Course Syllabus

Atmospheric Sciences 350 – Autumn Quarter


Course Description:

This course will focus on the connections between ecosystems and climate including physical, chemical and biological interactions. We will investigate global scale implications and the expected response of a coupled earth system under past and future climate change.



Student Learning Goals:

Overall, we want students to understand the implications of land-atmosphere interactions for the Earth system. To achieve this goal, we expect students to be able to do the following:

  1. Appreciate the links between physical, chemical, and biological systems, and the changes that may occur with anthropogenic forcing.
  2. Understand, evaluate, and use methods and tools for analyzing the role of the land surface in affecting climate and predicting future responses to global change.
  3. Read, evaluate, and be able to produce graphical representations of data.
  4. To enhance skills in communicating science via oral and written forms


Week 1: Introduction, Earth’s Climates

Week 2: Water Balance

Week 3: Energy Balance

Week 4: Photosynthesis, Stomatal Conductance, Water Use Efficiency

Week 5: Plant Canopies

Week 6: Plant Strategies

Week 7: Vegetation Dynamics, Global Biogeography, Remote Sensing of Vegetation

Week 8: Biogeophysical Climate-Vegetation Dynamics

Week 9: Carbon Cycle

Week 10: Land Use and Land Cover Change, Co-evolution of Climate and Life


The course will consist of lectures, problem sets, exams, and discussions of reading material as described below.


Required Text

Bonan. Ecological climatology: concepts and applications. Cambridge University Press, 2015 (3rd edition).

Readings from this book are assigned associated with each topic covered (see course schedule). We will also have an online discussion board for posting and answering questions about the reading (see below).

Additional Optional Background Reading

Schimel. Climate and ecosystems. Princeton University Press, 2013.

Problem Sets:

There will be problem sets throughout the term, focused on topics addressed in the course. The problem sets will asses student’s ability to produce and understand graphical representations of data, and synthesize in writing scientific concepts related to scientific datasets.

  • Answers for problem sets should be in the form of a written narrative supported by numbers, tables, and figures as appropriate to address the question.
  • Graphs and computations for problem sets may be done using the programs of your choice (i.e. Excel, Python, Matlab, R, etc) as well as using online tools (provided if necessary). If you need assistance with the logistics for calculating answers please contact the Professor. 
  • You may work together on problem sets in small groups (2-3 people) but each person must submit their own original answers.  Please identify all group members on assignments when you submit them.
  • Problem sets should be submitted electronically via the canvas website prior to class time on the day they are due. PDF format is recommended for documents containing images to ensure compatibility.  Please do not email them.

Reading Quizzes:

There will be weekly short quizzes based on the assigned reading. Questions will follow a similar format to exam questions, which include short synthetic questions, graphical interpretation questions, and multiple choice questions.

Online Discussion Board:

There will be an online discussion board for the class, focused primarily on discussing the readings, but these are closely related to all class content. You are expected to post to the discussion board at least twice per week. Unanswered questions will then be addressed during lecture. The discussion board is a place for you to get help on topics from class, and also to learn by teaching your peers. The professor will also participate in the online discussion and discuss unanswered questions during lecture. Examples of appropriate posts include:

  • Post a question on something from the reading that you didn’t understand
  • Post a question on something from lecture that you didn’t understand
  • Post a comment on something you found interesting from the reading or lecture
  • Post a comment on how topics from this week relate to topics from other weeks
  • Answer a question posed by someone else


There will be two midterm exams that will take place during normal class hours. These exams are intended to test your knowledge of the material and your ability to synthetically think about the issues. Each exam will consist of multiple choice or fill in the blank questions, graphical interpretation questions, and short synthetic questions.  There will not be a final exam.


Grades will be assigned based on the student’s performance on the following:

  • 40% - Problem Sets
  • 40% - Midterm Exams (2)
  • 10% - Posts to online discussion board (2 per week)
  • 10% - Reading Quizzes

Academic Accommodations: 

To request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services: 448 Schmitz, 206-543-8924 (V/TTY). If you have a letter from DSS indicating that you have a disability which requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to the instructor so that we can discuss the accommodations you might need in the class. 
Academic accommodations due to disability will not be made unless the student has a letter from DSS specifying the type and nature of accommodations needed.

Your experience in this class is important to us, and it is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. Disability Resources for Students (DRS) offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary or permanent disability that requires accommodations, you are welcome to contact DRS at 206‐543‐8924 or or visit If you have already established accommodations with DRS, please use the information provided on the website for this course when submitting your Alternative Testing Contract to DRS via their online system. Students with accommodations are solely responsible for submitting the Alternative Testing Contract and scheduling the exams with DRS well in advance of the exam dates.

Academic Honesty: 

At the University level, passing anyone else’s scholarly work (which can include written material, exam answers, graphics or other images, and even ideas) as your own, without proper attribution, is considered academic misconduct. Plagiarism, cheating, and other misconduct are serious violations of the University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478‐120, We expect that you will know and follow university policies on cheating and plagiarism. Any suspected cases of academic misconduct will be handled according to university regulations. For more information, see the College of the Environment’s Academic Misconduct Policy ( and the Community Standards and Student Conduct website (



Course Summary:

Date Details