Atmospheric and Space Scientists Overview

A bachelor’s degree in meteorology or a closely related field is necessary for employment as an atmospheric and space scientist. A master’s degree or Ph.D. degree may also be necessary for certain positions due to the growing job competition within this field. Around 34 percent of atmospheric and space scientists are employed by the Federal Government, many working for the National Weather Service.

Nature of the Work for Atmospheric and Space Scientists

Atmospheric and space scientists study the physical characteristics, processes, and motions of the atmosphere and how it affects the rest of our environment. Studying atmosphere, the blanket of air that covers the Earth, means that atmospheric and space scientists may learn how to forecast weather as well as interpret and understand trends in weather and climate. Atmospheric and space scientists can also use these skills to analyze air-pollution, agriculture, ozone depletion or global warming.

Atmospheric scientists who forecast weather and study the Earth’s temperature, humidity, and wind velocity are known as operational meteorologists. By using computer models, operational meteorologists can use satellite and radar data to make forecasts for long and short-term weather. The findings of an operational meteorologist can help inform the general public with short-term weather announcements and can affect economic and safety measures, such as shipping or fishing.

Climatologists can study weather variations over long-term periods such as months, years, or centuries. Their work may include collecting and analyzing past records of region specific temperatures or rainfall. A climatologist’s findings can affect how buildings are designed as well as how heating and cooling systems are planned and built.

Physical meteorologists can study the chemical and physical properties of the atmosphere such as light transmission and radio and sound waves. Physical meteorologists may also study factors that affect cloud formation or other atmospheric phenomena. Environmental meteorologists study problems such as these and evaluate and report on them. The work of physical meteorologists and environmental meteorologists involves working exclusively in research. Atmospheric and space scientists can work in a weather station, on the ground, or from an aircraft. Atmospheric and space scientists working at radio or television stations may work from station studios while working nights and weekends. Atmospheric and space scientists working in smaller weather offices may work alone while those in larger one may work in teams. Those working for private consulting firms or companies responsible for monitoring emissions for air quality may work with scientists and engineers while performing work on the field and traveling.

Due to changing weather conditions, most weather stations operate around the clock all week long. These hours require atmospheric and space scientists to work nights, weekends, and holidays, mostly on rotating shifts. Deadlines may also be apart of the job when weather emergencies occur. For atmospheric and space scientists not involved with forecasting, their hours may be more regular and their work may be done in an office.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Atmospheric and Space Scientists

Entry-level atmospheric and space scientists looking to work for the Federal Government should have a bachelor’s degree and at least 24 semester hours of meteorology/atmospheric education with courses in atmospheric dynamics, physical meteorology, and remote sensing of the atmosphere. Other courses can include aeronomy, physical hydrology, or computer sciences.

Advancements in pay and growth potential mostly occur for atmospheric and space scientists who receive a master’s degree or Ph.D. Those looking for a career in research should obtain a Ph.D. and do not necessarily need to major in atmospheric science or meteorology. A bachelor’s degree in mathematics, physics or engineering is also helpful for atmospheric and space scientists.

Few colleges and universities offer degrees in atmospheric science or meteorology but offer degrees in earth science, geography, or geophysics. The American Meteorological Society (AMS) lists around 100 graduate and undergraduate atmospheric science programs to choose from.

Computer science courses, meteorology courses, and mathematics skills can all be useful when applying for atmospheric and space scientist jobs. Atmospheric and space scientists should also take courses in subjects relevant to the area of specialization they wish to work in. Atmospheric and space scientists just starting out in their career may begin by collecting data and performing basic forecasting. For consulting meteorologists, the AMS offers the Certified Consulting Meteorologist certification which requires meeting education requirements and passing a test. The AMS also offers the Certified Broadcast Meteorologist designation for those working in television and radio.

Atmospheric and space scientists can advance by working as supervisors or in administrative jobs as well as handling more complete forecasting obligations.

Employment and Job Outlook for Atmospheric and Space Scientists

With around 9,400 jobs held for atmospheric and space scientists, the Federal Government was the largest employer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) following behind. The U.S. Department of Defense also employs atmospheric and space scientists while members of the Armed Forces are involved in meteorological work and forecasting.

Keen competition and increases in employment will occur for atmospheric and space scientists. Many new jobs for atmospheric and space scientists are expected to come out of private industry. Improvements in weather forecasting and the need for weather information for people such as farmers and investors can create more job opportunities for atmospheric and space scientists. Few jobs openings will occur in government since atmospheric and space scientists will only be hired when someone leaves or retires.

Atmospheric and space scientists will be in demand to analyze and monitor air pollution and global weather observations as well.

Earnings and Salary for Atmospheric and Space Scientists

Median annual wages of atmospheric scientists are $84,710. The middle 50 percent earn between $58,680 and $104,520. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $40,560, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $127,250. The average salary for meteorologists employed by the Federal Government is $94,210.

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