Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science

12.1 An Integrated View of the Atmosphere

The atmosphere is one of the Earth's most efficient integrators. The atmosphere connects to almost every part of the Earth system - the lithosphere (i.e., solid earth), the hydrosphere (i.e., oceans), the cryosphere (i.e., ice), and the biosphere (i.e., life from microbes to plants to animals). The atmosphere's constituents are essential for life. The atmosphere transports energy and atmospheric constituents -  in days it mixes air through the troposphere; in weeks it circumnavigates the globe; in months it transports air from the equator to the poles; in a year it shifts air from one hemisphere to another. The atmosphere and the water it contains shape the land with wind and water erosion, move the ocean currents, and determine where and when life can thrive or die. The atmosphere has shaped human history. For all of these reasons and more, the atmosphere, its governing principles, and its behavior must be thoroughly understood in a way that makes it possible to accurately predict its future behavior.

METEO 300 is designed to give you a solid understanding of the atmosphere's physical and chemical principles and the skills to quantify its behavior and properties. In the following table, the accumulated learning objectives are laid out end-to-end in an impressive array. If you have worked hard and completed all the exercises, you can know and can do what is in this table.

METEO 300 Learning Objectives
Lesson Learning Objectives
  • correctly use significant figures, dimensions, and units
  • solve simple problems using integral and differential calculus
  • prepare and use a course Excel workbook for course calculations
  • use the fundamental gas laws - Ideal Gas Law, Dalton’s Law – to determine the relative densities of different air masses
  • derive the hydrostatic equilibrium equation from force balance to show why atmospheric pressure decreases with height
  • use the 1st Law of Thermodynamics and conservation of energy (i.e., adiabatic processes) to explain air parcel temperature changes
  • determine stability for different dry environmental temperature profiles
  • calculate buoyancy and vertical velocity with time
  • differentiate among the different ways that moisture can be expressed and choose the correct one for finding an answer
  • explain the meaning of the lines and spaces on a water vapor phase diagram
  • calculate relative humidity using the Clausius-Clapeyron Equation
  • solve energy problems related to temperature and phase changes
  • demonstrate proficiency with using the skew-T to find the lifting condensation level (LCL), potential temperature, relative humidity, wetbulb temperature, dry and moist adiabats, and equivalent potential temperature
  • explain the role that each atmospheric constituent plays in atmospheric structure and weather
  • identify changes in minor and trace gas amounts and the impacts these changes have on the atmosphere
  • explain how the atmosphere cleanses itself, using methane as an example
  • use chemical equations to show how ozone is formed in the stratosphere and the troposphere and how they differ
  • diagram the lifecycle of aerosol particles with an emphasis on their role in weather
  • identify cloud types
  • describe the essentials for cloud formation
  • on a Koehler curve, explain the behavior of a particle in different supersaturation environments
  • explain the lifecycle of cloud formation through precipitation
  • identify the causes of changing solar radiation on Earth
  • calculate properties of the spectrum of solar and Earth radiation in terms of the Planck function
  • calculate the absorption between you and a light source
  • explain why the sky looks blue and hazy in the summer
  • demonstrate the effects of infrared absorbers on Earth’s temperature using a simple model
  • explain the concept of radiative-convective equilibrium
  • determine what a satellite is seeing by interpreting the observed spectrum of upwelling infrared radiation
  • calculate partial derivatives
  • implement vector notation, the dot product, the cross product, and the del operator
  • explain the different coordinate systems and how they are used
  • convert between math and meteorological wind directions
  • calculate temperature advection at any point on a map of isotherms (lines of constant temperature) and wind vectors
  • identify regions of convergence, divergence, positive vorticity, and negative vorticity on a weather map
  • calculate the strength of the different flow types from observations
  • relate vertical motion to horizontal convergence and divergence
  • explain mass conservation physically, recognize the mass conservation equation, and memorize its form when density is constant
  • state the three main conservation laws in atmospheric science: the conservation of mass, the conservation of momentum, the conservation of energy
  • name and explain the three fundamental (real) forces in the atmosphere (gravity, pressure gradient, and friction)
  • name and explain the two new (apparent) forces that emerge when momentum conservation is written in the rotating reference frame
  • draw the balance of forces for geostrophic flow, gradient flow, geostrophic flow with friction, and cyclostrophic flow
  • explain why midlatitude winds are westerly
  • draw the PBL and its diurnal variation
  • perform Rayleigh averaging on an equation and derive an equation for the turbulent parts
  • explain kinematic fluxes
  • show vertical motion using eddy fluxes
  • explain turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) and its behavior
  • sketch surface energy budget for different conditions
  • explain the physical and chemical phenomena that are responsible for an observation of the atmosphere
  • demonstrate your mastery of the course learning objectives

There are fifty-one learning objectives listed here. Read through this list and think about how comfortable you are with your knowledge and your abilities in each area. If you don't remember some of them, review them now.