Short Course for biologists

Course content in more detail


The content of a possible intensive short course on meteorology for biologists would include the following topics.  A duration of perhaps 5 days (one week) with 2-3 lectures per day.

  1. Basics of the Earth’s atmosphere and large-scale climate
  2. Basic factors affecting the earth’s biota
  3. Climate as the integration over time of all weather (and what this means for biology)
  4. How the atmosphere is measured and described by meteorologists/climatologists.
  5. Earth observation satellites and their measurements
  6. Large-scale climate and its variability
  7. Mesoscale climate patterns and physical processes
  8. Microscale climate and physical processes
  9. High impact weather events and anomalies from the mean
  10. Measurement strategies and instrumentation for research
  11. Survey of cloud-impacted environments: cloud forests and lomas.
  12. Survey of climate around the globe with satellite products

While some of these topics can be found in most introductory biogeography or ecology courses or texts, it is typically not presented in enough depth for  a research-oriented audience.  Nor are most biology instructors (even those with a physical geography background) sufficiently versed in the meteorological content.  Note that some topics would be emphasized over others; the objective is to have biologists conceptually understand the essential atmospheric processes that contribute to the earth’s biotic diversity.  “Black-box” tools would be avoided and little reference to advanced mathematics is needed.

Lecture 1   Basic aspects of the atmosphere.  Where did it come from?  What is its composition?  What makes the earth’s atmosphere different from other planets?  What is atmospheric pressure?Temperature?  Humidity?  How does pressure vary with height?  Mean structure of the atmosphere and how we determine it?  CO2 and its measurement.  Definitions of weather and climate. How do we determine the climate of a location?

Lecture 2   What affects the earth’s vegetation?   What determines Solar radiation? What determines evaporation? Precipitation? The concept of aridity.  Humid versus arid environments.  Basic climate classification schemes.  Importance of temperature.   Concepts from Physical Geography:  parent rock, slope, aspect.  How these factors can dominate large-scale climate aspects.

Lecture 3   Routine atmospheric and oceanic measurements and why they are made.  Surface observations and their difficulty.  Differences between water and land surfaces.  Upper-air measurements.  The structure of the upper atmosphere and day-to-day variability.  Inhomogeneity of the observational network.  Weather forecasting versus climate monitoring and their challenges.

Lecture 4   A closer look at climate.  Time and space averaging.  Mean quantities versus anomalies.  The spectrum of climate variability and of “climatic” quantities.  Variations of “climate” across short distances.  How topography affects local climate.    The importance of extreme events.

Lecture 5   Satellite observations and their history.  Polar orbiting and geostationary imagery.  Spatial coverage, resolution and sampling strategies.  Different products available.  Weather versus climate focus.   Products that can be derived from satellite data and the need for “ground truth”  and validation campaigns.  Where to get satellite data?

Lecture 6   Global climate from satellite.  Key aspects of the Earth’s climate.  Seasonality of important features.  Physical geography revisited.

Lecture 7a   Weather prediction.  Challenges.  Models, parameterizations, computer limitations and procedures.  Sources of observations.  Mesoscale to global forecasts.  Operations and research.

Lecture 7b   Data assimilation and global reanalyses.  Why reanalyses?  Regional reanalyses and downscaling to smaller scales.  Problems with reanalyses.  Uses of reanalysis data for biological science applications.

Lecture 8   Fine-spatial scale climate.  The crucial role of topography in modifying surface winds.  The diurnal cycle of winds, temperature and moisture associated with sea-land and mountain-valley breezes.  A satellite perspective of the pervasive role of such diurnal circulations in the tropics and subtropics.  Applications to species distribution modeling.

Lecture 9   Fine-scale atmospheric effects.  Radar measurements and measurement of birds and bats.  More about diurnal variations and the subtle effects of topography.  Atmospheric variations in forests.  The flow around obstacles (buildings, trees, hills etc).  The “climate” underground.

Lecture 10   High impact weather events revisited.  Just what is a high impact event?  Biota lifetimes versus frequency of high impact events.  Examples of high impact events: El Niño/LaNiña, ice storms, severe thunderstorms, high intensity fires, hail, extreme freeze events, extreme droughts.  On smaller scales:  floods, landslides, tornadoes.  Relevance to species distribution modeling.

Lecture 11   Instrumentation and measurement strategies for field research.  Different sampling strategies and costs.  Examples of deployment and monitoring strategies.  Example:  the impact of fog drip on vegetation.

Lecture 12   Review of course concepts and “final exam”.  (Exam based on slides shown in class – intended to stimulate thinking and application of concepts.  Answers will be given immediately after each “question” – no grades assigned (unless requested by organizers).