EOSC 583 · Circulation Processes and Transport Mechanisms in Observational Oceanography

The objective of this course is to provide incoming graduate students in all areas of EOS (although primarily OCGY and ATSCI students) with an overview of the important parts of, and mechanisms at play in, the world ocean, breaking down the system by both geographical location and by transport mechanisms. Although emphasizing the interconnectedness of the different basins and processes it will become clear why differences in disciplinary emphasis have led to different perspectives about, and conceptual models for, the ocean. The course is quantitative in terms of estimating magnitudes of various fluxes etc., but dynamics are limited to a non-mathematical interpretations of data based on thermal wind relations. The course assumes a background in one of the basic sciences and is multi-disciplinary in scope.

Learning Goals

Describe using words, block diagrams, and  qualitative sketches based on physical reasoning the structure of the ocean as viewed from the perspectives of various disciplines (e.g., mixed-layer dynamics, wind-driven circulation, thermohaline circulation, biogeochemical circulation).

Describe using words, order-of-magnitude numbers, and pictures the structure of the major oceans  (Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Southern, etc.) and discuss their similarities and differences.

Describe the physical and chemical characteristics of seawater, especially important nonlinear effects, and evaluate their importance in different situations.

Describe the physical, biological, and chemical processes involved in the transfer of water properties from/to the atmosphere and within the ocean, and discuss qualitatively how these transfers are affected by changes in the system.

Research an oceanographic problem of interest, find on-line global ocean data relevant to this problem, synthesize the results to address the problem, and write a project report on the outcome.

Understand that the subdiscipline-dependent simplified views of ocean circulation usually available should be considered as a convenient tool that can only be trusted so far!


Rich Pawlowicz


Tomczak and Godfrey: Regional Oceanography: an Introduction 2nd ed., Daya Press, 2003.

Lecture Topics

  • Ocean basins - size, features, and scales.
  • Ocean forcing - radiation balances, heat transfer, and the atmopsheric circulation.
  • Physical and chemical properties of seawater.
  • The ocean surface: mixed layers and air/sea interaction.
  • The vertical biogeochemical circulation.
  • The intermediate depth wind-driven circulation (subpolar and subtropical oceans).
  • The deep thermohaline circulation.
  • The polar oceans and interocean linkages.
  • The global fresh-water and heat enegry circulation.
  • Topics TBD based on class interest.