and 4)
    1. Solar evolution (HP 3)
    2. Controls on atmospheric CO
    3. The long-term climate record (HP 4)
    4. The rise of atmospheric O2
    5. Tree of Life/the methane greenhouse

First paper due (Sept. 20): 5 pages (double-spaced) + references

Topic: What kept the early Earth warm?

  1. The Pleistocene ice ages: How are they recorded and what causes them? (Weeks 5 and 6)
    1. Oxygen isotopes and climate (HP 5)
    2. Kepler’s laws/Milankovitch cycles
    3. Glacial/interglacial CO2 variations
    4. Snowball Earth episodes
    5. Chaotic obliquity variations/effect of Earth’s Moon (HP 9)
  2. Venus and Mars: What went wrong with their climates? (Weeks 7 and 8)
    1. Venus’ current atmosphere and climate (HP 6)
    2. The runaway greenhouse effect
    3. Long-term future climate on Earth (HP 7)
    4. Mars’ current atmosphere and climate (HP 8)
    5. Martian climate evolution

Second paper due (Oct. 18): 5 pages (double-spaced) + references

Possible topic(s): 1) Did Venus once have water? 2) How warm was early Mars?

            3) Anything else related to units 3 and 4 (with instructor’s permission)

  1. Searching for life on planets around other stars (Weeks 9 and 10)
    1. The stellar main sequence/H-R diagrams (HP 10)
    2. Habitable zones around stars
    3. Problems for habitability of planets around early- and late-type stars
    4. Direct and indirect exoplanet detection methods (HP 11-13)
    5. Spectroscopic biosignatures (HP 14)

Poster sessions (Oct. 30/Nov. 1)): Posters on the search for life off the Earth or anything else related to astrobiology

  1. Modern day global warming (Weeks 11-15)
    1. Evidence for global warming
    2. Projections of future atmospheric CO2 levels and surface temperature
    3. Possible impacts of global warming
    4. Economics of global warming
  2. Debate: Energy/climate policy—What policies should we adopt to deal with global warming? Is the Green New Deal the right way to proceed? Should we subsidize renewables or tax carbon? Is nuclear power an acceptable alternative to fossil fuels? How urgent is this problem—can we afford to wait, or must we act now?

       Third paper due (Dec. 9): 10 pages (double-spaced) + references

       Topic: What policies should we adopt to deal with global warming?

           No final exam 

Required textbook: How to Find a Habitable Planet, by James Kasting (Princeton University Press, 2010)  (Denoted as HP in syllabus)

            --A copy of this book has been placed on reserve in the EMS library, 1st floor Deike Bldg.

Additional readings (provided as PDFs):

  • The Earth System, ed. 3, L. R. Kump, R. G. Crane, and J. F. Kasting (Pearson Publishing, 2010) (ES in syllabus) 

Assistance with Textbooks

Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, contact the Office of Student Care and Advocacy (120 Boucke Building, 863-4926, http://studentaffairs.psu.edu/studentcare). For additional need related to socioeconomic status please visit http://sites.psu.edu/projectcahir


  • Paper 1 - 15%
  • Paper 2 - 15%
  • Poster - 15%
  • Paper 3 - 25%
  • Class participation 30% (Includes presenting material and leading class discussions) 

Academic Integrity 

This course follows the http://www.ems.psu.edu/undergraduate/academic-advising/forms-and-procedures/academic-integrity. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting other's work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other student's papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students." 

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws. 

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy. 

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: (http://equity.psu.edu/student-disability-resources/disability-coordinator). For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website (http://equity.psu.edu/student-disability-resources). 

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation: http://equity.psu.edu/student-disability-resources/applying-for-services. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations. 


This course abides by the Penn State Attendance Policy E-11: http://undergrad.psu.edu/aappm/E-11-class-attendance.html, and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35: http://senate.psu.edu/policies-and-rules-for-undergraduate-students/44-00-examinations/#44-35. Please also see Illness Verification Policy:  https://studentaffairs.psu.edu/health-wellness/medical-services/policies-patient-resources, and Religious Observance Policy: http://undergrad.psu.edu/aappm/R-4-religious-observances.html. Students who miss class for legitimate reasons will be given a reasonable opportunity to make up missed work, including exams and quizzes.  Students are not required to secure the signature of medical personnel in the case of illness or injury and should use their best judgment on whether they are well enough to attend class or not; the University Health Center will not provide medical verification for minor illnesses or injuries. Other legitimate reasons for missing class include religious observance, military service, family emergencies, regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activities, and post-graduate, career-related interviews when there is no opportunity for students to re-schedule these opportunities (such as employment and graduate school final interviews).  Students who encounter serious family, health, or personal situations that result in extended absences should contact the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs (AVPSA) and Student Care and Advocacy for help: http://studentaffairs.psu.edu/studentcare.  Whenever possible, students participating in University-approved activities should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form: http://undergrad.psu.edu/aappm/classabs.pdf, at least one week prior to the activity. 

Weather Delays

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Reporting Bias-Motivated Incidents

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Counseling and Psychological Services

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Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling and Psychological Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741