Careers in Atmospheric Science
A career in atmospheric science means a career in meteorology, climatology, or aeronomy. Meteorology includes atmospheric chemistry and atmospheric physics with a focus on weather forecasting. A research job in climatology means doing research in meteorology with a focus on weather events that take place over years and millennia. One of the reasons climatology is considered a separate career path is the political importance of global warming and ozone depletion. Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth's near-surface air and oceans since the mid-20th century and its projected continuation. Ozone depletion refers to the ozone holes at the poles as well as the slow and steady depletion in the ozone layer since the late 1970s. To combat these trends, most national governments have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
There are career opportunities for in research projects and weather modeling at various divisions of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Three major NOAA organizations have jobs for physicists: National Weather Service (NWS), National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS), and Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR). The NWS operates NEXRAD, a nationwide network of Doppler radar stations that can detect precipitation. There are jobs at NESDIS operating and managing US satellite programs and the data gathered by the NWS and other government agencies and departments. There are research jobs with OAR investigating phenomena such as tornadoes, hurricanes, climate variability, solar flares, changes in the ozone, air pollution transport and dispersion, and El Niño/La Niña events.
A career in atmospheric physics might involve attempting to model Earth's atmosphere and the atmospheres of the other planets using fluid flow equations, chemical models, radiation balancing, and energy transfer processes in the atmosphere and underlying oceans. In order to model weather systems, atmospheric physicists employ elements of scattering theory, wave propagation models, cloud physics, statistical mechanics, and spatial statistics which are highly mathematical and related to physics. Research jobs in aeronomy investigate the upper region of the atmosphere, where dissociation and ionization are important. The U.S. National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center is funded by the National Science Foundation and provides career opportunities in aeronomy.
A career in atmospheric chemistry draws on environmental chemistry, physics, meteorology, computer modeling, oceanography, geology, and other disciplines. The composition and chemistry of the atmosphere is of importance for several reasons, but primarily because of the interactions between the atmosphere and living organisms. The composition of the Earth's atmosphere has been changed by human activity and some of these changes are harmful to human health, crops, and ecosystems. There are many jobs for physicists in research to solve acid rain, photochemical smog, and global warming. A job in atmospheric chemistry would involve understand the causes of these problems, and allow possible solutions to be tested and the effects of changes in government policy evaluated by obtaining a theoretical understanding of them.