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Syllabus - Earth 103N, Summer 2024


Earth 103N at Penn State: Earth in the Future

Summer 2024

This syllabus is divided into several sections. It is essential that you read the entire document as well as the material covered in the Course Orientation. Together these serve as our course "contract."


  • Instructor Information
  • Course Overview
  • Required Course Materials
  • Assignments and Grading
  • Course Schedule
  • Technical Requirements
  • Course Policies

Instructor Information

Tim Bralower, Professor of Geosciences, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Penn State University.
Email: I read and respond to emails regularly during business hours.

Course Overview

Description: Introduction to the science of Earth's climate system, the consequences of future climate on Earth, strategies for how to minimize the effects of and adapt to a changing climate.
Prerequisites: None

Earth has a complex, fascinating, interconnected system of processes that control the state of the climate. If we can understand how this system works, then we can make intelligent predictions about the climate in the future. The future of climate is of great importance to the quality of life in the future. In this class, we will explore the workings of the climate system — at the present, and in the past — through a series of modules with hands-on learning activities. We will learn how simple and sophisticated computer models can provide useful tools for making predictions about what our climate will be like in the next few hundred years, which will be a critical time for our species as we endeavor to find a more sustainable way of living. A changing climate means changes in, among other things, temperature and precipitation, which will affect our water supplies, our energy consumption, and our ability to grow enough food to feed the people of Earth. A changing climate also means a range of stresses on the global economy. We will examine these climate impacts, but we will not stop there — we will also focus our attention on what can be done to help us successfully meet these challenges.

Students who successfully complete EARTH 103N should be able to:

  • explain how the climate system works, including something about its natural variability and the factors that drive climate change on a range of different timescales;
  • understand how scientists approach the question of climate change through a combination of data, models, and hypotheses;
  • explain the basic principles of climate models including their limitations and their uses, and what they predict about our future climate;
  • explain the primary consequences of climate change for water and food supplies, coastal damages, relocation costs, energy consumption, and economic growth;
  • explain the options for minimizing the effects of climate change and for adapting to a changing climate.

What We Expect of You

On average, most students spend eight to ten hours per week working on course assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your prior experience with the energy topics we're covering and your familiarity with web-based classes.

We have worked hard to make this an effective and engaging educational experience. You will succeed if you are diligent about keeping up with the class schedule and if you take advantage of opportunities to engage with both your classmates and your instructors throughout the course.

The key to success in this course is keeping up with the assignments. Students who complete the labs and quizzes on time have a good chance of success. If you fall behind, it is usually very difficult to catch up.

Specific learning objectives for each module and lab exercise are detailed within modules.

What You Can Expect From Me

I am excited about the topic of the class, and I love it when others get excited about this material too, so I will always be happy to answer your questions. I am using an online learning environment for this course, and as such, I will answer all questions via email. Please feel free to contact me with questions and I will respond to you within 24 hours in most cases (weekends and holidays being exceptions). If I am going to be out of touch for a while, I will let you know ahead of time.


Students should plan to use Google Earth Pro and Microsoft PowerPoint during the course. For this reason, you cannot take this class without access to a PC (Google Earth Pro will not run on phones and iPads). Many of the Labs will prompt you to download a Microsoft Word worksheet, but you may also use other note-taking software or applications such as Evernote or Microsoft OneNote to record notes and develop questions and ideas as you work through the course materials. 

Required Course Materials

There is no textbook for you to buy for this course. All materials are presented online through Canvas. In order to access all materials, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the online course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the Penn State IT Service Desk

You will be required to purchase Yellowdig for weekly discussions. To get started with Yellowdig, click on the Yellowdig link in the left-hand navigation for this course section. You will need to create an account and pay the $12.95 fee for the semester.

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, please contact your academic advisor. For additional needs, related to socioeconomic status, please visit Project Cahir or visit the Office of Student Care and Advocacy at 222 Boucke Building or call 814-863-2020.

Assignments and Grading

Lab Exercises 30%

Eight of the modules include a lab exercise that will engage you in studying data, maps, and models. These exercises build on the topics covered in the module and they will deepen and enhance your understanding of the material in that module.

Please read the following two paragraphs very carefully to avoid confusion!

Collectively, these lab exercises will make up 30% of your grade. The lab for each module will be weighted equally; your score for each will be converted to a percentage, and then I will take the mean of those percentages (throwing out the lowest grade) to calculate your final lab score. This class is 100% online. You will be submitting your answers in Canvas and they will be graded by Canvas. The advantage of this is you will get immediate feedback. All labs will be due Tuesday midnight of the week after the lab was started (i.e., Module 1 lab is due the Tuesday of the week you are working on Module 2).

We will drop the lowest lab score.

Capstone Discussion: Earth in 2100 (20%)

The goal of the Discussion is to develop engaging conversations on the theme Earth in the Year 2100.  Each week we will focus on different topics related to this theme and the current module. The goal is to take what you have learned in the module and synthesize it with your own research and analysis.  You will be required to (1) submit an original entry every week and (2) to reply to other students’ posts.  Your grade will be based on how active you are. We use the Yellowdig platform for the discussion as it offers a much better experience than traditional Canvas discussion boards.  

Yellowdig provides a gamified approach to engaging with your peers. There is a one-time fee of $12.95 to use the platform for the course.  You'll be awarded points for your initial entry (provided it meets the required word count), then each time someone responds to your post, you also receive points. So, it's in your best interest to create thoughtful posts which will engage your peers in a meaningful discussion.  You will also receive points for replying to other students’ posts.  There is a leaderboard so you can see who is generating the highest quality posts and receiving the most responses.  

Each week I will give you a topic for the Discussion and you will be required to do some research beyond the course website.  I recommend you write your entry in MS Word and proof it before cutting and pasting it into Yellowdig.  Your original entry must include citations (any format is fine) but your replies to other students don’t need to unless you use information from other original sources.

 More information will be provided during Module 1.

Two Midterm Exams @ 15% each

These exams will cover material related to the module content and the lab exercises. The "Learning Outcomes" at the beginning of each module provide a list of topics you should know about. The first exam will cover Modules 1-6 and the second exam covers Modules 7-12.

Weekly Quizzes (total of 20%)

Students’ understanding of the module content and lab exercises will be assessed through electronically administered and graded quizzes (in Canvas). The quizzes will be designed to assess the extent to which students have mastered the science presented in the modules. There are Practice Quizzes available for each module to help your study before taking the Graded Quiz. The lowest quiz score will be dropped. Most questions will be chosen from among the questions listed under "Learning Outcomes" at the beginning of each module. The quizzes must be taken by Sunday midnight of the week in question.

Grades will be posted in Canvas with each assignment so that you can track your progress. The Capstone grade will be posted at the end of the semester.

Final overall grades will be determined based on the sums of these elements. Your grade will be expressed as a percentage, with 100% being the unattainable perfect grade. We convert these scores to a letter grade as follows:

Course Grading Schedule

Breakdown of each assignment's value as a percentage of the total course grade.

Letter Grade Percentage
Lab Exercises 30%
Capstone Discussion 20%
Midterm Exam #1 15%
Midterm Exam #2 15%
Weekly Quizzes 20%

I will use the Canvas grade book to keep track of your grades. You can see your grades by clicking on "Grades" in Canvas.

Letter Grade and Corresponding Percentages
Letter Grade Percentages
A 93 - 100 %
A- 90 - 92.9 %
B+ 87 - 89.9 %
B 83 - 86.9 %
B- 80 - 82.9%
C+ 77 - 79.9 %
C 70 - 76.9 %
D 60 - 69.9 %
F < 60 %

Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

Earth 103N Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Below, you will find a schedule for this course, which consists of an orientation period, 12 modules each a week long, and two break periods in which exams will be scheduled — the total is 15 weeks. The firm due dates for assignments are provided in the Syllabus in Canvas.

Course Schedule
Week Module Activities
Week 1 Orientation - Welcome to EARTH 103N
  • Participation: Introduce yourself to the class in the Getting to Know You discussion.
Week 2 Module 1
Past Episodes of Climate Change
  • Begin Module 1 Lab: PETM.
  • Complete Module 1 Quiz.
  • Post Capstone Discussion entry and reply by Saturday in Yellowdig.
Week 3
Module 2
Recent Climate Change
  • Begin Module 2 Lab: Hurricanes.
  • Complete Module 2 Quiz.
  • Post Capstone Discussion entry and reply by Saturday in Yellowdig.
  • Submit Module 1 Lab by Tuesday.
Week 4 Module 3
Earth's Climate System
  • Begin Module 3 Lab: Climate Modeling
  • Complete Module 3 Quiz.
  • Capstone Discussion entry and reply in Yellowdig.
  • Post Capstone Discussion entry and reply by Saturday in Yellowdig.
  • Submit Module 2 Lab by Tuesday.
Week 5 Module 4
Introduction to General Circulation Models
  • Complete Module 4 Quiz.
  • Post Capstone Discussion entry and reply by Saturday in Yellowdig..
  • Submit Module 3 Lab by Tuesday.
Week 6 Module 5
The Global Carbon Cycle
  • Begin Module 5 Lab: Carbon Cycle Modeling.
  • Complete Module 5 Quiz
  • Post Capstone Discussion entry and reply by Saturday in Yellowdig.
Week 7 Module 6
Ocean Circulation and Its Impact on Climate
  • Complete Module 6 Quiz.
  • Submit Module 5 Lab by Tuesday.
  • Post Capstone Discussion entry and reply by Saturday in Yellowdig..
  • Complete Midterm Exam 1
Week 9 Module 7
Ocean Acidification, Red Tides, and Monster Jellyfish
  • Begin Module 7 Lab: Reef Ecology
  • Complete Module 7 Quiz.
  • Post Capstone Discussion entry and reply by Saturday in Yellowdig.
Week 10

Module 8

Water Resources and Climate Change

  • Begin Module 8 Lab: Stream Flow.
  • Complete Module 8 Quiz.
  • Post Capstone Discussion entry and reply by Saturday in Yellowdig.
Week 11

Module 9

Climate Change and Food Supply

  • Complete Module 9 Quiz.
  • Post Capstone Discussion entry and reply by Saturday in Yellowdig.
  • Submit Module 8 Lab by Tuesday.
Week 12

Module 10

Rising Seas

  • Begin Module 10 Lab: Impact of Sea Level Rise on Coastal Communities.
  • Complete Module 10 Quiz.
  • Post Capstone Discussion entry and reply by Saturday in Yellowdig.
Week 13

Module 11

Terrestrial Ecosystems in Peril

  • Complete Module 11 Quiz.
  • Post Capstone Discussion entry and reply by Saturday in Yellowdig.
  • Submit Module 10 Lab by Tuesday.
Week 15 Module 12
Adaptation and Mitigation
  • Begin Module 12 Lab: Options for the Future of Climate, Energy, and Economics, Including Geoengineering.
  • Complete Module 12 Quiz.
  • Post Capstone Discussion entry and reply by Saturday in Yellowdig.
  • Complete Midterm Exam 2.
  • Submit Module 12 Lab by Tuesday.

Tips for Success in EARTH 103N

Do the work on time

We set deadlines to keep everyone on track to reach our ultimate goal of understanding what the future of climate means for our future. We will reach this goal in small steps, and we need to pace ourselves so that we can really learn this material. If you do your best to follow this pace and meet the deadlines, you will succeed. If an emergency arises, let us know as soon as possible and we can work something out if there is a good excuse — we are not merciless, but at the same time, we have to be fair to others by not giving in to less serious requests for extensions.

Be professional

We will assume that everyone in the class is an adult and will behave with integrity. We expect that you will not lie or cheat and that you will adhere to all of Penn State's policies on academic integrity. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly projects 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 others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. If you are unclear about these policies, please review the material at the Policies and Rules for Undergraduate Students site. We also expect that you will treat your classmates and your instructor with respect. Climate change is an important topic with wide-reaching implications so that it has spilled out of the halls of science and into the more clamorous realm of politics, which is often ruled by opinions and beliefs rather than data. Politics is not science and it can often become personal; let us remember that this is a science class where we focus on the data rather than beliefs.

Technical Requirements

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the World Campus Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the IT Service Desk.

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Course Policies

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest, and responsible manner. Academic integrity is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity at Pennsylvania State University, and all members of the University community are expected to act in accordance with this principle. 

According to Penn State policy  G-9: Academic Integrity, an academic integrity violation is “an intentional, unintentional, or attempted violation of course or assessment policies to gain an academic advantage or to advantage or disadvantage another student academically.” Unless your instructor tells you otherwise, you must complete all course work entirely on your own, using only sources that have been permitted by your instructor, and you may not assist other students with papers, quizzes, exams, or other assessments. If your instructor allows you to use ideas, images, or word phrases created by another person (e.g., from Course Hero or Chegg) or by generative technology, such as ChatGPT, you must identify their source. You may not submit false or fabricated information, use the same academic work for credit in multiple courses, or share instructional content. Students with questions about academic integrity should ask their instructor before submitting work.

Students facing allegations of academic misconduct may not drop/withdraw from the affected course unless they are cleared of wrongdoing (see G-9: Academic Integrity). Attempted drops will be prevented or reversed, and students will be expected to complete coursework and meet course deadlines. Students who are found responsible for academic integrity violations face academic outcomes, that can be severe, and put themselves at jeopardy for other outcomes which may include ineligibility for the Dean's List, pass/fail elections, and grade forgiveness. Students may also face consequences from their home/major program and/or The Schreyer Honors College.

Please also see Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Procedures, which this course adopts. To learn more, see Penn State’s “Academic Integrity Training 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 the contact information for every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website.

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. See 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.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride in fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  Services include the following: 

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling 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

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision-making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information with others whom you do not know. 

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If, for any reason, the coursework for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.

In EMS, inclusivity is one of our core values. We prioritize fostering a diverse and equitable community where each member knows they belong here and is inspired to succeed. We encourage everyone in our EMS community to be actively engaged in fostering this ideal, and all members of this class should contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and interact with civility. Our commitment to inclusivity aligns with Penn State’s values and policies. 

To learn more, visit EMS Educational Equity.  Here, you will find information about the EMS ALLWE initiative, the Rainbow EMS Network, Anti-Racism, active ally-ship, bystander intervention, and more. The site also has resources for where to turn if you need assistance and links to University references.  Also, contact your EMS department’s Associate Head for DEI for more information about department initiatives. 


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances, or university-approved activities.  If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.

Late Policy

All course-related assignments must be completed and successfully submitted by the assigned date — this is your responsibility. If an emergency arises, get in touch immediately to work out a solution.

Citation and Reference Style

It is important (not only in this course but in all courses and professional documents you produce) to employ proper citation methods for the sources you utilize. Failure to do so reduces the credibility of your work at best and can lead to suspicion of intentional plagiarism at worst. We don't want either of those things to happen! While we do not have a strong preference for which citation format you elect to use, we do require that you use one and that you use it consistently throughout an assignment.

If you are interested, see Penn State's Citation and Writing Guides. You can also check out Style for Students Online, an excellent, in-depth tutorial on how and why we cite things. And, as always, just contact your instructor if you have any questions.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. Changes to the syllabus shall be given to you in written (paper or electronic) form.