GY 3351 Physics Option Unit


GY 3351 Physics Option Unit

EART 3351 Physics option unit

Prof. G. Vaughan & Dr. C.P.R. Saunders Credit rating: 10


Prerequisites: None

Follow up units: Clouds, Aerosols and Atmospheric Processes

Classes: 20 lectures and 2 class tutorials in S5

Assessment: 1 hour 30 minutes examination in January

Recommended texts:

Andrews, D. Introduction to atmospheric physics.(CUP 2000)

Houghton, J. The Physics of Atmospheres (CUP 1986)

Rogers, R. & Yau, T. A short course in cloud physics(Butterworth Heinemann 1996)

Green, J. Atmospheric Physics (CUP 1999)

Seinfeld, J.H. & Pandis, S.N. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (Wiley 1998)


1. To introduce the processes which govern the structure of the Earth’s atmosphere.

2. To explain the thermodynamics and dynamics of these processes.

3. To provide background knowledge for understanding the processes which affectglobal climate change.

4. To understand the formation, propagation and dissipation of weather systems.

5. To give an understanding of the role of atmospheric aerosol, cloud microphysicalprocesses and severe storm characteristics.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course, students should be able to:

1. describe the physical processes in the atmosphere.

2. understand basic dynamical and microphysical balances which control thenatural environment.

3. understand the principles behind dynamical atmospheric motion.

4. understand the role and importance of water in the atmosphere.

5. understand the importance of adiabatic processes.

6. manipulate the mathematical equations of motion and of atmospheric microphysicalsystems.

7. be able to make informed analysis of the processes which govern climatic change andglobal warming.

8. describe the characteristic behaviour of atmospheric aerosol.

9. understand the nucleation and growth of cloud particles.

10. follow theories of the electrical processes in the atmosphere and in severe storms.


1. Atmospheric Thermodynamics (3 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, fronts and jet streams

3. Vorticity in the atmosphere(3 lectures)

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

Convergence, divergence and PV

4. The Baroclinic wave (1 lecture)

The formation of frontal depressions, the propagation of the system, frontal structure, the

occlusion process, the secondary circulation and the filling of the system.

5. Atmospheric Aerosol (2 lectures)

Constituents, size distributions, effects in the atmosphere, nucleation of the water phase,

growth of droplets.

6. Ice Nuclei (3 lectures)

The origins and growth of the ice phase in the atmosphere.

7. Ice particles in clouds (3 lectures)

Characteristics and role of the ice phase.

8. Thunderstorms (3 lectures)

Dynamical and microphysical processes leading to electrification.