Earth & Environmental Sciences 


Degrees Offered:

  • BA
  • PhD
  • Minor*

Department Website

Degree Requirements 

Sample Four Year Plan

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* = Minors are not technically a degree, but can be pursued to supplement a bachelor's degree

The Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences provides a world-class, interdisciplinary research and educational environment to examine the dynamical, physical and chemical processes that occur in the atmosphere and ocean. 

The department is the first of its kind at the university for those students interested in establishing a physical basis for observing, modeling and understanding climate and global change.

If you desire to understand the physical and dynamic structure of our atmosphere look no further. The Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences degree will create a fundamental understanding of the physical processes that govern our climate as well as our daily lives."

— Pascal Staeheli, Current ATOC major

The University of Colorado Boulder is located in a region having the greatest concentration of geophysical researchers in the nation and perhaps the world. The proximity of the Department of the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences to this atmospheric and oceanic science “ground zero” is the foundation of their unique philosophy and vision, elevating the department to recognized excellence. In particular, the department is ranked as the best in the world, with the “Earth Science” and “Atmospheric Science” disciplines—both featured heavily in the department—ranking #1 by the Shanghai Rankings, and “Geosciences” ranking #2 by the most recent U.S. News and World Report. As well, the department’s “Remote Sensing” research ranks #21 by the same metrics.

The guiding principle of the department is to be the focal point for atmospheric and oceanic science education and research training in this geographic region of world-renowned excellence. As part of that, the department is home to a number of award-winning faculty, including fulbright winners, early career awards from the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society, and fellowships by the Ameircan Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, Alfred P. Sloan, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute and the American Meteorological Society.

The Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences is nationally recognized in several areas of research, focusing broadly in seven categories:

  • Atmospheric & Oceanic Dynamics,
  • Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics,
  • Chemical & Physical Oceanography,
  • Clouds & Aerosols,
  • Planetary Atmospheres,
  • Radiative Transfer & Remote Sensing, and
  • Regional, Boundary Layer & Wind Energy Meteorology.

Their diverse faculty also include several who have joint affiliations with or collaborate with scientists at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, CU School of Medicine, Colorado School of Public Health, NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

For the undergraduate students pursuing a degree in atmospheric and oceanic sciences, there are a number of research opportunities beyond just class work:

  • The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) offers students a chance to work alongside a faculty sponsor on original research. Learn to write proposals, conduct research, pursue creative work, analyze data, and present the results. For more information, call UROP at 303-492-2596 or visit the UROP website.

  • If you’re contemplating postgraduate education, either in professional or graduate school, you are encouraged to participate in the departmental honors program. It provides opportunities for individualized and intensive work, including valuable experience in conducting psychological research.

  • The experience of studying abroad can prove invaluable for you as an atmospheric and oceanic sciences major. The university offers more than 100 programs throughout the world. These programs offer credit that counts as if you had taken the courses here, in some cases  also fulfilling major and core requirements. You may spend a few weeks to a full academic year abroad, depending on the program you select. Prior language study or other prerequisites are necessary for some programs, so early planning for study abroad is essential. Further information about study abroad is available from Education Abroad, 303-492-7741 or on the education abroad website.

An undergraduate degree in atmospheric and oceanic sciences is essentially an applied physics degree. Atmospheric and oceanic sciences students learn the quantitative skills that are required for many high-tech jobs, even those unrelated to atmospheric and oceanic sciences, and are directly relevant to jobs in renewable energy industries, the insurance industry (e.g., weather- and climate-related events), air and water quality monitoring, sustainable development, aerospace industries, weather forecasting, environmental consulting and federal agencies or organizations that are involved in environmental research, and academic institutions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 2016-2026 job growth for atmospheric scientists (including meteorologists) will be 12 percent, faster than the average for all jobs.

  • Median 2016 pay for atmospheric scientists (including meteorologists) was $92,460, according to the bureau.

Jobs in geoscience, including oceanic sciences, are expected to grow by 14 percent, faster than the average for all jobs, between 2016-2026.

  • The median 2016 income for geoscientists was $89,780, according to the bureau.

Career Services offers free services for all CU Boulder degree-seeking students, and alumni up to one year after graduation, to help students discover who they are, what they want to do, and how to get there. They are the bridge between academics and the world of work by discussing major and career exploration, internship or job searching, and graduate school preparation.