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.

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

Course code for this program is ATOC. 

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

Elementary

  • ATOC 1050 Weather and the Atmosphere—3
  • ATOC 1060 Our Changing Environment—3
  • ATOC/GEOL 3070 Introduction to Oceanography—3
  • ATOC 3180 Aviation Meteorology—3
  • ATOC 3300 Analysis of Climate and Weather Observations—3

Advanced

  • 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 2.00 (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. 

Graduate Degree Program(s)

Graduate Degrees in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

The interdisciplinary Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC) provides an educational and research environment to examine the dynamical, physical, and chemical processes that occur in the atmosphere and the ocean. A major theme is the establishment of a physical basis for understanding, observing, and modeling climate and global change. Graduate students, research staff, and faculty work together on a wide range of research topics, such as large-scale dynamics of ocean and atmosphere, air-sea interaction, radiative transfer and remote sensing of ocean and atmosphere, sea ice and its role in climate, cloud-climate interactions, atmospheric chemistry and aerosols, atmospheric technology, extended weather and climate prediction, hydrological processes, and boundary-layer measurement and modeling.

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 PhD students are required to take a total of six ATOC core courses, or their equivalent, from one of the two following ATOC core course tracks:

Atmosphere Track (A-Track)

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

Oceanography Track (O-Track)

  • ATOC 5050 Introduction to Atmospheric Dynamics
  • ATOC 5051 Introduction to Physical Oceanography
  • ATOC 5060 Dynamics of the Atmosphere
  • ATOC 5200 Biogeochemical Oceanography
  • ATOC 5235 Introduction to Atmospheric Radiative Transfer and Remote Sensing

Plus one of the following as the sixth course:

  • ATOC/ASEN 5215 Descriptive Physical Oceanography
  • ATOC/ASTR 5400 Introduction to Fluid Dynamics
  • GEOL 5270 Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry
  • GEOL 5430 Paloeoceanography and Paleoclimatology
  • MCEN 5021 Introduction to Fluid Dynamics

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 a preliminary copy of the dissertation has been accepted for defense by the student's committee, a final examination on the dissertation and related topics is conducted.

Certificate Program

Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Certificates

In addition to doctoral and master’s degrees, ATOC offers graduate certificates in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC) and Oceanography. Students majoring in atmospheric and oceanic sciences or other associated departments may wish to consider obtaining one of these certificates to emphasize on their vita that they have specialized in that additional area. Students who are not enrolled in a graduate degree program, but have received a BA or BS degree and meet the course prerequisites may also enroll in courses to obtain the ATOC Certificate or the Oceanography Certificate through the ACCESS program of Continuing Education.

Graduate Certificate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC)

Students who wish to obtain the Graduate Certificate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC) must complete a four ATOC graduate level courses* or their cross-listed equivalents (i.e., ATOC 5151 or CHEM 5151) provided the cross-listed equivalents are not offered through the student’s home department(s). To satisfactorily complete a course, students must earn a grade of B or better.

*ATOC graduate level courses are considered those above the 5000 level. ATOC 5000 Critical Issues in Climate and the Environment cannot be applied towards the ATOC certificate requirements.

Students must meet course prerequisites prior to enrollment. Most of the ATOC Graduate Certificate courses require at least one year of calculus and one year of calculus-based physics.

Upon Completion of the ATOC Graduate Certificate requirements, students must complete a Graduate Certificate Request Form and submit it, together with a copy of their unofficial CU transcript, to the ATOC graduate program assistant (atocasst@colorado.edu).

Graduate Certificate in Oceanography

Students who wish to obtain the Graduate Certificate in Oceanography must complete at least three oceanography core courses (see below) passed with a letter grade of B or better. In addition, students may take an independent study course to replace one of the core courses.

Courses for the Oceanography Certificate

  • ATOC 5051 Introduction to Physical Oceanography
  • ATOC 5061 Dynamics of Oceans
  • ASEN/ATOC 5215/4215 Descriptive Physical Oceanography
  • ASEN 5307/4307 Engineering Data Analysis Methods
  • ASTR/ATOC 5400 Introduction to Fluid Dynamics
  • ASTR/ATOC 5410 Fluid Instabilities, Waves, and Turbulence
  • GEOL 5060 Oceanography
  • GEOL 5270 Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry
  • GEOL 5430 Paleoceangraphy and Paleoclimatology

For additional information about the ATOC Certificate or the Oceanography Certificate, contact the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, 311 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309-0311, 303-492-7167 or atocasst@colorado.edu.

Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing

Remote sensing (satellite and ground-based) is increasingly being used as technique to probe the Earth's atmosphere, ocean, and land surfaces. Probing of other planets is accomplished largely by satellite remote sensing. Given national priorities in such areas as climate and global change, the interest in remote sensing will only increase with time.

Remote sensing is a relatively new academic subject, with few universities having any sort of an organized curriculum. The purpose of formalizing the CU remote sensing curriculum is to coordinate curricula across campus so that a coherent curriculum in remote sensing can be provided to complement and supplement the student’s regular degree program. An additional purpose is to encourage multidisciplinary education of the students in the area of remote sensing.

Graduate students, research staff, and faculty work on a wide variety of topics, ranging from the theory of remote sensing to its application. These applications include: use of satellite remote sensing to determine ocean surface temperature and heat fluxes; use of surface radar to improve the determination of clouds and precipitation from satellite; determination of surface biological characteristics and productivity from satellite; mapping of land use from satellite; mapping of surface landform and topographical features; searching for locations of buried artifacts; use of surface radar to determine upper atmosphere wind motions; and aircraft remote sensing to assess the validity of satellite retrieval algorithms of surface and atmospheric characteristics.

This certificate is awarded based on a written request by the student to the remote sensing graduate chairman, provided that the following requirements have been met:

  • All students must take at least three Remote Sensing core courses (passed with grade B or better) and register for ATOC 7500/ASEN 6310 Remote Sensing Seminar for at least one semester. This class is given once each year. Most remote sensing core courses are offered once each year.

The Remote Sensing graduate courses are: 

  • ATOC 7500/ASEN 6210: Remote Sensing Seminar
  • ASEN/ATOC 5235 Introduction to Atmospheric Radiative Transfer and Remote Sensing (previously offered as "Remote Sensing of the Atmospheres and Oceans")
  • ASEN 5337 Remote Sensing Data Analysis
  • ASEN 5168 Remote Sensing Instrumentation
  • ASEN 5245/ECEN 5254 Radar and Remote Sensing
  • ECEN 5274 Radar Science and Techniques
  • GEOG/GEOL 5093 Remote Sensing of the Environment
  • GEOL 5240 Remote Sensing Image Analysis
  • GEOG 6181/EBIO 6440 Remote Sensing Field Methods
  • GEOL 6340 Remote Sensing of Planetary Surfaces
  • ECEN 5234 Remote Sensing Signals and Systems
  • ECEN 5264 Electromagnetic Absorption, Scattering and Propagation
  • ECEN 5134 Electromagnetic Radiation and Antennas
  • ECEN 5634 Microwave and RF Measurements

For more information or to contact the Remote Sensing Graduate Committee, write Remote Sensing Graduate Chairman Professor Bill Emery, 
431 UCB; call 303-492-8591; e-mail 
emery@colorado.edu; or go to Certificate Request Form.