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Physical Oceanography
Goals for Spring 2004


"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 signals you will study later in your career; and
  • Analyze data sets to determine their usefulness for your problem.

By the end of the course, I expect you will be able to describe the important physical processes influencing the oceans and coastal regions, the interaction of the ocean with the atmosphere, and the distribution of oceanic winds, currents, heat fluxes, and water masses. The course will emphasis ideas rather than mathematical techniques. Classes will emphasize the discussion, analysis, and description of ideas.

I expect you will be able to:

  • Compare and select sources of data useful for the study of important physical processes.
    • What instruments are used for measuring each variable?
    • What are their accuracy and limitations?
    • What historic data exist?
    • What platforms are used? Satellites, ships, drifters, moorings.
  • Analyze and describe the important physical processes in the ocean.
    • What are the physical properties of sea water?
    • What are the important thermodynamic and dynamic processes influencing the ocean?
    • What equations describe the processes and how were they derived?
    • What approximations were used in the derivation?
    • Do the equations have useful solutions?
    • How well do the solutions describe the process?
    • Which processes are poorly understood? Which are well understood?
  • Describe the major currents and water masses in the ocean, the processes that govern their distribution, and the interaction of the ocean with the atmosphere.

Some important process we will study include:

  • The heat budget of the oceans.
  • The exchange of heat with the atmosphere and the role of the ocean in climate.
  • The surface mixed layer.
  • The dynamics of ocean currents, including geostrophic currents and the role of vorticity.
  • The wind-driven circulation including the Ekman circulation, Ekman pumping of the deeper circulation, and upwelling.
  • The formation of water types and masses.
  • The thermohaline circulation of the ocean.
  • The equatorial circulation andEl Niñoin the Pacific.
  • The observed circulation of the ocean plus the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Numerical models of the general circulation.
  • Waves in the ocean, including i) surface waves; ii) inertial oscillations, iii) tides, and iv) tsunamis.
  • Waves in shallow water, coastal processes, and tide predictions.

Revised on: 5 September, 2004

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