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Earth Science Online Course: How Does the Climate System Work?

A MOOC (massive open online course) offered by the University of Manchester explores how the Earth works. With the course, anyone interested in the climate system and global warming can learn the scientific basics online.

Earth Science Online Course: How Does the Climate System Work?
Picture: piro4d/pixabay

The topic of climate change, also known as global warming, is a controversial one and never far from our everyday headlines. 

In order to understand the details, it is helpful to have an understanding of how air, land, water and life formed and have interacted on Earth for more than 4.5 billion years.

A team from the University of Manchester has created an online course, "Our Earth: Its Climate, History, and Processes", which helps to explain "how the Earth works". It explores the five key components of the climate system and their interaction, including how life has affected the Earth.

Science can for example measure the statistical distribution of weather patterns over an extended period of time which can range from decades to millions of years. Understanding the time variations within weather patterns, as well as other climatic change factors such as deforestation and volcanic eruptions, all play their part in analyzing how the planet’s climate can be affected. This also includes human activity as a primary cause of climate change.

All of these aspects are explained in the Earth MOOC (massive open online course).

The course team is headed up by David Schultz, a professor of Synoptic Meteorology. Recently, we interviewed Prof Schultz about his MOOC.


“We Will Put Climate Change into a Perspective Over Geologic Time”

Edukatico: Professor Schultz, why should people learn about the Earth and its climate?

Professor Schultz: Most people probably hear about the Earth’s climate from the news. 

Our MOOC helps put the recent climate change into a perspective over geologic time. 


Edukatico: To what extent does human activity affect the Earth´s climate?

Professor Schultz: The emissions of greenhouse gases and altering the land surface through deforestation have changed the Earth’s climate in recent years. 

We are beginning to see the effects of this. There is no scientific doubt on this fact.


Edukatico: Your online course "Our Earth: Its Climate, History, and Processes" on the Coursera platform gives an introduction to Earth science. What are the main topics that are included in the course?

Professor Schultz: The Our Earth MOOC discusses the five components of the Earth’s climate – biosphere (life), hydrosphere (oceans), atmosphere (weather), lithosphere (solid Earth), and cryosphere (ice) - and their interactions

In the first section, we discuss the basic building blocks of the Earth’s climate system, rocks and minerals, the geological time scale, and dating the age of the Earth. In the second section, we discuss the structure of the solid Earth, its interior, its magnetic field and plate tectonics. 

In the third section, we talk about water on the Earth in the oceans, ice, and atmosphere. In the fourth section, we talk about life on Earth, its evolution, and how it affects the climate.

The last section is an opportunity to bring all these ideas together through climate modeling using the Build Your Own Earth web site.


Intro to the Earth MOOC


An Earth Science Course for Everyone

Edukatico: Who can participate in this course? Are there any prerequisites? Or is there a specific learner profile?

Professor Schultz: Anyone can participate; there are no prerequisites

I assume a little basic science, such as chemical notation and the electromagnetic spectrum, but everything else is explained in the MOOC or outside reading is provided.


Edukatico: Learners from many different regions of the world participate in the course. To what extent can this enrich the learning experience?

Professor Schultz: We have discussion boards, and students are encouraged to ask questions of their fellow learners, share their favorite fossil or photo of the Earth and discuss it.


Edukatico: Thank you for this overview and all the best for your MOOC!


The 5-week online course is now available on the Coursera platform. It is free to learn (in the audit track) and offers learners to purchase an optional certificate.

In addition to the video course, there is a free 250-page text book (created by former MOOC students) available here.


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17.11.2017