Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

The Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC) is an interdisciplinary program that provides an educational and research environment to examine the dynamical, physical, and chemical processes in the atmosphere, ocean, and land surface, and the manner in which they interact. A major theme is the establishment of a physical basis for understanding, observing, and modeling climate and global change.

Although an undergraduate degree program is not yet offered in ATOC, an undergraduate minor program is available. A total of 18 credit hours is required for the minor, including 9 elementary ATOC credit hours and 9 advanced ATOC credit hours. A full list of approved courses for the minor is available online and in the ATOC administrative offices.

Graduate students admitted to ATOC are eligible to receive an advanced degree in atmospheric and oceanic sciences. Graduate students outside of ATOC can pursue the Graduate Certificate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences while earning a graduate degree from another department at CU-Boulder, or while taking course work as a non-degree-seeking student through Continuing Education’s ACCESS Program provided they have already earned a bachelor’s degree and meet the course prerequisites. In addition, students inside and outside the department may pursue a Graduate Certificate in Oceanography. For more information on graduate certificate programs, see the Graduate School/Interdisciplinary Programs section.

ATOC Undergraduate Minor Program

The Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC) does not offer an undergraduate bachelor's degree program. However, the department does offer an undergraduate minor for students pursuing a bachelor's degree in another academic department. The ATOC minor is offered through the College of Arts and Sciences and is noted on the official CU transcript.

Although the ATOC minor is primarily designed for students who are interested in developing a knowledge base in atmospheric science with an emphasis on the Earth's climate, there is considerable latitude within the program for students to design a course of study that is tailored to their individual interests.

Course Requirements. A total of 18 credit hours with at least 9 credit hours at the advanced course work level. NOTE: Not all courses at the 3000 level and above are considered to be at the advanced course work level. Please see list below.

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours


  • ATOC 1050 Weather and the Atmosphere—3
  • ATOC 1060 Our Changing Environment—3
  • ATOC/GEOL 3070 Intro to Oceanography—3
  • ATOC 3300 Analysis of Climate and Weather Observations—3


  • ATOC 3500/CHEM 3151 Air Chemistry and Pollution—3
  • ATOC 3600/ENVS 3600/GEOG 3601 Principles of Climate—3
  • ATOC/ASTR 3720 Planets and Their Atmospheres—3
  • ATOC/ASEN 4215 Descriptive Physical Oceanography—3         
  • ATOC 4500 Special Topics—3
  • ATOC 4700 Weather Analysis and Forecasting—3
  • ATOC 4720 Intro to Atmospheric Dynamics—3
  • ATOC 4750 Desert Meteorology—3         
  • ATOC 4800 Policy Implications of Climate Controversies—3
  • ATOC 4900 Independent Study—3

All course work applied to the minor must be completed with a grade of C- or better (no pass/fail work may be applied). The GPA for all minor degree work must be equal to 2.000 (C) or higher. Course work applied toward a minor may also be applied toward general education (core curriculum or college list) and major requirements. Students are allowed to apply no more than 9 credit hours, including 6 advanced level credit hours, of transfer work to a minor.

For more information about ATOC programs and application procedures, call the ATOC office at 303-492-6633 or visit

Course code for this program is ATOC. 

Graduate Degree Program(s)

Graduate Degrees in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

ATOC offers a comprehensive graduate program with a core course structure that emphasizes the fluid dynamical, chemical, and physical processes in the atmosphere and ocean.

All ATOC graduate students are required to take one of the two following ATOC core course tracks, or their equivalent:

Atmosphere Track (A-Track)

  • ATOC 5050: Intro to Atmospheric Dynamics
  • ATOC 5600: Physics and Chemistry of Clouds and Aerosols
  • ATOC 5235: Intro to Atmospheric Radiative Transfer and Remote Sensing
  • ATOC 5060: Dynamics of the Atmosphere
  • ATOC 5051: Intro to Physical Oceanography
  • ATOC 5151: Atmospheric Chemistry 

Oceanography Track (O-Track)

  • ATOC 5050: Intro to Atmospheric Dynamics
  • ATOC/ASTR 5400: Intro to Fluid Dynamics
  • ATOC/ASEN 5215: Descriptive Physical Oceanography 
  • ATOC 5051: Intro to Physical Oceanography
  • ATOC 5061: Dynamics of Oceans
  • ATOC 7500 Applied Biogeochemical Oceanography or ATOC/GEOL 5270: Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry

All ATOC graduate students must select one of these tracks upon entering the program with a track selection form. The degree will be in atmospheric and oceanic sciences, regardless of track chosen. The master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation topic is not constrained by choice of track.

ATOC offers many graduate elective courses, and students are encouraged to take related electives offered by other departments.

Prerequisites. An undergraduate degree in mathematics, physics, engineering, chemistry, or another natural science is recommended. The general prerequisites expected of incoming graduate students include undergraduate courses in calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, and computer programming; as well as one-year sequences of undergraduate calculus-based physics and chemistry. Upper-division undergraduate courses in physics, chemistry, engineering, and mathematics are strongly recommended. Undergraduate courses in atmospheric and oceanic sciences are useful, but not expected, as part of the undergraduate background.

Master’s Degree

Course Requirements. For both thesis and nonthesis options, a total of 30 credit hours is required with at least 15 credit hours of ATOC courses numbered 5000 and above. Other specific course requirements are in the ATOC Graduate Handbook.

Examinations. For the thesis option, the final examination consists of an oral exam on the thesis. There is a written final exam for the nonthesis option.

Doctoral Degree

Course Requirements. A total of 36 credit hours is required including the 18 credit hours in ATOC core courses listed above, as well as a graduate-level course in applied or computational mathematics. In addition, 30 dissertation hours are required. Other specific course requirements are covered in the ATOC Graduate Handbook.

Examinations. Students must pass a two-part comprehensive examination before admission into candidacy. Part I of the comprehensive examination is a written exam based on course material and is normally taken in the second year. Part II of the comprehensive examination is normally taken in the third year and is an oral examination based on an original research paper prepared by the student. After the PhD dissertation has been submitted, a final examination of the dissertation will be conducted.