You are not currently logged in. Please create an account or log in to view the full course.

The Physics of Climate Change

2. Greenhouse Effect Spectra, Changes in Carbon Dioxide, and Computer Models

This is the course trailer. Please create an account or log in to view this lecture.

  • Description
  • Cite

About this Lecture


In this mini-lecture, we explore how carbon dioxide (CO2) has been changing in the atmosphere in the past and how to use basic physics to study the climate and predict it’s future. As we move through this mini-lecture, we: (i) consider six plots of atmospheric CO2 over various time periods, where we see a sharp increase in CO2 starting at around 1800; (ii) analyse a plot from the Vostok Ice Core in Antarctica that illustrates how changes in CO2 and temperature are in phase with one another and correspond to a cycle of ice ages on Earth; (iii) emphasise that the current warming is ten times faster than it should be; (iv) introduce four laws of physics to understand the atmosphere: Newton’s Second Law of Motion, the Conservation of Mass, the Third Law of Thermodynamics, and the Ideal Gas Law; (v) explain how these equations are expressed on a 3D grid of Earth’s surface and can be solved as a system of simultaneous equations; (vi) consider plots of surface temperature and wind as well as rain and sea level pressure, while emphasising that weather forecasts from these models are not perfect because the atmosphere and Earth’s surface are much more complicated than an idealised 3D spherical grid; and (vii) consider an example of poor initialisation that failed to predict the ‘Great Storm’ of 1987.


In this course, Professor Joanna Haigh (Imperial College London) discusses the physics behind climate change. In the first mini-lecture, we explore the Earth’s energy balance, the physical processes in the Earth’s atmosphere that have contributed to global warming, and other factors that cause climate to change. In the second mini-lecture, we discuss how atmospheric carbon dioxide has changed over various time scales and introduce some physics that help us study the climate and predict its future. The third mini-lecture considers more factors that have influenced climate and their current impacts on temperature, ice, and sea level. The fourth mini-lecture discusses the future potential impacts of climate change and outlines two models that predict the best and worst case scenarios of climate change from now until 2021. In the fifth mini-lecture, we introduce some of the international organisations and agreements that have been made in response to climate change. In the sixth mini-lecture, we consider percentages of emissions per country and per person per country, as well as emissions by source, and discuss future conferences and policies.


Joanna Haigh is an Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College London. She was the head of the Department of Physics from 2009 to 2014 and Co-Director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College from 2014 until her retirement in 2019. Her research interests include radiative transfer in the atmosphere, climate modelling, radiative forcing of climate change, and the influence of solar irradiance variability on climate. Professor Haigh has served as editor of the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences and was a lead author on the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). From 2012-2014, she served as the president of the Royal Meteorological Society. She is also a Fellow of the Institute of Physics (IOP) and was awarded the Charles III Medal and Prize from the IoP in 2004. In 2010, she received the Royal Meteorological Society Adrian Gill Prize for her work on solar variability. In the 2013 New Year Honours, she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to physics and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society that same year.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Haigh, J. (2022, January 12). The Physics of Climate Change - Greenhouse Effect Spectra, Changes in Carbon Dioxide, and Computer Models [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Haigh, Joanna. "The Physics of Climate Change – Greenhouse Effect Spectra, Changes in Carbon Dioxide, and Computer Models." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 12 Jan 2022,

Image Credits

Get instant access to over 4,000 lectures