Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Introduction to Physical Oceanography

LEVEL 01 - Year 1 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT Geosciences

DESCRIPTION The unit covers descriptive and practical aspects in physical oceanography. The main emphasis will be on the principles governing the motion of the oceans, sea-water properties and characteristics, water masses, air-sea interaction and ocean heat balances. The unit will focus on the Mediterranean Sea and relate to the importance of the marine physical environment for an ecosystem-based approach to the study of the sea.

More specifically the study-unit will deal with:
- ocean dimensions and seabed configuration;
- ocean variability in time and space;
- physical properties of sea water;
- temperature, salinity and density;
- heat balance of the oceans;
- basics of ocean circulation;
- geostrophic currents;
- wind induced circulation;
- thermohaline circulation of the Mediterranean Sea;
- methods in ocean observations;
- satellite oceanography;
- principles of operational oceanography.

Study-unit Aims:

The study-unit is intended to initiate students in the specialised field of physical oceanography. The unit seeks to provide the basic understanding to the physics of the sea as a key element for marine and earth sciences and serving as a foundation unit to other units related to the marine environment.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- understand and apply the basic concepts underlying the physical characteristics of the oceans, its scales of variability and the main drivers of its circulation;
- link basic physical processes in the sea to the understanding of the marine ecosystem functioning, and apprehend the available technologies and methods to observe the sea;
- describe the functioning of the Mediterranean basin-scale circulation focussing on the Central Mediterranean and the coastal seas around the Maltese Islands.

2. Skills
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- apply basic physical laws to the ocean continuum;
- read and comprehend basic literature referring to the marine physical environment;
- tap data and information sources on physical oceanography.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

- Brown, Evelyn, Colling, Angela, et al. (Open University) (1995). Seawater: its composition, properties and behaviour. Milton Keynes.
- Brown, Joan, Angela Colling, Angela, et al. (Open University) (1989). Ocean Circulation. Oxford. Pergamon.
- Knauss, John (2005). Introduction to Physical Oceanography (2005).


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment SEM1 Yes 20%
Examination (1 Hour and 30 Minutes) SEM1 Yes 80%


The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the study-unit description above applies to the academic year 2019/0, if study-unit is available during this academic year, and may be subject to change in subsequent years.