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Physical Oceanography

  • 7.5 credits

The course deals with central concepts and dynamical phenomena in physical oceanography: wind-driven and the thermohaline ocean circulation, estuarine circulation, wave phenomena, small scale processes are explained with a help of theory and observations.

The course begins with presenting central concepts in physical oceanography: sea water properties (temperature, salinity, density) and how they are related through the Equation of State (EOS), water masses and the T-S diagrams used to study them, ocean stratification. The course continues with explaining  the fundamental phenomena of ocean circulation with help of the theory: geostrophic currents, the wind-driven and the thermohaline ocean circulation, estuarine circulation (with focus on the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean), oceanic wave phenomena and small-scale processes.

The course includes a research cruise with R/V ELECTRA (in collaboration with the Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre) where students learn basic methods for observational oceanography.

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: The course deals with central concepts and dynamical phenomena in physical oceanography: sea water properties (temperature, salinity, density), the Equation of State (EOS) for sea water, water masses, T-S diagrams with applications, ocean stratification, thermocline, halocline, pycnocline, Boussinesq equations, geostrophic currents and thermal wind, Ekman layers, upwelling phenomena, Sverdrup-, Stommel-, Munk models for the wind-driven circulation, thermohaline circulation, wave phenomena (Kelvin-, Rossby-, Poincaré and internal waves) and mixing processes in the ocean.

    The course includes a research cruise with R/V ELECTRA ( where students learn basic methods for observational oceanography.

    Learning outcomes: After taking this course the student is expected to be able to explain central concepts and dynamical phenomena exhibited by ocean circulation from basic equations, carry out a water mass analysis with T-S diagrams, explain principles for the main techniques of observational oceanography.

    Teaching format

    The teaching consists of lectures and tutorials: theory exercises and fieldwork at the Askö station including an oceanographic cruise with R/V ELECTRA. Participation in tutorials and the fieldwork is compulsory. Under special circumstances, the student may be allowed to omit certain parts of the compulsory teaching

    Course material

    Grading criteria, course literature and other material and correspondence related to the course will be available on the course Athena-site at once you have registered for the course.


    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 occasion.



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

  • Schedule

    This is a preliminary schedule and is subject to continuous change. For this reason, we do not recommend print-outs. At the start of the course, your institution 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.
    • E. Gill: Atmosphere-Ocean Dynamics, Academic Press, 1982
  • More information

    Upcoming courses

    The course is held every autumn semester.

  • Contact

    Student counselor

    Phone: +46 8 16 24 18