Bachelor's Degree in Atmospheric Science

(Adopted by the Council 10 January 1999)
Bull. Amer. Met.Soc., 80, 475—478
  1. Introduction
  2. Attributes of bachelor's degree programs
  3. Appendix A: Preparation for selected careers in atmospheric science
  4. Appendix B: Federal civil service requirements for meteorologist positions (GS 1340, effective 1 March 1998)

1. Introduction

This statement describes the minimum curricular composition, faculty size, and facility availability recommended by the American Meteorological Society for an undergraduate degree program in atmospheric science.1

The primary purpose of this statement is to provide advice to university faculty and administrators who are seeking to establish and maintain undergraduate programs in atmospheric science. It also provides information that may be helpful to prospective students who are exploring educational alternatives in atmospheric science.

A contemporary academic program in atmospheric science must provide students with a fundamental background in basic atmospheric science and related sciences and mathematics. It must also provide flexibility and breadth so that students can prepare to pursue a variety of professional career paths.

The program attributes listed in section 2 are those common to any career in atmospheric science. Additional coursework may be helpful for gaining entry to some specific career paths; suggestions are given in appendix A for a few selected careers.

While many similarities exist, the curricular program described in section 2 differs somewhat from that required for employment as a meteorologist by the federal government (see appendix B for current federal civil service requirements). Although the federal requirements provide excellent guidelines for preparation for a career in operational weather forecasting, university academic requirements are designed to support a spectrum of career options.

2. Attributes of bachelor's degree programs

a. General objectives

The objectives of a bachelor's degree program in atmospheric science should include one or more of the following:

1) in-depth study of meteorology to serve as the culmination of a science or liberal arts education,

2) preparation for graduate education,

3) preparation for professional employment in meteorology or a closely related field.

b. Course offerings

A curriculum leading to a bachelor of science degree (or a bachelor of arts degree) in atmospheric science should contain

1) at least 24 semester hours2 of credit in atmospheric science that includes the following:

12 semester hours of lecture and laboratory courses, with calculus as a prerequisite or corequisite, in atmospheric thermodynamics and dynamic, synoptic, and mesoscale meteorology that collectively provide a broad treatment of atmospheric processes at all scales;

3 semester hours of atmospheric physics with emphasis on cloud/precipitation physics and solar and terrestrial radiation;

3 semester hours of atmospheric measurements, instrumentation, or remote sensing, including both lecture and laboratory components; and

3 total semester hours in one or more of the following:

a course in some aspect of applied meteorology such as air pollution meteorology, aviation meteorology, agricultural meteorology, hydrology or hydrometeorology, weather forecasting techniques, or applied climatology;

an internship focused on a career in atmospheric science or a closely related field;

an undergraduate research project.

an additional 3 semesters hours in atmospheric science electives;

2) mathematics, including calculus and ordinary differential equations, in courses designed for majors in either mathematics, physical science, or engineering;

3) a one-year sequence in physics lecture and laboratory courses, with calculus as a prerequisite or corequisite;

4) a course in chemistry appropriate for physical science majors;

5) a course in computer science appropriate for physical science majors;

6) a course in statistics appropriate for physical science majors;

7) a course in technical, scientific, or professional writing; and

8) a course with a primary focus of developing students' oral communications skills.

Course requirements should include components that utilize modern departmental and/or institutional computer facilities.

As in any science curriculum, students should have the opportunity and be encouraged to supplement minimum requirements with additional course work in the major and supporting areas. This supplemental course work may include courses designed to broaden the student's perspective on the earth system and the environmental sciences (e.g., hydrology, oceanography, and solid earth sciences) and science administration and policy making, as well as additional courses in the basic sciences, mathematics, and engineering. Also, students should be strongly urged to give considerable attention to additional course work or other activities designed to develop effective communications skills, both written and oral.

Finally, as noted in the introduction, the curriculum described above differs from federal civil service requirements (see appendix B). However, it is recommended that courses required to fulfill federal employment requirements-even if not required for the curriculum-be made available. Further, if the offering of such courses is not consistent with the educational objectives of the program, then the institution has an obligation to inform prospective students that the completion of their undergraduate degree will not fully qualify them for entry-level employment in federal agencies.

c. Faculty

There should be a minimum of three full-time regular faculty with expertise sufficiently broad to address the subject areas identified in item 1 in section 2b. The faculty role should extend beyond teaching and research to include counseling and mentoring of students with diverse educational and cultural backgrounds.

d. Facilities

There should be coherent space for the atmospheric science program and its students. Contained within this space should be facilities where real-time and archived meteorological data can be accessed through computer-based data acquisition and display systems, and indoor and outdoor facilities suitable for teaching modern atmospheric observation and measurement techniques.

To support the courses in section 2b, the atmospheric science program should provide students with modern computer facilities and applications software suitable for the diagnosis of dynamical and physical processes in the atmosphere. Alternatively, students should have ready access to institutional facilities that provide these capabilities.

e. Student recruitment and retention

Institutions should provide academic programs with resources and the flexibility necessary to recruit and retain students with diverse educational and cultural backgrounds.

Appendix A: Preparation for selected careers in atmospheric science

This section provides advice about additional courses that could be useful for those students who wish to pursue a specific career path in atmospheric science. The careers listed are judged to provide particularly good opportunities at the entry level at present; however, they cover only a small fraction of the professional employment opportunities in meteorology. Since this statement is concerned with the bachelor's degree and students already have many course requirements, only a few additional courses are listed per career. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all courses that could be useful for a particular career.

Students should keep in mind that many of the suggested courses may have prerequisites that are not listed here and that may vary from institution to institution.

As a general rule, performing an internship in the area of interest and/or completion of an undergraduate research project on a topic in the area are excellent complements to the additional courses listed here.

a. Weather forecasting careers

Students intending to enter this career field should seriously consider including the following course work or types of experiences in their program of study:

1) three courses in synoptic and mesoscale meteorology, to include an introduction to numerical weather prediction (these courses would include any taken as part of the courses recommended in basic requirements under item 1 of section 2b);

2) a course in operational weather analysis and forecasting techniques that includes a laboratory component; and

3) a remote sensing course that includes a laboratory component (such a course would also meet the basic requirements under item 1 of section 2b).

b. Air pollution careers

Students intending to enter this career field should seriously consider including the following course work or types of experiences in their program of study:

1) an additional chemistry course (in most schools this course would be a continuation of the course used to meet the requirement for a chemistry course in item 4 of section 2b);

2) a course in atmospheric or environmental chemistry;

3) a course in atmospheric turbulence, micrometeorology, or boundary layer meteorology;

4) an air pollution meteorology course having courses such as items 2 and 3 above as prerequisites; and/or

5) a course involving dispersion analysis and the use of air quality models.

c. Business-related careers

Students intending to have a career in private sector or commercial meteorology may wish to gain some knowledge of the business world. The following courses may be helpful:

1) a course in marketing,

2) a course in management principles,

3) a course in management information systems, and/or

4) either a course in organizational behavior or one in entrepreneurship or small business management.

Appendix B: Federal civil service requirements for meteorologist positions (GS 1340, effective 1 March 1998)

The requirements for federal employment as a meteorologist are given below. To meet these requirements, students should ensure that the 12 credits of course work in atmospheric thermodynamics and dynamics and weather analysis and forecasting recommended in section 2 of this statement include six semester hours of dynamic meteorology and six semester hours of weather analysis and forecasting.

A. A degree in meteorology, atmospheric science, or other natural science major that includes the following:

1) At least 24 semester hours (36 quarter hours) of credit in meteorology/atmospheric science, including a minimum of

a) 6 semester hours in atmospheric dynamics and thermodynamics,*

b) 6 semester hours in analysis and prediction of weather systems (synoptic/mesoscale),

c) 3 semester hours of physical meteorology, and

d) 2 semester hours of remote sensing of the atmosphere and/or instrumentation;

2) 6 semester hours of physics, with at least one course that includes laboratory session;*

3) 3 semester hours of ordinary differential equations;* and

4) at least 9 semester hours of course work for a physical science major in any combination of three or more of the following: physical hydrology, chemistry, physical oceanography, physical climatology, radiative transfer, aeronomy, advanced thermodynamics, advanced electricity and magnetism, statistics, light and optics, and computer science.


B. A combination of education and experience-course work shown in A above, plus appropriate experience or additional education.

1 For the purposes of this document, the terms "atmospheric science" and "meteorology" are taken to be equivalent.

2 Some institutions use a quarter system rather than the semester system. Normally, two semester hours equates to three quarter hours. In some cases, the recommended credits in section 2b may convert to noninteger numbers of quarter hours. In such cases, the institutions may combine a course with an appropriate portion of another course to meet the recommendation.

* There is a prerequisite or corequisite of calculus for course work in atmospheric dynamics and thermodynamics, physics, and differential equations. Calculus courses must be appropriate for a physical science major.