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Atmosphere & Atmospheric Sciences

The atmosphere is the gas-filled outermost shell of the Earth, and the scientific study of that shell of gases are often linked within the broad term atmospheric studies.  Atmospheric scientists investigate the atmosphere and its processes.  As the atmosphere is composed of various gases including nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, water vapor, etc., all have a significant impact on our weather and climate.  In turn, the atmosphere is significantly impacted by other earth systems including the hydrosphere, the lithosphere, and the biosphere.  Thus the study of the atmosphere is incredibly interdisciplinary.

 Geoscientists who study the atmosphere may focus in one of two areas: Meteorology and Climatology. Meteorology includes the investigation of the chemistryAtmosphere2 Random 1 of the atmosphere (its chemical composition), as well as amospheric physics which looks at how the atmosphere circulates and responds to changes in light, heat, chemistry changes, etc.  Scientists who study meteorology often focus on weather forecasting and can be seen on the daily news braodcast each day. Climatology on the other hand, is the study of long-term and short-term changes in the atmosphere as a function of geography and weather patterns.  As such, climatologists work to unravel the paramenters that define specific climate regions and how these change over time. Climatologists understand that changes in climate can be due to both natural processes, as well as anthropogenic influences, so it is extremely important to investigate all climate factors in order to understand how climates might behave in the future.

Atmospheric studies, have application in diverse fields including the military, aeronotical industry, energy production,agriculture, construction, etc. in both the publich and private sectors.  Here at Shippensburg University, the Department of Geography Earth Science is pleased to maintain an official weather station of the National Weather Service, and has done so on a daily basis since 1932. Students and faculty have collected various weather data and have created an electronic database that can be accessed via the web (click here).  In addition, the department maintains a live webcamera that can be accessed to observe weather phenomena on campus around the clock.  All data collected using the weather station instruments are used by students regularly for both in-class assignments, as well as, for independent research projects sponsored by collaborating faculty members.

   Students interested in atmospheric sciences can take a range of courses within the context of a Geoenvironmental Studies Major.  Students outside of the department may also opt to take courses toward a minor.  Interested students are encouraged to contact a faculty member or their advisor to discuss potential courses and projects (see below).


  Several faculty teach courses and/or carryout research in this topical area.  Faculty include:
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Dr. Tim Hawkins  Dr. Thomas Feeney Dr. Kay Williams Dr. Joseph Zume
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Earth Science Courses (ESS)

ESS 111 Introduction to the Atmosphere

Examines and analyzes the interrelated processes and elements of our atmospheric environment, including air-sea interactions, which produce our patterns of weather and climate. Attention given to interaction of the environmental elements and people with emphasis on areas of pollution, atmospheric modification, political and legal aspects, and economic implications of the atmospheric environment. Maps, space and aerial photographs, and instruments are used to enhance understanding and involvement in environmental problems. Lab/lecture.

ESS 207 Atmospheric Studies

Provides basic information about the atmosphere, which students will apply to the understanding of selected atmospheric environmental topics; for example: air pollution, greenhouse warming, ozone, etc. Intended for Geography-Earth Science majors.

ESS 355 Meteorology 

Deals with atmosphere and stresses those forces which bring about changes within it. Insolation, temperature, precipitation, humidity, winds, storms, and cloudiness are the chief topics studied. Origin and development of cyclones and their significance in weather forecasting play an important interpretative part of this course. Two hours lecture and two hours lab/week.

ESS 404 Applied Meteorology and Climatology 

Intensive study of interaction between various atmospheric parameters and the natural or human-modified surfaces of the earth centered on the applied nature of the atmosphere including discussion of urban, human, agricultural, architectural, and commercial aspects of society. Computer simulations and mapping are utilized to enhance understanding. Each student carries out a field study on a particular problem of atmospheric interest. Prerequisite: ESS111 or ESS355.

Geography Courses (GEO)

GEO 105 Physical Geography

Studies way the basic natural phenomena of air, water, and ground mutually interact and the way in which these interactions vary from one part of the earth to another to yield different natural environmental regions. Two hours lecture/two hours lab/week.

GEO 203 Climatology 

Deals with regional and applied climatology. Areas of emphasis are climatic controls, classification, U.S. precipitation regimes, world climate types, relationship of climate to other physical phenomena, and importance of climate in selected aspects of human activities.

GEO 450 Geography-Geology Field Studies

One week to 10-day regional field study observing and analyzing the physical and cultural landscape. Emphasis placed upon the physical and historical geology and geography of a prescribed route including several states, regions, or international countries. Prerequisites: ESS212, ESS311, GEO103 or permission of the instructor.

GEO 536 Problems of the Atmospheric Environment 

Examines and analyzes various weather and climate topics, both natural and human-influenced. Topics include brief review of atmospheric basics, air pollution, ozone, ENSO, climate change, climate modeling, and greenhouse warming. Potential solutions to problems explored. Presented in seminar format and includes journal paper discussion and evaluation, writing opinion papers on controversial atmospheric issues, group projects, class presentations, and a term paper. Interrelationships among the various atmospheric problems are emphasized.

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