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Atmospheric Science Program, University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Information for this profile was submitted by Nicole Mölders in 2007. Information is also available on the program's homepage.

Jump down to Overview and Context * Connecting to the Future of Science * Goals * Courses and Sequencing * Additional Materials

Overview and Context

The University of Alaska, Fairbanks, atmospheric science curriculum. Diagram constructed by Carol Ormand from information provided by Nicole Mölders. Click on the image to see a larger version.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Atmospheric Sciences Graduate Program provides students at the postgraduate levels with the training and insight to understand and explore physical, chemical and dynamical processes of the atmosphere, to prepare them for professional careers in the various fields of atmospheric sciences in research, education, consulting and the weather service. This program is the only program in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics that has no undergraduate program. The College has physics, chemistry, computer science, mathematics and biology departments. The program closely works with the Geophysical Institute and International Arctic Research Center where all faculty have their research appointment in addition to their academic appointment with the college. All graduate students are sponsored on research assistantships. The program was just intiated in 2001.

Connecting to the Future of Science

UAF considers itself the research university of the Arctic. Much research is related to global change consequences for the Arctic. Since many of these changes are climate related the Atmospheric Science Program willd have a central role in the university once it is fully established and built up.

Goals and Discussion

Program Goals

Our goal is to maintain a program of high quality that educates the next generation of scientists and professionals capable of solving current problems and anticipating future challenges in atmospheric science and applying their understanding in other endeavors (e.g. an atmospheric science MS goes on to a PhD in paleo-botany). This means that upon completion of the program graduates can function effectively in their area of expertise and will be successful in obtaining work or progressing in their field. Students will learn to analyze problems, identify critical aspects, and devise appropriate methods to resolve the questions that arise. Graduates will demonstrate original thinking with their thesis and they will show principles of effective communication with their thesis defense. Future short-term and long term goals of the academic program and degree objectives are based upon the faculty's collective vision as to the future direction of the Atmospheric Sciences Program.

Short-term goals are

  1. Increase graduate student enrollment
  2. Improve MS student retention
  3. Improve the demonstration materials and equipment at all levels
  4. Get other science majors to take our classes
  5. Achieve "quasi-steady-state" of student body
Long-term goals are:
  1. Increase faculty FTE to teach the published curriculum and special classes with fewer adjunct (i.e. temporary) faculty members, and respond better to student requests for more special courses.
  2. Become an Atmospheric Sciences Department
  3. Turn our 100 level atmospheric science class into a model first course in Weather and Climate of Alaska for non-science majors where the science is put into a social context.

Discussion of Goals

Student enrollment depends on availability of grants and contracts and faculty. This means that any faculty interested in advising students is limited by the amount of funding they have. We want to strive to reach the critical level for our program and try to reach a "steady-state" number of graduate students by encouraging research faculty to fund and advise atmospheric sciences graduate students. Note that a certain number of students is required to functionally discharge class operation and to avoid teaching a class to only just one student just because he/she needs that core/special class now. It is also important for student networking and the future employment of our graduates.

We work on student retention because we invest significant time training (e.g. programming skills) and educating the students. Thus, losing them after a MS to another graduate school means that others benefit from our efforts. It also reflects on the quality of the program that students continue for a PhD. In atmospheric sciences and related jobs, exposure to modern equipment is inevitable and relevant experience therefore must be an integrated part of the education. Many other disciplines have research themes that require a minimum knowledge of the atmosphere, weather, or climate (e.g., remote sensing, climate assessment studies, hydrology) and may benefit from taking some of our classes. To recruit students from other majors to take our classes we invite the faculty of departments or research units that are involved in research themes that have links to atmospheric science and communicate them the content of our classes and potential for joint capacities. Successful examples are ATM601/CHEM601 (Introduction to Atmospheric Sciences), and ATM631/CHEM631 (Environmental Fate and Transport) that are taught as cross-listed classes, i.e. they are jointly offered by the program and the Chemistry Department. We must continue a dialog with faculty in other departments so we cooperate and work together to offer courses that benefit both groups. Currently we are in dialog with remote sensing, environmental chemistry and physics faculty, and have already presented them with the concept of our expertise in radiation, and conversely learned about their needs.

Initially, we had to rely on affiliated faculty to teach some of our core classes because we lacked sufficient academic faculty to cover our core curriculum. Currently, we depend on them to teach some special classes like Atmospheric Boundary Layer Physics, which is essential for any atmospheric field work carried out close to the surface, and had been requested by students. Classes like Satellite Meteorology or General Circulation have never been offered, while other classes like Atmospheric Dynamics II have not been offered for a long time and classes like Radiation II, Air Chemistry II and Cloud Physics II have never been offered due to lack of faculty and priority to the core classes. Also with the faculty at hand, we will always run into shortages if a faculty member takes a sabbatical. Currently we are already treated like all other Departments within our college. Thus, it is a natural next step to strive for the Department status once our student enrollment and graduate numbers achieve a quasi steady-state and all faculty that UAF committed to hire are on board.

A basic understanding of atmospheric science is becoming critical for informed participation in debates concerning major environmental issues currently affecting society. We feel atmospheric science stewardship of a 100 level course represents an important service to the university and to society, and to this end our ultimate objective is to produce a model first course in weather and climate for non-majors, that meaningfully engages and fully equips the student clientele. The instructors responsible for this class have identified several improvements/linkages that will be pursued to better equip students for these roles as they assume positions of leadership within society. A discourse is being established with the Faculty of Education to assess and improve the pedagogical delivery of course content. Greater emphasis will be placed on the social context of the material, making use of the unique Alaskan perspective in terms of climate and climate change, and guest experts, representing various cultural perspectives, will be brought in ("classical" western science, engineering, traditional knowledge).

Courses and Sequencing

Entry into the program

Any graduate with a BS in atmospheric science, engineering, oceanography or physics having a GPA higher than 3 fulfilling other UAF criteria (see UAF wepage) whose research interests match with those of our faculty has a chance to be admitted. Classes required are: Calculus 1-II or equivalent; Numerics, differential equations or equivalent; several physics classes at 300 level and higher; at least one chemistry class at 300 level or higher.

Core Courses

  • Introduction to Atmospheric Science
  • Atmospheric Chemistry
  • Atmospheric Radiation
  • Cloud Physics
  • Atmospheric Dynamics I


  • Atmospheric Thermodynamics
  • Environmental Fate and Transport
  • Synoptic Analysis and Forecasting
  • Atmospheric Dynamics II
  • Climate and Climate Change
  • Numeric Methods and Parameterization
  • Weather Discussion Practicum
  • Atmospheric Boundary Layer Physics
  • Meteorology of the upper atmosphere
  • Turbulence
  • Hydrometeorology
  • Climate Journal Club
  • Atmospheric Sciences Informal Seminar
  • Introduction to Computational Meteorology

Additional Materials

Program self study
Program flyer, 2005 (Acrobat (PDF) 141kB Mar16 07)
Example of recruitment advertisement (Microsoft Word 25kB Mar16 07)