A changeable outlook

Physics of the Environment and Climate - Atmosphere, Weather and Climate - Atmospheric Processes and Systems
October 29, 1999

For a number of years I have sought a single text that could act as the launching pad for an undergraduate honours-level course in meteorology and climate. The students are environmental scientists, geophysical scientists and masters-level atmospheric scientists. The undergraduates are often studying an extensive interdisciplinary range of courses. The course is year-long, wide-ranging and deals with processes on all spatial and temporal scales. We delve a little into the relevant mathematics, look at many synoptic charts and try not to be too parochial in the case-study examples we consider. We stress the great many important linkages between the separate sub-sections of the course.

Atmosphere, Weather and Climate , in its previous six editions, has always been the cornerstone of the course but has never dealt with the mathematics to the level I would wish, nor adequately covered the micro-meteorology element of our course. Hence we make considerable reference to texts by Tim Oke, Andy

Sturman and Nigel Tapper, John Simpson, Roland Stull and Ed Linacre among others. With students having less and less money to spend on texts and library budgets being squeezed this reliance on a number of texts is not ideal. Or is it ?

Of the three texts here, only Atmosphere, Weather and Climate is already well known. I have always believed that its greatest strength is the impressive range of figures. The text has generally been updated at five or six yearly intervals and, for this edition, "100 new or redrawn figures,revised tables and new plates are presented". Many other rival texts base figures around those first presented here. Rapid growth in climate research and understanding has, not surprisingly, led to the addition of substantial new climate-related material, not just in a chapter tagged on the end but permeating, where relevant, the entire text. Perhaps most welcome is the extended material on the "climatic role of the oceans"; exposure to the significance of atmosphere ocean interactions (in an accessible way) is sadly lacking in most texts in this field. An appendix of useful internet addresses is included but I cannot help thinking that a text-related web page, which could be updated more regularly than the publication of a new edition, would be more appropriate. This seventh edition does not address the deficiencies I noted above but then I did not really expect it to.

Physics of the Environment and Climate is part of the Wiley-Praxis series,Atmospheric Physics and Climatology. My biggest criticism is that the title is misleading. What sounds like a very general text is, in fact, heavily aimed at agro-meteorologists and climatologists. Indeed it grew out of a course in bio

climatology taught by the author. It is quite wide-ranging, with seven chapters on radiation, heat exchange, water, atmosphere and climate, microclimates, climatology and measurement techniques. Figures are generally too small, perhaps deliberately so in order to restrict the book to the already sizeable 600-odd pages. Where opportunities occur to discuss real data, French examples are invariably given. On a positive note, exercises are included at the end of each chapter. In summary, unlike other books discussed here, it is appropriate for a more specialised audience.

Atmospheric Processes and Systems forms part of the Routledge series, Introduction to the Environment. At 194 pages it does not immediately meet my needs. It does, however, offer an excellent solution to my other problem: which text to recommend as a useful pre-course introduction? In fact, it was designed for a short modular course in the subject. The text is divided into five parts with several chapters in each: an introduction followed by "Radiative fluxes and energy transfers", "Atmospheric water", "Primary atmospheric circulations" and "Secondary/tertiary circulations". Figures are very clear and generally well chosen although I would like to have seen greater use of satellite imagery where appropriate. The author has tried hard to give a global flavour to the case studies (of which there is one in each chapter lasting several pages). Just occasionally, inappropriate scientific units are presented. The section on tertiary circulations is very descriptive (and does not sustain the enthusiasm generally present elsewhere). Some of the case studies are excellent, such as that concerned with urban climate. On the other hand, the opening study on acid rain is not very fulfilling, perhaps partly for lack of space.

To return to my original point about several texts being useful for my course: now that I think about it, I do not really like the idea of being so heavily reliant on one book. More than ever it is today accepted that learning follows many paths in response to the different forms in which material is presented and explained. So we must encourage students to form a small consortium by which they can, one hopes, afford to get access to all the books I recommend. Maybe they would then talk more about the material with their peers and develop their critical sense by not hanging on every word from a single text.

Stephen Dorling is lecturer in environmental sciences, University of East Anglia.

Physics of the Environment and Climate

Author - Gerard Guyot
ISBN - 0 471 96828 5 and 96818 8
Publisher - Wiley
Price - £50.00 and £24.95
Pages - 632

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