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Earth 103 Syllabus


Earth 103 at Penn State: Earth in the Future

Fall 2020

This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document . 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
  • Course Overview
  • Required Course Materials
  • Assignments and Grading
  • Course Schedule
  • Technical Requirements
  • Course Policies

Instructor Information

Dr. Tim Bralower

Timothy Bralower, Professor of Geosciences, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Penn State University

Office: 535 Deike Building, University Park, PA 16802
Phone: Office 814-863-1240
Office Hours: Skype by appointment

NOTE: I will read and respond to email at least once per day during the workweek (Monday through Friday). You may see me online occasionally on the weekends, but please don't count on it unless we've specifically scheduled it!

Julia Lafond, Teaching Assistant Email:

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 103 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 Us

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

Required Course Materials

There is no textbook for you to buy for this course. All materials are on this course website or accessible online. We advise you to obtain a complimentary subscription to the New York Times. You can use the online version. To do this, go directly to The New York Times: Academic Pass. Simply register with your Penn State email address and create your user password to claim an Academic Pass and receive access.

All remaining necessary materials are presented online in 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.

Assignments and Grading

Lab Exercises 40%

Each module includes 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!

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).

Collectively, these lab exercises will make up 40% 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.

Capstone 15%

The goal of the capstone is for you to summarize your learning by reading one of two possible reports on the impacts of climate change on the US and the world. This exercise will require you to produce short video clips that relate to what you have learned. The videos need to report on the impact of various aspects of climate and environmental change in specific places.

The two reports are:

  1. The 2017 Fourth National Climate Assessment, a document that summarizes the threats to the US; and
  2. The Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability section of the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 2014.

The capstone will require an entry every two weeks and will be related to the module material for that week. You should look at the chapter in the report and find an element that interests you. You do not need to summarize the whole document, but find a small part that relates to the impact of that part of climate change on a place of interest to you, and write a small vignette about it. The length of each entry must be a minimum of 200 words and a maximum of 400 words, so very short. The required elements are laid out in the rubric below. It is imperative that you keep up with this assignment.

The final product will be text that you hand in via Turnitin and video clips of the text that you record using the screencast-o-matic software. You will place these videos at the relative place on Google Earth map and save the file as a kmz file.

More information will be provided during the first week of class.

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 15%)

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. The lowest grade 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 40%
Capstone 15%
Midterm Exam #1 15%
Midterm Exam #2 15%
Weekly Quizzes 15%

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 103 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 103 Complete the Course Orientation (see "Course Orientation").

Participation: Introduce yourself to the class as described in the Course Orientation; complete the optional Survey.
Week 2 Module 1
Past Episodes of Climate Change

Work through the Module 1 Quiz.

Week 3
Module 2
Recent Climate Change

Work through the Module 2 Quiz.

Labs for Module 1 due Tuesday.

Week 4 Module 3
Earth's Climate System

Work through the  Module 3 Quiz.

Labs for Module 2 due Tuesday.

Week 5 Module 4
Introduction to General Circulation Models

Work through the Module 4 Quiz.

Labs for Module 3 due Tuesday.

Week 6 Module 5
The Global Carbon Cycle

Work through the Module 5 Quiz.

Labs for Module 4 due Tuesday.

Week 7 Module 6
Ocean Circulation and Its Impact on Climate

Work through the Module 6 Quiz.

Labs for Module 5 due Tuesday.

Week 8 EXAM 1
Week 9 Module 7
Ocean Acidification, Red Tides, and Monster Jellyfish

Work through the Module 7 Quiz.

Labs for Module 6 due Tuesday.

Week 10

Module 8

Water Resources and Climate Change

Work through the Module 8 Quiz.

Labs for Module 7 due Tuesday.

Week 11

Module 9

Climate Change and Food Supply

Work through the Module 9 Quiz.

Labs for Module 8 due Tuesday.

Week 12

Module 10

Rising Seas

Work through the Module 10 Quiz.

Labs for Module 9 due Tuesday.

Week 13

Module 11

Terrestrial Ecosystems in Peril

Work through the Module 11 Quiz.

Labs for Module 10 due Tuesday.

Week 14 Module 12
Adaptation and Mitigation

Work through the Module 12 Quiz.

Labs for Module 11 due Tuesday.

Week 15 EXAM 2 Labs for Module 12 due Tuesday.
Week 16 Capstone Submit Materials for Capstone via Turnitin.

Tips for Success in EARTH 103

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 HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

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.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site which means that your connection is encrypted.  We do however link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted.  This is called mixed content.  By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome.  This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed.  Follow the directions on our Technical Requirements page to view the mixed content.

Course Policies

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from the Penn State World Campus 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

This course follows Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Guidelines for undergraduate students and Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Guidelines for graduate students. 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 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. To learn more, see Penn State's Academic Integrity Training

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 Office for Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for Campus Disability Coordinators at every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Office for Student Disability Resources website

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation. See documentation guidelines at Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. 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.

Inclement Weather

In case of weather-related delays 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 weather delays. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Bias-Motivated Incidents

Penn State takes great pride to foster 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 to others whom you do not know.


This course must be viewed using one of the following browsers: Firefox (any version), Safari (versions 5.1 or 6.0), Chrome (0.3 or later), or Internet Explorer with the MathPlayer PlugIn. If you use any other browser, there will be pages containing equations that do not render properly. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

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.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:


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 and exams must be completed and successfully submitted by the assigned due date — this is your responsibility. If an emergency arises, get in touch with your instructor 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. All changes will be communicated with you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.