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Unit information: Atmospheric Processes in 2020/21

Unit name Atmospheric Processes
Unit code EASC20027
Credit points 10
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2D (weeks 19 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Nick Teanby
Open unit status Not open

Successful completion of the mandatory year 1 units of an Environmental Geoscience, Geophysics, Geology and Biology or Palaeontology and Evolution programme at Bristol.



School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


Earth's atmosphere comprises a thin layer of gravitationally bound gas and is all that separates us from the harsh environment of outer space. It is a complex system affected by many interacting physical, chemical, and biological processes. This unit investigates fundamental physical and chemical processes that determine atmospheric composition and structure, including techniques developed to measure them. It aims to provide a well rounded understanding of the key processes involved, gradually building up into a description of the complete atmosphere/climate system. It then moves on to consider the global climate system and climate change, including key ocean-atmosphere interactions and climate feedbacks. The techniques learnt will be used to explore the role of global feedback mechanisms and climate change. The course will also explore how these fundamental processes apply to other planets in our solar system.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit you will be able to:

  • Account for the overall composition and structure of the atmosphere.
  • Understand the interaction of solar radiation with the Earth's atmosphere.
  • Use simple greenhouse models to determine surface and atmospheric temperatures.
  • Understand basic photochemistry and chemical lifetimes.
  • Be aware of key global chemical cycles including the carbon cycle and processes responsible for the ozone hole.
  • Describe observation techniques used to measure atmospheric properties.
  • Understand the processes involved in cloud formation.
  • Understand the effects of ocean circulation and polar ice caps on global climate.
  • Explain the effect of various feedbacks on the climate system.
  • Describe and interpret the evidence for climate change and use simple models to evaluate the effects of these changes.
  • Apply fundamental atmospheric science principles to other solar system bodies.

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through a combination of

  • asynchronous online materials and, if subsequently possible, synchronous face-to-face lectures
  • synchronous office hours
  • asynchronous directed individual formative activities and exercises
  • guided, structured reading
  • practical work in the laboratory

Students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete practical work, or alternative activities in person, either during the academic year 2020/21 or subsequently, in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy accreditation requirements.

Assessment Details

The unit will be assessed by an end-of-unit examination, which will cover concepts covered in the lectures and practicals.

Reading and References

Most of the course material will be covered by these introductory textbooks:


  • Taylor, FW. "Elementary Climate Physics", Oxford University Press.


  • Hobbs, PV. "Introduction to Atmospheric Chemistry", Cambridge University Press.

Further reading: more in-depth treatment of various topics, and alternative explanations, can be found in:

  • Andrews, DG. "An Introduction to Atmospheric Physics", Second Ed., CUP.
  • Houghton, J. "The Physics of Atmospheres", Third Ed.,CUP.
  • Wallace, JM. and Hobbs, PV. "Atmospheric Science: an Introductory Survey", Second Ed., Academic Press.
  • Wayne, RP. "Chemistry of Atmospheres: An Introduction to the Chemistry of the Atmospheres of Earth, the Planets, and their Satellites", Third Ed., OUP.

Lecture notes and other course materials will be made available via Blackboard.