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Introduction to Physical Oceanography
Course Goals


"Learning is not a spectator sport."

Learning requires you to be an active participant in class discussions. Through this course you will learn to:

  • Think critically about processes that may influence problems you will work on later in your career; and
  • Analyze data sets to determine their usefulness for your problem.

At the most basic level, I hope you will become aware of some of the major conceptual schemes (or theories) that form the foundation of physical oceanography, how they were arrived at, and why they are widely accepted, how oceanographers achieve order out of a random ocean, and the role of experiment in oceanography (to paraphrase Shamos, 1995: p. 89).

I expect you will be able to:

  1. Compare and select sources of data useful for the study of important physical variables and particular processes.
    1. What instruments are used for measuring each variable?
    2. What is their accuracy and limitations?
    3. What historic data exists?
    4. What platforms are used? Satellites, ships, drifters, moorings.
  2. Analyze and describe the important physical processes in the ocean.
    1. What are the physical properties of sea water?
    2. What are the important thermodynamic and dynamic processes influencing the ocean?
    3. What equations describe the processes and how were they derived?
    4. What approximations were used in the derivation?
    5. Do the equations have useful solutions?
    6. How well do the solutions describe the process?
    7. Which processes are poorly understood? Which are well understood?
  3. Describe the processes that govern the distribution of ocean currents, the interaction of the ocean with the atmosphere.
    1. Describe how the ocean can influence weather patterns, especially El Niño.
    2. Describe how the ocean can influence climate and cause abrupt climate change.

Some important process we will study include:

  1. The heat budget of the oceans.
  2. The exchange of heat with the atmosphere and the role of the ocean in climate.
  3. The surface mixed layer.
  4. The dynamics of ocean currents, including geostrophic currents and the role of vorticity.
  5. The wind-driven circulation including the Ekman circulation, Ekman pumping of the deeper circulation, and upwelling.
  6. The deep circulation of the ocean and abrupt climate change.
  7. The equatorial circulation, El Niño, and the role of the ocean in influencing weather patterns.
  8. The observed circulation of selected oceanic regions.
  9. Numerical models of the general circulation.
  10. Waves in the ocean, including i) surface waves; ii) inertial oscillations, iii) tides, and iv) tsunamis.
  11. Waves in shallow water, coastal processes, and tide predictions.

Revised on: 29 June, 2007

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