Climate Scientists, or Climatologists, are scientists who primarily study global climate change, past and future. The Climate Scientists who work for the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville NC, maintain the world's largest climate data archive. The NCDC, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, provides climatological services and data to every sector of the United States economy and to users worldwide. Records in the archive range from paleoclimatology data to centuries-old journals to data less than an hour old. The Center's mission is to preserve these data and make them available to the public, business, industry, government, and researchers.
Climate scientists are climate change specialists who are part of a larger group called Atmospheric Scientists.
Atmospheric scientists study the weather and climate and how it affects human activity and the earth in general. They may develop forecasts, collect and compile data from the field, assist in the development of new data collection instruments, or advise clients on risks or opportunities caused by weather events and climate change.
Atmospheric scientists typically do the following:
Atmospheric scientists use highly developed instruments and computer programs to do their jobs. For example, they use weather balloons, radar systems, and satellites to monitor the weather and collect data. The data they collect and analyze are critical to understanding air pollution, drought, changes in the ozone layer, long-term changes in the climate, and other issues. Atmospheric scientists also use graphics software to illustrate their forecasts and reports to better advise their clients or the public.
Climate Scientists use GIS software to visualize and analyze interrelated layers of geospatial data (information about a place represented by points, lines, polygons, and images). They employ spatial thinking processes to better understand the climate and world around them through maps, models, and applications that use real-time, 3-dimentional, or senor-based data.
Many atmospheric scientists work with other geoscientists or even social scientists to help solve problems in areas such as commerce, energy, transportation, agriculture, and the environment. For example, some atmospheric scientists work on teams with engineers and geologists to find the best locations for new wind farms, which are groups of wind turbines used to generate electricity. Others work closely with hydrologists and politicians to study the impact climate change may have on water supplies and to manage water resources.
The following are more examples of types of atmospheric scientists:
Atmospheric chemists study atmospheric components, reactions, measurement techniques, and processes. They study climates and gases, chemical reactions that occur in clouds, and ultraviolet radiation.
Atmospheric physicists and dynamists study the physical movements and interactions that occur in the atmosphere. They may study how terrain affects weather and causes turbulence, how solar phenomena affect satellite communications and navigation, or they may study the causes and effects of lightning.
Broadcast meteorologists give forecasts to the general public through television, radio, and the Internet. They use graphics software to develop maps and charts that explain their forecasts. Not all weather broadcasters seen on television are meteorologists or atmospheric scientists. For more information on broadcasters who do not have specific training in meteorology, but present weather conditions and forecasts, see the profile on reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts.
Forensic meteorologists use historical weather data to reconstruct the weather conditions for a specific location and time. They investigate what role weather played in unusual events such as traffic accidents and fires. Forensic meteorologists may be called as experts to testify in court.
Research meteorologists develop new methods of data collection, observation, and forecasting. They also conduct studies to improve basic understandings of climate, weather, and other aspects of the atmosphere. For example, some research meteorologists study severe weather patterns, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, to understand why cyclones form and to develop better ways of predicting them. Others focus on environmental problems, such as air pollution. Research meteorologists often work with scientists in other fields. For example, they may work with computer scientists to develop new forecasting software or with oceanographers to study interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere. They may work with engineers to develop new instruments so that they can collect the data they need.
Weather forecasters use computer and mathematical models to produce weather reports and short-term forecasts that can range from a few minutes to more than a week. They develop forecasts for the general public and for specific customers such as airports, farmers, utilities, insurance companies, and other businesses. For example, they may provide forecasts to power suppliers so that the suppliers can plan for events, such as heat waves, which would cause a change in electricity demand. They also issue advanced warnings for potentially severe weather such as blizzards and hurricanes. Some forecasters prepare long-range outlooks, predicting whether temperatures and precipitation levels will be above or below average in a particular month or season. These workers become familiar with general weather patterns, atmospheric predictability, precipitation, and forecasting techniques.
Information is provided by NOAA and the Occupational Outlook Handbook
Atmospheric scientists typically need a bachelor's degree, either in atmospheric science or a related scientific field that specifically studies atmospheric qualities and phenomena. A bachelor's degree in physics, chemistry, or geology may be adequate alternate majors for those who wish to enter the atmospheric sciences. Many schools offer atmospheric science courses through other departments, such as physics and geosciences. Prospective meteorologists usually take courses outside of the typical atmospheric sciences field.
Course requirements, in addition to courses in meteorology and atmospheric science, usually include advanced courses in physics and mathematics. Classes in computer programming are important because many atmospheric scientists have to write and edit the computer software programs that produce forecasts.Coursework in Geographic Information Systems allows Climate Scientists to understand and create powerful maps and models of data, enhancing skills in cartography, database design, and data visualization. Coursework in communications is also becoming important as organizations are becoming more focused on making their data useful and educating their communities and the nation.
Courses should be taken in subjects that are relevant to their desired area of specialization. For example, those who wish to become broadcast meteorologists for radio or television stations may take courses in speech, journalism, or related fields.
Atmospheric scientists who work in research must at least have a master's degree, but will usually need a Ph.D. in atmospheric science or a related field. Most graduate programs do not require prospective students to have a bachelor's degree in atmospheric science. A bachelor's degree in mathematics, physics, or engineering is excellent preparation for graduate study in atmospheric science. In addition to advanced meteorological coursework, graduate students take courses in other disciplines, such as oceanography and geophysics.
Climate scientists or climatologists can be categorized as atmospheric scientists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay of atmospheric scientists in 2017 was $92,070 per year, or $44.27 per hour. Pay can vary greatly for atmospheric scientists according to the industries in which they are employed and the levels of experience that they have. The median wage earned by atmospheric scientists employed at colleges, universities and professional schools is $72,810, while the median wage earned by atmospheric scientists employed by the government is $102,970. On the low end, atmospheric scientists make less than $50,180, and on the high end, they make more than $138,250.