Chapter 1 - A Voyage of Discovery

Chapter 1 Contents

1.2 Goals

At the most basic level, I hope you, the students who are reading this text, 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).

More particularly, I expect you will be able to describe 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 text emphasizes ideas rather than mathematical techniques. We will try to answer such questions as:

  1. What is the basis of our understanding of physics of 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? That is, what is the experimental basis for the theories?
    7. Which processes are poorly understood? Which are well understood?
  2. What are the sources of information about physical variables?
    1. What instruments are used for measuring each variable?
    2. What are their accuracy and limitations?
    3. What historic data exist?
    4. What platforms are used? Satellites, ships, drifters, moorings?
  3. What processes are important? Some important process we will study include:
    1. Heat storage and transport in the oceans.
    2. The exchange of heat with the atmosphere and the role of the ocean in climate.
    3. Wind and thermal forcing of the surface mixed layer.
    4. The wind-driven circulation including the Ekman circulation, Ekman pumping of the deeper circulation, and upwelling.
    5. The dynamics of ocean currents, including geostrophic currents and the role of vorticity.
    6. The formation of water types and masses.
    7. The thermohaline circulation of the ocean.
    8. Equatorial dynamics and El Niño.
    9. The observed circulation of the ocean plus the Gulf of Mexico.
    10. Numerical models of the circulation.
    11. Waves in the ocean including surface waves, inertial oscillations, tides, and tsunamis.
    12. Waves in shallow water, coastal processes, and tide predictions
  4. What are the major currents and water masses in the ocean, what governs their distribution, and how does the ocean interact with the atmosphere?

chapter contents


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