climate dynamics


Many of the most pressing problems in environmental science, such as El Nino, the ozone hole, and global warming intimately involve the motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. Students and faculty in ATOC approach the study of the dynamics of atmospheres and oceans from several perspectives. Field programs that employ fixed arrays of instruments, or highly instrumented platforms such as research ships, research aircraft, satellites, and remote pilotless drones, generate data sets that reveal new dynamic phenomena, or which may be used to test theoretical ideas or models. Computational simulations are used to explore the interactions between fluid motions and various physical/chemical processes that are now recognized as being closely coupled to dynamics. Models of global phenomena permit close-up study of the mechanisms that may govern the complicated behavior observed both in the models themselves and in nature. Research in the fundamental theory of waves, instabilities, and turbulence is carried out using idealized analytical study, and by the construction of mechanistic or process models that attempt to isolate key interactions for detailed interpretation. Laboratory experiments in fluid instability and turbulence are yet another point of view, yielding data from controlled systems run at parameter settings well beyond those accessible through direct numerical simulation. Finally, investigations of the circulations of other planetary atmospheres, as well as large-scale motions the solar atmosphere, provide an interesting test of theories and ideas about dynamical behavior at conditions far removed from those prevalent on Earth. Specific examples of these various approaches are illustrated in the Research Areas and Links listed below.

An education in Dynamics at CU-Boulder emphasizes study of motions on all scales. The atmosphere and the ocean are treated equally, as many of the most critical research problems from a societal point of view involve an intimate coupling between these two elements of the hydrosphere. ATOC also stresses atmospheric chemistry, radiation, and remote sensing, permitting in depth study of additional effects and observing methods that are crucial in modeling or interpreting dynamical processes. In addition to the wide range of active research topics, seminars, and field programs the ATOC offers, Boulder holds a wealth of additional opportunities to work on and learn about the dynamics of atmospheres and oceans. There are numerous weekly talks on a complete spectrum of subjects. These cover all scales, from boundary layers and fire weather, for example, to global planetary waves, blocking, and large-scale air sea interaction. Local research facilities with strong dynamics programs include NCAR (several branches) and NOAA (see links below).

Core faculty

Other researchers

Relevant courses

  • ATOC 4720 Introduction to Atmospheric Physics and Dynamics
  • ATOC 4730/5730 Physical Oceanography and Climate
  • ATOC 5050 Atmospheric Thermodynamics and Dynamics
  • ATOC 5060. Dynamics of the Atmosphere and Ocean
  • ATOC 5400 Introduction to Fluid Dynamics
  • ATOC 5410 Fluid Instabilities, Waves and Turbulence

Other resources