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Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

Administrative Unit:Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences
College/School: College of Letters & Science
Admitting Plans:M.S., Ph.D.
Degrees Offered:M.S., Ph.D.
Minors and Certificates:Doctoral Minor

Faculty: Professors Petty (chair), Ackerman, Hitchman, Liu, Martin, Morgan, Tripoli, Wang; Associate Professors Desai, Holloway, McKinley, Vimont; Assistant Professors Back, L'Ecuyer


The department offers the master of science degree as well as the doctor of philosophy degree with a major in atmospheric and oceanic sciences (AOS).

In atmospheric and oceanic sciences, classical physics is applied to describe the behavior of the fluids that compose the atmosphere/ocean/earth system. Influences of solar and terrestrial radiation, clouds and storms, natural and anthropogenic pollution, dynamical forces and turbulence can affect both the weather and longer climatic variations. The department uses computer simulations, passive and active remote sensing, in situ weather instruments, and laboratory experiments to study atmospheric phenomena.

The department has 13 faculty, approximately 60 graduate students, and many staff involved in large and energetic research programs. Particular strengths include climate/earth system science, geophysical fluid dynamics, remote sensing, planetary boundary layer, atmospheric chemistry, weather systems and prediction, and oceanography. Course concentrations within the existing degree program are offered in the areas of weather prediction, earth system science, remote sensing, and oceanography.

Course and research emphasis of the department's oceanographic component is in physical oceanography, ocean-atmosphere climate dynamics, and marine geochemical cycles. A concentration of courses in oceanography can be used to satisfy the AOS Ph.D. minor.

The department has close ties with the Center for Climatic Research, The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, Space Science and Engineering Center, Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, National Weather Service, and the State Climatologist Office.

Financial assistance is available to qualified students. The typical sources of funding are research and teaching assistantships. All applicants are considered for any available assistantships. Financial aid is handled separately from admission in the department. Students generally hear about their admission status well before any decision about financial aid is made.

Job opportunities have been strong within the United States for people with graduate degrees in atmospheric and oceanic sciences. The government hires a large number of meteorologists with advanced degrees, as do many private forecasting companies and air quality consulting firms. In addition, there are openings for experts at various government and university research labs.

Master's Degree 

The majority of graduate students get an M.S. degree, which can be earned as part of the path toward a Ph.D. degree or earned as a terminal degree opening significant opportunities within the public and private sectors. For both the thesis (M.S.) and the nonthesis (M.A.) options, a set of six core courses is highly recommended as a good foundation for a graduate degree in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

Ph.D. Degree

A doctor of philosophy degree is offered with a major in atmospheric and oceanic sciences. Candidates may enter with a master's degree or, for more qualified students, directly after earning a bachelor's degree.

Doctoral Minor 

The graduate chair or any other professor in atmospheric and oceanic sciences may serve as a minor professor on a Ph.D. committee. The graduate chair will certify that the minor course requirements have been met.

The minor requirement is 10 or more credits of any AOS course at or above the 400 level. Overall GPA for the minor must be at least 3.0.

AOS courses assume a prerequisite background in college physics (two semesters), calculus (three semesters), and chemistry (one semester).


Prerequisites for admission are one semester of chemistry, three semesters of calculus, one semester of differential equations, and two semesters of calculus-based physics. Prior work in atmospheric or oceanic sciences is not required, but it is beneficial. Knowledge of computer programming is recommended. Admitted students generally have GRE quantitative scores of at least 151 (650 prior scale, 56% percentile), verbal reasoning scores of 152 (490 prior scale, 56% percentile) and analytical scores of 4.0 (48% percentile), and have a GPA of better than 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. International students must submit scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Applications are also judged on academic record, letters of recommendation, prior research experience, and the statement of purpose. Ph.D. students must have an advisor identified before they can be recommended for admission.

For more information: Graduate Coordinator, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, 1225 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53706-1695; 608-262-2827; fax 608-262-0166; aosgrad@aos.wisc.edu; www.aos.wisc.edu.