Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Theoretical Baseline of Oceanography

UM LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course



DEPARTMENT Geosciences

DESCRIPTION This study-unit establishes the theoretical scientific background within the study of oceanography and will provide students with a comprehensive overview of physical, chemical, biological and geological processes within the Earth's oceans as well as an introduction to marine meteorology. These sectors of oceanographic science will be integrated through cross-linkages between them so as to do justice to the multi-disciplinary dimension of oceanography.

The approach will be a mix of quantitative and descriptive areas targeting to deliver an understanding of a broad range of scientific disciplines, and how different aspects can be integrated to study a complex system. The delivery will focus on the applicative approach to portray oceanography as a means of not only understanding the marine environment, but also to address and resolve targeted problems and provide services.

The study elements addressed in this study-unit deal with the important processes in the oceans, shelf seas and coastal domains. They are intended to combine knowledge of life in the sea with a specialised understanding of their physical, chemical and biological environments and the biogeochemical interactions within the atmosphere, ocean and sea floor. In particular the study-unit will deal with:
An Introduction to the study of oceanography - history of the study of oceanography, future openings and trends.

- Physical oceanography:
Properties of seawater (T, S and ρ), Introduction to forces in the ocean and mesoscale variability, Introduction to marine hydrodynamics.

- Biological oceanography:
Influence of physical forcings (light, temp and salinity) on the pelagic domain, Influence of nutrients on the pelagic domain, Phytoplankton and zooplankton dynamics, Biophysical couplings.

- Chemical oceanography:
Composition of seawater and determination of salinity, Composition of seawater and determination of salinity; Use of radioisotopes, Biogeochemical cycles, the pH scale and ocean acidification, Mercury in the marine environment as a case study.

- Geological oceanography:
Introduction to marine geology, Sedimentary processes within ocean basins and nearshore geological processes, Marine geology of the Mediterranean, with particular reference to the Maltese Islands Atmosphere-ocean interactions.

Study-Unit Aims:

The overarching aim of this theoretical study-unit is to instill in students the scientific tenets of oceanography, in preparation for a more applicative and service-oriented approach adopted in subsequent study-units. Students will be introduced to the scientific foundations of oceanography and, in so doing, to the rationale and scope of the entire proposed Programme of Studies. Pursuant to training students in the field of operational oceanography, which is the ultimate aim of the proposed Programme of Studies, the scientific baseline of oceanography will be addressed from the broadest possible spectrum of perspectives, include the physical, chemical, biological and geological ones. This study unit aims to indirectly harmonise the participant scientific portfolio within the field of oceanography, given that students reading for this Master's course would probably hail from a variety of academic backgrounds.

Learning Outcomes:

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

- Value European excellence in operational oceanography, serving as an experience to generate innovative support activities through integrated marine information services;
- Interpret concepts of advanced computer-based modeling and techniques in operational oceanography, the underlying principles for setup and functioning, different kind of models, and their use in providing user friendly information services for the needs of key users;
- Interpret how ocean models provide additional support to understand the processes in the marine environment;
- Distinguish between the main types of models used in oceanography and determine their applicability to selected cases;
- Explain how specialized technologies in operational oceanography, are contributing to enhance applications in a wide range of marine activities through specific European experiences and examples;
- Identify benefits and limitations on the use of numerical models including diagnostics to assess their performance;
- Explain the scope of Environmental Impact Assessments, and the process of formulating and submitting such assessments on the basis of informed and multi-disciplinary inputs.

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

- Assess the potential as well as the limitations of ocean models to support marine services;
- Evaluate how advanced ocean models function, which are the available outputs and how they can be accessed and used;
- Perform advanced post-processing on model outputs and use them to help answer research questions;
- Formulate individual inputs that fit a team effort, through participate in group work for a common endeavour;
- Plan and apply data to prepare assessments based on multiple inputs and relating to a mix of scientific, legal, socio-economic and environmental aspects;
- Investigate further the experiences obtained in the course to innovative applications and production of new downstream services.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:

- Thomas, D.N. & Bowers, D.G. (2021). Introducing Oceanography. (2nd edition). Dunedin Academic Press: 192pp.
- Garrison, T. & Ellis, R. (2021). Introduction to oceanography: an invitation to Marine Science. (10th edition). National Geographic.
- Carol M. Lalli & Timothy Richard Parsons, (Open University) (1997). Biological Oceanography: An Introduction. Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd; 2nd edition, 320pp.

Supplementary Readings:

- Simpson, J. & Sharples, J. (2012). Introduction to the Physical & Biological Oceanography of Shelf Seas, Cambridge University Press, 448pp.
- Miller, C. & Wheeler, P. (2nd edition) (2012). Biological Oceanography, Wiley-Blackwell, 480pp. Brown Evelyn, Angela Colling, et al. (Open University) (1995). Seawater: its composition, properties and behaviour. Oxford, Pergamon, 168 pp.
- Pilson, M.E.Q. (2013). An introduction to the chemistry of the sea (2nd edition). Cambridge University Press: 524pp.
- Millero, F.J. (2013). Chemical Oceanography (4th edition). Taylor & Francis Publishing: 571pp.
- Brown Joan, Angela Colling, et al. (Open University) (1989). Ocean Circulation. Oxford, Pergamon, 238 pp.
- Open University Course Team (2000). Waves, Tides & Shallow-Water Processes. Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd; 2nd revised edition, 228pp.
- Open University Course Team (2005). Marine Biogeochemical Cycles. Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd, 192 pp.
- Open University Course Team (2005). The Ocean Basins: Their structure and Evolution. Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd, 192pp.
- Introduction to Physical Oceanography, 2nd Ed. (2005) by John Knauss.
- Ocean Dynamics and the Carbon Cycle (Principles and Mechanisms), (2011) by Richard G. Williams and Michael J. Follows, 416pp.
- Seibold, E. and Berger, W.H. (1996) The Seafloor: An Introduction to Marine Geology, Springer.
- Mann, K. & Lazier, J. (3rd edition) (2005). Dynamics of Marine Ecosystems: Biological-Physical Interactions in the Oceans, Wiley-Blackwell, 512pp.
- Descriptive Physical Oceanography (DPO) (6th edition) (2011) by Pickard, Emery, Talley, Swift. Academic Press, 560pp.
- Duxbury A.C. and Duxbury, A.B. 1991. An Introduction to the World's Oceans. 3rd ed. Wm. C.P. Summerhayes and S.A.Thorpe, OCEANOGRAPHY - An illustrated guide, Manson Publishing Ltd., Copyright, 2006.
- Encyclopedia of Marine Science by C. Reid Nichols, Robert G. Williams Ocean Weather Forecasting: An Intergrated View of Oceanography (Eric P. Chassignet, Jacques Verron).
- Chemical Oceanography and the Marine Carbon Cycle (Steven Emerson, John Hedges) Mills, Eric. (Reprint edition) (2012). Biological Oceanography: An early history 1870-1960, University of Toronto Press, 416pp.
- Jumars, Peter. (1993). Concepts in Biological Oceanography: An interdisciplinary Primer, Oxford University Press, 348pp.

ADDITIONAL NOTES Pre-Requisite qualifications: Preferably a first degree which includes any two in combination of the following subjects: mathematics, physics (including computational physics), IT, and statistics as well as to applicants with an engineering degree. Students with a degree in just one of these subjects, in conjunction with biology, chemistry and geography will also be considered if the maximum course uptake numbers are not reached. Mature students and professionals with experience and already engaged on related jobs will be eligible for admission.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture, Seminar & Independent Study

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Sept. Asst Session Weighting
Assignment SEM1 Yes 40%
Examination (1 Hour and 30 Minutes) SEM1 Yes 60%

LECTURER/S Matthew R Agius
Alan Deidun
Charles Galdies
Anthony Galea


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 description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2023/4. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.