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Atmospheric Physics and Dynamics

Atmospheric physics and dynamics is the study of the forces that govern the circulation of the Earth's atmosphere. Keep reading to learn about career prospects, salary estimates, degree programs and available certification.

Is a Career in Atmospheric Physics and Dynamics for Me?

Career Overview

As an atmospheric physicist or scientist, you will apply the laws of physics and dynamics to examine the behavior of the forces that control large-scale movements in the atmosphere, as well as the Earth's energy balance. You may measure aerosols and gasses and model weather systems like hurricanes. You may want to focus on the formation of clouds and their role in global climate change.

In this career, you will commonly work as a lab researcher for private and academic institutions. You may be employed in a government agency, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or National Aeronautics and Space Administration. You could provide consulting services to industry and private businesses invested in such issues as air quality, environmental change and climate. If you want a career predicting the weather, you could become a meteorologist or climatologist.

Employment Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted 10% growth for atmospheric scientists from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). Employment opportunities for physicists in general were also predicted to increase 10% during the same time, which is average compared to other job sectors. The median annual wage for atmospheric and space scientists was $87,030, as of May 2013, per the BLS. Physicists earned $110,110 in median income that same year.

How Can I Work in Atmospheric Physics and Dynamics?

Education Programs

Atmospheric physics and dynamics courses are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels through the physics and atmospheric sciences departments of colleges and universities. A few degree programs in atmospheric sciences or atmospheric physics are available at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. While the two fields are very similar, atmospheric sciences is the broader study of the atmosphere, encompassing atmospheric physics along with other specialized fields, such as meteorology, climatology and atmospheric chemistry.


Some schools offer atmospheric physics as a concentration within physics degree programs. Typical program curricula emphasize the physical sciences and mathematics, with courses in quantum mechanics, applied physics, electromagnetic theory, thermodynamics, global climate change and fluid dynamics.

At the graduate level, you can choose among many specializations, such as remote sensing, cloud physics, atmospheric pollution, synoptic meteorology or atmospheric radiative transfer. If you're interested in being a meteorologist, you may only need a bachelor's degree. Look for school programs that meet the guidelines established by the American Meteorological Society (AMS) for employment with the National Weather Service and other government entities (www.ametsoc.org). Degrees in meteorology can be found at all degree levels.


Once you've gained experience, you may consider earning one of two professional certifications through the AMS. Typically a degree in meteorology, atmospheric science or a related field from an accredited school is required, along with certain course requirements, depending on the certification. Passing an exam is part of the procedure needed to qualify.