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Atmospheric Scientist: Job Duties, Outlook and Salary

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an atmospheric scientist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about education and job possibilities to find out if this is the career for you.

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The field of atmospheric science includes operational meteorologists, climatologists and environmental meteorologists. All of these scientists must be knowledgable about the atmosphere and weather, and the equipment or radar necessary to predict the weather or conduct research. Entry-level positions are possible with a bachelor's degree, but graduate degrees are usually preferable.

Essential Information

Atmospheric scientists work for private companies, universities, television stations, and government agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Depending on what they do, atmospheric scientists may work as climatologists, environmental meteorologists, physical meteorologists, or operational meteorologists. Candidates must have a bachelor's degree in atmospheric science or a related field; a master's degree or Ph.D. is most often required for research positions.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in atmospheric science or a related field, master's or Ph.D. typically required for research positions
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% for atmospheric scientists*
Median Annual Salary (2015) $89,820 for atmospheric and space scientists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties

Atmospheric scientists use information from charts, pictures, and data reports to learn more about the characteristics of the atmosphere to forecast weather patterns. There are specialties within this field; the most common is operational meteorologist. This occupation is responsible for assessing weather conditions using information collected from satellites, weather stations, and radar equipment. Operational meteorologists predict weather conditions for the upcoming days or weeks, and they provide advance notice of approaching weather conditions that may be dangerous.

Climatologists, another type of atmospheric scientist, are concerned with how weather patterns have changed over time. They study the differences in seasonal temperatures, rainfall totals, or wind speeds over time to recognize seasonal and global patterns. Predictions made by climatologists may cover a season or several years. These observations are important to the agriculture, construction, and energy industries.

Environmental meteorologists research situations such as the lack of water or air pollution. They issue reports on environmental effects and look at ways to reduce polluting circumstances. Another type of atmospheric scientist, a physical meteorologist, researches the physical and chemical characteristics of the atmosphere to learn how storms generate and how pollution is transported by the weather. They also study how clouds appear.

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Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS,), the number of jobs for atmospheric scientists is expected to increase about 9% between 2014 and 2024. Most new jobs will be with private companies because of an increasing number of industries that rely on customized weather information for their business operations or needs. The BLS also noted that job competition in this field is expected to be strong. Graduate degrees and professional certifications may provide applicants with a hiring advantage.

Education Requirements

Atmospheric scientists typically have earned a bachelor's degree in atmospheric science or a related field such as physics, chemistry, or geology. Meteorologists often take additional coursework outside the atmospheric specialty. Scientists wishing to conduct research will minimally need to complete a master's degree, but most often will need a Ph.D. in atmospheric science - especially if they are interested in research positions at academic institutions.

Salary Information

Earnings for atmospheric scientists vary by factors such as the location or industry. The BLS reported the median annual wage for atmospheric scientists including meteorologists was $89,820 in May 2015. The median pay in the following fields was: Federal government $99,920, television broadcasting $88,060, Professional, scientific, and technical services $87,370, Colleges, universities, and professional schools $71,010.

Job duties, education requirements and salary can vary based on the industry an atmospheric scientist chooses. No matter what, these scientists often use equipment, data and radar to anticipate weather or atmospheric changes. A bachelor's degree is a minimum, while master's and doctoral programs can help to increase job security and candidacy for research positions.

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