Bachelor's Degree in Atmospheric Science

An Information Statement of the American Meteorological Society

(Adopted by AMS Council on 30 May 2017)

1. Introduction

This statement provides guidance to university faculty and administrators responsible for undergraduate programs in atmospheric science. (For the purposes of this document, “meteorology” and “atmospheric science” are considered equivalent.) It describes the minimum curricular composition, faculty size, and facility requirements recommended by the American Meteorological Society (AMS) for an undergraduate degree program in atmospheric science, with the intent that such a program will prepare graduates for the growing diversity of careers addressing weather, climate, and the atmospheric environment, or for graduate study leading to such careers. AMS encourages colleges and universities to develop programs that exceed these minimum recommendations. This statement also provides information to help students prepare for various career pathways within and beyond the atmospheric sciences.

The program attributes include essential program-level learning outcomes, listed in Section 2. Students who complete the requirements for an undergraduate degree should possess a core set of competencies, outlined in Section 3. Additional course work and experiences that may be helpful for specific careers are suggested in Section 4.

Recognizing the emergence of online learning in the atmospheric sciences the AMS Council encourages such programs to follow the guidelines here as closely as possible.

2. Program attributes

a. Faculty

A viable program should have no fewer than three full-time regular faculty holding doctoral degrees and with appropriate expertise sufficient to address all the subject areas identified in Section 3c. In departments where atmospheric science faculty are expected to carry out active research programs, the minimum number of faculty should be increased in relation to the university’s research expectations.

b. Facilities

Programs should have facilities that provide adequate classroom/lab space, access to weather and climate information, work areas, journal access for undergraduate research, and the resources necessary to provide hands-on learning opportunities.

c. Diversity

The effective engagement, recruitment, and retention of underrepresented and underserved groups within the atmospheric sciences are vitally important. Increased diversity promotes innovation and strengthens our community's ability to tackle research questions of great complexity and social consequence through the contribution of a wide range of perspectives and expertise. The environmental science literacy of the general public will be enhanced by their engagement with a diverse atmospheric science workforce that is well connected to all segments of society. Given the low number of students from traditionally underrepresented groups in the atmospheric sciences, programs are expected to create inclusive environments and work to recruit and retain diverse students and prepare them for careers throughout the spectrum of opportunities afforded by the science. Additionally, increasing the diversity of atmospheric sciences faculty is an important step toward meeting this goal.

d. Nature and quality of instruction

Course instruction in the program should be student-centric, employ active learning, and draw upon effective practices revealed by discipline-based research in higher education. Involving undergraduates in research early in their program is highly encouraged.

e. Advising

The diversity of career paths and opportunities within atmospheric and related sciences elevates the importance of academic advising and mentoring. Ideally, advisors should be experienced faculty in the program. Advisees should meet with their advisor at least once during each academic term. Advising meetings should include conversations about the advisee’s career goals and interests as they evolve over the student’s academic career.

f. Program-level learning outcomes

The objectives of a bachelor’s degree program in atmospheric science should be clearly defined by the faculty and openly shared with current and prospective students and potential employers. Programs should frame their objectives in terms of measurable learning outcomes that reflect the full breadth of the degree program and should systematically monitor their students’ success in achieving those learning outcomes. While each program will maintain its own specific course-level learning outcomes, program-level outcomes should encompass the following broad set. Students graduating with a degree in atmospheric science will

1. demonstrate mastery of the fundamental principles governing the atmosphere and the characteristic atmospheric processes across spatial and temporal scales;

2. demonstrate integrated understanding of the linked Earth–atmosphere–ocean–cryosphere–biosphere system;

3. apply diagnostic, prognostic, and technological tools to evaluate atmospheric processes across a multitude of scales;

4. apply critical and analytical thinking to solve relevant scientific problems in both individual and collaborative settings across and related to the atmospheric sciences;

5. effectively communicate scientific information in oral and written form at an appropriate level for their audience;

6. understand and utilize the principles of proper ethical behavior within the atmospheric sciences regarding professional conduct and be aware of the scientific limits of prediction (see AMS Guidelines for Professional Conduct; Article XII of the AMS Constitution, and https://www.ametsoc.org/ams/index.cfm/about-ams/ams-organization-and-administration/constitution-and-bylaws/); and

7. create, synthesize, or apply knowledge within the atmospheric sciences or between the atmospheric sciences and other disciplines, for example, through a capstone experience (discussed in detail below).

3. Basic components of an undergraduate degree in atmospheric sciences

a. Prerequisite topics in mathematics and physical sciences

Because the atmospheric sciences involve application of the principles and techniques of physical science to the atmosphere, a strong background in mathematics and physics is necessary. These subjects/courses are prerequisites for the required topics in atmospheric science. While some mathematical and physics disciplinary-specific material may be incorporated into atmospheric science courses, the foundation of atmospheric science learning should be built upon a set of courses taught in their traditional departments. The prerequisite mathematics and physics course work should be consistent with that required for other physical science and engineering majors. The physics course work must be calculus based.

Mathematics

  • Differential and integral calculus
  • Vector and multivariable calculus
  • Probability and applied statistics

Physics

  • Fundamentals of mechanics
  • Thermodynamics

For those planning to transfer from a community college to a four-year college, students should communicate with departmental advisors at the four-year college the student aspires to attend about appropriate course work.

b. Required skills and competencies

In addition to knowledge of specific topics in atmospheric science, competency in the following areas is essential. Opportunities for enhancement of these skills within discipline-specific course work is strongly recommended.

Scientific computing and data analytics

  • Computing skills in data analysis, modeling, and visualization to make inferences about the atmosphere
  • Experience developing scientific software in a suitable computing environment[1]
  • Ability to apply numerical and statistical methods to atmospheric science problems

Oral, written, and multimedia communication

  • Ability to effectively communicate and interact with scientific, technical, and lay audiences using scientific evidence
  • Demonstrated effectiveness in discussion and interpretation of current weather and climate events and forecasts through multiple modalities, including social media[2]
  • Ability to craft an effective scientific presentation and write a scientific report

c. Required topics in atmospheric science

The topics listed below should be addressed within required courses. They should be infused throughout the curriculum, with the understanding that mastery will be achieved only after students have taken mathematics and physics prerequisites. Some advanced meteorological topics may require knowledge of differential equations, which may be obtained through a prerequisite mathematics course [as is presently required for federal meteorologist positions (see Appendix A)] or through mathematics instruction within a meteorological context.

In that the atmosphere is a fluid, the following topics should be addressed:

  • Governing equations
  • The importance of spatial/temporal scales in determining the nature of fluid motions
    • Dynamical balances
    • Waves
    • Disturbances and the growth mechanisms that produce them
    • Structure and evolution of polar, tropical, and midlatitude weather systems across spatial and temporal scales
  • Application of the principles of fluid motion to understand and predict atmospheric circulation systems
    • Clouds and storms
    • Synoptic and mesoscale weather systems
    • The general circulation of the atmosphere

In that the atmosphere is a physical/chemical system, the following topics should be addressed:

  • Energy transfers within the atmosphere and across its boundaries by radiation, convection, turbulence, and advection, and the implications of these transfers for weather and climate
  • Processes that produce clouds and precipitation
  • Air pollution and pollution dispersal
  • Chemical/aerosol systems
    • Chemical composition, distribution, and evolution
    • Natural and anthropogenic sources of atmospheric constituents

In that climate is a coupled Earth–atmosphere–ocean–cryosphere–biosphere system, the following topics should be addressed:

  • Global energy balance, the general circulation of the atmosphere and ocean, and climate variability
  • Phenomena resulting from this coupled system including El Niño–Southern Oscillation, monsoons, etc.
  • Climate change
  • Hydrologic cycle

In that knowledge of the atmosphere derives from measurements, the following topics should be addressed:

  • Principles of measurement and uncertainty
  • In situ observations
  • Active and passive remote sensing (especially radar and satellite measurements)
  • Statistical analysis of observations
  • Familiarity with emerging technologies for data acquisition

In that weather and climate information is vital to address societal needs, the following topics should be addressed:

  • Making weather forecasts
  • Principles of numerical weather prediction (data assimilation, forecast, statistical postprocessing, and dissemination)
  • How climate predictions and projections are made
  • Communication of forecasts, forecast uncertainty, and resultant outcome risks to users
  • Weather and climate impacts to reduce risks and bolster the resilience of society

d. Capstone experience

Every graduate from an undergraduate program in atmospheric science should complete a capstone experience for academic credit. A capstone experience in the final year of study encourages students to synthesize and apply knowledge and skills gained throughout an Atmospheric Sciences curriculum. It allows the student to develop a product, preferably relevant to their career goal, that provides a tangible manifestation of her or his ability to apply the knowledge she or he has gained from academic work. Capstone experiences can be embedded in an upper-level course, or they can involve participation in an on- or off-campus research project or internship. Capstone activities may involve authentic research, the development of software or instrumentation, or involvement in atmospheric science education or outreach.

Attributes of effective capstone experiences include the following:

  • The development of a sharable product, such as a research poster or presentation, materials for a course or lesson, a science demonstration or exhibit; or a technical report or product, such as a material software application and its description.
  • Supervision of the activity and evaluation of the product by a faculty member or a suitable outside expert.
  • Student reflection in the form of a paper, journal, or portfolio. Reflection encourages the student to address connections between the capstone experience and course work and to use the experience to inform her/his career plans and aspirations.

4. Beyond the basics

Figure 1. Schematic representation of the diverse career options and their intersections.

Figure 1. Schematic representation of the diverse career options and their intersections.

The field of meteorology encompasses a broad and diverse workforce that connects the Earth system with society, as shown in Figure 1. The field is, therefore, inherently interdisciplinary, multifaceted, and complex. While many meteorologists work in traditional roles such as forecasting and operations and atmospheric science research, most jobs in the field now lie within an intersection of several roles. For example, fundamental research can be used to drive private-sector innovation, broadcasters are making increasing use of cutting-edge climate science and behavioral science, and National Weather Service meteorologists benefit from communication skills that improve national weather readiness. The social and behavioral sciences interact with every facet of the field, from the development of new technologies to forecasting and communicating life-saving information.

Therefore, in addition to the core curriculum outlined above, programs should embrace this complexity as they help students plan the early stages of their careers. Programs should offer robust advising to enable students to achieve the greatest possible success. Appropriate skills and competencies—some of which vary with the intended career goal and others of which are transferable—can be garnered through course work, participation in research, or internship experiences. Every student should gain additional knowledge and experiences depending upon his or her specific interests; deepening and broadening their backgrounds in this way will likely benefit students in pursuing careers across a range of employment sectors. Students who can integrate cross-disciplinary skills will be well-prepared for their future careers. Specific recommendations for common career trajectories are described below.

a. Private sector

The private sector performs a broad spectrum of meteorological services and increasingly is overlapping with the traditional roles of government and academia in developing the science and delivering operational services. The private sector serves a wide variety of users ranging from the general public to industry sectors such as transportation, energy, agriculture, retail, insurance, financial services, recreation, communication, health, and governments. As such, a rich set of career opportunities is available in the private sector, including forecasting, decision support, science and technology development, and business execution.

Students interested in private-sector careers should be offered opportunities to gain and apply additional knowledge depending upon their specific interests. For example, experience in software development is essential for meteorological technical careers, business classes or a minor are useful for more business-oriented careers, and forecasting experience and market/industry–specific knowledge is desirable for those seeking careers related to weather forecasting. Further, the private sector increasingly is providing weather impacts and decision-support services, which require additional sector-specific knowledge and technical skills, such as analytics and machine learning.

b. Government sector

All students pursuing employment with the federal government as a meteorologist, with the National Weather Service (NWS) or any federal agency, should take course work that satisfies the federal civil service requirements for meteorologist positions (http://www.opm.gov/qualifications/standards/IORs/gs1300/1340.htm, reproduced here as Appendix A). Students may increase their chances of obtaining an entry-level NWS position through NWS internship experience, volunteering at a NWS Forecast Office, a graduate degree, or prior private-sector or military forecasting experience.

Undergraduates entering the military generally serve as Military Weather Officers and often work initially in forecast-intensive assignments, then enter graduate school and eventually assume leadership roles in their military career. Students intending to enter the military after undergraduate studies should include some of the activities in Section 4c (Atmospheric science research) and gain some of the forecasting experiences described above.

c. Atmospheric science research

A career in atmospheric sciences research will generally require a graduate degree. Undergraduate advising is essential to ensure that students obtain the combination of courses and experiences that will prepare them to succeed in a career involving research. Atmospheric science research takes place across public, private, and academic sectors. Students should be encouraged to take appropriate course work in theory and methods, participate in undergraduate research fellowships and other hands-on opportunities, attend and participate in seminars and colloquia, and present and/or publish their research findings.

d. Broadcast and other multimedia meteorology

Besides forecasting ability, broadcast meteorologists and other journalists need a combination of broadcasting ability and general scientific knowledge. For broadcasting preparation, a minor in broadcast journalism/communication is ideal, including work in broadcast newswriting, broadcast reporting, television/radio production, and social media dissemination of forecasts. Departments preparing students for broadcast careers must provide students with opportunities to prepare high-quality demonstration weathercasts and to intern at a television/radio station.

In addition, students planning to pursue a broadcast meteorology career should become familiar with the requirements and procedures for gaining certification, such as the American Meteorological Society’s Certified Broadcast Meteorologist program (https://www.ametsoc.org/ams/index.cfm/education-careers/ams-professional-certification-programs/certified-broadcast-meteorologist-program-cbm/).

General scientific knowledge is necessary because broadcast meteorologists often serve as the “station scientist,” reporting on a wide range of scientific stories. Introductory courses in environmental science, oceanography, geology, hydrology, and astronomy provide a valuable foundational background.

e. Human dimensions of weather and climate

As is the trend in most sciences, interdisciplinary studies and opportunities that link human dimensions with physical science are rapidly increasing. Some topical areas that lie at the intersection of human dimensions and atmospheric sciences include risk communication, disaster sociology, hazards geography, behavioral economics, and environmental law and policy. Students with interests in these human dimensions will benefit from an array of introductory courses and activities in these fields. Students benefit especially from minors or second majors in fields of particular interest. A strong understanding of the common theories and methodological approaches of these fields will enable a student to become a boundary spanner, an important kind of collaborator who brings together and translates between physical and social science colleagues.

For students who wish to pursue a career that is based predominantly in human dimensions, a major in one of those disciplines is strongly encouraged. Students with such an interest should also consider the appropriate preparations for graduate school in that discipline, which is commonly required to enter a career in those fields.

f. Education

Educational opportunities in the atmospheric sciences include classroom teaching, and education and outreach in other settings. Departments should inform students wishing to become a middle or high school science teacher about the educational requirements to be eligible for hiring in their state. Preparation for non-classroom educational careers could include course work in web and graphic design, creative writing, and other forms of communication, including public speaking and theater.

Appendix A: Federal civil service requirements for meteorologist positions

(GS 1340, effective 1 March 1998)

The basic requirements for federal employment as a meteorologist are given below:

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

(i) 6 semester hours in atmospheric dynamics and thermodynamics,

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

(iii) 3 semester hours of physical meteorology, and

(iv) 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 a laboratory session;

3) 3 semester hours of ordinary differential equations[3]; 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, statistics, chemistry, physical oceanography, physical climatology, radiative transfer, aeronomy, advanced thermodynamics, advanced electricity and magnetism, light and optics, and computer science.

— OR —

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

Appendix B: International standards

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has set standards for education and training to become a WMO meteorologist in WMO Publication 1083. All personnel worldwide issuing official aeronautical meteorological forecasts have to meet the standards in WMO 1083. http://www.wmo.int/pages/prog/dra/etrp/documents/1083_Manual_on_ETS_en_rev.pdf

[This statement is considered in force until May 2022 unless superseded by a new statement issued by the AMS Council before this date.]

 

[1] Recommended environments relevant to the atmospheric sciences include C, C++, and Fortran as well as higher-level development environments such as Python, MATLAB, R, NCL, and IDL.

[3] There is a prerequisite or co-requisite of calculus for course work in atmospheric dynamics and thermodynamics, physics, and differential equations. Calculus courses must be appropriate for a physical science major.