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Atmospheric And Space Science Careers

Career Description

Atmospheric and Space Scientists investigate atmospheric phenomena and interpret meteorological data gathered by surface and air stations, satellites, and radar to prepare reports and forecasts for public and other uses. Include weather analysts and forecasters whose functions require the detailed knowledge of a meteorologist.

Common Work Tasks

  • Study the atmosphere’s physical characteristics,  motions, and processes, and the way in which these factors affect the rest of our environment
  • Predict weather and attempt to identify and interpret climate trends, understand past weather, and analyze today’s weather
  • Apply meteorological research to air-pollution control, agriculture, forestry, air and sea transportation, defense, and the study of possible trends in the Earth’s climate, such as global warming,  droughts, and ozone depletion
  • Study the Earth’s air pressure, temperature,  humidity, and wind velocity, and apply physical and mathematical relationships to make short-range and long-range weather forecasts
  • Use data from weather satellites, radars,  sensors, and stations in many parts of the world
  • Use sophisticated computer models of the world’s atmosphere to make long-term, short-term, and local-area forecasts
  • Study the atmosphere’s chemical and physical properties; the transmission of light, sound, and radio waves; and the transfer of energy in the atmosphere
  • Collect, analyze, and interpret past records of wind, rainfall, sunshine, and temperature in specific areas or regions

Other Job Titles

Atmospheric and Space Scientists are also known by other titles, including:

  • Physicists
  • Geologists
  • Meteorologists
  • Climatologists

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
A bachelor’s degree in meteorology or atmospheric science, or in a closely related field with courses in meteorology, usually is the minimum educational requirement for an entry-level position as an atmospheric scientist. A master’s degree is necessary for some positions, and a Ph.D. degree is required for most basic research positions.

Although positions in operational meteorology are available for those with only a bachelor’s degree, obtaining a second bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree enhances employment opportunities, pay, and advancement potential. A master’s degree usually is necessary for conducting applied research and development, and a Ph.D. is required for most basic research positions. Students planning on a career in research and development do not necessarily need to major in atmospheric science or meteorology as an undergraduate. In fact, a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, physics, or engineering provides excellent preparation for graduate study in atmospheric science.

Beginning atmospheric scientists often do routine data collection, computation, or analysis, and some basic forecasting. Entry-level operational meteorologists in the Federal Government usually are placed in intern positions for training and experience. During this period, they learn about the Weather Service’s forecasting equipment and procedures, and rotate to different offices to learn about various weather systems. After completing the training period, they are assigned to a permanent duty station.


The median annual salary of an Atmospheric and Space scientist is $78,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $123,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $37,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of atmospheric and space scientists are:

  • Federal Executive Branch - $87,720
  • Scientific Research and Development Services - $89,370
  • Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services - $48,260
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools - $79,250
  • Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services - $58,240

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  11%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 900
  • Employment 2006 : 8,800
  • Employment 2016:  9,700
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