Physics of the Climate System

Organizing institution
Utrecht University - Faculty of Science
Course code
Course fee (excl. housing)
€ 500.00
Advanced Bachelor
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Physics of the Climate System addresses how the laws of physics affect our climate. The Summer Course focuses on the following topics: the interaction of radiation with atmospheric constituents, the circulation in the atmosphere, and the circulation in the oceans. The fundamental physics taught during this course are at the basis of correct understanding of current global warming and climate change.

We consider Planet Earth as a rotating sphere, which is covered by oceans and the atmosphere. Earth constantly receives energy through solar radiation. However, the energy is not evenly distributed. Clouds or ice surfaces reflect sunlight, whereas air above dark land heats up quickly. This uneven distribution of energy sets fluids (like atmosphere and oceans) in motion and determines our climate.

The summer school 'Physics of the Climate System' consists of three basic parts:
• Core lectures
• Thematic talks
• Project work

Core lectures:
Each morning there will be two lectures on core subjects, appropriately illustrated with some practical demonstrations. They are followed by an exercise session in which further understanding of the material is developed.

We start with an introduction to the phenomena observed in the atmosphere and oceans and their general structure. The energy balance of the Earth system and the interaction of solar and terrestrial radiation with atmospheric constituents (e.g. greenhouse gases, clouds, aerosols) receives due attention.
After this introductory part we continue from elementary physics such as Newton’s law and the conservation of mass and energy, to derive the governing equations that describe the motions of the atmosphere and the oceans on the rotating Earth. Simplifications to these equations lead to concepts like geostrophy and thermal wind. Other topics covered are vorticity, shallow water equations, “Rossby waves”, and turbulent friction, which is important in the atmospheric boundary layer.

Thematic talks:
There will be a program of talks by local specialists on interesting and important topics chosen from the five research themes of the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research in Utrecht. These themes are:
• Ice and climate
• Ocean circulation and climate
• Atmospheric physics and chemistry
• Atmospheric dynamics and boundary layer meteorology
• Physical geography and oceanography of the coastal zone

The talks will be informal and are aimed at providing you with up-to-date insight into the work of researchers here in Utrecht.

Project work:
Participants work in groups of two on a research project of their choice. The project can cover a topic from the entire scope of research themes at IMAU: from modeling the dynamics of El Niño to hands-on work in the lab. Students finish their course with a presentation of the project results to IMAU-staff and fellow students.

The course is concluded by an awarding ceremony by the course director dr. Elena Popa, who hands out the course certificates.

Download the day-to-day programme (PDF)

Course director

Dr. Elena Popa

Target audience

Advanced Bachelor and Master students with a strong background in physics and mathematics as well as proficiency in English. Applicants go through a selection procedure.

Course aim

Obtaining insight into the fundamental processes that drive the climate system.

Study load

You will experience an intensive two-week program with challenging and interesting courses, lectures and project work.

A typical day starts at 9:00 with lectures until 11:00, followed by an exercise session until 12:30. The afternoons are dedicated to the thematic talks (one hour) and project work until 17:30.


Early bird reduction of €100 for applications before May 1, 2018. € 500.00
Housing € 350.00 , through Utrecht Summer School

Early bird reduction of €100 for applications before May 1, 2018.


A limited number of fee-waiver scholarships is available.
You can apply for a fee-waiver using the Comment section of the application form. Please describe clearly the reason you cannot pay the fee yourself. Note that the course fee can be only reduced, not completely cancelled, so you will still have to pay a (small) amount.

Required documents

For this course you are required to upload the following documents when applying:
Motivation Letter, Reference Letter, C.V., Transcript of Grades

More information

Mrs. Floor Werensteijn - van Lee
Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU)
Buys Ballot Laboratory
Princetonplein 5
3584 CC Utrecht
The Netherlands
E: imau@science.uu.nl
P: +31 30 253 3275
F: +31 30 253 3163


Application deadline: 10 July 2018