MPhys Physics

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Atmospheric Physics and Weather

Course unit fact file
Unit code EART23001
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 5
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


The module provides an overview of the atmosphere and the atmospheric processes that lead to the weather we experience. We look at the forces that determine air motion (wind), and the behaviour of dry and moist air (clouds and rain). We describe how the atmosphere is observed and measured, and how those measurements are combined with the laws of physics to provide a weather forecast.



To give an understanding of the physics determining the behaviour of the Earth’s atmosphere and its observed weather phenomena.


Learning outcomes


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




describe the basic properties of the atmosphere





apply the basic laws of physics that control the behaviour of the atmosphere.






describe and explain the drivers for motion in the atmosphere on synoptic and global scales






explain the physical behaviour of dry and moist air






describe the main cloud types and cloud and rain formation processes




explain how a combination of dynamical and thermodynamical processes leads to observable weather phenomena







Week 1: L1 Intro to course.  Brief history and overview of instruments and observations

               L2 Recap, structure and composition of atmosphere. Detail on stratospheric ozone.

Week 2: L1  Present ideal gas law, laws of motion, laws of thermodynamics (first law)…..

               L2 ….. latent and specific heat, radiation laws

Week 3: L1 Hydrostatic equation. Dry adiabatic lapse rate, Radiosondes (launch radiosonde if possible after lecture)

               L2 Dynamics: hydrostatic balance, pressure measurement, unequal heating and PGF

Week 4: L1 Sea breeze, Coriolis force, friction, gradient and surface wind

               L2 Wind observations, Global circulation (3 cell model)….

Week 5: L1 ….convergence, divergence, jet stream

               L2 Moist air: evaporation, saturation, condensation, humidity

Week 6: Reading week. Coursework is set so that it can be done during this week.

Week 7: L1 Measurements of temperature and humidity

               L2 Convection, Saturated adiabatic lapse rate

Week 8: L1 Buoyancy and stability/instability, cloud base

               L2 Cloud classification. Homogenous nucleation, aerosols and nucleation

Week 9: L1 Droplet growth, ice and the growth process

               L2 Measurement of precipitation, visibility, cloud

Week10: L1 Air masses, fronts, Polar front model of cyclogenesis

               L2 UK weather: cyclones and anticyclones.

Week11: L1 Brief principles of weather forecasting

               L2 Revision lecture/catcu up

Week12: L1  Revision lecture/catch up

               L2   Revision lecture (on demand)

Teaching and learning methods

The module is delivered by blended learning lectures, 2 per week, with video lectures and pdf of slides available on Blackboard for pre-/post lecture study and revision.


Blackboard quizzes (for self-study) are provided for the early weeks of the course so that students can confirm that they have grasped the essential principles underpinning the course. Feedback is immediate.

Thereafter short question tutorial sheets are provided for further self-study. Worked solutions are available on Blackboard and provide initial feedback, with the opportunity to discuss with GTAs for more detailed feedback, if required.

GTAs are available to provide in-person support for anyone requiring extra help with the material at the end of the lectures.

Assessment is by coursework, and examination at the end of semester. The coursework takes the form of unseen problems to be solved and submitted via Blackboard. The coursework is available for completion during reading week (week 6).

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 80%
Set exercise 20%

Feedback methods


Assessment type

% Weighting within unit

Hand out and hand in dates



How, when and what feedback is provided

ILO tested


Online test


End W5,

End W7

2 pages

Individual comments provided to students. General feedback provided in class within 1-2 weeks after work is handed in.





2 hours

Feedback provided after results made available



Recommended reading

Recommended reading

No one text covers this entire module. Books tend to lack the physics, or to go beyond what is required at this level. The texts recommended below have the advantage that they will also be used for third year courses that look in more detail at some of the aspects of atmospheric science which are introduced in this module.



Atmospheric Science: An Introductory Survey. Wallace and Hobbs, Academic Press - Covers the physics required, and goes further. Would also be suitable for 3rd year courses.


For the more descriptive aspects –

Ackerman and Knox (2006): Meteorology: Understanding the Atmosphere, 2nd ed.


Supplementary animations and applets:


Essentials of Meteorology: An invitation to the Atmosphere. C. Donald Aherns, Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.

Both are good on descriptions and concepts, but missing some of the physics. Also suitable for third year Meteorology course (Ackerman and Knox currently recommended for 3rd year).


Other Useful Texts: Fundamentals of Weather and Climate. McIlveen, Chapman and Hall.


Previous text for this course, still relevant but not as advanced as Wallace and Hobbs:

Atmosphere, Weather and Climate. Barry and Chorley, Routledge. Good coverage of much of the course, without explicit physics.

An Introduction to Atmospheric Physics. Andrews, Cambridge University Press - Covers most of the physics, and goes further.

A Short Course in Cloud Microphysics. Rogers and Yau, Pergamon Press - Covers dry and moist processes, with emphasis on cloud physics. Good for those aspects of this, and third year, modules.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 6
Independent study hours
Independent study 72

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ann Webb Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Other Scheduled teaching and learning activities: Optional drop-in classes. GTAs provide additional help

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