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Applications of Physics: Atmospheric Science

Atmospheric science is the study of the physics and chemistry of clouds, gases, and aerosols (airborne particles) that surround the planetary bodies of the solar system. Research in atmospheric science includes: climatology — the study of long-term weather and temperature trends; dynamic meteorology — the study of the motions of the atmosphere; cloud physics — the formation and evolution of clouds and precipitation; atmospheric chemistry — the chemical composition of the atmosphere; atmospheric physics — the study of processes such as heating and cooling of the atmosphere; aeronomy — the study of the upper atmosphere; and oceanography — the study of the Earth’s oceans and how they affect the atmosphere. Scientists in this field use satellites, rockets, radiosondes, weather balloons, and lasers to examine the atmosphere and computer models to predict and understand the complex interactions between the atmosphere and human activity, human health, crops and ecosystems . Atmospheric science is a multidisciplinary field of research that draws on environmental chemistry, physics, meteorology, computer modeling, oceanography, geology, volcanology and other disciplines.

Examples of problems which have been addressed by atmospheric science include acid rain, photochemical smog and global warming. Atmospheric science seeks to understand the causes of these problems, and by obtaining a theoretical understanding of them, allow possible solutions to be tested and the effects of changes in government policy evaluated. Typical occupations include: research and development, management, teaching, radio and television broadcasting, field research, laboratory studies, computer analysis and modeling, instrumentation and data acquisition, data analysis and modeling, or laboratory studies.

For more information:

See also: NASA

Recommended electives in Atmospheric Science

G 122 Historical Geology*
C 117 Principles of Chemistry and Biochemistry I
C 118 Principles of Chemistry and Biochemistry II
A 202 Computer Programming II
G 304 Physical Meteorology and Climatology
P 310 Environmental Physics (N&M)*
A 314 Biological and Environmental Chemical Analysis
G 340 Physical Meteorology, Climate and Paleoclimate*
C 341 Organic Chemistry
G 347 Instrumentation for Atmospheric Science (N&M)*
G 364 Dynamic Meteorology: Boundary Layer Meteorology (N&M)*
G 410 Undergraduate Research in Geology*
G 434 Dynamic Meteorology: Synoptic to Global Scales (N&M)*
G 437 Advanced Synoptic Meteorology & Climatology (N&M)*
G 438 Air Pollution Meteorology (N&M)*
E 451 Air Pollution and Control*
G 448 Sustainable Energy Systems (N&M)*
P 460 Modern Optics
G 470 Micrometeorology (N&M)*
G 476 Climate Change Science (N&M)*
K 310 Statistical Techniques
M 365 Introduction to Probability and Statistics
P 410 Computational physics
P 460 Modern Optics

*Satisfies the requirements for a Certificate in Atmospheric Science
(Required: 24 credits selected from marked courses (*), must include G122 & G340).

Career opportunities

With a BS in Physics and a concentration in atmospheric science

The Federal Government (34% of all atmospheric scientists)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
The U.S. Department of Defense
Armed Forces
Commercial airlines
State governments
Public utilities
Consulting firms
Aircraft and instrument manufacturing companies
Technical services firms

For useful career information, see the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.