Physical Oceanography

 Meteo 551 Syllabus 

Course Number and Title: Meteo 551, Physical Oceanography

Semester: Spring 2021

Instructor name and contact information and office hours: Raymond Najjar,, 814-933-7521 (cell phone), Office hours by appointment

Teaching Assistant name and contact information and office hours: None

Support services available: None

Class meeting times and locations: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 1:25–2:15

Course designation in curriculum: This course serves as one of several classes that satisfies the “dynamics” requirement for graduate students in Meteorology and Atmospheric Science. This course also satisfies the “physical climate system” requirement for the dual-title Ph.D. program in Climate Science.

Brief course description from LionPATH: This course provides graduate and advanced undergraduate students in the sciences and engineering an overview of the circulation of the ocean and the theories used to explain it. The focus is on the large-scale circulation driven by winds, buoyancy, and tidal forces. The course will also cover the distributions of temperature and salinity in the ocean, the surface ocean mixed layer, mesoscale eddies, and internal waves.

Prerequisites and Concurrent Courses: Students should have a working knowledge of vector calculus and differential equations. Students who do not meet these prerequisites may be disenrolled according to Administrative Policy C-5 if they do not have the proper prerequisite override. Students who add the course after being disenrolled according to this policy are in violation of Item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct:

Required course materials: The required textbook is: Klinger, B. and T. Haine. 2019. Ocean Circulation in Three Dimensions. Cambridge University Press. The electronic version of the text is available to Penn State students by PDF download. I have also put the book on the course web site (Canvas). Some additional readings outside of this textbook may be required and will be made available on Canvas. 

Assistance with textbooks

Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, contact the Office of Student Care and Advocacy (120 Boucke Building, 863-4926, For additional need related to socioeconomic status please visit 

Recommended textbooks: Several additional textbooks in physical oceanography that may be helpful are provided as electronic copies on Canvas.

Reserve materials and location: None.

Internet materials and links: Canvas

Course Goals and Objectives: Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe the large-scale circulation systems of the ocean, including the large horizontal gyres in the upper portion of the major ocean basins, the overturning circulation that extends throughout the water column, the intensification of currents along the western sides of major ocean basins, and the large-scale tidal systems
  • Demonstrate a quantitative understanding of the roles of winds, surface heat and fresh water fluxes, and gravity of the sun and moon in generating the large-scale circulation systems of the ocean
  • Describe the processes that lead to the formation of mesoscale eddies and internal waves in the ocean
  • Have a broad appreciation of the roles that the ocean plays in the climate system and in biogeochemical cycles
  • Describe in oral and written forms how physical oceanography is related to their discipline of study, graduate research, or both 

Course content and expectations: The main topics and associated textbook chapters (where pertinent) are:

  • Foundations
    • Methods and dynamical framework (Ch 1)
    • Rotating and shallow-water flow (Ch 2)
  • Upper-ocean circulation
    • 2-D horizontal circulation (Ch 3)
    • Surface and mixed-layer properties (Ch 4)
    • Depth-dependent gyre circulation (Ch 5)
    • Equatorial circulation and shallow overturning (Ch 6)
  • Deep-ocean circulation
    • Eddies and small-scale mixing (Ch 7)
    • Deep meridional overturning (Ch 8)
  • High latitudes
    • Southern Ocean (Ch 9)
    • Arctic Ocean (Ch 10)
  • Tides (reading on Canvas)
  • Wider significance
    • Climate (Ch 11)

Assessment Policy:

  • Required written/oral assignments
    • Problem sets every 1–2 weeks, equally weighted. 40% of grade.
    • Term paper, 10–15 pages double-spaced text main body (plus abstract, references, tables (if necessary), and figures. Can be a mini research project or a literature review. Submit roughly weekly during the second half of the semester (dates will be provided): topic, annotated bibliography, outline, draft, and final paper. An oral presentation of the paper (~20 minutes) will also be given during the last week of classes. 30% of grade.

Examination Policy

  • Mid-term examination (50 minutes, tentatively during week 8). 10% of grade.
  • Final examination (1 hour and 50 minutes, during finals week). 20% of grade.
  • Make-up exam policy: if you are unable to take the exam at the allotted time, let me know and we will reschedule
  • Evening exam schedule: none

Grading Policy

  • Grading Scale: A (94.0–100%), A– (90.0–93.9%), B+ (86.0–89.9%), B (80.0–85.9%), B– (76.0–79.9%), C+ (72.0–75.9%), C (66.0–71.9%), D (50.0–65.9%), F (<50.0%)
  • Curving Policy: No curving.
  • Late Penalties if applicable: No late assignments accepted without my permission.

Academic Integrity

Students in this class are expected to write up their problem sets individually, to work the exams on their own, and to write their papers in their own words using proper citations.  Class members may work on the problem sets in groups, but then each student must write up the answers separately.  Students are not to copy problem or exam answers from another person's paper and present them as their own; students may not plagiarize text from papers or websites written by others.  Students who present other people's work as their own will receive at least a 0 on the assignment and may well receive an F or XF in the course.  Please see: Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Procedures:, which this course adopts.

Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting other's work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other student's papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students."

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws. For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: ( For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website (

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation: If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.


Regular attendance is critical for building on the skills and knowledge developed throughout the class. Students who participate have a more complete understanding of the material presented and are more likely to succeed in the class. This is true whether your attendance is in person or remote.  The University recognizes that, on exceptional occasions, students may miss a class meeting to participate in a regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activity (such as field trips, debate trips, choir trips, and athletic contests), or due to unavoidable or other legitimate circumstances such as illness, injury, military service, family emergency, religious observance, participation in local, state, and federal government elections, or post-graduate, career-related interviews when there is no opportunity for students to re-schedule these opportunities (such as elections or employment and graduate school final interviews).  In all cases, you should inform me in advance, when possible.  Missing class, even for a legitimate purpose, may mean there is work that cannot be made up, hurting your grade in this class.  Students who encounter serious family, health, or personal situations that result in extended absences should contact the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs (AVPSA) and Student Care and Advocacy for help:  You should be prepared to provide documentation for participation in University-approved activities, as well as for career-related interviews.  You should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form:, at least one week prior to the activity. 

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff.  Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated ( and can be reported through Educational Equity via the Report Bias webpage

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation.  Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling and Psychological Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Wellness Days

Wednesday, April 7th has been designated as a Wellness Day. No class meeting will happen, either in person or remotely, for that day, and no assignments will be due on that day. Students are encouraged to use the day to focus on their physical and mental health. Please see for university-sponsored events focusing on wellness that may be of interest to you. See Canvas and the course syllabus for any work that may be due before the next class meeting.

Webcam Requirements

This course may require you to have a webcam for class assessments. Classes and assessments may be conducted using Zoom or other technology selected by your instructor which may use your computer’s webcam or other technologies to communicate, monitor, and/or record classes, class activities, and assessments. Assessments may also be conducted using proctoring software, which may listen to you, monitor your computer screen, view you and your surroundings, and record (including visual and audio recordings) all activity during the proctoring process. Please contact your instructor if you are unable to comply or have any questions or concerns.

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail (see to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40 ( To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period. It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion.  If, for any reason, the course work for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the Dutton Institute Technical Requirements page (, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the ITS Help Desk (


The term "Netiquette" refers to the etiquette guidelines for electronic communications, such as e-mail and bulletin board postings. Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions, but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of forum messages. Please review some general Netiquette guidelines that should be followed when communicating in this course. 

Disruptive Behavior

Behavior that disrupts normal classroom activities will not be tolerated, in accordance with Items 9 and 14 in the Student Code of Conduct

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework.  For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website. 

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:

Accessible Syllabus

Notes: Any syllabus posted online (e.g. a Word/PDF file or an online syllabus) should make destinations clickable links such as is done throughout this page. Also, in order to comply with Penn State Policy AD69 (Accessibility of Penn State Web Pages,, PDF documents cannot be the sole source of presenting online information. Such documents include syllabi, homework assignments, and scanned notes.  

Disclaimer Statement

Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. Changes to the syllabus shall also be given to the student in written (paper or electronic) form.