Close Menu

Physics of the Atmosphere and Climate

Semester 2

This course examines the basic physical principles that govern the processes of the atmosphere and its climate. The theoretical principles governing atmospheric thermodynamics, cloud physics, radiation physics and dynamics and circulation are discussed. It also provides a scientific context for discussion of topical issues viz The Ozone Hole, Global Warming, ITCZ, and El Nino.


Survey of the Atmosphere

  • Composition of the lower, middle and upper atmosphere;
  • diffusive equilibrium;
  • photo-chemical processes and thermal structure  

Atmospheric Thermodynamics

  • Dry air-adiabatic processes, potential temperature, entropy, equation of state;
  • moist air-Clausius-Clapeyron equation, virtual temperature, vapour pressure, relative humidity, and condensation;
  • atmospheric aerosols, clouds-formation and growth.  

Radiative Transfer

  • Absorption and emission of atmospheric radiation, Greenhouse effect and global warming

Atmospheric Dynamics (qualitative derivations)

  • Real and apparent forces in a rotating co-ordinate system, equations of motions and the Geostropic approximation, gradient wind 

General circulation of the Tropics

  • Brief overview of general circulation; Hadley and Walker cells;
  • ITCZ;
  • El Nino-Southern Oscillation, trade winds, and climate variability

The course assessment will be conducted as follows:

Two 1-hour in-course tests of equal weighting      40%
Final Examination
One 2- hour final written examination  60%

Students will be expected to satisfy the examiners in both components.


Learning Objectives: 

At the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • describe the composition and the thermal structure of the lower, middle and upper atmosphere
  • solve problems related to atmospheric thermodynamics the tropics
  • derive and solve growth equations for clouds and use them to explain the principles of cloud formation and rain
  • apply the basic principles of radiation physics to the atmosphere, and solve problems in solar and terrestrial radiation
  • model the atmospheric radiative processes using a single layer model and use to explain the greenhouse effect.
  • describe the topical climatic problems (e.g. the Ozone Hole and Global Warming) in accordance with the principles of physics
  • derive and apply equations for three dimensional atmospheric motions including apparent and real forces in a rotating co-ordinate system.
PHYS1411 and PHYS1412 and PHYS1421 and PHYS1422


  • Salby, M. L., (2012), Physics of the Atmosphere and Climate, Cambridge University press, 2nd Edition. ISBN:978-0521767187

Highly Recommended

  • Lutgens,  F. K., E. J. Tarbuck, and T. Dennis (2009), The Atmosphere: an Introduction to Meteorology, 11th Edition, Prentice Hall. ISBN:978-0321587336
  • Stull, R. B. (1999), Meteorology for Scientists and Engineers, 2nd Edition, Brooks Cole,. ISBN: 978-0534372149

Online Resources:

Course Code: 
3 Credits
Level 3
Top of Page