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Atmospheric Science Overview - Preparation - Day In The Life - Earnings - Employment - Career Path Forecast - Professional Organizations

Atmospheric science is the study of the atmosphere -- the blanket of air covering the Earth. Atmospheric scientists, commonly called meteorologists, study the atmosphere's physical characteristics, motions, and processes, and the way in which these factors affect the rest of our environment. The best known application of this knowledge is forecasting the weather. In addition to predicting the weather, atmospheric scientists attempt to identify and interpret climate trends, understand past weather, and analyze today's weather. Weather information and meteorological research are also applied in air-pollution control, agriculture, forestry, air and sea transportation, defense, and the study of possible trends in the Earth's climate, such as global warming, droughts, and ozone depletion.

Atmospheric scientists who forecast the weather are known as operational meteorologists; they are the largest group of specialists. These scientists study the Earth's air pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind velocity, and they apply physical and mathematical relationships to make short-range and long-range weather forecasts. Their data come from weather satellites, radars, sensors, and stations in many parts of the world.

Meteorologists use sophisticated computer models of the world's atmosphere to make long-term, short-term, and local-area forecasts. More accurate instruments for measuring and observing weather conditions, as well as high-speed computers to process and analyze weather data, have revolutionized weather forecasting. Using satellite data, climate theory, and sophisticated computer models of the world's atmosphere, meteorologists can more effectively interpret the results of these models to make local-area weather predictions. These forecasts inform not only the general public, but also those who need accurate weather information for both economic and safety reasons, such as the shipping, air transportation, agriculture, fishing, forestry, and utilities industries.

Meteorologists use data collected from sophisticated technologies like atmospheric satellite monitoring equipment and ground-based radar systems. Doppler radar, for example, can detect airflow patterns in violent storm systems, allowing forecasters to better predict thunderstorms, flash floods, tornadoes, and other hazardous winds, and to monitor the direction and intensity of storms. They also monitor surface weather stations and launch weather balloons, which carry equipment that measures wind, temperature, and humidity in the upper atmosphere.

While meteorologists study and forecast weather patterns in the short term, climatologists study seasonal variations in weather over months, years, or even centuries. They may collect, analyze, and interpret past records of wind, rainfall, sunshine, and temperature in specific areas or regions. Some look at patterns in weather over past years to determine, for example, whether a coming season will be colder or warmer than usual. Their studies are used to design buildings, plan heating and cooling systems, and aid in effective land use and agricultural production.

Some atmospheric scientists work exclusively in research. Physical meteorologists, for example, study the atmosphere's chemical and physical properties; the transmission of light, sound, and radio waves; and the transfer of energy in the atmosphere. They also study other atmospheric phenomena, such as the factors affecting the formation of clouds, rain, and snow; the dispersal of air pollutants over urban areas; and the mechanics of severe storms. Environmental problems, such as pollution and shortages of fresh water, have widened the scope of the meteorological profession. Environmental meteorologists study these problems and may evaluate and report on air quality for environmental impact statements. Other research meteorologists examine the most effective ways to control or diminish air pollution.

Atmospheric Science Resources


Overview of Atmospheric Science

Educational Guidelines and Preparation Tips

Day in the Life:
Teams and Coworkers, Tasks, the Workplace

Employer Options, Salary Ranges, Types of Employers

Statistics, Industries, Employers

Career Path Forecast:

Professional Organizations:
Resources, Networking, Support

Internet Resources:
American Meteorological Society
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Weather Service

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 Atmospheric Science
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