Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Curriculum




     2.1 Summary Of Course Changes


            3.1 Overview

            3.2 Core Courses

            3.3 Elective Courses

            3.4 Catalog Description


            4.1 Course Work

            4.2 Scholarly Paper

            4.3 Comprehensive examination

            4.4 Time limit

            4.5 Seminars


            5.1 Course Work Requirement

            5.2 Candidacy Examinations

            5.3 Research, Dissertation and Final Examination

            5.4 Time Limits

            5.5 Seminars


            The changes in the curriculum reflect major developments in the atmospheric and oceanic sciences that have taken place since the previous curriculum was developed - in nature (e.g., climate change, the Antarctic ozone hole), technology (e.g., major advances in remote sensing, increases in computational power), and in the development of our scientific understanding.  They also reflect the importance of Earth System Science (ESS) multidisciplinary studies of the interrelationship among the atmosphere, the oceans, the land, and the biota.  These interactions have a profound effect on the dynamics and composition of atmosphere and the oceans.  The new curriculum strengthens our role in major in programs such as the US Global Change Research Program and the US Climate Research Program, and takes good advantage of the strengths brought by the creation of the new Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC) that links us with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, as well as our strong interactions with NOAA NESDIS and the National Weather Service.

In this curriculum we have defined three areas of study: dynamics of the ocean and atmosphere, physics and chemistry of the atmosphere, and climate and Earth System science. There is a strong need in the Federal Agencies as well as in the private sector for specialists in each of the three areas, and the background knowledge required is different for each of them. This modern curriculum has been praised in a June 15 2001 editorial in Science (vol. 292, p. 1965): “Although a few pioneering individuals and institutions around the world recognize the need for the strong interdisciplinary work that defines ESS, in the main we lack the organizations to nurture this new discipline… A mere handful of US and European institutions (including Penn State, the University of California at Irvine, the University of Maryland, the Danish Centre for Earth System Science, the Postdam Institute, and ETH in Zurich) offer graduate programs and the kind of interdisciplinary working environments that are essential for the rapid development of ESS.”


2.1 Summary Of Course Changes:

Addition of new courses, including AOSC 602 Mesoscale Meteorology, a course on smaller scale weather phenomena (such as fronts, squall lines, tornados, etc.) and their numerical modeling, including non-hydrostatic models, AOSC 615 Advanced Data Assimilation, which give UMCP a niche in this new and important science, as proposed in the Data Assimilation Education Project currently being proposed to NSF, NOAA, and NASA, AOSC 680 Introduction to Earth System Science, that presents our students, for the first time, with an overview of how our coupled environment works, and AOSC 684, Modeling the Earth Coupled System.

Updated titles and syllabi of several courses, ensuring that whenever possible, the ocean is studied alongside with the atmosphere (e.g., AOSC 610 and 611, Dynamics of the Atmosphere and Oceans, AOSC 617 Atmospheric and Oceanic Climate).

Updated syllabi of courses incorporating developments in science not included in the previous curriculum, and ensuring that all courses are well coordinated (e.g., AOSC 624 Remote Sensing of Surface Climate, AOSC 614 Atmospheric Modeling, Data Assimilation and Predictability, and AOSC 630 Statistical Meteorology).

Better coordination with our sister Departments of Geology and Geography ensuring that we take optimal advantage of the expertise of the three Departments and ESSIC in developing a complementary and comprehensive curriculum on remote sensing. This part of the new curriculum is currently being developed and will be presented to the College and University PCC in the near future.


3.1 Overview

The AOSC courses are structured into three areas: Dynamics of the Atmosphere and Oceans, Chemistry and Physics of the Atmosphere, and Climate and Earth Sciences.  We recommend to the students that during their first year they take the six core courses that cover the basics of all three concentrations.  At that point the Ph. D. program students can take the comprehensive exam.  Students should choose the advanced courses in consultation with their advisor and the Graduate Director.  Suggested elective courses for the three concentrations are listed below.  Several of the elective courses are taught/offered every other year, depending on the number of students interested in taking them.

3.2 Core Courses

1. Dynamics of the atmosphere and oceans

2. Physics and Chemistry of the Atmosphere

3. Climate and Earth System Science

3.3 Elective Courses

3.4 Catalog Description

AOSC 600 Synoptic Meteorology I (3) (Spring)


Prerequisite: AOSC 610 or equivalent

Atmospheric properties and observations, meteorological analysis and charts, operational numerical forecasts. Application of quasigeostrophic theory, baroclinic instability, midlatitude and mesoscale weather systems. Tropical meteorology.

AOSC 601 Synoptic Meteorology II (3) (Fall)


Prerequisite: AOSC 600 or equivalent

Weather forecasting using numerical and statistical models. Prediction of weather phenomena on the global, synoptic, meso, and local scales.

AOSC 602 Mesoscale Meteorology (3) (Spring)


Prerequisite: AOSC 611 or equivalent

Mesoscale approximations, cyclones and fronts, quasi- versus semi-geostrophic theory, piece-wise PV inversion, waves and instability, isolated convection, organized convective systems, numerical modeling and convective parameterizations.

AOSC 610 Dynamics of the Atmosphere and Ocean I (3) (Fall)

Transcript Title: DYNAMICS ATMOS & OCEAN I

Pre- or corequisite: MATH 462.

Equations of motion and their approximation, scale analysis for the atmosphere and the ocean. Conservation properties. Fluid motion in the atmosphere and oceans. Circulation and vorticity, geostrophic motion and the gradient wind balance. Turbulence and Ekman Layers.

AOSC 611 Dynamics of the Atmosphere and Ocean II (3) (Spring)


Prerequisite: AOSC 610 or equivalent.

Waves and instabilities in the atmosphere and the ocean. Gravity, Rossby, coastal and equatorial waves. Flow over topography. Dynamic instabilities including barotropic, baroclinic, inertial, and instabilities of the coupled ocean-atmosphere system. Stationary waves and multiple equlibria.

AOSC 614 Atmospheric Modeling, Data Assimilation and Predictability (3) (Fall)

Transcript Title: MODELING & DATA ASSIM

Prerequisite: AOSC 611 or equivalent

Solid foundation for atmospheric and oceanic modeling and numerical weather prediction: numerical methods for partial differential equations, an introduction to physical parameterizations, modern data assimilation, and predictability.

AOSC 615 Advanced data assimilation for the Earth Sciences (3) (alternate years)


Prerequisite: AOSC 614 or approval of instructor

An overview of the most important methods for data assimilation. Theory, techniques and strategies of these methods, as well as their possible drawbacks. Hands-on experimentation with variational and other data assimilation systems.

AOSC 617   Atmospheric and Oceanic Climate (3) (Spring)


Prerequisite: AOSC 610 or approval of instructor

Understanding what determines the Earth's climate and how it changes. The general circulation of the Atmosphere and oceans: how weather gives rise to climate, historical perspective, observations, and conceptual models. General circulation as a heat engine driven by differential solar heating. Hadley and Walker circulations. Wind-driven and thermohaline circulation of the oceans.

AOSC 620 Physics and Chemistry of the Atmosphere I (3) (Fall)

Transcript Title: PHYSICS & CHEM ATMOS,

Prerequisite: MATH 461

Air parcel thermodynamics and stability; constituent thermodynamics and chemical kinetics. Cloud and aerosol physics and precipitation processes.

AOSC 621 Physics and Chemistry of the Atmosphere II (3) (Spring)

Transcript Title: PHYSICS & CHEM ATMOS II

Prerequisite: AOSC 620 and MATH 462 or equivalent

Spectroscopy; basic concepts in radiative transfer and atmospheric chemistry; photolysis rates for atmospheric molecules.

AOSC 624 Remote Sensing of Surface Climate (3) (Spring)

This course deals with the theory and principles of remote sensing as applicable to earth observing satellites. Discussed will be current methods to interpret satellite observations into useful climate parameters. Emphasis will be placed on parameters that provide information about the climate close to the earth surface, and that can be inferred on regional to global scales. Examples are: surface temperature and reflectivity, radiation budgets, soil moisture, and vegetation cover.

AOSC 625 Remote sensing of the atmosphere (3) (Fall)

Prerequisite: AOSC 621 and MATH 461 or equivalent

Weather satellite programs and instrumentation. Radiative transfer applied to satellite observations. Physical basis of remote inference. Temperature and moisture soundings. Errors in satellite retrievals. Applications to numerical weather simulation and prediction.

AOSC 630 Statistical Methods in Meteorology and Oceanography (3) (Spring)


Prerequisite: STAT 400 or equivalent

Parametric and non-parametric tests; time series analysis and filtering; wavelets. Multiple regression and screening; neural networks. Empirical orthogonal functions and teleconnections. Statistical weather and climate prediction, including MOS, constructed analogs. Ensemble forecasting and verification.

AOSC 634 Air sampling analysis (laboratory for AOSC 637) (3) (Fall)


Theory and application of analytical techniques for the analysis of atmospheric gases and particles including priority pollutants.  Combined chemical and meteorological considerations in designing field experiments. (no change)

AOSC 637  Advanced atmospheric chemistry (3) (Fall)


Prerequisite: CHEM 481 and AOSC 621 or equivalent

Recent advances in studies of the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere.   Investigation of the global cycles of C, H, O, N and S species; the use of laboratory and field measurements and remote sensing in computer models of the atmosphere.  The impact of chemistry on global climate.

AOSC 640 Boundary layer meteorology (3) (Spring)

Transcript Title: BOUND LAYER METEOR

Prerequisite: MATH 461 and AOSC 621

Microscale surface/atmosphere interactions and their parameterizations, current observational results, computational techniques for momentum, heat and water vapor transfer in the surface boundary layer.

AOSC  658 Special Topics in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (1-3) (alternate years, staff)


 New or experimental courses in topics of current interest in atmospheric and ocean dynamics, data assimilation and predictability.,

AOSC 670 Physical Oceanography (3) (Fall)


Prerequisite: AOSC 610 or equivalent.

Water masses, sources of deep water. Mass, heat, and salt transport, geochemical tracers. Western boundary currents, maintenance of the thermocline. Evidence for decadal time scale variability. Ocean carbon chemistry and the ocean's role in greenhouse warming. Satellite oceanography.

AOSC 671  Ocean-Atmosphere Interaction (3) (Alternate years)


Prerequisite: MATH 462 Corequisite: AOSC 610

Observations and theories of the seasonal changes in the ocean circulation and temperature, and interactions with the atmosphere. Equations of motion and theories of wind-driven circulation. Mixed layer theories and observations. Midlatitude and equatorial waves. Seasonal budgets of momentum, fresh water, and heat. El Nino/Southern Oscillation. Interannual variability and atmosphere-ocean coupling.

AOSC 680   Introduction to Earth System Science (3) (Fall)


An introduction to the study of the earth as a system: atmosphere, oceans, land, cryosphere, solid earth, and humans. Cycling of materials and energy in the earth system: the energy cycle, the hydrologic cycle, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle. Climate processes and variability: land-atmosphere, ocean-atmosphere, biosphere-climate, and human interactions, short- and long-term variability in climate.

AOSC 684 Climate System Modeling (3) (Fall)


Prerequisite: AOSC 617 or equivalent.

Fundamentals in building computer models to simulate the components of the climate system: atmosphere, ocean ice, land-surface, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and the biogeochemical cycles embedded in the physical climate system, in particular, the carbon cycle. Simple to state-of-the-art research models to tackle problems such as the Daisy World, El Nino and global warming.

AOSC 685  Global Climate Change: Past and Present (3) (Spring)


Global climate change, an integral part of the earth history, as opposed to historical, anthropogenically induced climate change. Record of climate change in the context of climate forcing, climate response, and climate feedbacks. Sensitivity of climate to these parameters and the value (and limitations) of the proxy records. Predictions tested with the proxy record.


The Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science offers a non-thesis program leading to the Master of Science Degree. The requirements include course work, a scholarly paper, and a comprehensive examination.

4.1 Course Work

A minimum of thirty semester hours in courses acceptable for credit toward a graduate degree is required for the degree program. Every student should take all six core courses. With the approval of the Graduate Director, the student’s academic advisor, and the Department Chair, a student may substitute 600 (Synoptic Meteorology) for 611 (Dynamics II) in unusual circumstances.  In addition to the core courses (18 credits), students should take a minimum of 12 more credits (4 courses) from the electives. A maximum of 3 credits of AOSC 798  (Directed Graduate Research) is acceptable toward the degree.  In addition to the 30 credits, MS students are required to write and present a scholarly paper, attend the Department seminar series and participate in the student seminar series.

4.2 Scholarly Paper

The purpose of the scholarly paper is to demonstrate the ability to conduct original or literature research. The student selects a subject acceptable to both a faculty member and the student, and under the supervision of the faculty member, the student undertakes independent study. At the conclusion of the independent study, the student presents the faculty member with a written paper, which the faculty member will evaluate for completeness, scientific accuracy, and research ability. The student then presents the paper at a Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Seminar.  A bound version of the paper will become part of the permanent archive of the Department Library.  A Ph.D. dissertation prospectus will satisfy this requirement.

4.3 Comprehensive Examination

The MS comprehensive exam consists of a written examination. The examination is composed of questions covering the subject areas of three of the six AOSC Core courses.

4.4 Time Limit

All requirements for the M.S. degree must be completed within a five-year period. This time limit applies to any transfer work from other institutions to be included in the student's program.  A full-time student can complete the M.S. degree in two years.

4.5 Seminars

All the students are required to attend the weekly department seminar series.  Each semester a professor (or the seminar organizer) is listed as the course instructor. Students should sign in.  Informal student seminars (about 20 minutes each) are held every other week.  Students are expected to attend these seminars and once a year present a short seminar where they discuss their progress and ideas.


The Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science (AOSC) offers a Program leading to the Doctor of Philosophy Degree (Ph.D.) in AOSC.  This program is designed to furnish the student with the education and research background necessary to carry out independent and original scientific research.  In order to earn the Ph.D., the student must complete a course work requirement, pass the Candidacy Examinations, and prepare and defend a dissertation.

5.1 Course Work Requirement

The course work requirement is a minimum of thirty semester hours in 600-level AOSC Department courses. In addition, the student must take 12 credits of AOSC 899 (Doctoral Dissertation Research).  Every student should take all 6 core courses. With the approval of the Graduate Director, the student advisor, and the Department chair, a student may substitute 600 (Synoptic Meteorology) for 611 (Dynamics II) in unusual circumstances.  In addition to the core courses (18 credits), students should take a minimum of 12 more credits (4 courses) from the electives.  Some of the advanced courses may be taught only every second year.  It is anticipated that students take elective courses chosen mostly from the concentration of choice.  Students may petition the Department for a waiver of some course requirements based on credits earned at another institution at the graduate level.

5.2 Candidacy Qualifying Examination

A student seeking the Ph.D. degree in AOSC must pass the Candidacy Qualifying Examination. This examination is divided into two parts - The Comprehensive Examination and the Specialty Examination.  The Comprehensive Examination for Ph.D. candidate students will test the breadth and understanding of the student in the three areas, and can be taken after the student has taken the 6 core courses.  If a PhD student comes into the Department with a MS in meteorology, physical oceanography, or a related field, and requests waiving core or elective courses he/she is encouraged to take additional advanced courses.

The Comprehensive Examination consists of written and oral portions. The written portion is composed of questions covering the subject areas of the AOSC Core courses. The Core courses cover the three areas: AOSC 610, 611 (Dynamics of the Atmosphere and the Oceans), AOSC 620, 621 (Physics and Chemistry of the Atmosphere), and AOSC 617, 680 (Climate and Earth System Science).  A student in the latter two concentrations may petition the Department for the substitution of AOSC 611 with AOSC 600. To be granted, this unusual petition needs to be endorsed by the student’s academic advisor, and approved by the Graduate Director and the Chair.   Outstanding performance on this examination, as determined by the faculty, will constitute a pass.

Graduate students with exceptional, documented scientific achievements may, through written petition, replace the written Comprehensive Exam with a seminar followed by an oral examination.  In order to qualify for this option, the candidate needs to meet the following requirements:

1) The candidate must have an earned MS degree in atmospheric or oceanic science, or a related field.  This will ordinarily be from an accredited American university, and requires approval from the Departmental five-member Examination Committee. 

2) The candidate must have published at least five, peer-reviewed, Science Citation Index (SCI) journal articles in atmospheric, oceanic, or a closely related science.  He or she must be the lead or corresponding author of at least three of those papers.

The candidate must present an open seminar on his/her past research followed by a closed oral exam by the Examination Committee of at least three faculty plus the Graduate Director, and the Admissions Committee Chair.  This committee will determine whether the performance in the combined seminar and oral exam are equivalent to passing the Comprehensive Exam.  Two or more (of five) negative votes constitutes failure. The final decision will be subject to review by the committee of the whole, preferably during the regular review of comprehensive exam performance.

Within one year of passing the Comprehensive Examination students are expected to take the Specialty Examination.  The Specialty Examination may be a written or an oral examination, and is conducted by a five-member exam committee chaired by the student's academic advisor, and must contain at least three AOSC tenure-track faculty. Normally the student will present a dissertation prospectus to the exam committee and then will be expected to address questions related to that prospectus.  Following the examination the exam committee will vote.  Two or more negative votes will constitute a failure. No conditional passes will be allowed. A student may only retake the Specialty Examination once.  A pass on the Specialty Examination will constitute acceptance of the dissertation prospectus and admission to candidacy.

5.3 Research, Dissertation and Final Examination

Ability to perform independent research must be shown by a written dissertation based on the proposal presented at the Specialty Examination. The dissertation should be an original contribution to knowledge and demonstrate the ability to present the subject matter in a scholarly style. Upon completion of the dissertation the candidate is required to present the research results at a Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science seminar and to defend the material to the satisfaction of a Final Examining Committee appointed by the Dean for Graduate Studies.

5.4 Time Limits

Full-time students can take the Comprehensive Examination by the end of the first year of graduate study, and are expected to complete it by the end of the second year of graduate study and be admitted to candidacy by the end of the third year.  Students must be admitted to candidacy within five years after admission to the doctoral program and at least six months before the date on which the degree will be conferred.  The student must complete the entire program for the degree, including the dissertation and final examination, during a four-year period after admission to candidacy.

5.5 Seminars

All the students are required to attend the weekly department seminar series.  Each semester a professor (or the seminar organizer) is listed as the course instructor. Students should sign in.  Informal student seminars (about 20 minutes each) are held every other week.  Students are expected to attend these seminars and once a year and present a short seminar where they discuss their progress and ideas.