Fall semester, 2016
Introduction to Observational Physical Oceanography
MIT/WHOI Joint Program Courses (12.808)
This course is an introduction to the fundamental processes that control the circulation of the world’s oceans and the methods and techniques researchers use to observe the ocean’s physical structure and variability. Physical oceanography is a rapidly developing field, in response to the pressing societal need to understand how the physical state of the oceans might be changing as part of a changing climate. Are the oceans warming? Is the ocean circulation slowing? Rapid development on these and other questions is made possible by new technology, e.g., sat
ellite measurement systems and autonomous floats and gliders that enable more efficient and more comprehensive observation of the ocean. Topics are organized around concepts and processes, rather than geography, and the approach will be quantitative rather than merely descriptive. Emphasis will be on large-scale distributions and processes that are central to the ocean’s role in Earth’s climate and biosphere. The course goal is to understand how the oceans contribute to Earth’s climate and biosphere by storing and transporting properties and materials, e.g., heat (energy) and nutrients. Five specific objectives are to: (1) Become familiar with the large-scale distributions of the ocean’s physical properties, e.g., temperature, salinity and currents, and how these are observed, (2) Understand the basic principles of ocean physics, e.g., equation of state of sea water, consequences of stratification, effects of Earth’s rotation, transport by mean and fluctuating ocean currents, (3) Learn how to estimate ocean processes from the observations, e.g., meridional heat transport by geostrophic and Ekman layer currents or changes in mixed layer depth due to surface heating or winter storms, (4) Foster interdisciplinary understanding and interaction from the diverse background of course participants.