Detailed Course Information – Geography 820

Geography 820.01: Seminars in Physical Geography: Seminar in Urban Climatology

Instructor: John Arnfield

Scope of the Course

This seminar-based course is intended as a comprehensive exploration of the sub-field of urban climatology, from its historical roots, through early descriptive and qualitative studies to modern work of both a statistical and physical- mathematical nature. More specifically, seminar discussions will treat some of all of the following topics:

  • early attempts to establish the dimensions of urban climatic modifications and hypotheses for the effects detected,
  • statistical generalizations on the intensity and form of the urban heat island (and other urban climatic phenomena),
  • the distinction between “canopy” and “boundary layer” processes and phenomena,
  • radiative exchange in the urban boundary and canopy layers,
  • non-radiative energy budget components in the urban boundary and canopy layers,
  • humidity in near-surface city environments,
    wind characteristics in near-surface city environments,
  • one-dimensional numerical modelling of boundary layer heat islands,
    numerical modelling of canopy layer energy budgets and heat islands,
  • meso-scale effects of cities on the wind field,
    hypothesized meso-scale effects of cities on precipitation,
  • three-dimensional dynamic-thermodynamic modelling of boundary layer urban climates, and
  • implications and deliberate manipulation of urban climate (e.g. energy use, human biometeorology, plant photosynthesis, applications in planning).

In addition to seminar discussion of the substantive content of urban climatology, some consideration will be given to the following supplementary themes:

  • the difficulties imposed by the nature of the urban surface, substrate and atmosphere to the application of conventional meteorological and climatological theory and methods of analysis, and
  • the nature of scientific inquiry, as revealed through the literature of urban climatology.


A knowledge of the field of microclimatology will be assumed; successful completion of Geography 622.01 will provide this knowledge. Students should also be familiar with the equations of motion for the atmosphere.

Evaluation & Classes

If the student is registered for 5 credit hours, the course grade will be evaluated on the basis of the following:

  • participation in class discussion and presentations on readings assigned to the student (34%),
  • the term paper, (the written document, its presentation to the class, the student’s competence in dealing with questions) (33%),
  • and a take-home written examination, administered during exam week over a 2 day period (33%).

Students registered for 3 credit hours may elect not to write the term paper or not to take the final examination. The course grade will then be evaluated on the basis of the remaining two items, each contributing equally.

Most seminars will consist of discussions of assigned readings on specific topics. Students will be expected to have completed readings for the class meeting and to have applied scientific judgement and critical thought to the work. In some cases, students will be expected to have prepared class presentations on specific topics. The instructor’s determination on the class participation component of your grade computation will be made on the basis of answers to the following questions.

  • Has the student read the material required and shown an adequate understanding of it?
  • Does the student possess an adequate recall of its contents?
  • Has the student made an effort to remedy any unfamiliarity with the terminology, concepts and references encountered in the readings by consulting reference sources, following up citations, deriving unfamiliar equations, consulting the instructor etc?
  • Has the student related the content of the required reading to other readings in the course and to the concepts and methods encountered in the prerequisite course work, in other courses taken and major reference sources?
  • Does the student appreciate the significance of the topics covered to the field of climatology as a whole (insofar as his/her experience permits)?
  • Can the student situate the work studied within the general scheme of research in climatology?
  • Has the student thought about the work covered in a critical manner?
  • Has he/she made judgements, drawn conclusions, thought in terms of value, relevance, significance, strengths and weaknesses etc?
  • How well has the student demonstrated an appreciation of the implications of the work covered in the readings to the nature and methods of science in general.

Note that the student is responsible for seeking a complete understanding of a reading assigned for class discussion. Ideas which are not familiar, should be pursued into cited references, into texts and other basic sources. The class instructor is also available for help but, in a graduate level course, consulting the instructor is generally not the first strategy you should adopt in seeking clarification or necessary knowledge for the readings. Seminars are training for graduate research, and graduate students are expected to develop into independent scholars. In addition, there is much value to be gained in exploring the literature around the specific assigned topics, in familiarizing yourself with the major reference sources, texts and monographs in the area.

The term paper is expected to be a substantial effort to survey some aspect of urban climatology. Topics must be approved by the instructor. Grounds for denying approval will include a topic’s lack of centrality to the subject matter of the course and excessive similarity to a topic approved for another class member. Papers must be written in clear, grammatical English and should be in a style and format appropriate to the physical sciences. Papers should be typed, should be free of spelling and typographical errors, should include graphical and tabular material if appropriate, should possess an adequate bibliography and citation system and must use SI (even for quantities quoted from sources using a different unit system). Students are encouraged to write outlines and to submit these for approval, evaluation and comment by the instructor.

Term papers should be provides to the instructor and to all other class members at least five complete weekdays prior to the scheduled time for the class presentation on the work. These seminars will be in the last week of classes.

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Updated: 19/09/2018