Climate Physics

Through the two-year research Master's programme Climate Physics, talented and motivated students become researchers with a solid grounding in the field of meteorology, physical oceanography and climate. It focuses on the fundamental physical processes that make up the Earth's climate system, on theoretical, observational and computational knowledge of the atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere (ice), biosphere and on their interactions.

Master's Information day

Societal relevance

Concern about anthropogenic global climate change has acquired an increased sense of urgency in recent decades. In order to determine how trace gases, aerosols and clouds change the Earth ́s radiation balance, how ocean currents affect the global climate system, how melting glaciers and ice sheets – and the ensuing sea level rise – affect coastal systems, you need a quantitative grasp of the various components of the climate system and their interactions. Although our understanding of the physical processes in the climate system has improved steadily, many questions still remain unanswered. So, apart from being scientifically interesting and challenging, climate-related research is also very relevant to society, because it will enable us to make more reliable predictions about future trends in the climate and their implications for mankind.

The programme

Climate Physics is a Research Master's programme which lasts two years. Designed to train talented motivated students to become highly experienced researchers, the programme focuses on the fundamental physical processes that make up the Earth climate system. This approach requires advanced mathematical skills right from the start. The programme builds on this basis by adding specialised theoretical, observational and computational knowledge and skills relating to the atmosphere, oceans, the cryosphere (ice), biosphere and their interactions. Moreover, students are encouraged to develop a critical attitude towards the results of research projects and the validity of their underlying assumptions.

An excellent way to prepare for the Climate Physics Master's programme is to follow the Bachelor programme 'Physics and Astronomy', within which various optional climate-related courses are taught. It goes without saying that talented, motivated students from around the world with a different (physics) background are also very welcome.

Why Climate Physics at Utrecht University?

The Climate Physics programme is one of few Master's programmes that addresses all components of the climate system (atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere and biosphere) as well as their interactions. We study the system from a fundamental point of view, focusing on describing as well as understanding the physical processes that are at the heart of the observed phenomena. The Climate Physics programme is closely integrated with the PhD programme of the Buys Ballot Research School (BBOS), which is led by IMAU. This relationship has led to a stimulating, challenging, friendly environment in which students and staff know each other by name and meet not only in classes but also during coffee breaks and at sporting events.

Admission requirements

Admission

Students can start the Climate Physics Master’s programme twice a year, in September and in February (note that starting in September is recommended). There is no entrance exam but admission is dependent on the content of the Bachelor’s programme taken by the student. There is no set limit on to the number of students accepted. The programme allows using up to 15 ECTS (2 courses) to remedy deficiencies (‘catch up’ courses).

In order to be admitted to the Master’s programme Climate Physics, you should have (prior to starting):

  • solid basic knowledge in classical physics, especially fluid dynamics, as well as in the mathematics required for the study of such topics at an advanced level
  • the ability to work independently as well as in groups on solving physical problems, present the results of solving problems and to read (English) physics literature at the level of graduate textbooks
  • intermediate problem-solving skills in the main fields of physics and/or their applications.

Required degree

Applicants are expected to hold one of the following degrees:

  • a BSc with a major in physics
  • a BSc with a major in science, including a substantial number of credits in advanced undergraduate physics and calculus
  • at least with second-class honours (or equivalent honours, GPA or other rating) issued by an accredited institution of higher education in the Netherlands or abroad.

A good knowledge of English is required. Check the precise requirements regarding your proficiency in English.

Application

If you are interested in Master’s programme Climate Physics, you can apply online. Applicants with any Bsc degree including a minor ‘meteorologie, fysische oceanografie and climate’ are automatically admitted to the programme. Applicants with a Bsc and background in related fields like chemistry, earth sciences, geophysics, mathematics can be admitted if their background level in physics and mathematics, fluid dynamics is sufficient. This holds also for students from the University College Utrecht with a Science major. Applicants of Utrecht University holding a BSc in Physics and Astronomy have a legal right under Dutch Law (doorstroomrecht) to be admitted to the degree in Climate and Science.

Procedure

The Admission Committee will assess the quality and suitability of each individual applicant, as well as whether the applicant’s undergraduate programme involves any deficiencies and whether these can be resolved as part of the Master’s programme. The student will be informed of the Admissions Committee’s decision in writing at least three months prior to the start of the programme. This letter will also include, if applicable, an assessment of any deficiencies.

More information about application procedures and deadlines can be found here.

This Master’s programme is officially registered under the name Natuurkunde en Meteorologie & Fysische Oceanografie (code 60705). You will need to use this name and code when you apply for this programme.

The curriculum

In the first year you will follow eight courses spread over two semesters. Three of these are mandatory, covering the fundamentals of the climate system, topics which every climate researcher should master. The remaining five optional courses allow you to specialise in a topic you have selected yourself.

Mandatory courses

At the heart of the physics of the climate system is the theory of fluid dynamics on a rotating planet: geophysical fluid dynamics. Its application to the atmosphere and oceans creates the building blocks on which the subsequent courses and research are based. The three mandatory courses in the first year deal with multi-disciplinary knowledge and skills that are fundamental to all areas of climate research:

  • Dynamical Meteorology
  • Dynamical Oceanography
  • Atmospheric composition and chemical processes

Optional courses

The rest of the first year is dedicated to five optional courses. At least three of these must be selected from a wide range of specialised Climate Physics courses. You may choose two secondary optional courses in consultation with the study advisor. Courses offered by the Graduate School of Natural Sciences and a selection of courses within the Faculty of Geosciences are always accepted. If your undergraduate training lacks essential elements, some secondary optional courses may be prescribed by the admission committee to fill these gaps.

Research project

In the second year you will carry out an independent, supervised, research project within one of the IMAU research themes. You will write a Master's thesis about this research and present the results in a seminar talk to staff and fellow students. Before choosing your topic and embarking on the 9-month research period, you are taught basic research skills as well as modelling and observational techniques in a seminar, through literature study and in field work.

Contact information and brochure

For questions or more information please send an email to the study advisor Dr. Aarnout van Delden or contact him by phone +31 (0)30 253 3168.
You can also request our Brochure and check out the Climate Physics programme site at the Master's website.

Useful links