General circulation of the atmosphere

Semester 1 2019

General Information

The master's level unit "General circulation of the atmosphere" will be running during semester 1 2019. The unit will be taught by Martin Singh.

Lecture times

Lectures will run in the weeks of semester 1, from the 7th of March 2019 to the 30th of May 2019. There will be one 2-hour lecture per week at the following time:

  • Thursday 1:00pm - 3:00pm

Lecture location

Lectures will be held in the CoE room on the first floor of 9 Rainforest Walk, Monash University Clayton Campus.

Unit details

This unit introduces students to the large-scale circulation in Earth’s atmosphere and the processes by which this circulation is maintained. The unit will begin with a discussion of the mathematical techniques used to estimate the atmospheric state and analyse the behaviour of atmospheric circulations. This will include an introduction to state estimation and data assimilation as well as a discussion of Reynold’s decomposition and its application to the analysis of atmospheric motions.

Next, the unit will introduce the basic theory underpinning the tropical general circulation, including the Hadley circulation and monsoons. Theoretical concepts will be demonstrated using real-world data from the atmosphere and in qualitative experiments using a rotating tank apparatus.

The unit will also consider the midlatitude circulation and the maintenance of the global angular momentum budget. Concepts of eddy-mean flow interaction and the transformed Eulerian mean will be used to explain the formation of jets at midlatitudes, and the existence of the thermally indirect Ferrel cell.

Finally, the course will consider the water budget of the atmosphere and theories of how it may vary in the future. This will serve as an entry point for students to engage with the scientific literature regarding changes in the atmospheric general circulation with climate change.

Unit outcomes

On completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Understand the various analysis techniques used to estimate the atmospheric thermodynamic state and large-scale circulation and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Identify the main features of the atmospheric circulation and the processes that contribute to their maintenance.
  3. Apply mathematical tools to analyse the transports of energy, momentum and water through the atmosphere.
  4. Critically engage with the scientific literature regarding the large-scale atmospheric circulation and its possible changes under climate change.


Assessment in this unit is a combination of assignments and reports (50%) and an end-of-semester exam (50%). In addition, there will be weekly non-assessed problem sets to help reinforce the material presented in lectures and to help prepare for the exam.

Assessment task Contribution to final mark
Paper report 20%
Assignment 1 15%
Assignment 2 15%
Exam 50%


The written exam for this unit will be held in the week of the 3rd of June 2019.