Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Scientific Baseline of Oceanography

LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course


DEPARTMENT Geosciences

DESCRIPTION This study-unit sets the scientific background in general 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 and combining aspects that are the basis of the multi-disciplinary activity in 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 and chemical environments and the biogeochemical interactions within the atmosphere, ocean and sea floor. In particular the study-unit will deal with:

- The dynamics of the oceans and how this relates to storage and distribution of properties and materials such as for example energy and nutrients;
- The basic principles of ocean physics, e.g., air-sea fluxes, equation of state and of motion of sea water, mixing, consequences of stratification, effects of Earth’s rotation, ocean transport by mean and fluctuating ocean currents, waves; observational methods, interpretation of data and estimation of ocean processes from observations;
- The dynamics of the most relevant marine biogeochemical cycles (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, silicon), and the implications that variability within such cycles have on living resources;
- Spatio-temporal trends in the chief nutrient determinants of plankton populations, mainly nitrates, phosphates, silicates and iron; the influence of physical (e.g. light intensity and temperature) and chemical (e.g. dissolved oxygen) forcings on the pelagic domain (in particular planktonic populations); trophic relationships within the planktonic community, and the dynamics governing plankton blooms; the regeneration of nutrients through the microbial loop and its implications for broader marine ecosystems;
- An overview of the theoretical aspects on marine geology including sedimentary processes within ocean basins and of nearshore geological processes, of the characteristics of different ocean basins and with a focus on the marine geology of the Mediterranean;
- A broad-brush description of sea floor exploration and surveying techniques;
- Marine meteorology dealing primarily with the physics of the marine atmosphere including the study of atmospheric phenomena above the oceans, their influence on shallow and deep water, and the influence of the ocean surface on atmospheric processes.

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:

- comprehend the basic scientific concepts of oceanography in a holistic view embracing the physical, chemical, biological and geological aspects, and on how they relate to the underlying processes and functioning of the marine environment;
- view and assess natural phenomena occurring in the marine domain in a holistic manner with inter-linkages across various disciplines and across different scales;
- complete his/her scientific background to the specialized level needed to follow successfully the rest of the course.

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

- apply the fundamentals of ocean science to describe and explain processes pertaining to the the marine environment in coastal and open sea domains, and the interactions between the atmosphere and the oceans;
- demonstrate an understanding of scientific literature on related topics and have sufficient insight to follow and apprehend past and current research efforts, as well as critically evaluate the validity of existing literature on oceanography against accepted benchmarks and standards;
- make sensible assessments on the response of the marine ecosystem to natural and anthropogenic forcings.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings

Main Recommended Books:
Brown Evelyn, Angela Colling, et al. (Open University) (1995). Seawater: its composition, properties and behaviour. Oxford, Pergamon, 168 pp.
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.
Carol M. Lalli & Timothy Richard Parsons, (Open University) (1995). Biological Oceanography: An Introduction. Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd; 2nd edition, 320pp.
Mann, K. & Lazier, J. (3rd edition) (2005). Dynamics of Marine Ecosystems: Biological-Physical Interactions in the Oceans, Wiley-Blackwell, 512pp.
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.
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.

Additional Reference Books:
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 and Seminar

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment SEM1 Yes 20%
Examination (3 Hours) 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.