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School of Environment, Education and Development

BSc Geography and Geology with a year abroad / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Atmospheric Physics & Weather

Unit code EART20281
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The module provides an overview of the atmosphere and the atmospheric processes that lead to the weather we experience. We look at the forces that determine air motion (wind), and the behaviour of dry and moist air (clouds and rain). We describe how the atmosphere is observed and measured, and how those measurements are combined with the laws of physics to provide a weather forecast, or on a longer timescale to explore climate change.




To give an understanding of the physics determining the behaviour of the Earth’s atmosphere and its observed weather phenomena.

Learning outcomes

After successful completion of the course students will be able to:

  • describe the basic properties of the atmosphere.
  • describe the basic laws of physics that control the behaviour of the atmosphere.
  • demonstrate an understanding of the motion of the atmosphere on synoptic and global scales.
  • demonstrate an understanding of the main weather patterns and phenomena.
  • explain the physical behaviour of dry and moist air.
  • describe the main cloud types and cloud and rain formation processes.
  • account for the Earth's energy balance and critically review the discussion about global warming.





Section 1: Introduction. Discovering the Atmosphere: History and Observing Systems.


 Section 2: General properties and composition of the atmosphere


 Section 3: Vertical and horizontal variations of pressure and temperature


Section 4: Atmospheric dynamics: forces, cyclones and anticyclones


Section 5: Properties and behaviour of dry and moist air


Section 6: Convection of moist air and cloud formation


Section 7: Cloud types, rain, hail and snow


Section 8: Weather systems and weather forecasts


Section 9: Energy balance, greenhouse effect and global warming

Teaching and learning methods

The module is delivered by lectures.

Tutorial sheets are provided for self study. Worked solutions provide initial feedback, with the opportunity to discuss in lectures for more detailed feedback, if required.

Occasional tutorial style lectures may be held with additional staff present to assist small groups of students with particular topics that they find difficult. Provides personal assistance and feedback.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 20%
Written exam 80%

Assessment is by written examination (1.5 hours) which accounts for 80% of the marks. The other 20% are allocated for a single coursework assignment delivered between weeks 5-7, providing students with feedback on progress at the mid-point of the course.

Recommended reading

Recommended reading

No one text covers this entire module. Books tend to lack the physics, or to go beyond what is required at this level. The texts recommended below have the advantage that they will also be used for third year courses that look in more detail at some of the aspects of atmospheric science which are introduced in this module.


Atmospheric Science: An Introductory Survey. Wallace and Hobbs, Academic Press - Covers the physics required, and goes further. Would also be suitable for 3rd year courses.

Ackerman and Knox (2006): Meteorology: Understanding the Atmosphere, 2nd ed.

  Supplementary animations and applets:


Essentials of Meteorology: An invitation to the Atmosphere. C. Donad Aherns, Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.

Both are good on descriptions and concepts, but missing some of the physics. Also suitable for third year Meteorology course (Ackerman and Knox currently recommended for 3rd year).

Other Useful Texts:

Fundamentals of Weather and Climate. McIlveen, Chapman and Hall.

Previous text for this course, still relevant but not as advanced as Wallace and Hobbs:

Atmosphere, Weather and Climate. Barry and Chorley, Routledge. Good coverage of much of the course, without explicit physics.

An Introduction to Atmospheric Physics. Andrews, Cambridge University Press - Covers most of the physics, and goes further.

A Short Course in Cloud Microphysics. Rogers and Yau, Pergamon Press - Covers dry and moist processes, with emphasis on cloud physics. Good for those aspects of this, and third year, modules.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 78

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ann Webb Unit coordinator

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