2011-2012 University Catalog 
2011-2012 University Catalog

Climate Dynamics, PhD

Banner Code:  SC-PHD-CLIM

The mission of this program is to train the next generation of scientists in climate dynamics and related fields. While there is no unambiguous definition of “climate,” climate dynamics is generally considered to encompass processes that determine the behavior of the atmosphere, land, and oceans averaged over time scales of weeks to centuries and millennia. Understanding climate variability and predictability poses difficult mathematical, computational, and observational questions that have generated increasing intellectual excitement in recent years.

Climate variability has important ramifications for society, from planning for next year’s electrical demand and forecasting agricultural production to answering complex questions involving long-term global change. While it is thought to be theoretically impossible to predict day-to-day weather more than a few weeks in advance, recent progress in predicting El Niño supports the idea that seasonal averages of temperature, rainfall, and other factors may be at least partly predictable months or even years in advance.

Climate dynamics faculty members are varied and have a blend of expertise in dynamics, statistics, and computational methods. They cover the traditional areas of atmospheric dynamics, physical and dynamical oceanography, land surface physics, and hydrology. The faculty and students involved in the program work closely with scientists at the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies (COLA).

Faculty research focuses on the areas of climate prediction and predictability, climate variability, coupled ocean-atmosphere- land dynamics, and dynamical systems and retrospective analysis. Recent research topics include predictability of weather and climate; modeling of the complex climate system; El Niño dynamics; deforestation, desertification, and monsoons; atmosphere-ocean interaction; land-climate interaction; decadal climate variability; and ocean circulation theory.

External research collaborations exist with federal agencies, private corporations, and other universities, exemplifying the commitment of COS and the university to the development of effective regional and national collaborations. The faculty is heavily involved with national and international climate science efforts, providing students with the opportunity for participation in research.

This program of study is offered by the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences in the College of Science .

Admission Requirements

Applicants should have demonstrated high aptitude for quantitative reasoning, applied mathematics, and physical science. Applicants should have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution, with a GPA of at least 3.00 in undergraduate work and a combined GRE score of 1,100 (verbal plus quantitative). To apply, prospective students should forward a completed Mason graduate application, two copies of official transcripts from each college and graduate institution attended, a current résumé, and an expanded goals statement to the COS Fairfax Campus Graduate Admissions Processing Center. Applicants should also include three letters of recommendation and an official report of scores obtained on the GRE-GEN. The GRE requirement for admission to the doctoral programs will be waived if the student holds a master’s degree from a U.S. institution. TOEFL scores are required of all international applicants who have not completed an MS degree in the United States.

Degree Requirements

Students must satisfy all requirements for doctoral degrees expressed in the Academic Policies  section of this catalog.

The program requires 72 credits beyond the baccalaureate degree, with a minimum of 48 credits in course work, and 24 credits of dissertation research. For those holding master’s degrees, the required 48 credits may be reduced by up to 30 credits, depending on graduate courses completed. The degree will be awarded on completion of the required course work and approval of a PhD thesis that makes an original and significant contribution to the field.

The 48-credit curriculum requirement is divided into four areas: 12 credits of fundamental climate science courses, 9 credits of core computational methods, 3 credits of seminar, and a minimum of 24 credits of electives. The course work is organized as follows:

Climate Seminar (3 credits):

 Taken three times:

Electives (24 credits):

  • 24 credits of electives, including up to 5 credits of independent research

Research (24 credits):

Note: No more than 24 combined credits from CLIM 998 and CLIM 999 may be applied toward satisfying doctoral degree requirements, with no more than 12 credits of CLIM 998.

Advancement to Candidacy

After completing the fundamental climate science courses, students take a two-part qualifying exam that includes core and specialty components. The core component is administered by an examination committee. After successfully completing the core component exam, students take the exam for the specialty component, which is administered by the dissertation committee that students typically form by the spring semester of their second year. Following successful completion of both parts of the qualifying exam, students present a written dissertation proposal to the committee. Students may enroll in CLIM 998 Doctoral Dissertation Proposal to complete this effort.

Doctoral Dissertation

After approval of the dissertation proposal, students are formally advanced to doctoral candidacy and produce the dissertation while taking CLIM 999. The degree will be awarded on completion of the required course work and approval of a PhD thesis that makes an original and significant contribution to the field.

Total: 72 credits