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Professor and Dept. Head, Dr. Andrew Detwiler; Emeritus Professors Dr. John Helsdon, Dr. Mark Hjelmfelt and Dr. Paul Smith; Associate Professors Dr. William Capehart, Dr. Donna Kliche, and Dr. PV. Sundareshwar; Assistant Professors Dr. Adam French and Dr. Lisa Kunza; Instructor Mr. Darren Clabo; Adjunct Professors Dr. Matthew Bunkers, Dr. John Helsdon, Dr. Mark Hjelmfelt, Dr. John Stamm, and Dr. Gary Johnson.

The Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences offers advanced undergraduate and graduate courses leading to the Master of Science degree in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences with specializations in Meteorology or Earth Systems Science, and Doctor of Philosophy degree in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences (AES).  Faculty in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences are an active research group that conduct research with sponsorship from various federal agencies and the State of South Dakota.

The primary objective of the atmospheric and environmental sciences graduate program is to give students a basic understanding of the factors influencing atmospheric phenomena, including solar and terrestrial radiation, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, microphysical and electrical processes in clouds, ecology, atmospheric chemistry, and biogeochemistry.  Instruction is offered on the interpretation of conventional weather, satellite and radar data; observations collected by specially instrumented aircraft, and output from numerical models of atmospheric processes.  The graduate student is expected to carry out original research in the atmospheric sciences using some of these tools and resources.  In addition, the student must successfully complete the coursework and program requirements enumerated below.

A student applying for admission to the Master's degree program in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences should have a baccalaureate degree in meteorology or atmospheric sciences, one of the biological or physical sciences, earth system sciences, mathematics, or engineering.  It is desirable for applicants to have received undergraduate credit for mathematics through Calculus 2 (for the earth systems science specialization - see below) or ordinary differential equations (for the meteorology specialization).  For the meteorology specialization, undergraduate physics is required, and for the earth systems specialization undergraduate physics and chemistry are desirable.  Experience with computer programming is recommended. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores from the General Test are required for all students except SDSM&T graduates. TOEFL scores are required of all applicants from colleges outside the U.S.

Course requirements for the M.S. degree

1.         Fifteen (15) credit hours of course work in atmospheric sciences at the 500-level or above.

2.         Nine (9) additional credit hours of non-atmospheric sciences electives at the 400-level or above  (300-level non-atmospheric sciences courses can be accepted if approved by the Council on Graduate Education), or atmospheric sciences electives at the 500 level.

3.         Thesis research - six (6) credit hours.

(Please note undergraduate credit limitations given in the current catalog under “M.S. Degree Requirements” for Master of Science degrees.)

Other program requirements

 The following program requirements apply to all students in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences:

  • Satisfactory performance on a general coursework exam.

  • Registration in ATM 798 Graduate Research (thesis) each semester the student is receiving an assistantship

  • Registration in ATM 690 Graduate Seminar each spring semester.

  • Completion of a master's thesis.  The thesis must adhere to the format and content guidelines as set forth by the Graduate School, and be approved by the student's graduate advisory committee and the Dean of Graduate Education.

In addition, there are requirements specific to the two (2) ATM MS specializations.  Each student will choose one of these specializations. The requirements are:

Meteorology Specialization

Students entering the program with a Bachelor's degree in fields outside of atmospheric sciences or meteorology must take the following courses: ATM 450 - Synoptic Meteorology I (not for graduate credit), ATM 501 - Atmospheric Physics, ATM 555 - Synoptic Meteorology II,  and ATM 560 - Atmospheric Dynamics I. Additional required coursework may be determined by student's graduate committee.

Earth System Science Specialization

All students will be required to take the following course: ATM 603 - Atmosphere-Biosphere Interactions.  They also must complete at least one remote sensing course. 

Program of Study

A specific plan of study will be determined on an individual basis with concurrence from the student's advisor and graduate advisory committee members. In either specialization, exceptions to these departmental requirements may be granted by the student's committee for good cause.

Elective courses offered by other departments are encouraged as long as the fifteen (15) hours of course work in Atmospheric Sciences at the 500-level or above are completed as outlined in “Course requirements for M.S. degree.”  Graduate students may take electives in the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, engineering, engineering management, social sciences, or the humanities to further integrate their coursework in the atmospheric sciences with knowledge in other technical fields and with the general concerns of society.

A student may choose the meteorology specialization with the intent to qualify for employment in the federal civil service as a meteorologist.  Specific course distribution requirements to do so are listed in the current catalog within the general description of the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. Students in either specialization may pursue an M.S. degree in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences without satisfying these requirements and be qualified for careers in many non-federal and/or non-meteorological careers.  Examples of such career options include research in and applications of remote sensing techniques; work in air quality either for non-federal government agencies, or for industry or the consulting firms industries often employ; research and applications in the environmental sciences with an emphasis on atmospheric issues, and further graduate work in atmospheric or environmental sciences.

Undergraduate students at the School of Mines may decrease the time required to obtain a Master of Science degree in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences by taking as electives the preparatory undergraduate and entry-level graduate courses available to them or by completing the Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Sciences program with a specialization in atmospheric sciences.  They may then enter the graduate program with the necessary background for graduate study in atmospheric sciences as above.

Facilities and Resources

Students typically work directly with faculty on externally-funded research projects.  Graduate research assistantships associated with these projects are available that provide part-time employment for students during the academic months and possible full-time employment during the summer. Departmental facilities and resources are utilized in these research efforts.  These facilities include various meteorological instrument platforms and packages including several automated surface weather stations and laser optical disdrometers. Sophisticated computer facilities are available on campus or can be accessed elsewhere for research purposes.

Faculty Research

Current research projects include applications of weather radar data to rainfall measurements and remote inference of cloud microphysical characteristics; numerical modeling of clouds ranging in size from small cumulus to severe storms including storm electrification, lightning, and lightning-influenced atmospheric chemistry; field investigations of thunderstorms; analysis of field observations and numerical simulations of complex surface ecosystems; land-surface hydrology; satellite remote sensing; land-surface/atmosphere exchange processes; fire weather prediction and modeling; biogeochemical cycling; and carbon sequestration and ecological modeling.  In addition, the department's faculty are currently involved in activities to disseminate scientific knowledge to wider audiences and improve and enhance scientific literacy and educational opportunities.

For more information or to schedule an appointment to visit our department, you may contact: the Program Assistant Pamela Cox at, or phone (605)394-2291.


Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology 501 East Saint Joseph Street Rapid City, SD 57701

Office: (605) 394-2291 Fax: (605) 394-6061