Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology, General  Program Description


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dotThe atmosphere has an important job 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Besides protecting us from the sun's ultraviolet rays, the atmosphere affects the quality of the air we breathe. And the atmosphere produces all of our weather, including snow, hurricanes and thunderstorms.

Graduates of atmospheric science programs have an equally important task. They study the Earth's atmosphere in order to understand things like weather, pollution and climate change.

One myth about atmospheric science is that it's simply meteorology, or the study of weather. The two fields are similar, but still different, says Colleen Leary. She is a professor of atmospheric science at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

"Atmospheric science is the more generic term, and it covers a wide range of fields," says Leary. "Meteorology concentrates on what we'd call weather and the part of the atmosphere that's the lowest 50,000 feet or so."

Leary points out that atmospheric scientists can even study the atmosphere of Mars and other planets.

Graduates of atmospheric science programs are prepared for careers in air pollution, meteorology or academia.

You'll need at least a bachelor's degree to work in the field of atmospheric science. More than 40 schools in the United States offer degrees in atmospheric science.

"I suspect that within not too many years, most of the job opportunities will be at the master's or PhD level," says James Drummond. He is a professor of atmospheric science.

The exhaust from vehicles and other pollution are changing the atmosphere. Over the past decade, society has become much more aware that the Earth's temperature is rising. But atmospheric scientists have been studying the changing climate for many years.

"A lot of the original push in terms of climate change came from atmospheric scientists in the early 1980s," says Drummond.

Because it is a physical science, atmospheric science students should take lots of physics, chemistry and biology in high school. But above all else, a good foundation in math is key.

Many schools offer undergraduate students the chance to assist professors and graduate students with research.

"It's at students' own initiative and at their own pace," says Leary. "You get an idea of what you'd do as a graduate student and what it's like to be a graduate student."

A few years ago, Drummond interviewed a student for a summer research position. The student was reluctant to admit that she liked building models in her spare time.

"I immediately got really interested in hiring her, because anybody who likes building models is probably likely to succeed in the sort of things I do," says Drummond.

Besides tuition, typical expenses include lab fees and textbooks.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see Atmospheric Scientists

Careers in Atmospheric Science
A quick list of possible jobs

NASA -- Atmospheric Sciences Division
Read about the work NASA is doing to understand the effects of human activity on the Earth's atmosphere

American Meteorological Society: Career Center
Browse through the Career Center section of the AMS

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this program is about? Check out Just the Facts for a simple description.