Choosing a Career in Atmospheric Science
Atmospheric science is the study of the physics and chemistry of
clouds, gases, and aerosols (airborne particles) that surround the
planetary bodies of the solar system. Research in atmospheric
science includes such varied areas of interest as:
- Climatology the study of long-term weather and
- Dynamic meteorology the study of the motions of
- Cloud physics the formation and evolution of
clouds and precipitation.
- Atmospheric chemistry the chemical composition of
- Atmospheric physics the study of processes such
as heating and cooling of the atmosphere.
- Aeronomy the study of the upper atmosphere.
- Oceanography the study of the Earths oceans
and how they affect the atmosphere.
Most atmospheric scientists study the atmosphere of the Earth,
while others study the atmospheres of the planets and moons in our
Types of Jobs
In the Atmospheric Sciences research group at NASAs
Langley Research Center, researchers focus their work in three main
- Instrumentation and data acquisition the design
and operation of instrument systems that measure the Earths
atmosphere from space, from within the atmosphere, and from the
ground. This area requires a background in electronics, optics,
computer science, or radiative transfer.
- Data analysis and modeling the examination of the
data produced by the experiments and the development of theoretical
models to interpret the data. The result is an improvement of our
understanding of atmospheric motions and chemistry, climate change,
and weather forecasting. This area requires experience in computer
science, mathematics, chemistry, physics, meteorology, radiative
transfer, or fluid dynamics.
- Laboratory studies the examination of the
chemical and physical processes that occur in the atmosphere,
including cloud microphysics, photochemical reactions, and
absorption and emission of radiation by atmospheric gases and
particles. This area requires experience in quantitative laboratory
techniques, chemistry, or spectroscopy.
The majority of atmospheric scientists in the United States work
for the Federal Government. The largest number of civilian
atmospheric scientists work for the National Weather Service and
other branches of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), as well as NASA, the Environmental
Protection Agency, the Forest Service, the Department of Defense,
and the Department of Energy. Atmospheric scientists may also be
found working for private weather services, television and radio
stations, commercial airlines, state governments, colleges and
universities, public utilities, consulting firms, and aircraft and
instrument manufacturing companies.
Atmospheric scientists may work in the following areas: field
research, laboratory studies and/or computer analysis and modeling.
Good communication skills (oral and written) are necessary as
atmospheric scientists attend conferences and workshops where they
share their results with other researchers. They write papers and
technical reports detailing the results of their research, give
progress reports, and disseminate information to the public.
Atmospheric scientists often work in groups where their
different skills and backgrounds can be combined to study specific
scientific questions such as the effects of aircraft emissions on
the atmosphere. These multidisciplinary teams usually include
people in other related careers such as aerospace engineers,
electronics engineers, computer and communications technicians,
photographers, science writers, data systems analysts, astronauts,
pilots, astronomers, physicists, geologists, oceanographers, and
Preparation and Training
One way to begin a career in atmospheric science is to earn a
bachelors degree in meteorology, physics, chemistry,
geography, mathematics, or computer science. Some researchers in
atmospheric sciences have earned their bachelors degrees in
related fields such as astronomy, oceanography, geophysics, or
engineering. Research leadership positions usually require graduate
degrees, such as a masters degree or doctorate. Research
teams also include technicians who hold two-year associate's
degrees or have graduated from an approved apprentice program.
Work-study programs for college students majoring in meteorology
or related fields are available through NASA and NOAA. These
agencies also provide grants and fellowships for graduate study.
The U.S. Armed Forces also provide training in meteorology for
officers and enlisted personnel.
Where to Study
There are many colleges and universities in the United States,
Puerto Rico, and Canada that offer degree programs in meteorology,
atmospheric science, and related fields. A complete list may be
obtained from the American Meteorological Society.
Most atmospheric scientists are members of the American
Meteorological Society and/or the American Geophysical Union. These
organizations are excellent sources of information on careers and
educational programs in atmospheric science.
Other Information Sources
NASA Education Division, Mail Code FE
Washington, DC 20546-0001
NASA Earth Science Enterprise, Code Y
Washington, DC 20546-0001
National Weather Service, NOAA
1325 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
American Meteorological Society
45 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108-369
American Geophysical Union
2000 Florida Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20009-1277
For more information about Atmospheric Sciences at NASA Langley,
Public Inquiry Center
NASA Langley Research Center
Mail Stop 146
Hampton, VA 23681-2199
Or see the Atmospheric Sciences Competency Home Page: