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Degrees Available at SD Mines

The Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences offers advanced undergraduate and graduate courses leading to the master of science degree in atmospheric and environmental sciences, with specializations in meteorology or earth systems science, and the doctor of philosophy degree in atmospheric and environmental sciences (AES). Faculty members in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences actively conduct research with sponsorship from various federal agencies and the State of South Dakota.

The primary objective of the atmospheric sciences program is to give students a basic understanding of the factors influencing atmospheric phenomena, including solar and terrestrial radiation, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, microphysical and electrical processes in clouds, ecology, atmospheric chemistry, and biogeochemistry.

For specific information about each degree, please follow the links below:

Atmospheric Sciences

BSIS-Atmospheric Sciences Specialization

Specialization in Atmospheric Sciences within the BS in Interdisciplinary Sciences Degree Program

Students in the bachelor of science in interdisciplinary sciences (IS) degree program may choose a specialization in atmospheric sciences. The successful student is expected to be capable of independent and critical thinking in the areas of physical, synoptic, and dynamic meteorology; remote sensing; and global atmospheric change. As such, the student should be qualified for employment where expertise in atmospheric sciences is a primary requirement, though need not necessarily qualify as a meteorologist by the federal government’s criteria. The curriculum also is suitable for preparation toward graduate study at the MS and PhD levels.

General requirements for a BS in interdisciplinary sciences are described on page 111. Required coursework for the atmospheric sciences specialization includes :

1) All courses and other curriculum requirements for the general IS degree requirement 

2) The atmospheric sciences undergraduate series: ATM 301, ATM 401, ATM 404, ATM 403, ATM 430, ATM 450, ATM 450L, ATM 455, ATM 455L, ATM 460

3) The following mathematics and science courses (which may require additional prerequisites): BIOL 311, CHEM 114, CHEM 114L, CSC 150, PHYS 213, PHYS 213L, MATH 225, MATH 321

4) Sufficient professional development electives for a total of 120 academic credit hours  

Federal Certifications as a Meteorologist:

Students in the undergraduate minor or IS programs desiring to be qualified for federal employment as meteorologists (with the National Weather Service or other federal government agencies employing meteorologists) should contact a Department of Atmospheric Sciences advisor to ensure that their plan of study meets the strictly enforced civil service requirements. The IS atmospheric sciences specialization from catalog year 2010 and onward satisfies these requirements. The basic requirements for federal civil service qualification as a meteorologist (as dictated by the United States Office of Personnel Management) are:

Degree: Meteorology, Atmospheric Sciences, or Other Natural Science Major that Includes:

A. At least 24 semester hours (36 quarters) of credit in atmospheric science/meteorology including a minimum of:

     1. Six semester hours of atmospheric dynamics and thermodynamics

     2. Six semester hours of analysis and prediction of weather systems (synoptic/mesoscale)

     3. Three semester hours of physical meteorology and

     4. Two semester hours of remote sensing of atmosphere and/or instrumentation

B. Six semester hours of physics, with at least one course that includes laboratory sessions

C. Three semester hours of ordinary differential equations

D. At least 9 semester hours of coursework appropriate for a physical science major in any combination of three or more of the following: physical hydrology, statistics, chemistry, physical oceanography, physical climatology, radiative transfer, aeronomy, advanced thermodynamics, advanced electricity and magnetism, light and optics, and computer science.

Or: Combination of education and experience - coursework as shown in A above, plus appropriate experience or additional education.

Note: At SD Mines there is a prerequisite or corequisite of calculus, physics, and differential equations for coursework in atmospheric dynamics and thermodynamics. Calculus courses must be appropriate for a physical science major.

Atmospheric sciences undergraduate curriculum scheduling: It is the student's responsibility to check with his or her advisor in the atmospheric sciences department for any course offering or other program modifications that may occur after the publication of this catalog. Most atmospheric science courses are offered only every other year. Attention must be paid to this two-year cycle in planning a program of study.


MS in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences

A student applying for admission to the master's degree program in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences should have a baccalaureate degree in meteorology or atmospheric sciences, one of the biological or physical sciences, earth system sciences, mathematics, or engineering. It is desirable for applicants to have received undergraduate credit for mathematics through Calculus 2 (for the earth systems science specialization - see below) or ordinary differential equations (for the meteorology specialization). For the meteorology specialization, undergraduate physics is required, and for the earth systems specialization undergraduate physics and chemistry are desirable. Experience with computer programming is recommended. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores from the General Test are required for all students except SDSM&T graduates. TOEFL scores are required of all applicants from colleges outside the US  

Course requirements for the MS degree

1. 15 credit hours of coursework in atmospheric sciences at the 500-level or above

2. 9 additional credit hours of non-atmospheric sciences electives at the 400-level or above (300-level non-atmospheric sciences courses can be accepted if approved by the Council on Graduate Education), or atmospheric sciences electives at the 500 level  

3. Thesis research - 6 credit hours

(Please note undergraduate credit limitations given in the current catalog under “MS Degree Requirements” for master of science degrees.)

Other program requirements

The following program requirements apply to all students in atmospheric sciences:

  • Satisfactory performance on a general coursework exam  

  • Registration in ATM 798 Graduate Research (thesis) each semester the student is receiving an assistantship

  • Registration in ATM 690 Graduate Seminar each spring semester

  • Completion of a master's thesis. The thesis must adhere to the format and content guidelines as set forth by the graduate school, and be approved by the student's graduate advisory committee and the Dean of Graduate Education 

In addition, there are requirements specific to the two ATM MS specializations. Each student will choose one of these specializations. The requirements are:

Meteorology Specialization

Students entering the program with a bachelor's degree in fields outside of atmospheric sciences or meteorology must take the following courses: ATM 450 - Synoptic Meteorology I (not for graduate credit); ATM 501 - Atmospheric Physics; ATM 555 - Synoptic Meteorology II; and ATM 560 - Atmospheric Dynamics I. Additional required coursework may be determined by student's graduate committee.

Earth System Science Specialization

All students will be required to take the following course: ATM 603 - Atmosphere-Biosphere Interactions. They also must complete at least one remote sensing course.

Program of Study

A specific plan of study will be determined on an individual basis with concurrence from the student's advisor and graduate advisory committee members. In either specialization, exceptions to these departmental requirements may be granted by the student's committee for good cause.

Elective courses offered by other departments are encouraged as long as the fifteen hours of coursework in atmospheric sciences at the 500-level or above are completed as outlined in “Course requirements for MS degree.” Graduate students may take electives in the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, engineering, engineering management, social sciences, or the humanities to further integrate their coursework in the atmospheric sciences with knowledge in other technical fields and with the general concerns of society.

A student may choose the meteorology specialization with the intent to qualify for employment in the federal civil service as a meteorologist. Specific course distribution requirements to do so are listed in the current catalog within the general description of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences. Students in either specialization may pursue an MS degree in atmospheric and environmental sciences without satisfying these requirements and be qualified for careers in many non-federal and/or non-meteorological careers. Examples of such career options include research in and applications of remote sensing techniques; work in air quality either for non-federal government agencies, industry or the consulting firms industries often employ; research and applications in the environmental sciences with an emphasis on atmospheric issues; and further graduate work in atmospheric or environmental sciences.

Undergraduate students at the School of Mines may decrease the time required to obtain a master of science degree in atmospheric and environmental sciences by taking as electives the preparatory undergraduate and entry-level graduate courses available to them or by completing the bachelor of science in interdisciplinary sciences program with a specialization in atmospheric sciences. They may then enter the graduate program with the necessary background for graduate study in atmospheric sciences as above.

Facilities and Resources

Students typically work directly with faculty on externally-funded research projects. Graduate research assistantships associated with these projects are available, providing part-time employment for students during the academic months and possible full-time employment during the summer. Departmental facilities and resources are utilized in these research efforts. These facilities include various meteorological instrument platforms and packages including several automated surface weather stations and laser optical disdrometers. Sophisticated computer facilities are available on campus or can be accessed elsewhere for research purposes.

Faculty Research

Current research projects include applications of weather radar data to rainfall measurements and remote inference of cloud microphysical characteristics; numerical modeling of clouds ranging in size from small cumulus to severe storms including storm electrification, lightning, and lightning-influenced atmospheric chemistry; field investigations of thunderstorms; analysis of field observations and numerical simulations of complex surface ecosystems; land-surface hydrology; satellite remote sensing; land-surface/atmosphere exchange processes; fire weather prediction and modeling; biogeochemical cycling; and carbon sequestration and ecological modeling. In addition, the department's faculty are currently involved in activities to disseminate scientific knowledge to wider audiences and enhance scientific literacy and educational opportunities.

PhD in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences

Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences Interdisciplinary PhD Graduate Program

In addition to the MS program in atmospheric sciences, the atmospheric sciences department participates in the atmospheric and environmental sciences (AES) PhD program. Faculty in several departments are involved in delivering the program, including civil and environmental engineering, geology and geological engineering, and atmospheric sciences. Degree candidates are expected to complete courses in a broad range of topics selected from these disciplines.  

Program Requirements:

Degree candidates in AES are expected to complete an approved multidisciplinary program of coursework and also perform original research in a focused area. A minimum total of 80 credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree is required. 

Students entering the AES program with a previous MS degree in a relevant discipline are allowed to apply a maximum of 24 course credit hours in an appropriate field toward the course credit requirement and 6 thesis research credits toward the research-credit requirement. There is no language requirement in the AES program. However, all AES students are expected to be proficient in speaking, understanding, and writing the English language. Graduate students who are enrolled full time in the AES program should be able to complete their degree requirements and graduate within three to four years starting with a master’s degree, and four to five years starting from a bachelor’s degree. The time required to complete the degree will vary depending on the transfer of previously earned credits, coursework recommendations specified by the student’s committee, and individual research requirements.



Requirements Credit Hours
MS academic core (24 credits) and research (6 cr) 30
Required academic courses 10
Elective academic courses 13
Research credits 27
Total required for the degree 80
The required academic courses include the following (please see the current catalog for a full description of the course):  

 AES 790 Seminar  

AES 792 Topics (Interdisciplinary Problems)
AES 808 Fundamental Problems in Engineering and Science 

Department Electives in Measuring/Modeling of Earth Systems

Students must complete at least one course in measuring and/or modeling techniques, to be selected by the student’s committee. An array of courses are offered at the School of Mines to fulfill this 3-credit elective course requirement. The courses are offered by the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Geology and Geological Engineering, Atmospheric Sciences, Chemistry, Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Mathematics and Computer Sciences, and by other departments on campus as well. Potential elective courses are listed in the current catalog as examples, but are not intended to limit a student or the committee as they construct an individual program. 

Student progress and mastery will be measured using the usual instruments in a doctoral program. A written or oral qualifying exam is used to assess the student’s mastery of the MS coursework. A comprehensive exam is given to evaluate the student’s ability to formulate a research problem based on substantive literature review, and to test the student’s knowledge in the area of specialty. It is given in two parts: (1) a written examination consisting of a review paper in the student’s field of study and a research proposal; and (2) an oral examination to evaluate the research proposal and verify the student’s understanding of the basic sciences and specialized field of study. The dissertation forms the final test of the student’s ability to perform and communicate research. The student must prepare a doctoral dissertation and successfully complete a public defense covering the scientific validity of the work, as well as the student’s basic and specialized knowledge in the field of study. 

Management of the AES Program:

The AES program is managed by the Graduate Office. A program consisting of 3-5 faculty representing different disciplines oversees the program, including setting policies and reviewing the curriculum. The program committee will also take measures to facilitate interaction by all faculty and students participating in the program. A program coordinator heads the program committee, and provides oversight of student affairs, including meeting with new and existing students, tracking student progress, and conducting orientations for new students. 

The preceding committee is distinct from the graduate student advisory committees that provide guidance to individual AES students during the course of their academic studies. The graduate student’s major professor serves as the head of this advisory committee.