Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science

Syllabus - Fall 2023


This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document. It is essential that you read the entire document as well as material covered in the Course Orientation. Together these serve as our course "contract."


Dr. William Brune 
Distinguished Professor of Meteorology
Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science
E-mail:; Please use the course e-mail system (in Canvas) when possible. 

Class Support Services

Penn State Online offers online tutoring to World Campus students in math, writing, and some business classes. Tutoring and guided study groups for residential students are available through Penn State Learning.

Course Overview


This four-credit course gives students a solid foundation in the application of physical, chemical, and mathematical principles to broad range of atmospheric phenomena, including weather, air quality, and climate. It also prepares meteorology students for their 400-level meteorology courses. Students are introduced to fundamental concepts and applications of atmospheric thermodynamics, radiative transfer, atmospheric chemistry, cloud microphysics, atmospheric dynamics, and the atmospheric boundary layer. These topics are covered broadly but in enough depth to introduce students to the methods atmospheric scientists use to describe and predict atmospheric phenomena. The course is designed to be taken by second-year meteorology and atmospheric science students as well as by students in related disciplines who have an adequate mathematical and physical background.

Prerequisites and concurrent courses:

Prerequisites: CHEM 110, PHYS 211, MATH 141; Concurrent: MATH 230 or 231

Students who do not meet these prerequisites may be dis-enrolled during the first 10-day free add-drop period after being informed in writing by the instructor (see Senate policy 34-60, Prerequisites and Concurrent Courses). If you have not completed the listed prerequisites, please promptly consult with the instructor if you have not done so already. Students who re-enroll after being dis-enrolled according to this policy are in violation of Item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct.

Course Objectives

When you have successfully completed METEO 300, you will be prepared to:

  • describe in written and oral language the basic physical processes responsible for weather and climate, from global scale to microscale
  • solve simple problems and derivations related to these physical processes
  • demonstrate the importance of water vapor in all these processes


On average, most students spend eight to twelve hours per week attending lectures and working on course reading and assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your study habits, your background, and your abilities.

I expect you to read all the material shortly after it is assigned, participate in discussions, do the assignments on time, ask questions (e.g., through the course Discussion Questions Forum, email and office hours, or during class) when you need help understanding the material, and think really hard about the course content. Don't try to cram the reading, problems, and quizzes for each lesson into one session of a few hours each week - that won't work very well. So spread the time you spend on each lesson over the course of the week that it is due - this will help maximize your learning! Remember, this course is the foundation for the upper-level courses that come next and the foundation for the expertise in meteorology and atmospheric science that you will be able to apply to your career after graduation.

Required Course Materials

All materials needed for this course are presented online through Canvas. In order to access the online materials, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the online course resources).

Here is a list of textbooks that are not required for this course and you can learn the material without them. But you may want to get some or all of them so that you can read alternate explanations and descriptions of the atmospheric science that you will learn in this class. Some class material is derived from parts of these books.

Atmospheric Science, Second Edition: An Introductory Survey, by John M. Wallace and Peter V. Hobbs; Academic Press, 2006; ISBN-13: 978-0127329512 ISBN-10: 012732951X

An Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology, by James R. Holton and Gregory J. Hakim; Academic Press, 2013, ISBN: 0123848660, 9780123848666 (often used in Meteo 421, Atmospheric Dynamics)

Physics and Chemistry of Clouds, by Dennis Lamb and Johannes Verlinde, Cambridge University Press, 2011; ISBN: 9780521899109 (often used in Meteo 437, Cloud Physics and Chemistry)

Assistance with textbooks

Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, please contact your academic advisor. For additional needs, related to socioeconomic status, please visit Project Cahir or visit the Office of Student Care and Advocacy at 222 Boucke Building or call 814-863-2020.


This course will rely on four main methods to assess and evaluate student learning:

  • Quizzes/Activity (50%)
  • Discussion Forums (10%)
  • Final Project (20%)
  • Final Exam (20%)

The quizzes, which are homework problem sets but are timed, may consist of some combination of problems, true/false answers, multiple-choice answers, pictures, and drawings. There is also one Excel workbook activity in the first lesson, which will be useful for some of your quizzes. The quizzes/activity vary in their weight and exact values may be found on Canvas. 

In most cases for quiz questions involving mathematical solutions, you will be given an opportunity to practice solving problems and answering questions before you take the quiz. I highly recommend that you take the practice quizzes as many times as you need to become confident in the material! Then take the quiz when you are prompted to do so in the Lesson. All practice quizzes are in folders marked "Practice Quizzes" within each Lesson folder. The Practice Quizzes are not graded and do not affect your grade in any way (except to make you more competent and confident to take the graded Quizzes laugh).

While you can take practice quizzes as many times as needed, you are allowed to take each quiz only once. Do not click on the quiz name or icon until you are ready to take the quiz because you will be graded on your answers the first time, even if you are not ready to take the quiz. Furthermore, quizzes are timed and you may not pause a quiz and restart it. You may use your course notes or any other resources when taking the quizzes but please do not consult with another person, including other students in the class. Instead, use your practice quizzes as an opportunity to work with your classmates to collaboratively learn. Please resist the temptation to take a peek before you are ready to take the quiz because the grade that you get for peeking will be the grade that you get on the quiz. If you carefully read and think about the lessons and then work the practice quizzes, you should be able to complete each quiz in less than half the allotted time. Previous students with approved disability exceptions have been able to finish the quizzes well before the allotted time.

There are a series of equally weighted discussion forums, which allow you to think more deeply about a particular atmospheric phenomenon or concept.

There is an integrative final project in which you explain the physical processes occurring in atmospheric observations and solving quantitative problems associated with the observations. There is also an alternative project that allows you to delve into some aspect of the changing atmosphere.

There is a comprehensive final exam consisting of problems, true/false answers, multiple-choice answers, pictures, and drawings that either were on the quizzes or are closely related to previous quiz questions.


I will use the Canvas gradebook to keep track of your grades.

Letter Grade and Corresponding Percentages
Letter Grade Percentages
A 93 - 100 %
A- 90 - 92.9 %
B+ 87 - 89.9 %
B 83 - 86.9 %
B- 80 - 82.9 %
C+ 75 - 79.9 %
C 70 - 74.9 %
D 60 - 70.9%
F < 60 %
X Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

The grades in this course will not be curved.

Extra Credit
Extra credit will be given for a few different activities, such as picture of the week and finding errors.

Late Policy
I do not accept any "late work" except in extraordinary circumstances if you have contacted me as soon as you can in advance. The earlier you contact me to request a late submission, the better. Requests will be considered case by case and only for good reasons.

Meteo 300 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Below you will find a summary of the primary learning activities for this course and the associated time frames. This course is fifteen weeks long, and some lessons will be a little more than a week. See our Calendar in Canvas for specific lesson time frames and assignment due dates.

Course Schedule
Lesson Topic Assignments
Course Orientation Course Orientation

Personalize your Canvas space (if you want)

Introduce yourself and meet the rest of the class (in class and online)

Lesson 1 Getting Started

Quiz 1-1: Significant figures, dimensions, and units

Quiz 1-2: Solving integrals and differentials

Activity 1-3: Setting up an Excel workbook

Lesson 2 Thermodynamics

Quiz 2-1: What will that air parcel do?

Quiz 2-2: Harnessing the power of the hydrostatic equation

Quiz 2-3: Energy budgets and balance

Quiz 2-4: Stability and buoyancy

Discussion Forum 1: Storms in the troposphere

Lesson 3 Moist Processes

Quiz 3-1: Atmospheric water vapor

Quiz 3-2: Humidity and relative humidity

Quiz 3-3: Energy problems

Quiz 3-4: Using the skew-T

Lesson 4 Atmospheric Composition

Discussion Forum 2: Trace gases

Quiz 4-1: Atmospheric lifetimes

Quiz 4-2: Atmospheric composition

Lesson 5 Cloud Physics

Quiz 5-1: Cloud drops and liquid mass

Discussion Forum 3: Cloud Identification

Quiz 5-2: Cloud formation essentials

Quiz 5-3: How cloud drops form

Quiz 5-4: How precipitation forms

Lesson 6 Atmospheric Radiation

Quiz 6-1: Sun Fun Facts

Quiz 6-2: Thank you Planck

Quiz 6-3: Absorbed in thought

Quiz 6-4: Scatter brained

Lesson 7 Applications of Atmospheric Radiation Principles

Quiz 7-1: Solving the Earth system's temperature problems

Discussion Forum 4: Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

Quiz 7-2: Interpreting satellite remote sensing

Lesson 8 Math and Conceptual Preparation for Understanding
Atmospheric Motion

Quiz 8-1: Partial derivatives and vector operations

Quiz 8-2: Finding coordinates and wind directions

Quiz 8-3: Grading your gradients

Discussion Forum 5: Eulerian and Lagrangian points of view

Quiz 8-4: The advection connection

Lesson 9 Kinematics

Quiz 9-1: The way the wind blows

Quiz 9-2: Connecting the dots with vertical motion

Lesson 10 Dynamics – Forces

Quiz 10-1: All about forces

Quiz 10-2: Coordinates and scales

Quiz 10-3: Balance of forces and motion

Quiz 10-4: Feeling the thermal wind

Lesson 11 Atmospheric Boundary Layer

Quiz 11-1: Boundary layer behavior

Quiz 11-2: State of flux

Quiz 11-3: Energy in the boundary layer

Lesson 12 Wrapping Up

Final Project

Final Exam

Class Support Services

Penn State Online offers online tutoring to World Campus students in math, writing, and some business classes. Tutoring and guided study groups for residential students are available through Penn State Learning.

Course Policies


This course must be viewed using the latest version of Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Edge. Internet Explorer is not supported. If you use any other browser, or if you are not using the latest version of your browser, some pages containing equations may not render properly. In addition, javascript must be enabled for equations to render properly. If you have any issues with equations not rendering properly, please update your browser to the latest version or try using a different browser. If you need additional technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the World Campus Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure website, which means that your connection is encrypted. We do however link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted. This is called mixed content. By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed. Follow the directions on our Technical Requirements page to view the mixed content.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision-making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information to others whom you do not know.

Academic Integrity

This course follows the EMS academic integrity procedures. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting other's work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other student's papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's "Academic Integrity Training for Students".

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Office for Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for Campus Disability Coordinators at every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Office for Student Disability Resources website

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation. See documentation guidelines at Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.


Regular attendance is critical for building the skills and knowledge developed throughout the class. Students who participate have a more complete understanding of the material presented and are more likely to succeed in the class. The University recognizes that, on exceptional occasions, students may miss a class meeting to participate in a regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activity (such as field trips, debate trips, choir trips, and athletic contests), or due to unavoidable or other legitimate circumstances such as illness, injury, military service, family emergency, religious observance, participation in local, state, and federal government elections, or post-graduate, career-related interviews when there is no opportunity for students to reschedule these opportunities (such as elections or employment and graduate school final interviews). In all cases, you should inform me in advance, when possible. Missing class, even for a legitimate purpose, may mean there is work that cannot be made up, hurting your grade in this class. Students who encounter serious family, health, or personal situations that result in extended absences should contact the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs (AVPSA) and Student Care and Advocacy for help. You should be prepared to provide documentation for participation in University-approved activities, as well as for career-related interviews. You should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form, at least one week prior to the activity.

If seats are assigned in the classroom, it’s important that you sit in your assigned seat for each class period you attend. Physical attendance will NOT be used as part of the calculation of your course grade, but participation may be used.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

Campus emergencies, including weather delays and closures, are announced on Penn State News and communicated to cell phones, email, the Penn State Facebook page, and Twitter via PSUAlert (Sign up at PSUAlert).

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride in fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

    Counseling and Psychological Services

    Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing. The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings. These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitivity to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Services include the following:

    Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park (CAPS): 814-863-0395
    Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses
    Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
    Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

    Deferred Grades

    If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period. It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion. If for any reason, the course work for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.

    Military Personnel

    Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

    Disruptive Behavior

    Behavior that disrupts normal classroom activities will not be tolerated, in accordance with the Student Code of Conduct.

    Mandated Reporting Statement

    Penn State's policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State's Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website.

    Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.

    Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

    Penn State is committed to creating an educational environment that is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

    For additional information, see:

    Disclaimer Statement

    Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. Changes to the syllabus shall also be given to the student in written (paper or electronic) form.