Career Profile: Atmospheric & Space Scientists
Checking the weather each day is a common activity, and the news is full of discussion on climate change and how this will affect people, cities, and agriculture. But where does all this information come from?
Atmospheric science, also often called climatology, is a branch of environmental science that focuses on the study of Earth’s atmosphere, climate, and weather. Atmospheric scientists and climatologists will use tools such as weather balloons, satellite data, radar and sensor systems to collect and analyze data on droughts, storms such as hurricanes and tornadoes, pollution and air quality, air pressure and temperature, and the ozone layer, then make forecasts and predictions. They can also take historical records study the climate and weather of the past, both the recent past and hundreds or thousands of years ago, or study how the Earth’s atmosphere interacts at the boundary of outer space and how this affects the planet’s climate.
Climatologists will take their research data and use sophisticated computers to develop weather and climate models for both short term, like the weekly weather forecast, and long term, like predictions for climate change over a decade or longer. They will also create weather and climate maps, advise local and national government on climate and weather-related topics, and can issue public safety warnings during instances of dangerous weather events. These scientists often work indoors in labs and offices, but will often also travel and do field work outside in order to gather data.
The data and forecasts developed by atmospheric scientists are vital to many other industries, including governmental bodies, the military, transportation and commerce, agriculture, and environmental organizations.
A bachelor’s degree in climate science, atmospheric science, environmental science or a related field is usually required for most entry level positions, such as lab and research assistants, fieldwork technicians, and teaching environmental sciences at the high school level. Teaching at the college and university level will require a Master’s degree, as will research and fieldwork positions with governmental and environmental organizations. For advanced academic research positions, and government or military advisory and consulting, often a Ph.D. will be required.
Starting salaries for climate and atmospheric scientists are around $40,000 per year for entry-level positions, with an overall industry median of around $56,000. As these scientists move up through their careers, they can reach salary levels as high as $80,000 or a bit higher in experienced positions in government and research organizations.