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Course Introduction

The cause and effect relationship between the Earth’s atmosphere and the forces that bring about this thing we call weather is truly fascinating, even at a glance. As we gaze skyward, many “what” and “why” questions come to mind. The more we probe this “atmospheric machine” the more its characteristics fascinate us. Although there are still many unanswered questions about its operation, what we see and understand never cease to evoke a feeling of awe about the way everything “comes together.” So many factors come into play to provide a beautiful environment which is just right for life yet provides an interesting variety of phenomena. You can quickly realize just how special the terrestrial atmosphere and environment are when you compare the Earth with the other planets in our solar system.

Satellite and sounding rocket observations of the Earth’s atmosphere provide us with sufficient information to get a very complete and accurate picture of our atmosphere. We now have a greater understanding of its composition and structure. We’ve found that not only does the atmosphere extend further than we realized, but that the immersion of Earth in the extended solar atmosphere (i.e., solar wind) causes subtle changes in the atmospheric configuration and weather of the Earth. This is due to the release of extremely hot ions temporarily stored in its magnetic tail which extends well past the orbit of the moon. Earth satellites and planetary probes not only provide us with a more global picture of the atmosphere and weather system, but they stimulate greater global awareness of this planet by observing the weather systems of other planets. Some of these observations help us better understand and apply the physics principles needed to gain a more complete understanding of our own atmosphere. Satellite observations also make us more aware of the extent to which people can modify the atmospheric environment. Some planets offer vivid examples of the extreme atmospheric conditions that might result if we, on Earth, nudge our atmosphere too far in the wrong direction.

Powerful computers, extensive satellite observations, and large scale measurement coverage (with balloons and at ground level) provide the large amount of data needed to attempt to predict what certain atmospheric configurations will lead to. Much progress has been made. We are also becoming increasingly aware that ultimately the very nature of the complex equations describing the “weather machine” will limit our ability to accurately predict the weather beyond a few days.

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BYU Course Outcomes

  1. Describe and explain types of severe weather, how they impact human lives, and how to minimize weather-related risks to themselves, others, and property.
  2. Understand the reasons for short-term and seasonal weather patterns and changes and how those patterns and changes are represented in weather maps, charts, and images.
  3. Explain the factors that control climate. Thereby explain the causes of climate change and the potential effects, catastrophic and benign, of such change.
  4. Formulate short-term weather forecasts directly from observations; fine-tune professional forecasts to their specific locations.

Course Objectives

The primary purpose of this course is to give you a better understanding and appreciation of the atmosphere of the Earth and its weather. En route, I hope to provide you with opportunities to learn and apply a few physical principles, most of which you will find valuable in other aspects of life. To accomplish this, I have identified objectives:

  1. Enjoy enhanced aesthetic experiences with one of nature’s most fascinating and beautiful endowments, the continually changing atmosphere, through increased familiarity and comprehension of the atmosphere and the physics of weather.
  2. Understand “severe weather” and its potential impact in their lives.
  3. More fully comprehend and assess the reliability of meteorological ideas and information to which he or she is exposed in present and future encounters which might occur in other courses, through the media, or in the student’s own experience, thereby enabling the student to enjoy a richer life of greater awareness.
  4. Formulate short-term weather forecasts, based upon personal knowledge and observations, without any reference to professionally-produced prognostications and “fine tune” professionally-prepared forecasts to his or her specific location.

In the first two objectives, you will be focusing on the Earth’s atmosphere and weather. Part of the third objective corresponds to the growing proof that people are now able to modify the composition of this atmosphere and bring about climatic change with global consequences. Crucial decisions affecting our atmospheric environment are now being made, and you will soon become more and more involved in these (and other implementation) processes. It is vital that all of us become aware of our potential ability to affect the atmospheric environment and be well enough informed to be able to make the appropriate environmental decisions.

As stated above, the purpose of this course is to provide you with opportunities to learn about our weather—the changes observed in atmospheric conditions in our local environment here on Earth’s surface. To do this we must first become acquainted with the nature and composition of the atmosphere. Since weather involves change in atmospheric conditions, we must become familiar with the physical laws that bring about these changes. The atmosphere is a mixture of several gases, and therefore the types of laws we need to consider are those that deal with gases. These include any phase changes (i.e., between the gas, liquid, and solid states) and the attendant heat flow. We consider heat flow and change of state, vertical stability and instability, pressure differences and winds, density differences and buoyancy, planetary rotation, and a number of other physical phenomena as we become familiar with the processes that bring about weather. Observing and understanding the large variety of cloud formations and the dazzling display of optical phenomena will not only impress us with the inherent beauty of our atmosphere, but will also provide us with important clues regarding the large–scale state of the atmosphere—including impending changes in the weather.

After becoming acquainted with the structure of our planet’s atmosphere, we will consider the geometric nature in which the Earth receives radiant energy from the Sun. We will then consider heat flow and temperature in relation to the various factors which bring about the heating of our atmosphere. The unevenness of this process ultimately creates the forces that generate winds. We will also explore the various phenomena in the atmosphere that are affected by water changing its state. It is logical that we digress into atmospheric optical phenomena at this point, since the beautiful optical displays we see from time to time in the atmosphere result from the interaction of light with liquid droplets (and/or ice crystals). We will consider—both locally and globally—how uneven heating creates different types of pressure isobaric patterns, and how resulting pressure differences are associated with the various types of winds observed. We will study the causes, structure and nature of storm systems on several size scales (midlatitude cyclones, hurricanes, thunderstorms, and tornadoes) in some detail. Although you may live in an area where some of these storm systems never occur, you may find yourself in each of these storm systems at least once in your life, and understanding their characteristics may then be important to your safety.

Any course about weather requires that we consider the data and methods used by the weather forecaster and the factors which restrict our ability to accurately forecast the weather very far in advance. We will find that the basic nature of the Earth’s weather machine involves the use of very complex equations (the most complex of any field of study), the very nature of which prevent us from predicting the weather with reasonable accuracy even a week in advance. Finally, we will consider the various natural and man–made factors that bring about climatic change.

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Course Materials

Textbook

Lutgens, Frederick K, Edward J. Tarbuck, Dennis Tasa. The Atmosphere: An Introduction to Meteorology, 11th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall: Pearson, 2009.

It is important that you carefully read both the textbook and discussion material as directed in each of the lessons. As noted in the preface, the textbook contains a number of effective learning aids that will benefit you. Although these learning aids are not specifically referred to in this course, you should consider using these aids in your learning process. I recommend that you answer all of the questions in the textbook (assigned and not).

Unfortunately, I have found no single textbook adequate for this course, nor have I had the desire to write my own. Although some of the discussion material is a bit lengthy, logic suggests that choosing a particular textbook and then supplementing it with material as needed is less cumbersome than finding material in several different textbooks. In addition, there are some concepts that I have found more difficult for students to grasp, so I have included some additional explanatory comments to help.

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Course Requirements

Physical Science 100 or the equivalent is a prerequisite for this course. I expect you to read the textbook and supplemental material in such a way as to understand each phenomenon or concept. Ideally, I would like you to consider applications of the concept in everyday life. For example, the Coriolis Effect will be new to most of you, as it is not observed on a scale we encounter from day–to–day, but it is interesting to consider just what our day–to–day experience might be like if it were. Also, when we come to the section on fog, try to determine which of the fog–producing processes is at work during your morning shower.

Studying the atmosphere and weather provides an excellent opportunity to simply look at the sky and clouds, to observe the temperature, wind, and the position of the Sun, and to look for interrelationships between these factors. Hopefully you will spend some time each day applying some of the concepts you are learning to the configuration of the sky and environmental conditions. I urge you to get in the habit of looking at the weather map and predictions in the newspaper, and/or observing the weather on the nightly news. Sometimes the newspaper coverage gives you a better chance of looking at the weather conditions elsewhere across the country, and thereby provides a broader picture of how storm systems change as they move.

This is a unique opportunity to optimize the learning process because so many chances to study the changing atmosphere will present themselves to you. Since a course such as this cannot possibly cover all facets of the topic, look around and ask questions. If a topic is not discussed in any of the lessons, refer to the textbook, or even to more advanced textbooks. I sincerely hope you will maximize this opportunity to study such an important and fascinating topic.

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Assignments

Here is the schedule of submitted assignments and exams for this course:

*You must have received a grade for your Weather Project before taking the Lesson 22 Assignment.

Self Check Questions

I have divided this course into 22 lessons, one of which deals with the midcourse exam. There is a set of Self Check questions in the other 21 lessons. You will be able to evaluate the level of your understanding of the principle or phenomenon discussed in the lesson by grading these Self Check questions. Self Checks do not count towards to grade.

Lesson Assignments

There are 6 computer-graded lesson assignments that you will submit to Independent Study for grading. For each question you miss, you will receive a statement outlining the principle(s) involved in that question (to help you understand the correct answer), plus a reference to pages, figures, etc., in the textbook, and/or a particular discussion material topic.

Observation Project

Meteorology depends heavily on observational data. To encourage the development of observational skills and provide the opportunity for gaining “hands on” experience taking and interpreting weather data, a weather observation project (data and report) will be required of each student. Details for the project are given in Appendix A. It is suggested that you begin your observations after completing Lesson 10, and submit the report after completing Lesson 21 and before taking lesson assignment 22.

To make sure that I can open and read your project, please save it as a Word .DOC or .DOCX file, or as an Acrobat .PDF file.

Use the course number, your first and last name, and the assignment name for the filename. For example, PHSCS137_BryanPeterson_ObservationProject.pdf.

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Exams

In addition to the assignments you must submit, you must take two exams: the midcourse and final exams. Many questions on the midcourse and final exams will be very similar to the questions found in the Self Check and assignment questions, differing only in subtle ways. In preparing for these two exams, first review the Self Check and assignment questions and make sure you understand them thoroughly. Then, test yourself by making subtle changes to the questions and answering them.

You may end up with many of the questions that you will find on the exams. A few will test your ability to apply the physical principles you have learned in unfamiliar situations. If you are thorough in your review, concentrating primarily on understanding the “principle” involved, you should have no problem with the few questions that are meant to “stretch” you. The midcourse exam covers the discussion material for lessons 1–12 and has 50 questions, while the final exam is comprehensive and has 100 questions.

Both of these exams are closed book. The only additional material allowed is blank scratch paper.

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Grading

The grades you receive on the assignments you submit count as 40 percent of your course grade. The weather observation project is worth 10 percent. The midcourse exam constitutes 20 percent and the final exam is 30 percent of your course grade.

Assignments Weight
6 Lesson Assignments 40%
Weather Observation Assignment 10%
Midcourse Exam 20%
Comprehensive Final Exam 30%
Total 100%

The percentage breakdown of the total points possible in the course are given below:

Grading Scale
A 93%–100% C 66%–76%
A− 90%–92% C− 60%–65%
B+ 88%–89% D+ 58%–59%
B 83%–87% D

53%–57%

B− 80%–82% D− 50%–52%
C+ 77%–79% E (fail) 49% and below

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Copyright Notice

The materials used in connection with this online course are only for the use of students enrolled in this course for purposes associated with this course and may not be retained or further disseminated. Any copying or further dissemination of these materials may be subject to applicable U.S. Copyright Laws. For questions or more information, please visit the BYU Copyright Licensing Office website.

“Members of the BYU community who willfully disregard this Copyright Policy or the BYU Copyright Guidelines place themselves individually at risk of legal action and may incur personal liability for their conduct. The unauthorized use or distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject individuals to civil and criminal liabilities, including actual and statutory damages, costs and fees of litigation, fines, and imprisonment

Violations of the Copyright Policy may result in university disciplinary action including termination of university enrollment or employment.” (Emphasis added. Excerpt taken from the BYU Copyright Policy)

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University Policy - Title IX Statement

Preventing & Responding to Sexual Misconduct

In accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Brigham Young University prohibits unlawful sex discrimination against any participant in its education programs or activities. The university also prohibits sexual harassment—including sexual violence—committed by or against students, university employees, and visitors to campus. As outlined in university policy, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are considered forms of "Sexual Misconduct" prohibited by the university.

University policy requires all university employees in a teaching, managerial, or supervisory role to report all incidents of Sexual Misconduct that come to their attention in any way, including but not limited to face-to-face conversations, a written class assignment or paper, class discussion, email, text, or social media post. Incidents of Sexual Misconduct should be reported to the Title IX Coordinator at t9coordinator@byu.edu or (801) 422-8692. Reports may also be submitted through EthicsPoint at https://titleix.byu.edu/report or 1-888-238-1062 (24-hours a day).

BYU offers confidential resources for those affected by Sexual Misconduct, including the university’s Victim Advocate, as well as a number of non-confidential resources and services that may be helpful. Additional information about Title IX, the university’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, reporting requirements, and resources can be found at http://titleix.byu.edu or by contacting the university’s Title IX Coordinator.

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Accessibility Notice

BYU is committed to providing a working and learning atmosphere which reasonably accommodates persons with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to participate in BYU's programs and activities. In this spirit, BYU Independent Study aspires to improve web accessibility for users. While not required by law, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Levels A and AA provide a wide range of helpful recommendations to make Web content more accessible. BYU Independent Study strives to apply WCAG 2.0 recommendations where feasible, but may deviate from any recommendations that would result in an undue hardship to BYU Independent Study or alterations to program and course content and objectives. If you have questions about accessibility, or if you need to report problems with any accessibility features please see our Accessibilities and Accommodations Web Page.

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Course Policies

These policies are specific to this course. For additional information about general policies, please refer to Independent Study Course Policies page.

Assignments

6 computer-graded assignments and 1 instructor-graded assignment. Resubmissions are allowed for a fee.

Resubmit an assignment for a fee.

Exams

1 proctored, computer-graded midcourse exam and 1 proctored, computer-graded final exam. You may retake each exam once, for a fee. You must pass the final exam to pass the course.

Retake an exam for a fee.

Getting Help

Please use the help menu in this course to contact Independent Study or your instructor. You can find a list of free tutors available to BYU Independent Study students on the Free Tutoring Services website.

Note: The Harold B. Lee Library website provides a number of online resources and librarians are available via phone, chat, and email to answer questions about library-related issues.

Inappropriate Use of Course Content

All course materials (e.g., outlines, handouts, syllabi, exams, quizzes, media, lecture content, audio and video recordings, etc.) are proprietary. Students are prohibited from posting or selling any such course materials without the express written permission of BYU Independent Study. To do so is a violation of the Brigham Young University Honor Code.

Copyright © 2016 Brigham Young University. All rights reserved.

Published by the
Department of Independent Study
Division of Continuing Education
Brigham Young University
120 MORC
Provo, Utah 84602-1514
USA

BYU Copyright Notice for TEACH ACT

COPYRIGHT NOTICE
The materials used in connection with this online course are only for the use of students enrolled in this course for purposes associated with this course and may not be retained or further disseminated. Any copying or further dissemination of these materials may be subject to applicable U.S. Copyright Laws. For questions or more information, please visit the BYU Copyright Licensing Office website.
“Members of the BYU community who willfully disregard this Copyright Policy or the BYU Copyright Guidelines place themselves individually at risk of legal action and may incur personal liability for their conduct. The unauthorized use or distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject individuals to civil and criminal liabilities, including actual and statutory damages, costs and fees of litigation, fines, and imprisonment…
Violations of the Copyright Policy may result in university disciplinary action including termination of university enrollment or employment.” (Emphasis added. Excerpt taken from the BYU Copyright Policy).

Copyright notice for specific, individual copies
All copies are intended for non-commercial, educational purposes in connection with this registered course and only for students enrolled in this course. Any copying or further dissemination of these materials may be subject to applicable U.S. Copyright Laws.