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College of Letters & Science

Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

Requirements for the Major
Honors in the Major

849 Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences Building, 1225 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53706; 608-262-2828; www.aos.wisc.edu

Professors Ackerman, Hitchman, Liu, Martin, Morgan, Petty, Tripoli, Wang; Associate Professors Desai, Holloway, McKinley, Vimont; Assistant Professors Back, L'Ecuyer

Undergraduate advisor in the major: Associate Professor Galen McKinley, 1511 Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences Building, 1225 West Dayton Street; aosadv@aos.wisc.edu; 608-262-4817

Faculty diversity liaison: Galen McKinley, gamckinley@wisc.edu

The study of atmospheric and oceanic sciences includes all aspects of the atmosphere and physical oceanography, their mutual interaction, and their interaction with space and the rest of the earth system. Although a primary goal is to understand the atmosphere and ocean for the purpose of predicting the weather, atmospheric and oceanic sciences embraces much more: motions at large, medium, and small scales; past, present, and future climates; air chemistry and quality; clouds and precipitation; and solar and terrestrial radiation. In many areas, new remote-sensing technology including satellites is used to provide circulation patterns at both global and local scales.

Many undergraduates take an elementary atmospheric and oceanic sciences course to meet part of their natural or physical science breadth requirements. Other students, who have had sufficient mathematics and physics preparation, take higher level atmospheric and oceanic sciences courses to complement their major work in other fields of natural science. An atmospheric and oceanic sciences major receives a thorough introduction to the basic concepts and tools in the core courses, which cover the physics and dynamics of the atmosphere and ocean. An array of elective courses are offered in the senior year, with tracks in the areas of weather systems, earth/environmental science, and general and applied atmospheric and oceanic sciences. Elective groups are tailored individually. Some students will want preparation for careers in areas such as operational forecasting, environmental consulting, and broadcasting. Others will seek preparation for graduate work leading to a broader range of careers.

Requirements for the Major

Because the atmospheric and oceanic sciences involve applying the principles and techniques of physical science to the fluid atmosphere and ocean, a strong background in mathematics, physics, and chemistry is necessary. Requirements for admission to the atmospheric and oceanic sciences major include a combined grade point average of 2.25 or better in the following courses:


  • Calculus: three semesters equivalent to Math 221, 222, 234. Physics: two semesters, calculus based, equivalent to Physics 207–208 or 201–202.
  • Chemistry: one semester.
  • In addition, one computer sciences course in programming such as C++, Fortran, or another approved language (or working programming knowledge in one of these languages) is required.
  • A Declaration of Major form must be completed by the student and authorized by the department undergraduate advisor. The undergraduate advisor will require a transcript or DARS report at this time.
  • Completion of the major requires a grade point average of 2.0 or better in the following courses:
  • 10 credits in core sequence Atm Ocn 310, 311, 330, and 340. (Note that core sequence begins in the fall semester only.)
  • At least 12 credits in atmospheric and oceanic sciences courses numbered above 400. These shall include at least 1 credit in the Capstone Seminar 405, or an independent study research project, or a senior thesis. No more than 2 of the 12 credits may be earned with internships. At least one course in mathematics, computer sciences, or statistics with a prerequisite of Math 234.
  • All students are required to fulfill the L&S requirement of at least 15 credits of upper-level work in the major completed in residence. All atmospheric and oceanic sciences courses numbered 300 and above count toward this requirement.

Honors in the Major

The honors requirements are to provide the best possible training for an undergraduate wishing to pursue graduate work in atmospheric and oceanic sciences. The honors student should select an advisor in the department for guidance in their work in Honors in the Major. The honors track in atmospheric and oceanic sciences consists of all the requirements for an undergraduate degree with the addition of one of the following courses above the major requirements: Atm Ocn 601, Atm Ocn 611, or a course agreed upon with the advisor and intended to broaden the background of the student in the field of atmospheric and oceanic sciences. A senior thesis under the guidance of the advisor and requiring Atm Ocn 681 and Atm Ocn 682 is required for Honors in the Major. The GPA for all courses in the atmospheric and oceanic sciences Honors in the Major must be 3.4 or higher. Student must also have an overall GPA of at least 3.3 in all courses taken at UW–Madison at the time of graduation.