Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Essentials of Operational Oceanography

LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course


DEPARTMENT Geosciences

DESCRIPTION The main target is to present the major components of an ocean/coastal observing system comprising the data acquisition systems, the key analytical and statistical techniques for data interpretation, and the data presentation and product generation component to extract geo-spatial added-value information from the data.

Key elements that will be addressed in the study-unit are spread over four sub-sections consisting of:

The essentials of operational oceanography systems at global, regional and coastal scales, dealing with the chain of activities for the provision of data collected routinely by means of in situ and remote sensing observing platforms, and through numerical modelling and forecasting activities.

An overview of the instrumentation concepts and the fundamentals of sensing techniques applied to the marine environment with a focus on satellite and airborne platforms; the use of sensors to monitor both physical (eg. sea surface temperature measured by infrared sensors, anomalies of sea surface height measured by altimeters, sea winds measured by scatterometers) and biological (water color measured by optical sensors) properties of the marine ecosystem in ocean and coastal domains; the image visual display, analysis and interpretation of digital image data with applications in the context of ocean processes.

The support of GIS and mapping tools to manage spatial data with applications to marine science topics. The concept and implementation of ecosystem-based natural resource management in the sea through the use of marine spatial planning catering for the complex linkages between multiple processes and factors at different scales and application, focusing on the support to decision making, conflict management and environmental management. This section of SU3 will run in parallel to SU2 where the basic software packages for dealing with spatial data will be introduced.

The application of numerical analysis and statistical techniques in geophysical fluid mechanics, and more specifically in relation to tackling and describing ocean related processes. This part of the course links the underlying theoretical aspects in ocean dynamics to mathematical and statistical methods, providing students with a foundation in high-tech quantitative assessments and interpretations of the marine physical environment through the use of appropriate tools and the acquisition of programming skills. This aspect is a precursor to the numerical modeling techniques covered in SU4.

Study-unit Aims

This study-unit is intended to:
i) introduce students to the scope and key elements of operational oceanography comprising the activity of systematic and long-term routine reliable measurements of the seas, oceans and atmosphere, their rapid interpretation and dissemination to serve a wide range of users across a spectrum of applications;
ii) provide an overarching vision on operational oceanography in the 21st century, dealing with its governance structures for international cooperation, and building on recent achievements and the intrinsic European perspective;
iii) empower students to comprehend the state-of-the-art methods and tools of operational oceanography across its inter-related disciplines from physics to ecology on scales from global to coastal;
iv) deal with technical aspects underlying metocean data acquisition sensors and platforms with a focus on satellite observations, as well as a mathematical basis for the quantified description and interpretation of oceanic processes;
v) introduce marine GIS and spatial planning in support to a variety of environmental management activities including impact assessment, biophysical characterization and monitoring, and marine resources mapping.

Learning Outcomes

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

- Comprehend the concept and practice of operational oceanography for the systematic and long-term routine measurements of the seas and oceans and atmosphere, and the rapid interpretation and dissemination of information;
- Demonstrate knowledge of the national, regional and international frameworks and programmes for coordinating and implementing efforts in operational oceanography with a focus on Europe;
- Demonstrate an understanding of ocean and coastal observing and forecasting systems in operational oceanography, technical and theoretical aspects related to metocean observations, operational monitoring platforms, state-of-the-art instrumentation and sensor technology, understanding their performance (including limitations and configurations) and understanding their basic functions and use to the benefit of specific applications;
- Comprehend the process of acquisition and the nature of the information in remote sensing for the comprehensive study of the sea and the applications to oceanographic studies, with a focus on satellite platforms providing multi-disciplinary information on physical (sea surface temperature measured by infrared sensors, anomalies of sea surface height measured by altimeters, sea winds measured by scatterometers) and biological (chlorophyll and suspended sediment concentration from ocean colour measured by optical sensors) properties of the marine environment;
- Comprehend the advantages and limitations of remote sensing methods in oceanography, and how these factors affect the interpretation of upper ocean measurements;
- Apprehend the synergy arising from using remote sensing methods alongside conventional in situ oceanographic observations;
- Demonstratea sound understanding of concepts, information and mathematical techniques at the forefront of geophysical fluid dynamics;
- Express interests and informed opinions in a range of areas in applied mathemical methods relevant to oceanograohy;
- Comprehend the concepts and terminology for maritime spatial planning (MSP), especially within the European perspective, including benefits and relation to other existing management approaches, primarily integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) and ecosystem-based management (EBM);
- Operate Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a tool for mapping and analysis of spatial data with special reference to the marine domain.

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

- Apply the scientific method in the design of studies and assessments, in establishing feasible sampling and surveying protocols, in the sound interpretation of data, and in deriving meaningful conclusions;
- Demonstrate an understanding of data measurement basics & definitions (units, accuracy, precision, error, uncertainty, sensitivity, statistical analysis, etc.) and an in-depth knowledge of transducers and sensors used to observe the sea;
- Apply remote sensing data acquired from the main systems observing the oceans (especially from space), with practice in basic image processing and data analysis and interpretation using MATLAB and typical software tools (like BILKO) for the monitoring, assessment and management of the marine environment;
- Comprehend the synergy arising from using remote sensing methods alongside conventional in situ oceanographic observations;
- Identify and describe suitable systems, technologies and tools to measure and monitor coastal and marine environments;
- Perform in a broad range of mathematical areas, including calculus and statistical techniques, and of their application to geophysical fluid dynamics and in marine environmental contexts in general;
- Integrate numerical problem solving (using computer programming skills) both with models and real data;
- Apply the essential steps for developing and implementing MSP, with an insight on how maritime spatial planning can enhance ecosystem-based and integrated management at the local and regional levels;
- Identify the relevant aspects to be considered and the spatial data to apply in organizing and handling multi-tasking questions in the specific cases of maritime and coastal contexts;
- Apply knowledge, understanding and problem solving abilities in new or unfamiliar contexts involving broader (or multidisciplinary) factors that link science to management issues and across legal and socio-economic aspects.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings

Main Recommended Books:
Operational Oceanography in the 21st Century (2011 Edition) by Andreas Schiller & Gary B. Brassington, Springer, 762 pp.
Alan S Morris, Measurement & Instrumentation Principles, Elsevier, (Chapter 1: Introduction to Measurement; Chapter 2: Instrument types and performance characteristics; Chapter 3: Errors during the measurement process)
Descriptive Physical Oceanography (DPO) (6th edition) (2011) by Pickard, Emery, Talley, Swift. Academic Press, 560pp.
Introduction to Geophysical Fluid Dynamics (1994) by Benoit Cushman-Roisin. Prentice-Hall, 320 pp.
Mathematical Methods for Oceanographers: An Introduction (1st edition) (1997) by Edward A. Laws. Wiley, 363 pp.
Discovering the Ocean from Space: The unique applications of satellite oceanography (2010 Edition) by Ian S. Robinson. Springer, 638 pp.
Marine Spatial Planning: a step-by-step approach toward ecosystem-based management (2009) by Ehler Charles & Fanny Douvere. Intergovernmental Oceanographic. Commission and Man and the Biosphere Programme. IOC Manual and Guides No. 53, ICAM Dossier No. 6. Paris: UNESCO. (

Additional Reference Books:
Introductory Dynamical Oceanography (1983) by Stephen Pond & George L. Pickard. Gulf Professional Publishing, 329 pp.
Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Second Edition (1987) by Joseph Pedlosky. Springer-Verlag, 710pp.
Introduction to Geophysical Fluid Dynamics: Physical and Numerical Aspects (2011) by Benoit Cushman-Roisin & Jean-Marie Beckers. Academic Press, 828 pp.
Remote Sensing and Image Interpretation (5th edition) (2003) by Thomas Lillesand, Ralph W. Kiefer, Jonathan Chipman. John Wiley & Sons, 784 pp.
Oceanography from Space (Revisited 2010) by Barale, Vittorio; Gower, J.F.R.; Albertotanza, L. (Eds.). Springer, 376 pp.

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 Tutorial

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.