Atmospheric and 
Oceanic Sciences

Degrees MS, PhD

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 lower-level ATOC credit hours and 9 upper-level 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

Graduate Degree Program +

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

Physical Oceanography Track (PO-Track) +

ATOC 5050: Intro to Atmospheric Dynamics
ATOC/ASTR 5400: Intro to Fluid Dynamics
ATOC/ASEN 5215: Descriptive Physical Oceanography (previously Oceanography)
ATOC 5051: Intro to Physical Oceanography
ATOC 5061: Dynamics of Oceans
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.

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