Career Profile: Atmospheric and Space Scientist
The weather isn’t just a topic for small talk these days; extreme weather events and climate change are all over the news. But understanding the Earth’s weather and climate takes more than just stepping outside to see whether it’s raining or sunny. Every global climate report or daily local weather forecast relies on dedicated scientific research and weather data to provide accurate analysis and predictions. Atmospheric and Space Scientists are the ones responsible for engaging in this research and providing weather data to those who need it.
Atmospheric and space science focuses on the study of Earth’s atmosphere, and how it interacts with the planet as well as how it interacts with outer space. This field includes several inter-related sub-disciplines:
- Meteorology, the study of Earth’s weather, including local and large-scale weather forecasting.
- Climatology, the study of the long-term and short-term atmospheric conditions that affect Earth’s climate.
- Aereology, the study of Earth’s upper atmosphere near and at the boundary with outer space.
At minimum, atmospheric and space scientists require a bachelor’s degree in a program such as climate science, meteorology, atmospheric physics, atmospheric chemistry, or similar. Depending on the job or the type of research you want to do, a master’s degree or Ph.D. may be required, particularly for research-intensive positions. Regardless of the specific program or degree earned, atmospheric and space scientists need a strong understanding of physics, chemistry, and mathematics.
Whether additional specialties or training are required will vary depending on the job; for example, Environment Canada provides specific formal training for meteorologists who are employed by the federal government.
Practical, hands-on fieldwork and lab work skills are also a necessity, and involve tasks such as collecting samples of air or precipitation, studying data from satellites, radar, and weather stations, performing data analysis, using the scientific method to design and perform experiments, and developing and testing theories and models of weather or climate behaviour. Strong written and oral communication skills are also a must-have, both for writing reports, articles, and presentations, and for working closely with other scientists or in public-facing roles communicating weather and climate information to others such as the general public, or to the marine, agriculture, and aviation industries.
This is a great career path for those interested in working with computers and conducting research. It means helping people nearby know the weather forecast, and those around the world with fighting climate change. But it is also challenging, data-heavy work, and because weather conditions change so quickly, it can mean an irregular work schedule.
Atmospheric and space scientists can work for the government, military, or space agencies, as well as companies that focus on environmental science and climate change. They can also work with weather forecasting organizations, including local and national weather agencies that provide weather data to news sources including television, radio, and online weather reports. As a highly technical and specialized field of work, atmospheric and space scientists begin their career earning around $30 per hour, with annual salaries averaging around $70,000 to $80,000.
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