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The history of meteorology at McGill dates from the middle of the nineteenth century when the McGill Weather Observatory was established. It has made continuous measurement of meteorological variables for over a century. Following the Second World War, two active atmospheric research groups emerged at McGill. Dr. J. Stewart Marshall led a radar meteorology group in the Physics Department, and Dr. F. Kenneth Hare directed an arctic meteorology program in Geography. These two groups united in 1959 to form the Department of Meteorology. Since its creation, the Department has been a Canadian leader in the training of many distinguished atmospheric scientists. McGill has awarded over 230 MSc degrees and more than 80 Ph.D. degrees in this field.

The history of oceanographic research at McGill also dates from the 1850's, and was brought into focus in 1963 with the establishment of the Marine Sciences Centre (later the Institute of Oceanography). Under the directorship of Dr. Max J. Dunbar, the Institute offered M.Sc. and Ph.D. degree programs in the areas of physical, geological and biological oceanography. In 1987 the Institute was closed and a Graduate Program in Oceanography was established to coordinate teaching and research in the marine sciences carried out by faculty members in the Departments of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Earth and Planetary Sciences and Biology.

In January 1992, the Department of Meteorology became the Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences, to demonstrate the broad range of research activities in the atmosphere, physical oceanography and climate studies.