Atmospheric Science

Atmospheric ScienceAtmospheric Sciences in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences include study of the circulation, composition, and physical and chemical processes of the atmosphere. Timescales studied range from hours to millennia. Studies include the fundamental processes of the atmosphere as well as its interactions with the oceans, hydrological cycle, cryosphere and biosphere, and the role of the atmosphere in anthropogenic climate change. Atmospheric Science faculty use observational data from routine observations, remote sensing and field campaigns as well as numerical models to study tropical convection and dynamics, global modes of variability, air quality and contaminant transport, storm tracks, jet streams, stratosphere-troposphere coupling, tropical cyclones, severe storms and coupling between radiative, chemical and dynamical processes. Strong connections are maintained with the Departments of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Earth and Environmental Engineering, and Chemical Engineering, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society enabling a broad and deep graduate program in atmospheric science.

Each graduate student is enrolled in an academic department and follows the normal procedures of that department regarding admission and progression towards their degree. However, course offerings have been designed collaboratively with the needs of multiple departments in mind, and advisory committees commonly include faculty from multiple departments. Relevant seminars and other activities occur in all participating departments and institutes, providing a uniquely broad and stimulating intellectual environment for graduate study.

The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES) includes several sub-fields within atmospheric sciences including atmospheric dynamics, planetary atmospheres, atmospheric radiation, atmospheric chemistry, and climate impacts. Closely related DEES research programs include modern and future climate and physical oceanography. It also has major programs in paleoclimate and geochemistry, which complement the study of atmospheric science.

The Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics (APAM) has research programs in atmospheric and climate dynamics, focusing on numerical modeling, theory, and diagnostics.

The Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering (DEEE) has research programs in climate particularly through connections to water resources and geochemistry, as well as on engineering responses to the climate change problem.

In the Department of Chemical Engineering (CHEN) has research programs in atmospheric chemistry and atmospheric aerosols.

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) is the physical home of graduate research in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, but also has a distinct identity as a major laboratory for earth science. In addition to the DEES faculty, Lamont employs a staff of Lamont Research Professors, all of whom are potential advisors for PhD students.

The NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) has research programs in climate modeling, climate change, remote sensing, and atmospheric physics and chemistry. Graduate students in both DEES and APAM may work with GISS scientists.

The International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) has research programs in climate prediction and predictability on all time scales, as well as modeling and regional dynamics studies, societal impacts of climate, and the application of climate science to achieve societal benefit. Graduate students may work with IRI scientists.

Adam H. Sobel
Personal Information
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Ocean and Climate Physics
Ocean and Climate Physics
Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Contact Information
206C Oceanography
61 Route 9W - PO Box 1000
(845) 365-8527


(845) 365-8157

Fields of interest: 

Atmospheric and climate dynamics, tropical meteorology.

In the extratropical latitudes (where, for example, Columbia University is located) we have a fairly good understanding of the basic dynamical processes that control the atmosphere's behavior. This understanding has two manifestations. With sophisticated numerical models, we can predict the extratropical weather fairly well, up to a week ahead or so. We also have much simpler mathematical models which, though not accurate enough to produce good weather forecasts, capture the basic dynamics of the atmosphere and can at least qualitatively simulate the important phenomena such as winter storms, fronts, waves in the jet stream, etc. These simpler models are derived as approximations to the full equations of atmospheric motion and energy. They form the core of our understanding and guide us as we analyze both observations and numerical simulations of the extratropical atmosphere. 

The atmosphere behaves differently in the tropics than in the extratropics, and is less well understood. Weather forecasts are considerably less accurate in the tropics, and many of the largest uncertainties in our simulations of the global climate are related to gaps in our understanding of tropical atmospheric processes. In particular, we do not understand, in a wide range of circumstances, what controls where and when rain falls in the tropics. This lack of understanding and predictive capability is expressed by our lack of simple mathematical models for the tropics that combine economy and correctness as successfully as the simple extratropical models do. 

My research efforts are focused on improving our understanding of tropical dynamics.  I focus to a large extent on what controls rainfall patterns and their variability on time scales of days to decades.  My associates and I use mathematical models of varying degrees of complexity for this purpose.  Some can be solved with pencil and paper, and some (more typically) require powerful computers.  We also analyze observational data, which is important to keep a theoretical and modeling research program grounded in reality.

Some of my projects include:

  • Madden-Julian Oscillation (including DYNAMO field program, see
  • Tropical cyclones and climate
  • African drought
  • Circulation and seasonal cycle changes under global warming
  • Atmospheric water vapor
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Selected Publications:
Rain on small tropical islands, Sobel, A. H.; Burleyson, C. D.; Yuter, S. E. Journal of Geophysical Research, Volume: 116 (2011) 10.1029/2010JD014695
Response of convection to relative sea surface temperature: Cloud-resolving simulations in two and three dimensions, Wang., S.; Sobel, A. H. Journal of Geophysical Research, Issue: 116 (2011) 10.1029/2010JD015347
A systematic relationship between intraseasonal variability and mean state bias in AGCM simulations, Kim, D.; Sobel, A. H.; Maloney, E. D.; Frierson, D. M. W.; Kang, I.-S. Journal of Climate, Volume: 24 p.: 5506-5520 (2011)
Delayed seasonal cycle and African monsoon in a warmer climate, Biasutti, M; Sobel, A H Geophysical Research Letters, Volume: 36 p.: L23707 (2009)
A global perspective on African climate, Giannini, A.; Biasutti, M.; Held, I. M.; Sobel, A. H. Climatic Change Oct, Volume: 90, Issue: 4 p.: 359-383 (2008) DOI 10.1007/s10584-008-9396-y
The role of surface fluxes in tropical intraseasonal oscillations, Sobel, A. H.; Maloney, E. D.; Bellon, G.; Frierson, D. M. W. Nature Geoscience, Volume: 1 p.: 653-657 (2008)
Use of a genesis potential index to diagnose ENSO effects on tropical cyclone genesis, Camargo, S.J.; Emanuel, K.A.; Sobel, A.H. Journal of Climate, Volume: 20 p.: 4819-4834 (2007)
Influence of western North Pacific tropical cyclones on their large-scale environment, Sobel, A. H.; Camargo, S. J. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences Sep, Volume: 62, Issue: 9 p.: 3396-3407 (2005)
Western North Pacific tropical cyclone intensity and ENSO, Camargo, S.J.; Sobel, A.H. Journal of Climate Aug 1, Volume: 18, Issue: 15 p.: 2996-3006 (2005)
A simple time-dependent model of SST hot spots, Sobel, A. H.; Gildor, H. Journal of Climate Dec, Volume: 16, Issue: 23 p.: 3978-3992 (2003)
The Hadley circulation and the weak temperature gradient approximation, Polvani, L. M.; Sobel, A. H. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences May 15, Volume: 59, Issue: 10 p.: 1744-1752 (2002)
The weak temperature gradient approximation and balanced tropical moisture waves, Sobel, A. H.; Nilsson, J.; Polvani, L. M. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, Volume: 58, Issue: 23 p.: 3650-3665 (2001)