Atmospheric and Space Scientists
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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. Includes weather analysts and forecasters whose functions require the detailed knowledge of meteorology.
Undergraduate program resulting in the highest median salary ($111K): Multidisciplinary or General Science
Largest undergraduate program (44.0% of workers): Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology
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Responsibilities and activities

Atmospheric scientists typically do the following:

  • Measure temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity, wind speed, dew point, and other properties of the atmosphere
  • Use computer models that analyze data about the atmosphere (also called meteorological data)
  • Write computer programs to support their modeling efforts
  • Conduct research to improve understanding of weather phenomena
  • Generate weather graphics for users
  • Report current weather conditions
  • Prepare long- and short-term weather forecasts by using computers, mathematical models, satellites, radar, and local station data
  • Plan, organize, and participate in outreach programs aimed at educating the public about weather
  • Issue warnings to protect life and property when threatened by severe weather, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and flash floods

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 global warming and other issues. Atmospheric scientists also use graphics software to illustrate their forecasts and reports in order to advise their clients or the public.

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 closely with hydrologists and government organizations to study the impact climate change may have on water supplies and to manage water resources.

The following are 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; reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts present weather conditions and forecasts, but do not have specific training in meteorology.

Climatologists study historical weather patterns to interpret long-term weather patterns or shifts in climate by using primarily statistical methods. Global climate change is the main area of study for climatologists. Paleoclimatology is a specialization within this field. Climatologists who specialize in paleoclimatology may take samples from icebergs and other sources to gather data on the atmosphere that cover very long periods of time.

Climate scientists work on the theoretical foundations and the modeling of climate change. The nature of this work requires the use of complex mathematical models to try to forecast many months, and sometimes longer, into the future. Their studies can be used to design buildings, plan heating and cooling systems, and aid in efficient land use and agricultural production.

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 that produce 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 also 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, water transportation, shippers, farmers, utility companies, 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, that 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 to predict 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.

Some people with an atmospheric science background may become professors or postsecondary teachers.

Median salary: $99,740 annually
Half of those employed in this career earn between $72,570 and $123,930.
Context: Median Salary
How do salaries for this career compare to other jobs' salaries?
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Salary growth for atmospheric and space scientists
Is this job likely to reward you for sticking with it through pay raises and promotions? The higher a job’s “experience quotient,” the more you are likely to get as you stay there.
Experience quotient percentile
Take a minute to look at how much you might expect your salary to increase with each five years' experience, as well as how the numbers working at each age change. Does this seem to be a job for the young or the old, or could it be a career offering steady salary growth for many years?
Salary distribution
Number employed
About Atmospheric and Space Scientists
How do benefits for this career compare to other jobs? The availability of health care, especially employer provided health care, and pension plans can add significantly to the value of compensation you receive in a career. These charts compare how this career compares to other careers with regard to health care and pension plans.
Employee has health insurance
Employer is providing health insurance
Worker concerns
Some jobs are more stressful than others, and some are just plain dangerous. The following list gives the percentages of atmospheric and space scientists who report hazardous or difficult situations typically occurring at least once a week.
  • Time Pressure (85%)
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Personality and skills
Can you see yourself in the ranks of Atmospheric and Space Scientists? Here are the skills and traits that could lead to success.
Analytical skills
Atmospheric scientists must be able to focus for many hours, working with computer models and massive amounts of data to prepare analyses on their findings.
Communication skills
Atmospheric scientists need to be able to write and speak clearly so that their knowledge about the weather can be used effectively by communities and individuals.
Critical-thinking skills
Atmospheric scientists need to be able to analyze the results of their computer models and forecasts to determine the most likely outcome.
Math skills
Atmospheric scientists use calculus, statistics, and other advanced topics in mathematics to develop models used to forecast the weather. They also use mathematical calculations to study the relationship between properties of the atmosphere, such as how changes in air pressure may affect air temperature.
Education pathways to this career
Education attained by atmospheric and space scientists
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), atmospheric and space scientists typically hold a bachelor's degree.
Sometimes the typical education identified by the BLS differs a bit from the reality of the how much education current workers actually have. The donut shows the education level held by people currently working as atmospheric and space scientists as reported in responses to the American Community Survey.
Details: Education and training recommended for atmospheric and space scientists

Atmospheric scientists typically need a bachelor’s degree, either in atmospheric science or a related scientific field that specifically studies atmospheric qualities and phenomena. Bachelor’s degrees in physics, chemistry, or geology are usually adequate, alternative preparation for those who wish to enter the atmospheric sciences. 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 remote sensing of the environment, by radar or satellite, may be required.

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.

Education level of Atmospheric and Space Scientists
About 80% of atmospheric and space scientists have at least a bachelor's degree.
Education attained by atmospheric and space scientists
High School
Some College
Associate's Degree
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Professional Degree
Top college degrees
Here are the top college degrees held by the 79% of people in this job who have at least a bachelor's degree. Some of degrees may link to multiple programs due to the way Census classifies college majors. Click on a program to learn more about career opportunities for people who major in that field.
  1. Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology
  2. Physics
  3. Engineering
  4. Biology
  5. Journalism
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College majors held by atmospheric and space scientists
This table shows the college majors held by people working as atmospheric and space scientists. If you see "**" before the name of a degree/program, that means this field is one that the Department of Education believes is preparatory for this career. However, you can see from this list that those recommendations are far from your only path to this job!
Select any title to learn more about that degree
Salary comparison for bachelor's only
Career salary (tail) versus Career/Major salary (dot)
Does the bachelor's-only salary rise or fall with this major?
Salary for bachelor's-only
For people with this career and major
Middle 50%
Middle 80%
Salary for all workers
For people with this career and major
Middle 50%
Middle 80%
Education for Career and Major
Workers with this career/major
Percentage in this career with this major
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The link between degrees and this career
With the following sankey diagram, you can follow the top ten bachelor's degrees held by people working as atmospheric and space scientists, and then, in turn, you can see the 10 occupations that hire the most of each degree's graduates. We hope this provides ideas for similar jobs and similar fields of study.
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Atmospheric Sciences...PhysicsBiologyGeneral EngineeringJournalismGeographyMechanical Engineeri...CommunicationsMathematicsMass MediaAll other degreesThis jobTop 10 majors
Where are the jobs
State-by-state employment numbers
Some careers tend to be centered in specific parts of the country. For example, most jobs in fashion are in New York or California. Let's see if your dream job is easy to find in your dream location! We have a few choices for viewing the data that can help you get a full employment picture.
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Number of Atmospheric and Space Scientists per 1,000 workers (ACS)
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Job density versus job count
Which states hire the most atmospheric and space scientists? We wonder if that's a fair question since states come in all sizes, so instead let's start with the question of which states have the highest density of people working as atmospheric and space scientists. You can choose to view the number of jobs per state if you prefer.
Salaries by state
Let's get a feel for where atmospheric and space scientists earn the highest salaries. There are several choices for which data we consider and how we view that data, and each can lead to different conclusions, so please read on...
Median salary versus state ratio
We use two methods to compare salaries across states:
  • In-state comparisons: the ratio of median (middle) salaries for atmospheric and space scientists compared to the median salary for all people working in each state, or
  • Median salary: the unaltered median salaries for atmospheric and space scientists.
We hope the ratio allows perspective about how salaries may compare to the regional cost-of-living.
The darkest shading corresponds to states in which atmospheric and space scientists earn the highest salary when compared to other jobs in the state. We think this figure might be a better indicator than the actual salary for your buying power as a state resident.
Select a state to see local area details
Location-adjusted median salary for Atmospheric and Space Scientists (ACS)
5% of Atmospheric and space scientists are working part time.
We’ve found that some jobs have a huge number of part-time workers, and typically that is because they are unable to find full-time work or the job itself can’t provide full-time hours. With 5% part-time workers, this occupation has a lower percentage of part-time workers than 77% of careers.
Employer types
This donut shares the break-down of workers by employer type, giving us a picture of what employers most typically hire for this career.
Employers of undefined (ACS)
Private for-profit
Private not-for-profit
Local government
State government
Federal government
Self-employed incorporated
Self-employed not incorporated
Working without pay
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Distribution: Salaries of atmospheric and space scientists by type of employer
Here are the salary distributions based on employer type.
$71K$75K$69K$0$50,000$100,000$150,000Federal governmentPrivate for-profitAll
Atmospheric and space scientists and gender
With 20% women, this occupation has a lower percentage of women than 66% of careers.
Gender of Atmospheric and space scientists
Men (80%)
Women (20%)
Distribution: salaries by gender
Does gender greatly influence your salary in this career? The closer the bars are, the less discrepancy there is.
We only include salary data when the survey error is less than 20%, so you may see only partial information for some categories.
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Context: Women in the workforce
How does this career compare to other careers with regard to the percentage of women in the career.
Context: Salary inequity
The median (middle) salary for all full-time male workers in the US exceeds the full-time median salary for women by 19%, and the difference for atmospheric and space scientists tops that, with the median salary for men 35% higher than the median salary for women.
Race and origin of Atmospheric and space scientists
This donut shows the distribution of race and origin among those employed as Atmospheric and space scientists.
Race/origin of atmospheric and space scientists
White (85% )
Black (6% )
Multiracial (3% )
Other (3% )
Asian (2% )
American Indian (0% )
Hispanic (0% )
Pacific Islander (0% )
Distribution: salaries by race/origin
Some careers might have a pay disparity based on race or origin, the closer the below bars are the less of a discrepancy is present.
We only include salary data when the survey error is less than 20%, so you may see only partial information for some categories.