Atmospheric scientists study weather, climate, and other aspects of the atmosphere. They develop reports and forecasts from their analysis of weather and climate data. Most atmospheric scientists work indoors in weather stations, offices, or laboratories. Occasionally, they do fieldwork, which means working outdoors to examine the weather. Some atmospheric scientists may have to work extended hours during weather emergencies.
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Atmospheric Scientists typically:
Atmospheric scientists use highly developed instruments and computer programs to do their jobs. For example, they use weather balloons, radar systems, satellites, and sensors to monitor the weather and collect data. The data they collect and analyze are critical to understanding air pollution, drought, loss of the ozone layer, and other problems. They also use graphics software to illustrate their forecasts and reports.
Many atmospheric scientists work with scientists and professionals in other fields to help solve problems in areas such as commerce, energy, transportation, agriculture, and the environment. For example, some work on teams with other scientists and engineers to find the best locations for new wind farms, which are groups of wind turbines used to generate electricity. Others work closely with hydrologists to monitor the impact climate change has on water supplies and to manage water resources.
Atmospheric scientists typically need a bachelor’s degree, either in atmospheric science or a related scientific field. However, many schools also offer atmospheric science courses through other departments, such as physics and geosciences. When considering colleges, prospective students should make certain that the colleges offer those courses required by the federal government and other employers as one of their hiring requirements.
Course requirements, in addition to courses in meteorology and atmospheric science, usually include advanced courses in physics and mathematics. Classes in computer programming are important because many atmospheric scientists have to write and edit the computer software programs that produce forecasts. Students should also take courses in subjects that are relevant to their desired area of specialization. For example, those who wish to become broadcast meteorologists for radio or television stations should develop excellent speaking skills through courses in speech, journalism, and related fields.
Atmospheric scientists who work in research usually need a master’s degree at a minimum, and preferably a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences or a related field. Most graduate programs do not require prospective students to have a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science; an undergraduate degree in mathematics, physics, or engineering provides excellent preparation for graduate study in atmospheric science.
In addition to advanced meteorological coursework, graduate students take courses in other disciplines, such as oceanography and geophysics. Although it is not necessary, a post-graduate degree in atmospheric science can greatly enhance employment opportunities, pay, and advancement potential for meteorologists in government and private industry. A master’s degree in business administration (MBA) may be useful for meteorologists interested in working in private industry as consultants who help firms make important business decisions on the basis of their forecasts.
Atmospheric scientists involved in research often work in offices and laboratories, but they may travel frequently to collect data in the field and to observe weather events, such as tornadoes, up close. They watch actual weather conditions from the ground or from an aircraft. Atmospheric scientists who work in private industry may have to travel to meet with clients or to gather information in the field. For example, forensic meteorologists may need to collect information from the scene of an accident as part of their investigation.
The median annual wage of atmospheric scientists was $87,780 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $45,050, and the top 10% earned more than $132,130.