Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science

Syllabus for METEO 300: Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science
(updated 9:45 PM, 21 August 2018)


Raymond Najjar, Professor of Oceanography, Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, 522 Walker Building, Office Hours: Mon. 2:00–3:00 PM; Wed. 3:00–4:00 PM; Thurs: 1:30–3:30 PM; or by drop-in or appointment.

Lauren Dennis, Teaching Assistant, 416 Walker Building, Office hours: Thurs. 10:00–11:00 AM; Fri. 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM.

Shawn Murdzek, Teaching Assistant, 406 Walker Building, Office hours: Wed. 10:15–11:15 AM; Fri. 1:30–2:30 PM.

Please use email via Canvas to contact the instructors.


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, Phys 211, and Math 141 are prerequisites and Math 230 or Math 231 are co-requisites. Students who do not meet these prerequisites may be disenrolled according to Administrative Policy C-5 if they do not have the proper prerequisite override. Students who add the course after being disenrolled according to this policy are in violation of Item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct:

Course Objectives:

  • 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


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.

You should 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 the instructor, TAs, and other students for the practice quizzes, but you must do the quizzes yourself. You can use any resources to take the quizzes and exam, especially the lesson material, but you cannot get any help from anyone. Indicators of cheating have been placed in the quizzes, and if it determined that you have gotten help from someone else by the instructor and the Penn State Academic Integrity process, you will receive an “F” for the course.

Required Materials

All materials needed for this course are presented online through the 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 but may be helpful:

Atmospheric Science, Second Edition: An Introductory Survey, by J. M. Wallace and P. V. Hobbs; Academic Press, 2006.

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

Physics and Chemistry of Clouds, by D. Lamb and J. Verlinde, Cambridge University Press, 2011 (often used in Meteo 437, Cloud Physics and Chemistry).

You can learn the material without these books 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.


Assessment of learning consists of five parts: (1) quizzes consisting of problems, true/false answers, multiple-choice answers, pictures, and drawings; (2) a few lesson activities such as short essays or descriptions of unusual atmospheric phenomena you have personally observed; (3) discussion participation; (4) an integrative final project involving explaining the physical processes occurring in atmospheric observations and solving quantitative problems associated with the observations; and (5) 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.

Grading breakdown: Quizzes/Activities (50%), Discussion Participation (10%), Final Project (20%), and Final Exam (20%).

Grade scale is: A (94.0–100%), A– (90.0–93.9%), B+ (86.0–89.9%), B (80.0–85.9%), B– (76.0–79.9%), C+ (72.0–75.9%), C (66.0–71.9%), D (50.0–65.9%), F (<50.0%)

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

Late Policy. Late work is not accepted except in extraordinary circumstances and if you have contacted the instructor ahead of time.


This course has 12 lessons: (1) Getting started, (2) Thermodynamics, (3) Moist Processes, (4) Atmospheric Composition, (5), Cloud Physics, (6), Atmospheric Radiation, (7) Applications of Atmospheric Radiation, (8) Math for Atmospheric Motion, (9) Kinematics, (10) Dynamics, (11) Atmospheric Boundary Layer, and (12) Wrapping Up. Each lesson takes one week. Lessons typically open on Mondays and close on Sundays. See the Calendar in Canvas for specific lesson time frames and assignment due dates; this calendar will be filled out as the semester progresses.


Academic integrity. This course follows the guidelines for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. 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.

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.

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 Student Disability Resources at all Penn State Campuses. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources (SDR) website.

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. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office 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): 814-863-0395 Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses 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 wrongdoing. 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) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

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.

Attendance. You are expected to attend all classes. If you cannot make a class, please let the instructor know. 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.