Atmospheric science is the study of the physics and chemistry of the earth's atmosphere, from near the ground where much of the "weather" occurs, to the upper reaches of the stratosphere and beyond, where there are winds and pressure patterns but few clouds and convective motions. In our department we perform both fundamental and applied research from radiation, aerosol, cloud nucleation, weather, dynamics, atmospheric chemistry, air pollution, radar meteorology and satellite remote sensing to mesoscale and climate modelling. From a global perspective, the atmosphere consists of a rotating, thin layer of gas which can be studied by the methods of geophysical fluid dynamics. For the large scales, winds, temperature fronts and planetary waves play a central role in research. At smaller scales the atmosphere's detailed physics and chemistry are of considerable interest: the role of cloud droplets in making rain, and how the incoming solar radiation heats the earth and oceans which in turn warm the air above by outgoing radiation and convection. Another topic of importance is the study of weather and weather forecasting, which necessarily draws on both the dynamical and physical processes described above. Finally, in today's world of ever increasing environmental concern, questions of climate change are of considerable interest to many atmospheric scientists.
Physical oceanography is a branch of fluid dynamics which offers many theoretical and practical challenges. The basic goal is an understanding of the structure and movement of the ocean waters at various time and space scales. Successful research in this field draws heavily on knowledge and the techniques of physics, the mathematical sciences, numerical modeling and engineering. Because many aspects of geophysical fluid dynamics are common to both the oceans and the atmosphere, students in the Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences are fortunate in being able to work in either field or on their interaction. In addition, a basic knowledge of physical oceanography is central to our understanding of many biological, geological and chemical processes in the ocean. With the development of important international programs in climate and global change, which focus on air-sea, air-ice-sea and environmental interactions, students graduating from McGill's Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences will be in an excellent position to take leadership roles in these fields.
In 1986 McGill formed Canada's first university Climate Research Group in cooperation with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Atmospheric Environment Service. Four years later, in response to a broadening of both the scope of research activities and membership, the group changed its name to the Centre for Climate and Global Change Research (C2GCR). A further broadening of the scope of the Centre subsequently led to the creation of the Global Envirronmental and Climate Change Centre(GEC3), which now includes scientists not only from McGill but also from five other universities.