Core Courses

Photo of students in class

Photo by Brian Kahn

Every student in the Climate and Society program follows a sequence of study that includes six core courses and an internship of the student’s choice. In lieu of the internship, students may choose to complete a thesis with guidance from a faculty member.

These core courses are designed to give students a common set of skills and a shared professional working knowledge of climate dynamics on regional and global scales, statistical evaluation and decision-making and managing or adapting to climate variation, particularly in a development context.


Dynamics of Climate Variability and Change
This course aims to provide students with a practical and critical understanding of the Earth’s climate system, its variability, and our ability to predict it. The focus is on the physical processes acting in the climate system from seasonal-to-interannual variability to the long-term trends and variability associated with global change. Emphasis is placed on interpreting and understanding climate predictions and projections. We continually address the questions, “How is this modeled/quantified/predicted? and “What are the primary sources of uncertainty?”

Regional Dynamics, Climate, and Climate Impacts
The dynamics of environment and society interact with climate and can be modified through use of modern climate information. Many decisions in society are at local scales, and regional climate information considered at appropriate scales and in appropriate forms (e.g., transformed into water stress on crops) is key. By helping students build a sufficient understanding of the science behind the information, and providing examples of how the information can and is being used, this course seeks to contribute toward the wise use of climate information.

Quantitative Models of Climate–Sensitive Natural and Human Systems
This course is intended to equip students with an understanding of how climate-societal and intra-societal relationships can be evaluated and quantified using relevant data sets, statistical tools, and decision models. In addition to exercising statistical techniques, students perform simple decision model experiments and evaluate the results.

Managing Climate Variability and Adapting to Climate Change
This social science course deals with the opportunities and challenges of using climate science to reduce the negative impacts of climate variability and change on economies, societies and ecosystems. Much as improvements in medical science do not automatically translate into improvements in public health, the recent developments in climate science have been adopted very unevenly. This course uses a risk analysis framework, in which students learn to assess the impacts of climate risk, to reduce the gap between the risk perceptions of scientists and the public, to use tools to communicate climate risk effectively to the public, and to promote effective management of climate risk. This risk analysis framework conveys ideas and methods (both quantitative and qualitative) to reduce societal vulnerability and build resilience to climate variability and climate change.

Applications in Climate and Society 
This seminar is focused on practical applications of climate information and research. The objective of the course is to teach students to integrate their understanding of climate science, social science, policy studies, and communications to address real world problems, especially those they will encounter in academia or on the job after graduation.

Internship or Thesis
During the summer semester, students choose to complete an internship or a thesis under the guidance of a faculty adviser.

Climate and Society Summer Seminar
The summer seminar gives students the opportunity to present the work they have completed over the summer. Students give a detailed presentation and written report about their internship or thesis.