Stockholm university logo, link to start page
Gå till denna sida på svenska webben

Climate and Atmospheric Circulation

The atmosphere is a complex medium with various interactions involving ocean, clouds, earth surface and has various scales. The course presents in a didactive way the theory of the formation of weather system and links energy balance and large scale circulation to climate and climate change.

Large scales, the main focus here, refer to spatial scales larger than synoptic scales (few thousands km). At those scales the atmosphere tends to be close to geostrophic balance. Waves involved in synoptic and large scales play an important role in generating instabilities and controlling storms, particularly in the midlatitudes. They also play a major role in transporting heat poleward from the subtropics.

The climate and atmospheric circulation course deals with the evolution of weather systems and storm development in the midlatitude as well as large scale circulation. These scales impact climate variability and therefore affect our life on short and long terms. An outstanding feature of the course is that it brings together a unique combination of the basic theory of quasi-geostrophy and baroclinic instability with large scale circulation and their application to climate.

The course additionally gives large-scale perspective on the climate system in terms of radiative balance and energy and momentum transport, and introduces important biogeochemical cycles; it further discussed mechanisms for natural climate variability and anthropogenically induced climate change ,as well as forcing, feedback and climate sensitivity.

The course is composed of a mixture of theory and practicals. The course has three main parts.

Part 1 (DYN, 7.5 hp) deals with the main dynamical processes controlling weather systems in the midlatitudes, namely quasi-geostrophy and baroclinic instability in addition to energy conversion. Baroclinic instability is the main mechanism responsible for the formation of midlatitude weather systems.

Part 2 (CLIM, 5.5 hp) deals with application to general circulation and introduction to Earth’s climate variability and change, including the role of ocean circulation and clouds and climate sensitivity.

Part 3 (PROJ, 2 hp)  consists of a project, where the climate of a chosen region is studied and discussed in relation to the general circulation. The practical part consists of a lab work based on a computer model on part 1.  A fun rotating tank experiment will also be shown to students, which emulates large scale Rossby waves and  midlatitude baroclininc instability.

  • Course structure

    Students with background knowledge equivalent to atmospheric physics and chemistry (MO4000), with 30 credits, can easily follow the course. The climate and atmospheric circulation course covers the theory of midlatitude atmospheric dynamics, responsible for weather systems and ends up with application to Earth’s climate.

    Part 1 of the course (Dynamics) starts with a brief description of main atmospheric waves in the midlatitudes, e.g Rossby waves, and the formation of synoptic weather systems. The course then moves on to fully present quasi-geostrophic theory and atmospheric waves. Baroclinic instability theory is then discussed along with energy conversion based on a simple two-layer model. 

    Part 2 of the course (Climate) then discusses large scale circulation cells, e.g. Hadley and Ferrel cells, and their role in transporting heat poleward. It then discusses subjects related to climate variability and change including clouds and greenhouse effect, ocean circulation and climate sensitivity.

    Part 3 of the course (Project)  is a 2hp project, which the students execute throughout the second half of the course.

    Teaching format

    The course is composed of lectures (theory), slide presentations, tutorials/exercises and laboration, as well as home assignments. The lectures cover all the theory of the formation of weather systems in the midlatitudes, large scale circulation and energy transport in the ocean and atmosphere as well as energy balance, forcing and feedback, and climate sensitivity. The lectures present and deal with results obtained from observations and/or experiments in addition to applications from climate model simulations.

    To get acquainted more with the theory, the lectures are complemented with tutorials in the form of corrected exercises and home assignments. The practical work consists of a computer lab. on modeling baroclinic instability in the midlatitudes. The labs and project are to be written up, and the project presented orally.

    Course material

    You can find further information related to the course on the course Athena-site at once you have registered for the course.


    The examination is done by a written exam covering the course content, one exam in dynamics and one exam in climate. In addition, home assignments and project work are included in the grading, and the lab report included in the evaluation. The final grade is obtained as a weighted average of the written exams (dynamics and climate), and the small project. The passing grades are A-E, and the grade of each part has to be at least 50%. No mark is given to the lab, which is graded as Pass or fail.


    Here is a link to a list of course coordinators and examiners.

  • Schedule

    The schedule will be available no later than one month before the start of the course. We do not recommend print-outs as changes can occur. At the start of the course, your department will advise where you can find your schedule during the course.

    You can search for schedules from previous years in TimeEdit, by entering the course code.

    Link to TimeEdit

  • Course literature

    Note that the course literature can be changed up to two months before the start of the course.

    J. Holton and G. Hakim , 2013: An Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology, Academic Press.
    Hartmann, D. L.: Global physical climatology, International Geophysics Series, Academic Press, 1994
    Wallace, J. M. & Hobbs, P. V.: Atmospheric Science, An Introductory Survey, 2nd edition, Academic Press, 2006.


  • More information

    Upcoming courses

    The course is given every spring semester.

  • Contact

    Study counselor