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Atmospheric Sciences

Department Overview

416 Atmospheric Sciences-Geophysics Building

Atmospheric sciences is a wide-ranging discipline that includes topics as diverse as weather forecasting, global warming, air quality, Pacific Northwest weather and climate, mountain weather, marine weather, El Nino, the ozone hole, ice ages, and the weather of Mars. It considers problems that are both scientifically challenging and critical for the welfare of modern society. These problems are addressed with theory, measurements, and computer simulations.

Undergraduate Program

416 Atmospheric Sciences-Geophysics Building, Box 351640
(206) 543-4576

The Department of Atmospheric Sciences offers the following programs of study:

Bachelor of Science

Suggested First- and Second-Year Courses: ATM S 220; MATH 124, MATH 125, MATH 126; PHYS 121, PHYS 122, PHYS 123; CSE 142. The first upper-division core course is ATM S 301, which is offered autumn quarter only. Any lower-division atmospheric sciences courses except ATM S 220 count as electives and not as part of the major.

Department Admission Requirements

Students in good academic standing may declare this major at any time.

Major Requirements

Minimum 97-117 credits as follows:

  1. Core requirements (58-59 credits): MATH 124, MATH 125, MATH 126;  PHYS 121, PHYS 122, PHYS 123; either STAT 390/MATH 390, or Q SCI 381; ATM S 220, ATM S 301, ATM S 321, ATM S 340, ATM S 341, ATM S 370, ATM S 431.
  2. Options (39 to 58 credits):
    1. Meteorology (42-45 credits)
      1. Core (33 credits): AMATH 301; ATM S 358, ATM S 441, ATM S 442, ATM S 444, ATM S 451, ATM S 452; CSE 142
      2. Advanced Mathematics (9-12 credits): MATH 324; either AMATH 351 and AMATH 353 or MATH 307, MATH 308, and MATH 309
    2. Climate (39-49 credits)
      1. Core (27-29 credits): AMATH 301; ATM S 358, ATM S 380, ATM S 460, ATM S 487; CSE 142; either ESS 431 or ESS 433; either OCEAN 423 or OCEAN 450
      2. Electives (12-20 credits): minimum four courses from an approved list. See adviser for approved list of electives.
    3. Chemistry (52-58 credits)
      1. Core (40 credits): ATM S 451, ATM S 458, ATM S 480; CHEM 142, CHEM 152, CHEM 162, CHEM 223, CHEM 224, CHEM 321
      2. Electives (12-18 credits): minimum four courses from an approved list. See adviser for approved list of electives.
  3. Minimum 2.0 grade in courses applied to the major

Pre-graduate Program for Physical Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Majors

The following elective course sequence is suitable preparation for students interested in pursuing graduate study in atmospheric sciences: ATM S 301, ATM S 340, ATM S 441.


Minor Requirements: 25 credits to include ATM S 301 plus other approved courses. The minor may include a maximum of 6 independent study credits. Prerequisites include MATH 126 or MATH 136, and PHYS 123. Some courses may require further math or chemistry experience.

Minor in Climate Science: See description in the Climate Science listing in the Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Programs section of the General Catalog.

Student Outcomes and Opportunities

  • Learning Objectives and Expected Outcomes: The degree program qualifies students for professional employment in weather forecasting, air-quality control and monitoring, and other areas of atmospheric sciences and related fields. The baccalaureate degree also is appropriate preparation for graduate study in atmospheric sciences.
  • Instructional and Research Facilities: Extensive computer resources are available in the departmental computer laboratory. The department also maintains an extensive collection of weather data in graphical and numerical electronic format. A study area is provided for undergraduates. An instrument laboratory is maintained with a wide range of observing and data collection systems. Students also have access to a machine shop and an electronics laboratory.
  • Honors Options Available: With College Honors (Completion of Honors Core Curriculum and Departmental Honors); With Honors (Completion of Departmental Honors requirements in the major). See adviser for requirements.
  • Research, Internships, and Service Learning: Internships are available either within the department or with outside organizations, providing a valuable opportunity to test a student's interests in various meteorological career paths and to extend the student's knowledge. A limited number of departmental scholarships are available each year, based on academic excellence or financial need. Employment opportunities are often available in one of the many departmental research groups, and some internships are paid.

Students majoring in atmospheric sciences may take advantage of a variety of opportunities to enhance their education. Undergraduate students are welcome at the department's many seminars and colloquia and are encouraged to join in the annual forecast contest. They may work on independent research projects under the guidance of a faculty member, or be an active participant in a field program.

  • Department Scholarships: The Bruce Caldwell Memorial Scholarship and the Anonymous Donor Atmospheric Sciences Scholarship are both awarded annually, based on both academic excellence and financial need.
  • Student Organizations/Associations: Student Chapter of American Meteorological Society, Puget Sound American Meteorological Society Chapter, Weekly Weather Discussion for all majors.

Graduate Program

Graduate Program Coordinator
416 Atmospheric Sciences-Geophysics, Box 351640
(206) 543-4576

Rapid growth of research in atmospheric sciences began in the late 1940s in response to needs and opportunities in weather forecasting. Extensive research is now underway to extend the time scale over which useful forecasts can be made and to increase the amount of regional and temporal detail in short-range forecasts. In addition, the atmospheric sciences now address a broad range of other problems of fundamental interest and importance. Examples include changes in climate that could result from increases in atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and the application of remote-sensing techniques to the monitoring and understanding of weather and climate.

Graduate students in the atmospheric sciences come from a variety of disciplines: physics, chemistry, engineering, atmospheric, or geophysical sciences, and applied mathematics. Opportunities are broad enough that each of these backgrounds is valuable for specific subfields within the atmospheric sciences. However, students of atmospheric sciences should have in common a sound background in the fundamentals of physics and applied mathematics and an interest in complex natural phenomena. Research projects and graduate courses in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences are closely related, and the well-prepared graduate student may expect to begin research work rather quickly.

Master of Science

Admission Requirements

  1. Complete Graduate School application (a copy must be sent to the department)
  2. Official copy of transcripts
  3. Statement of interest(s) – one page essay, must address reasons why the student wishes to pursue a graduate program in atmospheric sciences
  4. GRE General Examination scores sent from the Educational Testing Service
  5. Three letters of recommendation, either submitted online or, using the appropriate forms, sent directly to the department by the evaluators
  6. For international applicants: TOEFL scores, sent by the testing service
  7. Deadline: December 31, for admission the following autumn. Autumn is the only quarter for which the department accepts applications.

Degree Requirements

36 credits, to include

  1. Core classes (25-28 credits): ATM S 501, ATM S 502, ATM S 532, ATM S 535, ATM S 558. One of the following sequences: ATM S 505, ATM S 509, ATM S 542; or ATM S 503, ATM S 504
  2. The two-course dynamics sequence (ATM S 503, ATM S 504) is intended for those whose research specialty is outside the realm of dynamic meteorology. Most students are encouraged to take the three-course sequence in dynamics (ATM S 505, ATM S 509, ATM S 542).
  3. Master's students need 36 credits to graduate (excluding seminars and colloquia); 27 of the credits presented must be from graded courses numbered 500 or above, of which at least 3 credits must be in approved applied mathematics courses and 24 must be in core atmospheric sciences courses. The remaining 9 credits are for the master's thesis. However, students intending to pursue a PhD should take all the courses required above.

Doctor of Philosophy

Admission Requirements

  1. All students admitted into the Atmospheric Sciences graduate program are admitted initially to the MS track of study. Students in the MS track who seek entry into the PhD program are evaluated by the departmental committee on graduate studies.
  2. A student who wishes to be considered by the committee must first write a letter to the academic counselor and also to the student's MS committee, requesting admission into the PhD program, and choosing one of the three following evaluation options:
    1. MS thesis in atmospheric sciences or a closely related discipline, completed before entering the department, submitted the first week of autumn quarter of the student's second academic year in the department.
    2. Draft of UW Department of Atmospheric Sciences MS thesis approved by the MS Supervisory Committee.
    3. Manuscript of a peer-reviewed journal article on which the student is lead author.

Degree Requirements

Minimum 90 credits, to include:

  1. Coursework
    1. ATM S 501, ATM S 502
    2. ATM S 505, ATM S 509 (Students whose anticipated research has minimal connection with atmospheric dynamics, such as laboratory or fieldwork in atmospheric chemistry or cloud microphysics, may take ATM S 503 and ATM S 504 in place of ATM S 505 and ATM S 509. See Graduate Program Coordinator before enrolling in ATM S 503.)
    3. Either ATM S 532 or ATM S 558
    4. ATM S 535, ATM S 542
    5. Each of the following, every quarter coursework is taken: ATM S 520, either ATM S 521 or ATM S 524, and ATM S 600 (up to 10 credits each quarter)
    6. Electives: Courses in the student's areas of interest, as determined in consultation with adviser
    7. Applied math: Either AMATH 401, AMATH 567 or AMATH 581; either AMATH 402 or AMATH 568
    8. ATM S 700 (10 credits each quarter, beginning the second year of the program)
  2. General examination
  3. Dissertation
  4. Final examination


Nearly all graduate students are supported by either research assistantships or fellowships. Students are usually a teaching assistant during at least one quarter, in the second year of study. Students are supported full-time during the summer.