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The Physics of Climate Change

1. The Earth’s Energy Balance and Factors that Cause Climate Change

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About this Lecture


In the first mini-lecture, we discuss factors that cause climate change and the physical processes in the Earth’s atmosphere. In particular, we consider: (i) a plot of the Earth’s global surface temperature from the past 100 years that provides evidence for climate change; (ii) the Stefan-Boltzmann Law to understand the Earth’s warming; (iii) the greenhouse effect and how it improves our understanding of the Earth’s warming, which is essential in correctly calculating Earth’s surface temperature; (iv) natural and human factors that cause climate to change; (v) the gases in the atmosphere and which ones are greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming; (vi) the spectrum of heat radiation leaving the top of the atmosphere; and (vii) the infrared spectrum of the top of the atmosphere and the effect of each gas in this plot.


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 - The Earth’s Energy Balance and Factors that Cause Climate Change [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Haigh, Joanna. "The Physics of Climate Change – The Earth’s Energy Balance and Factors that Cause Climate Change." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 12 Jan 2022,

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