Atmospheric physics

A.Y. 2020/2021
Overall hours
Learning objectives
The course aims at introducing students to the most relevant topics of atmospheric physics. The goal is to provide them the conceptual bases to understand the most relevant radiative, thermodynamic and dynamic processes regulating the behaviour of earth's atmosphere. The course also aims at introducing students to the observation of earth's atmosphere. This goal is addressed along all the lectures and it makes wide use of meteorological information from the WEB.
Expected learning outcomes
At the end of the course, students must first understand how earth's atmosphere is monitored and which variables are used to describe it. Students must then understand the most relevant radiative, thermodynamic and dynamic processes regulating the behaviour of earth's atmosphere. Students must finally be aware that the understanding of these processes allows setting up a system of differential equations allowing to forecast the future state of earth's atmosphere starting from an initial observed state.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
Second semester
The course will be delivered entirely remotely in case of travel
restrictions due to Covid-19. In this case, the lectures will be offered
in virtual classrooms (zoom platform) in synchronous connection, with the
possibility of real-time interaction between the students and the teacher.
Course syllabus
Earth's atmosphere: characteristics and composition. Air pressure and hydrostatic equilibrium, vertical profile of air temperature. Origin and evolution of the atmosphere and its interaction with the other components of the climate system.
Foundation, evolution and current structure of the network for meteorological observations. Methods for the spatial representation of meteorological data. Meteorology charts: analysis and forecasting. Air pressure as vertical variable for the atmosphere. See level and upper air meteorology charts. Basic circulation structures and forces acting on the atmosphere. Atmospheric general circulation and main earth's climatic areas.
Interaction of Earth's atmosphere with the solar radiation. Long-wave radiation absorption and emission by surface and atmosphere. Radiative and energetic budgets. Radiative and energetic budgets for latitudinal belts. Solar radiation as energetic source for the motion of the atmosphere and the oceans. Role of atmospheric circulations in the radiative budget of latitudinal belts.
Thermodynamics of the atmosphere: pressure gradient and air density. Water vapour in the atmosphere. Ideal gas law for dry and moist air. First principle of thermodynamics applied to the atmosphere; adiabatic transformations for dry and moist air. Thermal gradient and its influence on convective motions. Evolution of the boundary layer and its influence on pollutants' dispersion. Diffusion equation. Thermodynamic nomograms.
Forces in the atmosphere and fundamental conservation laws. Hints on general circulation models for meteorological forecast.
Prerequisites for admission
The competences that are usually acquired in a three-year degree in physics are sufficient to attend the course.
Teaching methods
Teaching method consists in starting the course with introducing students to the observation of the atmosphere. This activity is developed by exploiting the meteorological information available on the web. Students are then invited to meditate on the physical mechanism driving atmospheric dynamics and thermodynamics. The main issues of atmospheric physics are then presented.
Teaching Resources
Wallace, J.M., Hobbs, P.V., 2006: Atmospheric Sciences - An introductory survey. Academic Press (second edition).
Further learning material will be uploaded on the course web site (
Assessment methods and Criteria
The final test is an oral exam of about one hour that aims at evaluating the acquired knowledge and at testing the ability of applying it to case studies concerning the main issues faced in the course. A critical approach to the studied issues will be one of the main evaluated points.
Lessons: 42 hours
Professor: Maugeri Maurizio