Introductory Oceanography Themes Covered in This Course


I. Plate Tectonics and the Physiology of the Ocean Basins Theme (Covered in Exam 1)

A. History of Oceanography

1. What were the interests of ancient civilizations in oceanography? 

2. Who, and how did the oceans get explored?

3. What were the major questions that early explorers asked about the oceans?

4. How did early explorers figure out where they were when out of sight of land?

     Specifically, cover Polynesian exploration, Viking exploration, and Captain Cook’s voyages.

5. How have technologic advances contributed to oceanographic discovery?

6. What are the primary institutions that carry out oceanographic research today?

B. Earth Formation

1. Big Bang theory

a. Initial creation of expanding space, energy and light-weight elements

b. Age of the Universe

2. Formation of stars and star clusters (galaxies)

3. Stellar fusion and the synthesis of middle-weight elements

4. Supernova and the synthesis of heavy-weight elements

5. Planetary accretion theory - Origin of Earth-Moon system

6. Uniformitarianism and the age of earth

7.  Origin and age of ocean and its ocean basins

a. How are these ages determined?

b. Original primordial sources ocean water

            i. Volcanic out-gassing

            ii. Comet impacts

8.  Origin and evolution of the atmosphere

            a. Three stages

                        i.  Primordial – H-He-rich

                        ii. Early-Secondary – Oxy-free

                        iii. Late-present day – Oxy-rich

C. Earth’s Interior

1.  Major structural layers

            a. Crust (oceanic and continental)

b. Lithosphere (crust plus uppermost mantle = tectonic plates)

            c. Asthenosphere (partial molten – mobile)

            d. Mesosphere (lower mantle)

            e. Outer core (liquid)

            f. Inner core (solid)

2.  Temperature versus depth – Geo-thermocline

3.  Radioactive decay and mantle convection

4.  Earth’s magnetic field and polarity reversals

5. Principle of isostacy

a. Isostatic equilibrium

b. Isostatic adjustment

D. Ocean Basin Physiography

1.  Names and locations of oceans, continents, and seas

2.  Major geographic features on the seafloor –

            a. Continental margin features

                        i. Shoreline

ii. Shelf

iii. Slope

iv. Submarine canyons

v. Rise

            b. Deep seafloor features

                        i. Abyssal plains and hills

ii. Fracture zones

iii. Mid ocean ridges and rises

iv. Seamounts and guyots

v. Ocean islands and plateaus

vi. Trenches and island arcs

3.  Composition, age, topography, and structure of oceanic and continental crust

4.  Deep sea hydrothermal vents at mid-ocean ridges

5.  Origin, nature, and distribution of marine neritic and pelagic sediments

            a. Terrigenous clastics

            b. Biogenous oozes

            c. Hydrogenous

            d. Cosmogenous

E. Plate Tectonics

1. Definition of Theory of Plate Tectonics

2. Seafloor spreading process

3. Transform fracture systems

4. Subduction process

5. The three types of plate boundaries

6. The three types of convergent boundaries

7. Relationship between plate boundaries and observable phenomena

a. Topography

b. Quakes

c. Volcanoes

d. Island chains

e. Seafloor age

8.  List of physical evidence that support plate tectonic theory

            a. Close relationship between active volcano-tectonic events and plate boundaries

b. Seafloor crust and sediment age profile

            c. Magnetic reversal patterns in seafloor crust

            d. Ridge-ridge transform fault movement

            e. Continent position paleo-pole reconstructions

            f. Hot spot volcanic center traces

            g. Wadati-Benioff earthquake foci patterns

            h. Mantle tomography

            i. Satellite GPS tracking of lateral plate movements

9. Miscellaneous facts about plate tectonics

a. Age of oldest ocean crust, and where is it?

b.  Be able to draw tectonic map (rough) of Atlantic and Pacific ocean basins, showing locations of the major divergent, convergent, and transform boundaries.

F. After this theme, students should be able to:

1. Identify the continents and ocean basins on a world map

2. Correctly describe the general theory of plate tectonics

3. Draw an approximate tectonic plate map on a physiographic map of the world

4. Use topography, quakes, volcanoes, and age data to identify a plate boundary type.

5. Be able to argue for the theory of plate tectonics, citing lines of physical evidence.


II. Atmosphere-/Ocean-Circulation Theme (Covered in Exam 2)

A. Properties of Water

1. How water is special (molecular geometry)

2. Freezing and boiling points

3. Heat capacity

4.  Latent heat and transfer of heat through evaporation and condensation

B. Seawater and Its Composition

1.     Definition of Salinity

2.     Constituents, major and minor, dissolved gases, nutrients

a. Heat

b. Salts (major constituents)

c. Dissolved gases

d. Nutrients

e. Trace elements

3.     Balance of constituents:

a. Possible sources and sinks

i.   Sun

ii. Atmosphere

iii. Rivers

iv. Mid-ocean ridge hot springs

b. Residence time

c. Rivers versus mid-ocean ridge inputs

4.     Transport of constituents

a. Wind-driven transport

b. Density transport (vertical)

i. Relationship between density, temperature, and salinity

c.     Atmospheric transport

i. Evaporation

ii. Rainfall

iii. Airborne, aerosols

C. Ocean Structure

            1. Vertical structure

                        a. Thermocline

                        b. Halocline

                        c. Pycnocline

                        d. Latitudinal variations

            2. Classification and distribution of ocean water masses

                        a. Surface water masses

                        b. Intermediate water masses

                        c. Deep water masses

                        d. Bottom water masses


D. Atmosphere and Atmospheric Circulation

1. Buoyancy and air density

a. Function of temp, humidity,

2.  Vertical structure. Troposphere, tropopause, etc. Vertical stratification.

3.  Average earth surface temperature and atmospheric heating

4.  Overall circulation pattern, no Coriolis effect

5.  Coriolis effect and circulation  (show Coriolis animations)

6.  Quick scat wind animations

7.  Global circulation pattern (data), circulation cells, height of cells.

8.  Wind zones: “roaring 40’s”, trades, doldrums, horse latitudes.

9.  Rainfall and climate zones

10. Heat transport by the atmosphere

11. Effect of continents

12. Monsoons

13. Island weather


E. Data Relevant to Atmospheric circulation

1.  Global average temperatures, hotter at equator

2.  Global winds and wind zones

3.  Rainfall


F. Ocean Surface Circulation

1. Wind as the current-forcing agent

a. Westerly wind belts

b. Trade wind belts   

b. Coastal wind patterns

2. Earth’s rotation, gravity, and landmasses as current-modifying agents

            a. Coriolis-induced Ekman spiral and Ekman Transport

            b. Mid-ocean basin pressure “hill” of seawater

c. Westward intensification

3. Major patterns of surface circulation –

a. Geostrophic gyresracetrack-like, ocean basin circulation loops

b. Western and Eastern boundary currents

        i.Gulf stream and California current as focus examples

c. Equatorial and High latitude transverse currents

d. Antarctic Circumpolar current (Westwind drift current)

e. Countercurrents and Undercurrents

f. Upwelling and Downwelling

3. El Nino, caused by air-sea interaction


G. Deep Ocean Circulation

1. Data relevant to deep ocean circulation (we know what the constituents are, so let’s look at some cross-sections and see if we can interpret them).

a.  Temperature

b.  Salinity

c.  Nutrients

d.  Dissolved gases

2. Temperature/Salinity/Density (review)

3. Shallow mixing due to wind and Ekman spiral.

4. Deep circulation patterns

a. Major deep ocean water masses: AABW, NADW, etc.

b. Speed of deep currents

c. Age of water, residence time

5. Thermal conveyor belt


 III. Waves and Beaches Theme (Covered in Exam 3)

A. Classification and Propagation of Ocean Waves

1. Types of ocean waves 

2. Wave velocity vs wavelength

2. Deep and shallow water wave velocities

3. Breaking waves

4. Refraction, reflection, diffraction

B. Origin and Nature of Wind Waves

1. Storms and their effect of wave size and distribution

2. The “Force” scale

            3. Analyze current wave data from the web

            C. Origin and Nature of Tsunami

                        1.  Triggering mechanisms and wave behavior

                        2.  Tsunami as a coastal hazard

                        3.  Early detection and warning

D. Origin and Nature of Tides

                        1.  Earth, Moon and Sun and tidal patterns

                        2.  Effects of tides on coastal regions

                        3.  Tides and marine life

E. Classification, Anatomy, and Processes of Shorelines

1.  Erosional vs depositional processes and features

2.  Primary vs secondary types

3.  Beaches, terraces, bluffs, and estuaries

F. Effect of Waves on Shorelines

1.  Winter and summer beaches (high energy and low energy)

2.  Longshore and rip currents and the transport of sand

3.  Harbors, seawalls, and other beach structures

4.  Coastal erosion and mitigation

5.  Waves and surfing


IV. Marine Biology Theme (Covered in Final Exam)

A. Classification and Evolution

1. Classification of marine life

a. Plants: phytoplankton

b. Animal

c. Relative biological mass of marine life types

2. Evolution Theory of marine life

a. Examination of the theory

b. Marine fossil record

c. Explanation, predictions and significance

            B. Physical Factors and Habitats

1. Physical (limiting) factors that support marine life

            a. Water

       i. temperature

       ii. pressure

       iii. salinity

b. Light

      i. Penetration into seawater – spectrum selective

     ii. Latitude and Seasonal changes
     iii. Seawater clarity

c. Nutrients

             i. Oxygen

                         ii. CO2

                        iii. Nitrate

                        iv. Phosphate

                        v. Cycling of nutrients, food web

d. Sources and sinks of nutrients

                         i. Atmosphere

                        ii. Ocean currents

                       iii. Upwelling and Mixing

                       iv. Sinking and Sequestering

2. Marine Habitats – various classifications

            a. Based on amount of sunlight received

                        i. Euphotic

                        ii. Disphotic

                        iii. Aphotic

            b. Based on distance from land

                        i. Littoral

                        ii. Neritic

                        iii. Oceanic

            c. Based on whether in water column or on/in bottom

                        i. Pelagic – in water column

                        ii Benthic – on or in the sea bottom

            d. Bottom based on substrate or depth

B. Primary Productivity

1. What is “primary productivity?”

2. Who are the primary producers?

                        3. Controlling factors and Distribution of primary production

            4. The Ocean’s Biological Pump and it’s crucial role in sustaining life on this planet

C. Focus on the Various Phyla of Marine Animals

1. Invertebrates

2. Fishes

3. Reptiles

4. Birds

5. Mammals

D. Communities of Marine Life

1. Open ocean - Pelagic

2. The benthos - Benthic

3  Shorelines  - Littoral


V. Environmental Concerns Theme (Covered in Final Exam)

A. Ocean Fishing Issues

1. What are the major “fisheries?”

2. Overfishing

a. What is “sustainable” fishing and what are the parameters that must be considered when planning a sustainable fishery?

i.  Reproduction rate

ii.  Harvest rate

iii.  Habitat size

iv.  Availability of food source

b.  What are some examples of species that have been overfished and what policies have been implemented to help the fisheries recover?

i.  New England Cod

ii. Sardine fishery in Peru

iii. Whale harvests

iv. Tuna and swordfish

v. Orange roughy

c. What are some of the fishing techniques that contribute to loss of species?

i. Drift nets

ii. By-catch issues

iii. Environmental damage to habitat (trawling)

d. What about fish farming? What are the positive and negative effects of fish farming?

3.  Fishing Policies

a.  Who are the “stakeholders?”

b.  What is “tragedy of the commons?”

c.  Catch limits

d.  Marine reserves and “no take zones”

e.  Southern California Offshore Waters

f.   FishBanks game

B. Non-biological Marine Resources

1. Hydrocarbon deposits

2. Mineral bottom deposits

            3. Dissolved mineral ions

            4. Fresh water from desalinization

            5. Transportation

            6. Recreation

C. Ocean Pollution

1. What is “pollution”?

2. Types of marine pollution

3. Pollution sources

4. Severity of the problem

5. Possible solutions

D. Climate

1. Equilibrium temperature of earth, a balance between incoming and outgoing solar energy

2. Greenhouse effect

3. Climate history from ice cores, tree rings, etc.

4. The climate “system”

5. Climate feedbacks

a. Positive and negative feedback

6. Heat transfer from equator to poles: ocean currents vs atmospheric circulation

7. Carbon cycle and CO2

8. Global warming and melting glaciers and polar ice

E.  Environmental Issues and The World Ocean Citizen

1. Understand how the ocean, atmosphere, and human activities might influence environmental

       systems that affect the welfare of a specific country.

2.  Realize the importance and responsibility of each individual in making educated choices and

      decisions concerning the health of the ocean and the coastal environment.

3.  How to take positive personal action in doing the right things towards maintaining and improving the

        health of the ocean and the coastal environment.