Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science

METEO 300: Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science

This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document or by clicking on any of the links below to “jump” to specific sections. It is essential that you read the entire document as well as material covered in the Course Orientation. Together these serve as our course "contract." 

William Brune [1]
Distinguished Professor of Meteorology
617 Walker Building
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University

Office: 617 Walker Building
Office Hours: Wednesday, 2-4 pm, or stop by. I'll see you then if I can; otherwise, we can make an appointment.

E-mail: Please use the course e-mail system (in Canvas).

Jena Jenkins Teaching Assistant
Office: 418 Walker Building Office hours: Thursday, 2-4 pm

Class Support Services

Penn State Online [2] offers online tutoring to World Campus students in math, writing, and some business classes. Tutoring and guided study groups for residential students are available through Penn State Learning [3]. 

Course Overview

Description: This course prepares students for their 400-level meteorology courses by laying a solid foundation in the application of physical, chemical, and mathematical principles to a broad range of atmospheric phenomena. 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 sophomore meteorology students as well as by students in related disciplines who have an adequate mathematical and physical background.

Prerequisites and concurrent courses:

CHEM 110 [4], PHYS 211 [5]

Students who do not meet these prerequisites may be dis-enrolled during the first 10-day free add-drop period after being informed in writing by the instructor (see Senate policy 34-60, Prerequisites and Concurrent Courses [6]). If you have not completed the listed prerequisites, please promptly consult with the instructor if you have not done so already. Students who re- enroll after being dis-enrolled according to this policy are in violation of Item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct [7].

Course Objectives

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

Expectations:  On average, most students spend eight to ten hours per week working on course reading and assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your study habits, your background, and your abilities.

I expect you to read all the material shortly after it is assigned, participate in discussion groups, do the assignments on time, ask questions through the course Discussion Questions Forum when you need help understanding the material, and think really hard about the course content. Don't try to cram the reading, problems, and quizzes for each lesson into one session of a few hours each week - that won't work very well. If you learn anything at all, you probably won't retain it. So spread the time you spend on each lesson over the course of the week that it is due.

Remember, this course is the foundation for the upper level courses that come next.

You can work together and get help from me and other students for the practice quizzes, but you must do the quizzes and final exam yourself. You can use any resources to take the quizzes and exam, especially the lesson material, but you cannot get any help from anyone. I have put indicators of cheating in the quizzes and exam, and if I determine that you have gotten help from someone else, and my decision is upheld by the Penn State Academic Integrity process, you will receive an "F" for the course.

Required Course Materials:  All materials needed for this course are presented online through our course website and in 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).

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)

Assignments:  This course will rely on a variety of methods to assess and evaluate student learning, including:

  • Quizzes (in each lesson)
  • Lesson Activities
  • Discussion Forums
  • Final Project
  • Final Exam

Assessment of learning consists of five parts: quizzes consisting of problems, true/false answers, multiple-choice answers, pictures, and drawings and a few lesson activities such as short essays or descriptions of unusual atmospheric phenomena you have personally observed; discussion participation; an integrative final project involving explaining the physical processes occurring in atmospheric observations and solving quantitative problems associated with the observations; and a comprehensive final exam consisting 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.

Each of the first eleven lessons has two to five activities, mostly quizzes; each activity directly follows the material that it covers. In most cases for quiz questions involving mathematical solutions, you will be given an opportunity to practice solving problems and answering questions before you take the quiz. Please do the practice and then take the quiz when you are prompted to do so in the Lesson.

The practice quizzes are all in folders marked "Practice Quizzes" within each Lesson folder. The Practice Quizzes are not graded and do not affect your grade in any way (except to make you more competent and confident to take the graded Quizzes :).

The individual quizzes are in each Lesson folder. You will be allowed to take each quiz only once. Do not click on the Quiz name or icon until you are ready to take the quiz because you will be graded on your answers the first time, even if you are not ready to take the quiz. Please resist the temptation to take a peek before you are ready to take the quiz because the grade that you get for peeking will be the grade that you get on the quiz.

Quizzes will be timed. If you carefully read and think about the Lessons and then work the practice exams, you should be able to complete each quiz in less than half the allotted time. For students with approved disability exceptions, the allotted time should be more than sufficient.


Breakdown of each assignment's value as a percentage of total course grade.

Assignment / Percent of Grade

  • Quizzes/Activities - 50%
  • Discussion Participation - 10%
  • Final Project - 20%
  • Final Exam - 20%

I will use the Canvas gradebook to keep track of your grades. You can see your quiz grades in the gradebook, but not necessarily all components of your grade. Overall course grades will be determined as follows. Percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned. If you want to know your total grade, please contact me.

Letter Grade and Corresponding Percentages

Letter Grade / Percentages

  • A 94 - 100 %
  • A- 90. - 93.9 %
  • B+ 86  - 89.9 %
  • B 80 - 85.9 %
  • B- 76 - 79.9%
  • C+ 72 - 75.9 %
  • C 66 - 71.9 %
  • D 50 - 65.9%
  • F < 50 %
  • X Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

Curve: There very likely will not be a curve for the grades in this course.

Extra Credit: Extra credit will be given for a few different activities, such as picture of the week and haiku of the week.

Late Policy: I do not accept any "late work" except in extraordinary circumstances if you have contacted me as soon as you can in advance. The earlier you contact me to request a late submission, the better. Requests will be considered on a case by case basis and only for good reasons. 

Below you will find a summary of the primary learning activities for this course and the associated time frames. This course is twelve weeks in length, with an orientation week preceding the official start of the course. Each lesson is one week long. Lessons open on Mondays and close on Sundays. See our Calendar in Canvas for specific lesson time frames and assignment due dates.

Course Schedule

Lesson / Topic / Assignments

  • Course Orientation
    Personalize your Canvas space
    Introduce yourself and meet the rest of the class
  • Lesson 1 Getting Started
    Quiz 1-1: Significant figures, dimensions, and units
    Quiz 1-2: Solving integrals and differentials
    Activity 1-3: Setting up an Excel workbook
  • Lesson 2 Thermodynamics
    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
  • Lesson 3 Moist 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
  • Lesson 4 Atmospheric Composition
    Quiz 4-1: Atmospheric lifetimes
    Quiz 4-2: Atmospheric composition
  • Lesson 5 Cloud Physics
    Cloud Identification Discussion Forum
    Quiz 5-1: Cloud drops and liquid mass
    Quiz 5-2: Cloud formation essentials
    Quiz 5-3: How cloud drops form
    Quiz 5-4: How precipitation forms
  • Lesson 6 Atmospheric Radiation
    Quiz 6-1: Sun Fun Facts Quiz 6-2: Thank you Planck
    Quiz 6-3: Absorbed in thought Quiz 6-4: Scatter brained
  • Lesson 7 Applications of Atmospheric Radiation Principles
    Quiz 7-1: Solving the Earth system's temperature problems
    Quiz 7-2: Interpreting satellite remote sensing
    Discussion Activity: Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change
  • Lesson 8 Math 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 Activity: Eulerian and Lagrangian Points-of-View
    Quiz 8-4: The advection connection
  • Lesson 9 Kinematics
    Quiz 9-1: The way the wind blows
    Discussion Activity: Surface Pressure and Upper Air Winds
    Quiz 9-2: Connecting the dots with vertical motion
  • Lesson 10 Dynamics – 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
  • Lesson 11 Atmospheric Boundary Layer
    Quiz 11-1: Boundary layer behavior Quiz 11-2: State of flux
    Quiz 11-3: Energy in the boundary
  • Lesson 12 Wrapping Up
    Final Project Final Exam

Course Policies: You can work together and get help from me and other students for the practice quizzes, but you must do the quizzes and final exam yourself. You can use any resources to take the quizzes and exam, especially the lesson material, but you cannot get any help from anyone. I have put indicators of cheating in the quizzes and exam, and if I determine that you have gotten help from someone else, and my decision is upheld by the Penn State Academic Integrity process, you will receive an "F" for the course. I assume that you all have academic integrity, but have been disappointed by some students in the past, and so must have a tough policy on cheating.

Technical Requirements:  For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the Dutton Institute Technical Requirements page [9], including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk [10] (for World Campus students) or the ITS Help Desk [11] (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection:  Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content: This site is considered a secure web site which means that your connection is encrypted. We do however link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted. This is called mixed content. By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome. This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed. Follow the directions on our technical requirements page [9] to view the mixed content.

Equations: This course must be viewed using one of the following browsers: Firefox (any version), Safari (versions 5.1 or 6.0), Chrome (0.3 or later), or Internet Explorer with the MathPlayer PlugIn [12]. If you use any other browser, there will be pages containing equations that do not render properly. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk [10] (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk [13] (for students at all other campus locations).

Penn State E-mail Accounts: All official communications from the Penn State World Campus are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail [14] to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity: This course follows the guidelines for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences [15]. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students. [16]"

Course Copyright: All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities: Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: Contacts for Disability Resources at all Penn State Campuses [17]. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources (SDR) website [18].

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation, see Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources [19]. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office [17] will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Counseling and Psychological Services: Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing. The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings. These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation. Services include the following: Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park (CAPS) [20]: 814-863-0395 Counseling and Psychological Services at Commonwealth Campuses [21]

Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400 Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Reporting Bias-Motivated Incidents: Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance [22]) and can be reported through Educational Equity via the Report Bias webpage [23].

Military Personnel: Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Inclement Weather: In case of weather-related delays at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to weather delays. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Connect Online with Caution: Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information with others whom you do not know.

Deferred Grades: If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to your instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. It is up to your instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If, for any reason, the course work for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.

Attendance: This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities. 

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Disclaimer: Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated with you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum. 

Source  URL: