General circulation of the atmosphere

Semester 1 2020

General Information

The honours/master's level unit "General circulation of the atmosphere" will be running during semester 1, 2020. The unit will be taught by Martin Singh.

Class dates & times

Classes will run between the 2nd of March and the 28th of April, with a week break between the 13th and 17th of April. The exam will be held in the week of the 4th of May.

All classes will be run online through the Zoom software. Use the following link to join: There are two 2-hour classes per week at the following times:

  • Monday 9am-11am
  • Tuesday 1pm-3pm

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%).

The breakdown of marks for the unit is as follows:

  1. Assignment 1: 15%
    This will be handed out in week 3.
  2. Assignment 2: 15%
    This will be handed out in week 6.
  3. Paper report and presentation: 20%
    Students are required to summarise a paper from the literature (1500 words) and present it the class orally (10 minutes). Presentations will be done in week 8. For further details see here.
  4. Exam: 50%
    Open book written exam.

PhD students attending the class for credit as part of the Monash Doctoral Program must do the continuous assessment but are not required to sit the exam.