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METEO 300 - Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science

This is a sample syllabus.

This sample syllabus is a representative example of the information and materials included in this course. Information about course assignments, materials, and dates listed here is subject to change at any time. Definitive course details and materials will be available in the official course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.


This four-credit course gives students a solid foundation in the application of physical, chemical, and mathematical principles to broad range of atmospheric phenomena, including weather, air quality, and climate. It also prepares meteorology students for their 400-level meteorology courses. Students are introduced to fundamental concepts and applications of atmospheric thermodynamics, radiative transfer, atmospheric chemistry, cloud microphysics, atmospheric dynamics, and the atmospheric boundary layer. These topics are covered broadly but in enough depth to introduce students to the methods atmospheric scientists use to describe and predict atmospheric phenomena. The course is designed to be taken by second-year meteorology and atmospheric science students as well as by students in related disciplines who have an adequate mathematical and physical background.


When you have successfully completed METEO 300, you will be prepared to:

  • describe in written and oral language the basic physical processes responsible for weather and climate, from global scale to microscale
  • solve simple problems and derivations related to these physical processes
  • demonstrate the importance of water vapor in all these processes

Required Materials

The materials listed here represent those that may be included in this course. Students will find a definitive list in the course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.

No Required Textbooks

All materials needed for this course are presented online through Canvas. In order to access the online materials, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the online course resources).

Optional Textbooks

Here is a list of textbooks that are not required for this course and you can learn the material without them. But you may want to get some or all of them so that you can read alternate explanations and descriptions of the atmospheric science that you will learn in this class. Some class material is derived from parts of these books.

Atmospheric Science, Second Edition: An Introductory Survey, by John M. Wallace and Peter V. Hobbs; Academic Press, 2006; ISBN-13: 978-0127329512 ISBN-10: 012732951X

An Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology, by James R. Holton and Gregory J. Hakim; Academic Press, 2013, ISBN: 0123848660, 9780123848666 (often used in Meteo 421, Atmospheric Dynamics)

Physics and Chemistry of Clouds, by Dennis Lamb and Johannes Verlinde, Cambridge University Press, 2011; ISBN: 9780521899109 (often used in Meteo 437, Cloud Physics and Chemistry)


CHEM 110, PHYS 211, MATH 141; Concurrent: MATH 230 or 231


We have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. How much and how well you learn is dependent on your attitude, diligence, and willingness to ask for clarifications or help when you need them. We are here to help you succeed. Please keep up with the class schedule and take advantage of opportunities to communicate with us and with your fellow students. You can expect to spend an average of 8 - 12 hours per week on class work.

Major Assignments

This course will rely on four main methods to assess and evaluate student learning:

Quizzes/Activity (50%)

The quizzes are timed homework problem sets that may consist of some combination of problems, true/false answers, multiple-choice answers, pictures, and drawings. There is also one Excel workbook activity in the first lesson, which will be useful for some of your quizzes. The quizzes/activity vary in their weight and exact values may be found on Canvas. 

Discussion Forums (10%)

This is a series of equally weighted discussion forums, which allow you to think more deeply about a particular atmospheric phenomenon or concept.

Final Project (20%)

This is an integrative final project in which you explain the physical processes occurring in atmospheric observations and solving quantitative problems associated with the observations. There is also an alternative project that allows you to delve into some aspect of the changing atmosphere.

Final Exam (20%)

The final exam consistits of problems, true/false answers, multiple-choice answers, pictures, and drawings that either were on the quizzes or are closely related to previous quiz questions.

Course Schedule

Course Schedule
1Getting Started    
  • Quiz 1-1: Significant figures, dimensions, and units
  • Quiz 1-2: Solving integrals and differentials
  • Activity 1-3: Setting up an Excel workbook
  • Quiz 2-1: What will that air parcel do?
  • Quiz 2-2: Harnessing the power of the hydrostatic equation
  • Quiz 2-3: Energy budgets and balance
  • Quiz 2-4: Stability and buoyancy
  • Discussion Forum 1: Storms in the troposphere
3Moist Processes
  • Quiz 3-1: Atmospheric water vapor
  • Quiz 3-2: Humidity and relative humidity
  • Quiz 3-3: Energy problems
  • Quiz 3-4: Using the skew-T
4Atmospheric Composition
  • Discussion Forum 2: Trace gases
  • Quiz 4-1: Atmospheric lifetimes
  • Quiz 4-2: Atmospheric composition
5Cloud Physics
  • Quiz 5-1: Cloud drops and liquid mass
  • Discussion Forum 3: Cloud Identification
  • Quiz 5-2: Cloud formation essentials
  • Quiz 5-3: How cloud drops form
  • Quiz 5-4: How precipitation forms
6Atmospheric Radiation    
  • Quiz 6-1: Sun Fun Facts
  • Quiz 6-2: Thank you Planck
  • Quiz 6-3: Absorbed in thought
  • Quiz 6-4: Scatter brained
7Applications of Atmospheric Radiation Principles
  • Quiz 7-1: Solving the Earth system's temperature problems
  • Discussion Forum 4: Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change
  • Quiz 7-2: Interpreting satellite remote sensing
8Math and Conceptual Preparation for Understanding
Atmospheric Motion
  • Quiz 8-1: Partial derivatives and vector operations
  • Quiz 8-2: Finding coordinates and wind directions
  • Quiz 8-3: Grading your gradients
  • Discussion Forum 5: Eulerian and Lagrangian points of view
  • Quiz 8-4: The advection connection
  • Quiz 9-1: The way the wind blows
  • Quiz 9-2: Connecting the dots with vertical motion
10Dynamics – Forces
  • Quiz 10-1: All about forces
  • Quiz 10-2: Coordinates and scales
  • Quiz 10-3: Balance of forces and motion
  • Quiz 10-4: Feeling the thermal wind
11Atmospheric Boundary Layer
  • Quiz 11-1: Boundary layer behavior
  • Quiz 11-2: State of flux
  • Quiz 11-3: Energy in the boundary layer
12Wrapping Up
  • Final Project
  • Final Exam