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BSc Physics with Theoretical Physics / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Meteorology & Atmospheric Physics P511

Unit code EART30351
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 6
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The unit will :

1. Show how the temperature profile of the atmosphere determines where convection forms, and the fundamental importance of moisture in this process

2. Explain how winds are related to pressure patterns in the atmosphere, and how vertical motion patterns determine where cyclones and anticyclones form

3. Provide background knowledge for understanding the processes affecting global climate change

4. Explain the formation, propagation and dissipation of weather systems

5. Explain the role of atmospheric aerosol and cloud microphysical processes in severe storm characteristics.  

This course unit detail provides the framework for delivery in 20/21 and may be subject to change due to any additional Covid-19 impact.  Please see Blackboard / course unit related emails for any further updates.




Pre-requisite: Completion of first year Physics or equivalent


This unit introduces students to the physics of the atmosphere, starting from basic dynamics and thermodynamics. We show how simple physical concepts can explain the weather we see around us – the formation of convective clouds and rain, the development of weather systems and the nature and role of fronts. The abundant weather resources on-line are used to illustrate how the concepts described in lectures influence the weather on the day, giving students the ability should they wish to prepare their own weather forecasts.


Learning outcomes

On the successful completion of the course, students will be able to: 

  • Use on-line weather resources to interpret the weather on any day, and make simple weather predictions
  • Explain the factors that determine whether the atmosphere is convectively unstable
  • Analyse the forces acting in the atmosphere and derive the patterns of motion that result from these
  • Relate atmospheric motions to weather patterns and the weather we experience
  • Explain mechanisms of cloud formation with respect to the small scale dynamics and micro-scale processes occurring within them.
  • Compare mechanisms of precipitation formation and discuss the observational evidence for each; derive theoretical relationships to aid the discussion


1. Atmospheric Thermodynamics                                                              (4 lectures)

Potential temperature, Brunt-Vaisala frequency, convective instability, moisture in the atmosphere


2. Basic Atmospheric Dynamics                                                                 (4 lectures)

Meteorological charts, introduction to synoptic scale.

Coriolis force and geostrophic balance

Thermal wind balance, pressure coordinates


3. Vorticity in the atmosphere                                                                     (2 lectures)

Parcel stretching and rotation. The vorticity equation. (Rossby) Potential Vorticity

Convergence, divergence and vertical motion


4. Clouds and their properties                                                                    (2 lectures)

Cloud types, microstructure, adiabatic liquid water content, and particle size distributions, Latham's geoengineering scheme.


5. Physics of cloud formation and growth of cloud particles                 (4 lectures)

CCN, growth of drops, ice nuclei, ice crystal growth, ice crystal habit.


6. Supersaturation in clouds                                                                       (2 lectures)

Supersaturation; quasi-steady state supersaturation in liquid only and ice only clouds; mixed-phase clouds


7. Growth of cloud and precipitation particles                                          (2 lectures)

Collision and coalescence, riming, aggregation.


Teaching and learning methods

The course is delivered through 20 lectures. Formative assessment is provided at regular intervals through 4 example sheets. Course materials, model answers to the assessments, web links and on-line text books are provided through Blackboard.


Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 20%
Report 20%
Set exercise 60%

Feedback methods


Assessment type

% Weighting within unit

Hand out and hand in dates



How, when and what feedback is provided

ILO tested

Open book assessment


January exam period


Feedback is provided on the formative assessment sheets.


Online test - Blackboard test


Week 12


Provided through test


Individual report - Analysis of day’s weather


Hand in date during Jan exam period


Paper-based assignment, feedback provided individually




Recommended reading

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 80

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Geraint Vaughan Unit coordinator

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