Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

Academic Year 2023 – 2024

General Information

Sayre Hall, Forrestal Campus

Program Offerings:

  • Ph.D.

Affiliated departments:

Director of Graduate Studies:

Graduate Program Administrator:


The Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) offers graduate study under the sponsorship of the Department of Geosciences. The Princeton AOS graduate program emphasizes theoretical studies and numerical model studies of the global climate system.

With its activities in physical and chemical oceanography, paleoclimatology, and atmospheric sciences, the AOS Program provides a comprehensive program of courses and seminars. The AOS program benefits from access to the research capabilities of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Many GFDL scientists are active in the AOS program as lecturers, and students in the program have access to major supercomputer resources within GDFL for their research. The AOS program sponsored by the Department of Geosciences collaborates with GDFL.

The flexible graduate program offers students opportunities for research and courses in a wide range of disciplines, including geophysical fluid dynamics, atmospheric physics, atmospheric chemistry, biogeochemistry of the land and ocean, atmospheric modeling, ocean modeling, atmosphere ocean dynamics, climate dynamics, coupled air-sea interactions, global climate change, and paleo-climate. Students can explore climate- and air pollution-related policy through the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP) Program at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and the Princeton High Meadows Environmental Institute.


Application deadline
January 3, 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (This deadline is for applications for enrollment beginning in fall 2024)
Program length
4 years
General Test - optional/not required

Program Offerings

Program Offering: Ph.D.


Upon entering the program, students are guided by their adviser or the graduate work committee until they select an adviser from the program faculty. The plan of study is flexible and tailored to the needs of the individual. During the first two years, the program concentrates on coursework and independent preparation for the general examination. To prepare to complete the general examination in the second year, students must take a minimum of eight graduate-level courses (with a minimum passing grade B- in each), with at least six out of these eight being AOS courses. 

General exam

The general examination is normally administered in the spring of the second year. It consists of a written report and an oral presentation of the research project. The purpose of the report and the one-hour-long research seminar is to demonstrate the student’s ability to work independently and analyze a research problem.

Qualifying for the M.A.

The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy. It is earned after a student successfully completes the minimum requirements for courses, and passes the general examination. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that these requirements have been met.


Students are encouraged to gain teaching experience by serving as assistants in instruction (AI) for one or two semesters during their time at Princeton. However, it is not a program requirement. Students typically teach in the third and fourth years in the program after completing the general examination. 

Dissertation and FPO

When students pass the general examination, they then pursue research for the Ph.D. thesis. This may or may not be a continuation of the research used as the basis for a student's general examination seminar. Students who enter the program with a background in atmospheric and oceanic sciences are encouraged to finish their dissertation at the end of their fourth year in the program. The dissertation must show that a candidate has technical mastery in the chosen field and is capable of independent research. The dissertation is expected to be a positive contribution that is of publishable quality.  Each dissertation must be approved by the student's faculty adviser (1st reader) and a second faculty member (2nd reader). Students defend their dissertation at the final public oral examination. The final public oral examination is a broad examination in the field of study.  The final acceptance of the dissertation is conditional on passing this examination.


  • Director

    • Stephan A. Fueglistaler
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Rong Zhang
  • Executive Committee

    • Leo Donner, Geosciences
    • Stephen T. Garner, Geosciences
    • Stephen M. Griffies, Geosciences
    • Robert W. Hallberg, Geosciences
    • Larry W. Horowitz, Geosciences
    • Venkatachalam Ramaswamy, Geosciences
    • Laure Resplandy, Geosciences
    • Gabriel A. Vecchi, Geosciences
    • Rong Zhang, Geosciences
  • Associated Faculty

    • Curtis A. Deutsch, Geosciences
    • Denise L. Mauzerall, Schl of Public & Int'l Affairs
    • Michael Oppenheimer, Schl of Public & Int'l Affairs
    • Stephen Pacala, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
    • James Smith, Civil and Environmental Eng
    • Mark A. Zondlo, Civil and Environmental Eng
    • Elie R. Bou-Zeid, Civil and Environmental Eng

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.

Permanent Courses

Courses listed below are graduate-level courses that have been approved by the program’s faculty as well as the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School as permanent course offerings. Permanent courses may be offered by the department or program on an ongoing basis, depending on curricular needs, scheduling requirements, and student interest. Not listed below are undergraduate courses and one-time-only graduate courses, which may be found for a specific term through the Registrar’s website. Also not listed are graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students.

AOS 527 - Atmospheric Radiative Transfer (also GEO 527)

The structure and composition of terrestrial atmospheres. The fundamental aspects of electromagnetic radiation, absorption and emission by atmospheric gases, optical extinction by particles, the roles of atmospheric species in the Earth's radiative energy balance, the perturbation of climate due to natural and anthropogenic causes, and satellite observations of climate systems are also studied.

AOS 537 - Atmospheric Chemistry (also GEO 537)

Natural gas phase and heterogeneous chemistry in the troposphere and stratosphere, with a focus on elementary chemical kinetics; photolysis processes; oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen chemistry; transport of atmospheric trace species; tropospheric hydrocarbon chemistry and stratospheric halogen chemistry; stratospheric ozone destruction; local and regional air pollution, and chemistry-climate interactions are studied.

AOS 547 - Atmospheric Thermodynamics and Convection

The thermodynamics of water-air systems. The course gives an overview of atmospheric energy sources and sinks. Planetary boundary layers, closure theories for atmospheric turbulence, cumulus convection, interactions between cumulus convection and large-scale atmospheric flows, cloud-convection-radiation interactions and their role in the climate system, and parameterization of boundary layers and convection in atmospheric general circulation models are also studied.

AOS 551 - Deep Learning in Geophysical Fluid Dynamics

Course provides a survey of the rapidly growing field of physics-informed deep learning, which integrates known physics principles with neural networks to predict the behavior of a physical system. It both introduces the background knowledge required to implement physics-informed deep learning and provides practical in-class coding exercises. Students gain experience applying this emerging method to their own research interests, including topics in geophysical fluid dynamics (atmospheric, oceanic or ice dynamics) or other nonlinear systems where the same technique applies. Students develop individual projects throughout the semester.

AOS 571 - Introduction to Geophysical Fluid Dynamics

Physical principles fundamental to the theoretical, observational, and experimental study of the atmosphere and oceans; the equations of motion for rotating fluids; hydrostatic and Boussinesq approximations; circulation theorem; and conservation of potential vorticity; scale analysis, geostrophic wind, thermal wind, quasigeostrophic system; and geophysical boundary layers.

AOS 572 - Atmospheric and Oceanic Wave Dynamics

Observational evidence of atmospheric and oceanic waves; laboratory simulation. Surface and internal gravity waves; dispersion characteristics; kinetic energy spectrum; critical layer; forced resonance; and instabilities. Planetary waves: scale analysis; physical description of planetary wave propagation; reflections; normal modes in a closed basin. Large-scale baroclinic and barotropic instabilities, Eady and Charney models for baroclinic instability, and energy transfer.

AOS 573 - Physical Oceanography

Response of the ocean to transient and steady winds and buoyancy forcing. A hierarchy of models from simple analytical to realistic numerical models is used to study the role of the waves, convection, instabilities, and other physical processes in the circulation of the oceans.

AOS 575 - Numerical Prediction of the Atmosphere and Ocean

Barotropic and multilevel dynamic models; coordinate systems and boundary conditions; finite difference equations and their energetics; spectral methods; water vapor and its condensation processes; orography, cumulus convection, subgrid-scale transfer, and boundary layer processes; meteorological and oceanographic data assimilation; dynamic initialization; verification and predictability; and probabilistic forecasts.

AOS 576 - Current Topics in Dynamic Meteorology (also APC 576)

An introduction to topics of current interest in the dynamics of large-scale atmospheric flow. Possible topics include wave-mean flow interaction and nonacceleration theorems, critical levels, quasigeostrophic instabilities, topographically and thermally forced stationary waves, theories for stratospheric sudden warmings and the quasi-biennial oscillation of the equatorial stratosphere, and quasi-geostrophic turbulence.

AOS 578 - Ocean Dynamics and Ecosystems (also GEO 578)

The chemical composition of the oceans and the nature of the physical and chemical processes governing this composition in the past and the present. The cycles of major and minor oceanic constituents, including interactions with the biosphere, and at the ocean-atmosphere and ocean-sediment interfaces.

AOS 580 - Graduate Seminar in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (also GEO 580)

Each week, students read one research paper and discuss with faculty. The instructor provides additional information such as the historical context, motivation of research, and impact on the field. The papers selected differ from year to year, with a semester's papers organized around either: a collection of "great papers" that are seminal in the field of AOS; a collection of recent high impact papers; and papers discussing a specific topic. The detailed analysis of the research papers also helps students familiarize with the process of distilling essential results for publication.

CEE 593 - Aerosol Chemistry and Physics (also AOS 593)

This course focuses on ground-based and satellite observations of aerosol particles and their impacts on climate through modeling studies. Course material includes satellite and ground-based measurements of aerosol particles, mathematical formulation of transport, and numerical models of aerosol distribution. It studies how aerosols impact climate change through direct and indirect effects including cloud-aerosol interactions.

GEO 503 - Responsible Conduct of Research in Geosciences (Half-Term) (also AOS 503)

Course educates Geosciences and AOS students in the responsible conduct of research using case studies appropriate to these disciplines. This discussion-based course focuses on issues related to the use of scientific data, publication practices and responsible authorship, peer review, research misconduct, conflicts of interest, the role of mentors & mentees, issues encountered in collaborative research and the role of scientists in society. Successful completion is based on attendance, reading, and active participation in class discussions. Course satisfies University requirement for RCR training.

GEO 576 - The Physics of Glaciers (also AOS 579)

Glaciers and ice sheets are important elements of Earths global climate system. This course introduces graduate students to the history of ice on Earth, contemporary glaciology, and the interactions between climate, glaciers, landforms, and sea level. Drawing from basic physical concepts, lab experiments, numerical modeling, and geological observations, we tackle important physical processes in glaciology, and equip students with data analysis and modeling skills. Students gain an appreciation for the importance of ice sheets for the global climate system, and the large gaps that remain in our understanding.

MAE 563 - Instabilities in Fluids: Linear and Non-Linear Analysis of Waves and Patterns in the Environment (also AOS 563)

This course describes natural patterns arising from instabilities in nature, and discusses their importance in the environment. We analyze phenomena at various scales, as diverse as wave breaking at the ocean surface, internal mixing in the atmosphere and the ocean, volcanic plumes, convection cells in the atmosphere, the break-up of fluid ligaments or bubble bursting at an interface. The course details mathematical tools (linear and non-linear stability analysis, symmetry arguments, solitons to non-linear equations such as shocks and solitions), as well as present laboratory and numerical demonstration of the instabilities.