Atmospheric Physicist

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Atmospheric Physicist


Are you fascinated by clouds? Do you watch the sky, smell the air and know instinctively when a storm is brewing? Are you concerned about pollution levels, and the effect our practices are having on the air we breathe and the water we drink? Maybe you'd like to become an atmospheric physicist.

Atmospheric physicists are scientists who study the Earth's atmosphere and its influence on the environment, human and animal health and safety, as well as the economy. They look at things like air pressure, pollution, cloud formation, chemical properties, temperature, humidity and precipitation, and apply their knowledge to solving questions about atmospheric change, pollution's toll on the oceans and ozone, and the impact this damage has on the Earth's ecosystems. Their data comes from weather satellites, computer models of the world's atmosphere, weather radar, and sensors and information gathered by observers in many parts of the world.

This information is important to many people, not just those of us who want to head out to the beach next weekend. Government agencies, environmental watchdog groups, and private companies that provide outdoor services all need to know about the atmosphere.

Some work as consultants, providing analyses, forecasts, warnings and advice tailored to the requirements of industries, (logging, aviation), businesses (theme parks) and government, while others work as researchers and instructors with universities. Some choose to work as weather forecasters on the radio or television.

Atmospheric physicists are important to us in our changing and developing world. By uncovering the truth behind many changes in Earth's atmosphere, they can look to past events and determine their impact, as well as make suggestions about future behaviors and their possible impact on the atmosphere.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Interested in working as an atmospheric physicist? You need to be interested in the environment, as well as conservation and prevention. You need to be a thoughtful, analytical thinker who enjoys science. You should be creative, a good communicator in person and in writing, and think in terms of space as well as time. You should enjoy analyzing and creating theory from data. You should be able to work as part of a team, as well as alone, and must have skills in planning experimental research projects, and practical skills for using laboratory equipment. You should be patient and accurate, as well as be motivated, and a quick learner.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Monitor pollution from traffic and industry
  • Monitor rainfall patterns from weather radar and weather satellites
  • Use scientific equipment and computer models to study the atmosphere and to estimate future states of the atmosphere
  • Research how clouds may change in the future because of air and ocean pollution
  • Study the composition of the atmosphere by collecting air samples from planes and on ships, in Arctic and Antarctic regions, in deserts and on mountains
  • Study the greenhouse effect
  • Develop new technologies to measure atmospheric composition
  • Analyze past climates and predict climate trends
  • Predict climate change, weather patterns, and long-range forecasts
  • Advise public and private interests about weather and climate, and air quality (including pollution levels and allergens)
  • Apply meteorological knowledge to problems in agriculture, forestry, air pollution, water management, energy, transportation and the Arctic environment
  • The day to day tasks of an atmospheric physicist depend on the type of work environment they are involved in. Those involved in field research spend time outdoors, collecting data, while those in labs take that data and analyze it, looking for answers to questions about the atmosphere and its evolution. Most of each day will be spend analyzing computer models, looking at data gathered from radar and human sources, and watching the sky. They also measure pollution levels in the air and water, and watch for airborne allergens, especially in the spring and fall. Those involved in field research travel all over the world. They all spend some time outdoors.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Many atmospheric physicists may find work private meteorology firms (advising businesses and groups who rely on good weather), resource industries (for example, gas and oil exploration),utility companies (like hydroelectric utilities), environmental consulting firms and transportation companies. Even individuals like farmers, construction workers and commodities investors are turning to the sort of information these scientists can provide. Those with have doctoral degrees may be employed as instructors and researchers at universities.
  • Most atmospheric physicists work in office settings in urban centers, laboratories, and rooms full of instruments and computers, and outdoors in all sorts of weather conditions. Some work rotating shifts, including night work, and may sometimes work alone. They may travel to various parts of the world to conduct experimental research and develop new scientific collaborations or techniques.
  • They sometimes work rotating shifts, including night work, and may sometimes work alone.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Atmospheric physicists can specialize in other areas of meteorology, like climate study, pollution watch or hydrometeorology. They can work for many different groups and organizations, or start up their own consulting agency. They can also get into broadcasting.

  Educational Paths  
In order to work as an atmospheric physicist, you'll need to complete a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in atmospheric sciences, meteorology, climatology, math, physics, hydrology, environmental science, computer science, chemistry or a combination of these areas of study.

More advanced study, like a master's or PhD, increases your chance of getting a job and being promoted. Research and teaching positions require a graduate degree.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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