Atmospheric Science: An Introductory Survey

John M. Wallace + Peter V. Hobbs

Academic Press 1977
A book review by Danny Yee © 1998
Seeking an introduction to meteorology suitable for someone with a solid mathematics and physics background, I posted a query to sci.geo.meteorology. Three replies came in, from people at different universities, all of them suggesting Wallace and Hobbs' Atmospheric Science.

The first thing I discovered was that Wallace and Hobbs stick strictly to SI units — this was a real stroke of luck, since I hadn't even considered the possible horrors of a text using Imperial units. Atmospheric Science begins with a general overview of the atmosphere. It then plunges into thermodynamics, covering adiabatic and pseudo-adiabatic atmospheric processes. A lighter chapter looks at mid-latitude synoptic-scale disturbances, also explaining how to read weather charts.

Chapter four covers cloud microphysics — aerosols and droplet formation in warm and cold clouds — and chapter five clouds and storms on a larger scale — thunderstorms, hurricanes, and cyclonic storms, along with a section on cloud-seeding experiments. Chapter six covers the physics of radiative transfer and chapter seven the global energy balance of the atmosphere. The final two chapters consider atmospheric dynamics and the general circulation: Coriolis forces, geostrophic winds, the continuity equation, thermally driven circulation, baroclinic disturbances, the kinetic energy cycle, ... .

Each chapter contains a set of exercises, which include brief probes of qualitative understanding, quantitative problems (for which numerical answers are provided), and some mathematical proofs and derivations. Atmospheric Science assumes, at a minimum, solid school physics and mathematics. Some sections require more — notably some thermodynamics and vector calculus — but these are marked and "can be omitted in an undergraduate survey course". The volume does show some signs of its age: the absence of material on modelling (and of any computational problems) is particularly noticeable.

If you are only going to read one book on meteorology, Atmospheric Science probably isn't what you want. But if, as I was, you are after a book that will provide the foundations for further reading, and if you have the necessary physics background, then I think it makes an excellent starting point.

Note: there is a new (2006) edition of this work.

June 1998

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%T Atmospheric Science
%S An Introductory Survey
%A Wallace, John M.
%A Hobbs, Peter V.
%I Academic Press
%D 1977
%O hardcover, exercises, index
%G ISBN 0127329501
%P xvii,467pp