Doctor of Philosophy in Atmospheric Science (PhD)
Atmospheric scientists use principles of classical physics to study, explain, and predict atmospheric behavior on scales ranging from turbulent eddies through storm clouds to earth’s global circulation. We are motivated by weather-related big societal issues including climate change, air quality, and renewable energy. Important tools include big data (statistics, machine learning, scientific programming), geographic information systems and remote sensing. Our methods include lab experiments, field experiments, numerical weather prediction, and climate simulation. We support our grad students with government grants for pure research, with industry contracts for tailored meteorological applications, and with teaching assistantships. The UBC atmospheric science (ATSC) program is interdisciplinary, with professors in the departments of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science; Geography; Chemistry; Mathematics; Soil Science; and Mechanical Engineering. Internationally recognized textbooks written by ATSC professors over the past four decades’ span topics from the atmospheric boundary layer and urban climates to practical meteorology.
What makes the program unique?
The Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at UBC, one of the largest geoscience groups in Canada is composed of over 40 full-time faculty, a staff complement of 30, a total of 40 research associates and postdoctoral fellows.
We engage in fundamental research in atmospheric science, both independently and in co-operation with federal and provincial laboratories and other research groups around the world. The emphasis of the research is on studies of processes and developing physical understanding of the atmosphere. The research commonly involves field or laboratory measurement and observation; data analysis and interpretation; and numerical model construction, modification and validation.
The group is well equipped for research on most characteristics of the atmospheric boundary layer. In addition to conventional meteorological instruments, there are systems for sensing all component fluxes of the radiation and energy budgets, eddy correlation systems for turbulent heat fluxes; two 30 m towers, one fixed and one mobile; mini-sonde, two tethersondes and ozone sondes, and acoustic radar for probing boundary layer structure; and a portable network of ten independently logged anemometers and thermometers. The group is well supplied with analogue and digital data logging systems, micro-computers and facilities for digital image analysis. It also operates its own vehicles.
For computer modelling, there is a "Monster" IBM Linux cluster with 264 processors + 8 itanium processors. There are also two smaller Beowulf clusters, and numerous workstations.
Contact the program
Meet a UBC representative
Reaching Out Strategies: Approaching letter writers and potential supervisorsDate: Thursday, 22 October 2020
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Admission Information & Requirements
1) Check Eligibility
Minimum Academic Requirements
The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies establishes the minimum admission requirements common to all applicants, usually a minimum overall average in the B+ range (76% at UBC). The graduate program that you are applying to may have additional requirements. Please review the specific requirements for applicants with credentials from institutions in:
Each program may set higher academic minimum requirements. Please review the program website carefully to understand the program requirements. Meeting the minimum requirements does not guarantee admission as it is a competitive process.
English Language Test
Applicants from a university outside Canada in which English is not the primary language of instruction must provide results of an English language proficiency examination as part of their application. Tests must have been taken within the last 24 months at the time of submission of your application.
Minimum requirements for the two most common English language proficiency tests to apply to this program are listed below:
TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language - internet-based
Overall score requirement: 100
IELTS: International English Language Testing System
Overall score requirement: 7.0
Other Test Scores
Some programs require additional test scores such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Test (GMAT). The requirements for this program are:
The GRE is optional.
Prior degree, course and other requirements
Prior Degree Requirements
Qualified students with Masters degrees in any STEM field are encouraged to apply for the ATSC PhD program. Some Bachelor’s students in any STEM field choose to come to UBC to first work on an ATSC Masters degree — completing it before moving into the PhD program. However, for qualified STEM Bachelors students who know they want to enter the PhD program, the normal method is to enter the Masters program first, and after the first year of mostly course work with high grades and recommendation from their supervisory committee, they transfer into the PhD program without finishing a Masters degree. We encourage grad applicants from a wide variety of scientific, math, statistics, and engineering backgrounds. Applicants to not need a Bachelors or Masters degree in meteorology or atmospheric science. For example, current grad students have university degrees in physics, mathematics, physical geography, engineering, chemistry, computer science, and many other fields.
Strong physics, math, and computational background is desired.
2) Meet Deadlines
September 2021 Intake
Application Open Date01 October 2020
January 2022 Intake
Application Open Date01 April 2022
September 2022 Intake
Application Open Date01 October 2021
3) Prepare Application
Letters of Reference
A minimum of three references are required for application to graduate programs at UBC. References should be requested from individuals who are prepared to provide a report on your academic ability and qualifications.
Statement of Interest
Many programs require a statement of interest, sometimes called a "statement of intent", "description of research interests" or something similar.
Students in research-based programs usually require a faculty member to function as their supervisor. Please follow the instructions provided by each program whether applicants should contact faculty members.
Instructions regarding supervisor contact for Doctor of Philosophy in Atmospheric Science (PhD)
Permanent Residents of Canada must provide a clear photocopy of both sides of the Permanent Resident card.
4) Apply Online
All applicants must complete an online application form and pay the application fee to be considered for admission to UBC.
Research areas include weather-related natural disasters (forest fires and smoke, avalanches, floods), air pollution and atmospheric chemistry, micrometeorology (turbulent transport of heat, moisture, momentum and how they relate to forests and crops), cloud and aerosol physics, atmospheric radiation and remote sensing, fluid dynamics, climate dynamics and climate change, glaciology, atmosphere-ocean interactions, urban meteorology, transportation meteorology (roads, shipping, railroads), numerical weather prediction, artificial neural networks, big data, and much more.
In 2012 a new Earth Sciences Building was completed. The $75 million facility was designed to inspire collaboration and creativity across disciplines. We have extensive lab facilities in the Chemistry, Soil Science, and Geography buildings, and have access to wind tunnels in Engineering. We deploy instruments for field work in forests, cropland, cities, glaciers, and oceans around the world. We have extensive cluster-computing facilities in our own departments, as well as high-performance computing facilities both at UBC and at large computing centers across Canada. We are increasingly using cloud computing for near-infinite processing power and data storage. In addition, software licenses paid by UBC covers powerful desktop data analysis, programming, and visualization apps.
Tuition & Financial Support
|Fees||Canadian Citizen / Permanent Resident / Refugee / Diplomat||International|
|Installments per year||3||3|
|Tuition per installment||$1,698.56||$2,984.09|
|Tuition per year|
(plus annual increase, usually 2%-5%)
|Int. Tuition Award (ITA) per year (if eligible)||$3,200.00 (-)|
|Other Fees and Costs|
|Student Fees (yearly)||$969.17 (approx.)|
|Costs of living (yearly)||starting at $17,242.00 (check cost calculator)|
All fees for the year are subject to adjustment and UBC reserves the right to change any fees without notice at any time, including tuition and student fees. Tuition fees are reviewed annually by the UBC Board of Governors. In recent years, tuition increases have been 2% for continuing domestic students and between 2% and 5% for continuing international students. New students may see higher increases in tuition. Admitted students who defer their admission are subject to the potentially higher tuition fees for incoming students effective at the later program start date. In case of a discrepancy between this webpage and the UBC Calendar, the UBC Calendar entry will be held to be correct.
Applicants to UBC have access to a variety of funding options, including merit-based (i.e. based on your academic performance) and need-based (i.e. based on your financial situation) opportunities.
Program Funding Packages
PhD students are guaranteed a minimum of salary of CAN$ 25,000.00 (plus tuition) per year for the first four years, which can consist of research assistantships (RAs) to help professors with their grants and contracts, teaching assistantships (TAs) to help teach courses and labs and grade assignments, scholarships and prizes, and combinations of all the above.
Scholarships & awards (merit-based funding)
All applicants are encouraged to review the awards listing to identify potential opportunities to fund their graduate education. The database lists merit-based scholarships and awards and allows for filtering by various criteria, such as domestic vs. international or degree level.
Teaching Assistantships (GTA)
Graduate programs may have Teaching Assistantships available for registered full-time graduate students. Full teaching assistantships involve 12 hours work per week in preparation, lecturing, or laboratory instruction although many graduate programs offer partial TA appointments at less than 12 hours per week. Teaching assistantship rates are set by collective bargaining between the University and the Teaching Assistants' Union.
Research Assistantships (GRA)
Many professors are able to provide Research Assistantships (GRA) from their research grants to support full-time graduate students studying under their direction. The duties usually constitute part of the student's graduate degree requirements. A Graduate Research Assistantship is a form of financial support for a period of graduate study and is, therefore, not covered by a collective agreement. Unlike other forms of fellowship support for graduate students, the amount of a GRA is neither fixed nor subject to a university-wide formula. The stipend amounts vary widely, and are dependent on the field of study and the type of research grant from which the assistantship is being funded. Some research projects also require targeted research assistance and thus hire graduate students on an hourly basis.
Financial aid (need-based funding)
Canadian and US applicants may qualify for governmental loans to finance their studies. Please review eligibility and types of loans.
All students may be able to access private sector or bank loans.
Foreign government scholarships
Many foreign governments provide support to their citizens in pursuing education abroad. International applicants should check the various governmental resources in their home country, such as the Department of Education, for available scholarships.
Working while studying
The possibility to pursue work to supplement income may depend on the demands the program has on students. It should be carefully weighed if work leads to prolonged program durations or whether work placements can be meaningfully embedded into a program.
Tax credits and RRSP withdrawals
Canadian residents with RRSP accounts may be able to use the Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP) which allows students to withdraw amounts from their registered retirement savings plan (RRSPs) to finance full-time training or education for themselves or their partner.
Please review Filing taxes in Canada on the student services website for more information.
Applicants have access to the cost calculator to develop a financial plan that takes into account various income sources and expenses.
12 students graduated between 2005 and 2013: 1 graduate is seeking employment; for 3 we have no data (based on research conducted between Feb-May 2016). For the remaining 8 graduates:
Sample Employers in Higher EducationUniversity of British Columbia
University of Calgary
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
Sample Employers Outside Higher EducationNorwegian Meteorological Institute
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
RWDI AIR Inc.
Environment and Climate Change Canada
Sample Job Titles Outside Higher EducationResearcher
Science Deputy Director
PhD Career Outcome SurveyYou may view the full report on career outcomes of UBC PhD graduates on outcomes.grad.ubc.ca.
DisclaimerThese data represent historical employment information and do not guarantee future employment prospects for graduates of this program. They are for informational purposes only. Data were collected through either alumni surveys or internet research.
Enrolment, Duration & Other Stats
These statistics show data for the Doctor of Philosophy in Atmospheric Science (PhD). Data are separated for each degree program combination. You may view data for other degree options in the respective program profile.
This list shows faculty members with full supervisory privileges who are affiliated with this program. It is not a comprehensive list of all potential supervisors as faculty from other programs or faculty members without full supervisory privileges can request approvals to supervise graduate students in this program.
Allen, Susan Elizabeth (Oceans and Inland Waters; Prediction and Climatic Modeling; physical oceanography; coastal oceanography; forecast models; coupled bio-physics and chem-physics and all three models)
Austin, Philip (global climate; climate change; greenhouse effect; global warming; clouds; lightning; storms, Cloud physics, radiative properties of layer clouds, status cirrus formation, global climate, cloug aerosol feedbacks and climate)
Balmforth, Neil (Fluid mechanics, nonlinear dynamics and applied partial differential equations)
Bertram, Allan (Atmosphere (Including Chemical Aspects); Physical and analytical chemistry of atmospheric aerosols)
Black, Thomas Andrew (Biometeorology; Soil physics; Microclimate modification)
Donner, Simon (Climate Changes and Impacts; Prediction and Climatic Modeling; Marine Environment; Climate change science; Climate policy; Science communication; Coastal Ecosystems)
Giang, Amanda (Atmospheric Pollutants; Climate Changes and Impacts; Chemical Pollutants; Social and Cultural Factors of Environmental Protection; Public Policies)
Knox, Sara (Ecological and Ecophysiological Processes; Ecosystem (Aquatic and Terrestrial); Climate Changes and Impacts; Atmosphere (Including Chemical Aspects); Micrometeorology; Biogeochemistry; Hydrology; Ecology; climate change)
McKendry, Ian (Air pollution Climatology)
Pawlowicz, Richard (Oceans and Inland Waters; ocean physics; properties of seawater; geophysical fluid dynamics; Nonlinear waves)
Radic, Valentina (Climate Changes and Impacts; Glaciology; Meteorology; Climate Science)
Stull, Roland (Meteorology and weather; weather; Meteorology; atmospheric science; numerical weather prediction; clean energy meteorology; storms; transportation weather; forest fire weather; weather disasters; atmospheric boundary layers; aviation meteorology)
Waterman, Stephanie (Ocean dynamics, Scale interactions, Oceanic processes, Arctic oceanography, Southern ocean dynamics, Western boundary current jets, Geophysical fluid dynamics, jets, eddies & scale interactions)
Zimmerman, Naomi (development and application of real-world-based tools to quickly and quantitatively assess the impact of our policy and technology decisions on air pollution and climate outcomes, and to use the knowledge gained to support better environmental policy planning; air quality)
|2019||Dr. Ivo Odon completed his research in the field of Atmospheric Sciences. He investigated the behaviour of extreme weather events across BC, and the impacts of climate change on such events. The results of his dissertation are being used by BC Hydro so they can better prepare for peaks in electricity demand and power outages.|
|2019||The ongoing loss of mountain glaciers influences sea level rise and the supply of freshwater to communities and ecosystems. Through observations in the mountains of British Columbia, Dr. Fitzpatrick examined the atmospheric conditions affecting melt rates, and developed methods to better understand the response of glaciers in a changing climate.|
|2017||Dr. Siuta improved wind forecasts in complex terrain through selective model configuration. His work will allow energy planners to trust wind power forecasts, allow for better integration of wind energy into electric grids, and save consumers money. He also improved the representation of wind profiles on mountain tops.|
|2016||Dr. Lima studied the application of machine learning algorithms in environmental sciences. He used artificial neural networks to forecast streamflow, precipitation, and surface air temperature. His research advances the use of model output statistics and extends predictions to variables not computed by the current numerical weather prediction model.|
|2016||Dr. Cottle developed a novel algorithm for using single-wavelength, dual polarization, LIDAR to identify aerosol and cloud types. He then employed this algorithm to study multiple instances of medium and long range aerosol transport events.|
|2014||Dr. Gaitan-Ospina's work in climatology used different techniques to statistically refine future projections of temperature, precipitation and wind speed in the Canadian Global Climate Model. The results show that nonlinear methods are preferred over linear ones. These findings benefit engineers, biologists, land and forest managers and policy-makers.|
|2014||Dr. Wong created a computational method to increase the accuracy and efficiency of weather forecast models. Her method ensures that amounts of key atmospheric chemicals are properly conserved when carried by complicated wind patterns. This is especially important for air pollution and global climate prediction.|
|2014||Dr. Emmel examined the turbulent exchange of CO2, water and energy in a forest killed by mountain pine beetles. She found that immature living vegetation took up more CO2 than was released by the mainly dead forest. She showed that forest management to retain the living vegetation could be an appropriate response from a carbon perspective.|
|2013||Dr. Bourdin studied the way in which water flow into hydroelectric reservoirs is predicted by different forecast models. She showed that better flow forecasts are obtained through model combination. The economic risk in hydroelectric resource management can be reduced by combining many diverse models, which translates into more affordable electricity.|
|2013||Dr. Howard developed the first snowpack model for groomed ski runs, to forecast snow conditions for alpine ski racing. Her model captured the effects of snow crushing by skiers and snowcats, and included heat radiated from trees. She successfully simulated snow conditions for the 2010 Winter Olympics at Whistler.|
Sample Thesis Submissions
Further Program Information
Atmospheric Science at UBC offers these areas of graduate research:
- boundary layers and micrometeorology, including turbulence, urban meteorology, and mountain meteorology
- numerical weather prediction for transportation, weather disasters, and clean energy (hydro, wind, solar)
- air pollution, pollutant transport and dispersion, and atmospheric chemistry
- climate, including climatology, climate variability and prediction, earth system modelling, climate change, glaciers
- satellite remote sensing, cloud microphysics, aerosols
- ocean-atmosphere interactions, ocean dynamics
- biometeorology, including agricultural and forest meteorology, trace gas exchange, carbon cycling, vegetation water use
- geophysical fluid dynamics
- machine-learning tools including artificial neural networks, gene-expression programming