Instructor: Mark Jellinek (mjellinek@eoas.ubc.ca)

TA: Sam Anderson (sanderson@eoas.ubc.ca)

Meeting times: MW 5-7 pm Pacific Time


Zoom Invitation details: To follow by secure email





I. Introduction

``Physics of the Earth and planets'' is a very large subject.  To provide a little perspective on the breadth and richness implicit in the title of this course, the annual American Geophysical Union meeting typically involves over 25,000 presentations!  So-called “cutting edge” research topics include classes of problems emerging in Earth system science, studies of climate change on short-, intermediate-, and long-time scales, atmosphere-ocean coupling, climate-mantle coupling, geodynamics, mantle dynamics, earthquake hydrology, volcano seismology, volcanic eruption dynamics and flows, continental cratons, plate boundary dynamics, tectonic geomorphology, erosion and sedimentation, the growth, evolution and differentiation of terrestrial and giant planets, the origin and thermal history of icy satellites, and planetary magnetic fields (and much more!). 


The possibility to explore such a wonderful variety of research directions is what makes studies of the Physics of the Earth and planets fun and rewarding.  In addition, sufficiently little is understood about our and other planets that the opportunity for discovery remains very real and is inspiring. For this reason, core issues addressed by the geophysics community change and evolve in real time. EOSC 453 is a capstone course in the Geophysics program and is aimed at introducing you to topical issues in this field as well as to problem solving strategies for building understanding of these issues.  This is a fun course! It is also a highly-demanding one so if you have added this course to an already full load, please email me so we can talk about it.


As a marked departure from many of your previous courses there will be no assigned textbook and the course content will be based on selected readings from the current research literature and a series of MATLAB-based assignments that involve computational modeling and/or data analysis.  This year's readings will be chosen mostly by you from the reading list I distributed by email and that is linked below.  The majority of the papers are recent review papers (mostly the last 5-10 years) drawn mostly from Reviews in Geophysics and the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Science, the two leading review journals in geophysics.  In contrast to original research publications review papers have a much broader scope and are designed to put a given problem into a timely context.  The small number of papers that are not from review journals are drawn from a series of invited AGU-sponsored papers devoted to “grand challenges” in geophysics.



II. Teams and not….

Reading, evaluating and presenting demanding review papers: The class will be divided into teams formed mostly on the basis of common interests with regard to the review papers.  Each student will be involved in at least 3 paper presentations. Where possible each team will include some combination of 4th year geophysics/combined honors student and one or more students from another program. This year’s class has less bandwidth in experience than is typical and so we will do our best. To work through the papers teams will play one of two roles each week: a) Presenters; and b) Discussants (see section III for details). 


Computational MATLAB-based Assignments: You will also work either alone or in teams to complete 5 MATLAB-based assignments and accompanying reports. You can carry out your calculations with Python if you choose.



III. Weekly presentations on selected papers: Team roles and goals

Presenters. The presenters will control the discussion of whatever paper we select as a class for a given week.


Presenting teams are responsible for:

=> ONE concept map* that indicates where they will go and how various elements of the talk fit together.

=>TWO presentations.


Note: Your concept map must be emailed to the instructor after class 2 of each week.


Presentations each day will begin following a 15-20 minute zoom-room chat with either Sam or I that will be intended to help you dial in your talk and “get in the zone”.


What are some required elements of your presentations?

1)    Give the title of the paper and show pictures of the authors.  A good title is an essential piece of the story. Also, scientists are people too and some have compelling personal stories that you will find engaging.

2)    Build a deliberate plan for your talk and tell the class what is this plan. Using a concept map with a format that is of your own design, walk the class through the plan for a given day. Indicate explicitly the topics and questions you will address from your paper. Many of the papers are complex: There may be more concepts and topics than you can possibly address thoroughly, particularly if they are new to you. Choose. Be deliberate in deciding what elements of a given paper you will address and what pieces you will neglect. Be prepared to say out loud “I chose to not do X because…”. Finally, indicate the core concepts that the classs should take away

3)    From your concept map: Give a brief conventional outline for the day’s talk or for both days’ talks. This outline can be in words, hand-drawn pictures or both.

4)    Plain language. Precise language. Cartoons to define problems, illustrate physical processes and relationships. Use math. Challenge your preferred way to think: Use math particularly if it makes you uncomfortable and use cartoons if you prefer to think mathematically or if you simply hate drawing.

5)    Plan to be interrupted and plan your response. Discussions in this class are vigorous. You will get derailed and dragged in directions that are not in your plan. You cannot control this part easily but you can control how you respond. Come with a plan for how you will respond—how will you, for example, use a concept map to get back on point? If you are derailed for half your allotted time (not unlikely), what, for example, is the one concept to which you will return? 


Each presenting group is free to structure their week as they like. One suggestion is the following:


Day 1. Monday Eve: An informal presentation AND discussion of the background material necessary to understand essential concepts of the assigned paper.  This will require significant additional research (Google, textbooks, the open literature etc.).  You may use powerpoint, the zoom whiteboard, a document camera, whatever. If we were face-to-face most of this work would be done on the whiteboard.



Day 2. Wednesday eve: A presentation and critical discussion of the paper itself that will be interrupted by historically vigorous discussions.  If you use PPT, you are limited to a maximum of 16 slides in addition to a title, talk outline and summary.  YOU WILL HAVE TO PRACTICE in order to satisfy both the time and slide number limits.



Discussants. Folks not involved in the presentations will be responsible for building a critical discussion around 3 components of each review paper: 1) Key observations and questions driving the work; 2) Models developed and applied to build understanding/explanation of these observations; and 3) Assumptions and uncertainties that influence the analysis or interpretation of the results in the work. 


To this end, each non-presenting member of the class will come to class with a concept map OR Mind Map* related to the extent to which questions in the paper are well-posed, to observations, models, and assumptions/uncertainties etc.. In addition, each discussant must arrive with one or more mind maps related to a concept or process or of their choice.


Sam or I will meet with the discussants for 15-20 minutes at the start of each class. Students should be prepared to present their concept and mind maps. The goal of this pre-presentation meeting is to identify some key questions to address during or after the presentations. The content of this discussion is up to the discussants collectively but might include a criticism of the paper itself, questions directed to the presenters or the introduction of new material.  It is the job of the discussants to be skeptical and thoughtful and the job of the presenters to defend the paper and themselves against the criticism. 



Feedback. Following the presentation and discussion on Day 2 we will discuss as a class the substance and style of both talks.  These discussions are informal and direct. You will receive individual feedback and group feedback. The point is to provide the presenters with candid but constructive feedback that invites and enables them to learn and grow. 





Goals of the presentations. One philosophical and one practical:

Pedagogical: A critical part of your scientific education is to be able to understand, evaluate and discuss intelligently and openly scientific work.  It is particularly important to learn to assimilate, reduce and present clearly concepts that can be well outside your expertise or experience. It is also important to learn to be open and direct about what you do not understand: Learning to say “I do not know, but this is what I think…” in front of a group is very difficult but ultimately freeing in spite of any perceived vulnerability. This process is a key part of learning to think clearly as well as openly, and important for enabling you to “get to the bottom” of whatever is the problem in front of you.  This process is also a critical step in identifying knowledge gaps and in defining new problems in methodical, tractable ways.



a)     Learning. The interactions among the presenters and discussants are intended to provide a thorough exploration of the assigned topic.  The process of constructing either the presentation or the discussion will help you learn how to self-learn. Through this process you will also see your own conditioning in full. You will gradually deconstruct this training and reconstruct how you learn in a far deeper and richer way.

b)    Improved presentation effectiveness. Following the presentation and discussion we will have an open discussion and analysis of the detailed mechanics of the presentation.  The outline of the talk, precision and clarity of language, presence, style, use of powerpoint, etc. will all be discussed.  The goal is to improve future presentations.


*For discussions of, examples and free apps to build BOTH concept maps and mind maps, see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concept_map, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map 

and references at the end of each article. 

See anything by Buzan (search on ‘mind map’ and not ‘concept map’).  Here is a Ted talk with some inspiring moments (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMZCghZ1hB4).


Examples of mind maps after a quick search (there are lots)



The best concept and mind maps are hand-drawn with pictures, precise language, physical and math concepts that reflect how YOU think.  To get started, see:







Books on kindle if you prefer

Buzan: Mind Map Mastery

Knight: Mind Maps: Quicker notes, better memory and improved learning 3.0



IV. Computational assignments and reports

The projects are designed around the MATLAB platform. If you choose, you can adapt the assignments and carry them out using Python. These projects have the following goals:

a)     Work quantitatively with concepts arising in or related to the readings.  This is an important part of learning to build understanding and also learning about what the point is of mathematical modeling.

b)    Gain familiarity with defining and solving problems on a computer

c)     Gain a little experience with computational physics

d)    Gain experience with the written presentation of technical material



a)     A report of the results that is precisely written.  Your report should have 4 parts and be produced in Google Docs or Overleaf (https://www.overleaf.com/):

1.      A concise and clear introduction that motivates and defines explicitly both the “real” problem and the model problem that you will solve.  In this section make clear: what you are doing, how you are doing it, why you are doing it and in what order your work will proceed.  Explicitly indicate the question(s) that you are asking in your work. 

2.     A methodical presentation of your results that is constructed figure by figure.  In this section there should be no discussion or speculation—just discuss what the figures show. Each paragraph, for example, should point to a figure explicitly (“Figure XXX shows…”) or implicitly (“The amplitude increases monotonically for ten years, after which it declines (Figure XXX)”). There should be no discussion, for example, of why something occurs either numerically or scientifically. 

3.     A discussion section in which you discuss the results, explore their implications and speculate on their meaning.  When discussing your results, you must be careful to restrict your comments to what your results permit you to say. Read that sentence 3 times before you begin this part. Please also discuss what your model captures and misses related to the “real” problem that is motivating the work.  Here, you can also expand on any issues related to numerical and analytical methods, data analysis etc. that were particularly successful or troubling.      

4.    Concluding remarks and directions for future work.  In this section give the conclusions that follow explicitly from your results.  This section must be free of speculation.  Finish off with some comments on directions for future investigation.  If your model must be augmented in some way to take the next step, discuss briefly how.  Do NOT simply say your model is too simple to be “realistic”. Statements like that are lazy, imprecise and lack imagination.  Be SPECIFIC about what features of your model or analysis might be improved to address specific shortcomings. A 3D model is only “better” than a 1D model if a particular feature in a data set requires this additional level of complexity.

5. Contributions: Some or all of your projects will be done in groups. Please indicate who did what in an explicit “author contribution” statement at the end of your papers


c)     LENGTH LIMITS: Your 4-part paper cannot exceed 2500 words and 10 figures. This may sound like a lot. It isn’t. In group projects you will have to think carefully about what you want to say, how you want to say it, what figures you want to use and how you want to compose these figures. Writing is thinking and it is consequently much easier to write long papers than short ones. Please include your codes and any extra theoretical development that is not required in the text as appendices to your paper.

d)    An electronic copy of your MATLAB codes by email to me. If you choose to work in Python, please send your codes to Sam. A powerful way to work together on developing your codes is to sign up for and use Codeshare (https://codeshare.io/).  For MATLAB-only shared coding, sharing, debugging, running, etc., it may be useful to install and use MATLAB Drive (https://www.mathworks.com/products/matlab-drive.html).


Some assignments will be discussed openly in class.  In some cases, I will ask a group to present what they did and discuss what they have learned. Where it is useful we will discuss presentation and coding styles. 


V. Final Exam

For your final exam you will explore a question that has arisen as a result of either your MATLAB assignments or a presentation.  You can set up and attempt to solve a problem of your own design. You should feel free to discuss your problem and your strategy for its solution with me and with anyone else. This exercise is about the process of problem definition and execution and not the result—you need not restrict yourselves to a problem that you know you can solve in the allotted time. You must be able to discuss why you were not successful or why you were successful. We will talk about this format and my expectations in detail in due course. Your final exam will be a short oral presentation of your efforts.  There is no paper due. Your assessment will include comments from me, Sam and your classmates. 



VI. Approximate basis for assessment


Presentations (3)/ discussions (including mind maps and concept maps): 45%

Computational/writing assignments: 45%

Final Exam (a 20-minute talk): 10% (oral only, no paper due)



Your assessment will include comments from me, Sam and your classmates.


=> Please note that NO LATE WORK WILL BE ACCEPTED. Read that twice. Now read it again. And once more just for fun. <=




VII. From the UBC Provost’s office: Please read this statement and feel free to raise issues or concerns individually or as a class


During this pandemic, the shift to online learning has greatly altered teaching and studying at UBC, including changes to health and safety considerations. Keep in mind that some UBC courses might cover topics that are censored or considered illegal by non-Canadian governments. This may include, but is not limited to, human rights, representative government, defamation, obscenity, gender or sexuality, and historical or current geopolitical controversies. If you are a student living abroad, you will be subject to the laws of your local jurisdiction, and your local authorities might limit your access to course material or take punitive action against you. UBC is strongly committed to academic freedom, but has no control over foreign authorities (please visit http://www.calendar.ubc.ca/vancouver/index.cfm?tree=3,33,86,0 for an articulation of the values of the University conveyed in the Senate Statement on Academic Freedom). Thus, we recognize that students will have legitimate reason to exercise caution in studying certain subjects. If you have concerns regarding your personal situation, consider postponing taking a course with manifest risks, until you are back on campus or reach out to your academic advisor to find substitute courses. For further information and support, please visit: http://academic.ubc.ca/support-resources/freedom-expression



VII. Information, resources downloads and assignments


Course Reading List 

(Access PDFs using a VPN into the UBC Library => Indexes and Databases; In the “Search for indexes and databases”, try “Annual Reviews”, “American Geophysical Union”, “Elsevier Science Direct”, “Web of Science”, “Georef” and “JSTOR”)


REQUIRED READING: Notes on the numerical solution of differential equations [PDF] 


A useful place to work together on codes: Codeshare

Numerical Computing with MATLAB (an online textbook)

Installing PYTHON from ANACONDA

Numerical Programming with PYTHON (an online course)

Practical Numerical Methods with PYTHON (an online course)

Intro to Data Analysis and Programming in Python (an EOAS resource)

Plotting in PYTHON



MATLAB script ODEexample1main.m

PYTHON script ODEexample1main.ipynb

MATLAB script ODEexample2main.m

PYTHON script ODEexample2main.ipynb

MATLAB function func_rk4.m

PYTHON script func_rk4.ipynb

MATLAB script odeRKexamplemain.m

PYTHON script odeRKexamplemain.ipynb

MATLAB function oneode.m

PYTHON script oneode.ipynb

MATLAB function twoodes.m

PYTHON script twoodes.ipynb

MATLAB function emissions.m

PYTHON script emissions.ipynb

MATLAB script emissionsprint_main.m

MATLAB script Heating.m

MATLAB script InternalHeating.m

PYTHON script InternalHeating.ipynb

MATLAB script basicXcorr.m

MATLAB script fftbasic.m

MATLAB script xcorrc.m

MATLAB script coherence.m

DATASET eqmagstreamflow.txt

DATASET eqmagsrawinterp.txt

IPCC document describing emissions scenarios [PDF (1.1 MB)]



ASSIGNMENTS (Dates and subjects are likely to evolve this year)

Assignment 0. A primer. Solving ODEs on a computer (DUE Weds, September 9 in class)

Cancelled.Assignment 1. Intro 1 (no paper due). Cooling Earth with a magnetic field (DUE October 2: PDF to me by 6 pm)

Assignment 2 Intro 2. The short-term carbon cycle (DUE October 9: PDF to me by 6 pm)

Assignment 3 Volcanoes and climate (Due October 30: PDF to me by 6 pm) 

Assignment 4 (a choice) Europa’s icy shell, Earthquakes and snowmelt, or Freshwater resources and melting glaciers (Due Nov. 20: PDF to Sam and I by 6 pm)

FINAL EXAM: Talk date and guidelines TBA