Detailed Course Information – Geography 822

Geography 822: Microclimatology

Instructor: John Arnfield

Purpose of the Course

The purpose of this course is to build upon the basic knowledge of boundary layer climates and climatic processes treated in Geography 622.01. This course is intended to take the student to the threshold of research activity in this area. At the conclusion of this course, the student should possess sufficient breadth and depth of knowledge in the field to be able to read with understanding appropriate journal articles in such research publications as the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, Boundary-Layer Meteorology, the International Journal of Climatology and the like. New theory is introduced, integrated with previously encountered concepts and applied in a range of problems in micro- and meso-scale climatology and cognate disciplines. Students are expected to familiarize themselves with a defined part of the microclimatological/micrometeorological literature and to be able to discuss the methods, nature and implications of assigned readings.

Assumed Knowledge

A good knowledge of the content of prerequisite courses (Geography 520 and 622.01) and a facility with the methods of differential and integral calculus will be assumed. A general overview of the facts, concepts and techniques of climatology will be expected. A knowledge of computer programming (FORTRAN preferred) is advantageous but not essential.


Typically, this class meets for two 2-hour periods per week.
The following types of class periods are held:

  • lectures,
  • seminar discussions of assigned readings,
  • seminar presentations by class members, and
  • group project work.

Lectures are few and are confined to the first few weeks of the quarter; they directly extend material encountered initially in 622.01.

Seminar discussions of assigned readings will require students to study a single important article or a group of related research papers focussed on a particular topic. These sources constitute a starting point for further investigation and students should consider significance, implications, links to other areas within climatology or related disciplines etc. for subsequent discussions.

Course content will be determined in part by the backgrounds, interests and needs of the students enrolled in it. The following are some topics for lectures and seminar discussion that have been included in the recent past.

  • Surface climate simulation and its applications.
  • Characteristics and growth of the planetary boundary layer.
  • The characteristics of turbulence in the boundary layer.
  • Vegetation-atmosphere interactions and canopy climates.
  • Radiative flux divergence.
  • Advection and its effects.
  • Applications of microclimatological theory in pollution diffusion.
  • Some characteristics of urban climates, including the ‘heat island’ and its causation.
  • Modelling the surface layer in GCMs.

The last meetings of the quarter will be devoted to seminar presentations by class members, and their discussion, on topics chosen by the student and approved by the instructor. Written papers are provided by the student for the instructor and other class members, and should be modelled after a well-researched, carefully-written article in a physical science journal. The topic chosen for the paper and presentation is open as long as it falls within the subject matter of the course or represents an application of that subject matter in a related area, where the emphasis is on the microclimatology rather than the application. Papers may be literature reviews, or may be the results of individual work based on computer simulation or other similar practical work.

Student papers will be discussed critically following the verbal presentation. While the relationship between the presenter and the audience is not adversarial, it should be remembered that graduate education is, in part, intended to assist in the development of a mature critical facility in the areas studied by the student and that science advances by such activity. It is the responsibility of the members of the audience to present a realistic critique of the paper being presented (as with published papers from the literature); failure to do so out of a misguided sense of loyalty to fellow students is inappropriate.

Source Materials

    There is no text for this course. Lists of articles are distributed one week prior to the seminar discussions of each topic.


The course grade is evaluated on the basis of the following components.

  • A final examination which covers all material encountered in lectures, seminar discussions and student presentations/papers. It is worth 34% of the course grade.
  • The term paper. This includes the written document, the presentation of it and its defence. It is worth 33% of the final grade.
  • Individual and group project and class participation. This includes verbal participation in class discussions, contribution to group projects and any individual project work assigned. This is worth 33% of the course grade.

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Updated: 19/09/2018