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Geophysical Fluid Dynamics

The course shows how important dynamic phenomena that form weather in the atmosphere and turbulent current variability in the ocean can be explained with the help of fundamental fluid equations, in particular the Shallow Water Equations.

The Shallow Water Equations (SWE) are very useful for understanding various dynamic phenomena responsible for atmospheric weather and turbulent current variability in the ocean, and for explaining how these phenomena emerge from the same underlying geophysical fluid dynamics. The SWE also sets a foundation for the more complicated systems of equations relevant to weather models and ocean models used for operational forecasting.  

The theory covered by the course explains for example why Rossby waves in the ocean always propagate westward while in the atmosphere they can propagate eastward when they interact with strong winds, why the ocean ocean eddies can be detected from the sea surface fluctuations, and how these fluctuations are in turn linked to the sub-surface currents. The course treats geostrophic adjustment, the separation into slow and fast mode, reduction to quasi-geostrophy, as well as conservation laws and stability theory. Beyond meteorology and oceanography, applications of the SWE span planetary atmospheres and astrophysical plasmas, so students interested in these topics might also find the course relevant.  

The course is a part of the Master's programme in Meteorology, Oceanography and Climate, but may also be taken as an individual course.


  • Course structure

    Course content: This course covers theoretical underpinnings, concepts and dynamical phenomena in meteorology and oceanography. It includes: derivation, scaling and applicability of the Shallow Water Equations, the Rossby number, fast and slow mode, reduction to quasi-geostrophy, geostrophic adjustment, geophysical (Rossby, Kelvin, Poincaré) waves on the beta plane and on the equatorial beta plane, conservation laws for energy and momentum, stability theory.

    Learning outcomes: After taking this course the student is expected to be able to: explain central concepts and dynamical phenomena in meteorology and oceanography from basic equations of geophysical fluid dynamics and carry out and present laboratory experiments with relevance to geophysical fluid dynamics.

    Teaching format

    The teaching consists of lectures and tutorials including: theory exercises, a computer lab, and a rotating tank lab. Participation in labs and the associated group tutorials is compulsory. Under special circumstances, the student may be allowed to omit certain parts of the compulsory teaching.


    a) Examination is done by a written test.

    b) Grading is done on a seven-step scale: A = Excellent B = Very good C = Good D = Satisfactory E =Sufficient Fx = Failed, some more work is required F = Failed, a lot more work is required.

    c) The grading criteria are handed out at the beginning of the course.

    d) For passing the course, at least grade E is required, as well as passed written presentations of tutorials and participation in all compulsory teaching.

    e) Students that do not pass the regular test have the right to take further tests as long as the course is given. The number of tests is not limited. As "tests" are understood also other compulsory parts of the course. Students that have passed a test are not allowed to attempt another test in order to receive a higher grade. Students that have failed an examination twice, for a course or part of a course, have the right to request that another Examinator is appointed, unless special reasons speak against this. The request for this should be directed to the Board of the department. The course has at least two examination occasions per academic year the years teaching is given. Intermediate years at least one examination occasion is given.

    f) A student who receives grade Fx has the opportunity to do additional work in order to reach grade E. The Examinator decides what additional work is required and the criteria to pass. The additional work should be performed prior to the next examination.



    Here is a link to a list of examiners for 2020:

  • Schedule

    The schedule will be available no later than one month before the start of the course. We do not recommend print-outs as changes can occur. At the start of the course, your department will advise where you can find your schedule during the course.

    You can search for schedules from previous years in TimeEdit, by entering the course code.

    Link to TimeEdit

  • Course literature

    Note that the course literature can be changed up to two months before the start of the course.

    Geoffrey K. Vallis: Essentials of Atmospheric and Oceanic Fluid Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, 2019

  • More information

    Upcoming courses

    The course is held every autumn semester.


    The course may not be included in a degree together with Meteorology, 20p (ME2030), Geophysical FluidDynamics, 7.5p (MO7006) or equivalent.

  • Contact

    Student counselor

    Phone: +46 8 16 24 18