Physical Oceanography

METEO 597A: Physical Oceanography

Fall 2017 Semester

COURSE DESCRIPTION. This course introduces graduate and advanced undergraduate students in the sciences and engineering to 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.

COURSE 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

TIME: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:35 AM – 2:50 PM
PLACE: 135 Electrical Engineering West Building
INSTRUCTOR: Raymond Najjar, Professor, Department of Meteorology
Office: 522 Walker Building
Phone: 863-1586
Mailbox: 532 Walker Building
Electronic mailbox:

PREREQUISITES. If you don’t have any prior knowledge of fluid dynamics, then you should do some reading on your own to get up to speed. If that is the case for you, see me if you haven’t already.

REQUIRED READING MATERIAL. The required textbook is: Talley, L., G. Pickard, W. Emery, and J. Swift. 2011. Descriptive Physical Oceanography: An Introduction, Sixth Edition. Academic Press (Elsevier). 555 pp. plus color plates. The text has a web site with supplementary chapters, which we will be making use of.

OPTIONAL READING MATERIAL. Stewart, R. H. 2008. Introduction to Physical Oceanography, 345 pp.  Available free online at

EVALUATION. You will be evaluated through (1) equally weighted quizzes (20%), (2) equally weighted problems sets (40%), and (3) a term paper and an associated oral presentation as described below (40%). Problem sets will be frequent (~weekly) during the first half of the semester) and will become less frequent during the second half of the semester, when you will devote more out-of-class time to your term paper. The grade scale is as follows:  A: 92–100%; A–: 88–91%; B+: 84–87%; B: 80–83%; B-: 75–79%; C+: 71–74%; C: 63–70%; D: 50–62%; F: <50%

TERM PAPER AND PRESENTATION: The topic of the paper is of your choice, as long as it is within the field of physical oceanography and does not duplicate lecture material or another term paper you have written. You can either write a literature review on a topic of interest or you can do a mini original research project in which you might analyze a data set, analyze numerical model output, run a simple model of your own, etc. The format of the paper will be similar to that of a journal article and contain the following components, in order:

  1. A cover page including the title, your name, and the date
  2. An abstract of 300 to 500 words (a brief description of the motivation, methods, and findings)
  3. The main body of the paper (about 15 pages, double spaced)
  4. List of references (include all and only those cited in the main body)
  5. Tables (captions go above the table)
  6. Figures (captions go below the figure)

If the paper is a review, then the main body shall include: an introduction to motivate the review (importance of the topic), sensible subsections on various aspects of the topic, and a conclusions or summary section that should include suggestions for further research. If the paper is a mini research project, then the main body shall include:  an introduction to motivate the research (importance and what has been done before), description of the methods, results, discussion, and conclusions. You will submit: (1) a topic on Sep. 26, describing in a short paragraph your reasons for selecting it (5%); (2) an annotated list of references (at least five citations plus a few sentences describing each one) on Oct. 12 (5%); (3) a detailed outline 1-2 pages in length on Oct. 26 (5%); (4) a first complete draft (fully formatted and edited) on Nov. 9 (10%); and (5) a final version on Dec. 11 (15%). Presentations (10%) will be 10–15 minutes in length and will take place during the last week of classes.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY POLICY: I expect all submitted work to be your own. Feel free to discuss homework assignments with others, but never copy another’s work. Your term paper should also be free from plagiarism. As easy as it is to plagiarize these days, it is even easier to catch plagiarism, so avoid the temptation. Please see: Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Policy:, which this course adopts. To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students."

INSTRUCTOR AVAILABILITY. I am not holding formal office hours this semester but you should have no problem reaching me for help with any of the course content. Feel free to drop by my office, call me, or email me. If you want to guarantee seeing me in person, then make an appointment by calling or emailing me.


  1. Setting the stage
  2. The distributions of temperature and salinity
  3. The wind-driven circulation
  4. The thermohaline circulation
  5. The tides
  6. Waves
  7. Mesoscale eddies

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

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.

ACCOMODATIONS 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.

ATTENDANCE. This course abides by the Penn State Attendance Policy E-11:, and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35: Please also see Illness Verification Policy:, and Religious Observance Policy: Students who miss class for legitimate reasons will be given a reasonable opportunity to make up missed work, including exams and quizzes. Students are not required to secure the signature of medical personnel in the case of illness or injury and should use their best judgment on whether they are well enough to attend class or not; the University Health Center will not provide medical verification for minor illnesses or injuries. Other legitimate reasons for missing class include religious observance, military service, family emergencies, regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activities, and post-graduate, career-related interviews when there is no opportunity for students to re-schedule these opportunities (such as employment and graduate school final interviews). 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: Whenever possible, students participating in University-approved activities should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form available from the Registrar's Office:, at least one week prior to the activity.

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Fall 2017 schedule for Meteo 597C: Physical Oceanography


  • Topic 0: Setting the stage
    • Tues Aug 22: Motivation and overview 1
    • Thurs Aug 24: Review of the governing equations for a rotating fluid and formulation for the ocean HW 1  assigned S7.0-7.4
  • Topic I: Distributions of temperature and salinity
    • Tues Aug 29: I.1. Physical properties of seawater: pressure, temperature, potential temperature, salinity, equation of state, static stability    3.1-3.5
    • Thurs Aug 31: I.2. Typical distribution of water characteristics: temperature, salinity, density, and other tracers HW 1 due, HW 2 assigned 4.1-4.8 (except 4.2.2, 4.2.4 & 4.3.5)
    • Tues Sep 5: I.3. Heat and salt budgets of the ocean Quiz 1  5.1-5.6
    • Thurs Sep 7: I.4. The surface ocean mixed layer HW 1 returned, HW 2 due, HW 3 assigned  4.2.2, 4.2.4, 5.7, 5.8, 7.4.1
  • Topic II: The wind-driven circulation
    • Tues Sep 12: II.1. Observations of the upper ocean circulation Quiz 2, 14.1.1
    • Thurs Sep 14: II.2. Response to wind forcing: Inertial, Langmuir, and Ekman flow HW 2 returned, HW 3 due, HW 4 assigned, 5.8, S7.5, S7.9.1
    • Tues Sep 19: II.3. Wind-driven upwelling and downwelling Quiz 3, 7.9.1, 9.3.3, 9.5.4,,
    • Thurs Sep 21: II.4. Geostrophic balance, dynamic topography, and sea-surface height HW 3 returned, HW 4 due, HW 5 assigned, S7.6
    • Tues Sep 26: II.5. Subtropical and subpolar gyres: observations and a simple explanation Quiz 4, Paper topic due, 9.3.5, 9.5.1,,
    • Thurs Sep 28 II.6. Sverdrup flow HW 4 returned, HW 5 due, HW 6 assigned, S7.7.0, S7.7.1, S7.8.1
    • Tues Oct 3: II.7. Westward intensification: observations Paper topic returned, Quiz 5, 9.3.2, 9.5.3,,,, 11.4.2
    • Thurs Oct 5: II.8. Westward intensification: theory HW 5 returned, HW 6 due, S7.8.2-7.8.4
    • Tues Oct 10 II.9. Tropical ocean circulation: observations Quiz 6, 9.4, 10.7
    • Thurs Oct 12: II.10. Tropical ocean circulation: theory HW 6 returned, Annotated list of references due, HW 7 assigned
  • Topic III: The thermohaline circulation
    • Tues Oct 17: III.1. Observations of the overturning circulation Quiz 7, 14.1.2, 14.2-14.4, 9.6.2, 9.7, 9.8.4, 10.9, 11.5
    • Thurs Oct 19: III.2. Factors determining sites of deep-water formation Annotated list of references returned, HW 7 due
    • Tues Oct 24: III.3. Stommel-Arons theory of the abyssal circulation Quiz 8, S7.10.0-S7.10.3
    • Thurs Oct 26: III.4. Thermohaline oscillators Detailed paper outline due, HW 8 assigned  S7.10.4
  • Topic IV: The tides
    • Tues Oct 31: IV.1. The equilibrium theory of the tides Quiz 9, 8.6.0, 8.6.1
    • Thurs Nov 2: IV.2. Dynamic tides Detailed paper outline returned, 8.6.2
  • Topic V: Waves
    • Tues Nov 7 Waves in the ocean Quiz 10, 8.1-8.5, S7.7.2-7.7.4, 7.7.6
    • Thurs Nov 9 XXX First draft of paper due, HW 8 assigned    
  • Topic VI: Mesoscale eddies
    • Tues Nov 14 The oceanic mesoscale eddy field Quiz 11, S7.7.5
    • Thurs Nov 16 XXX First draft of paper returned, HW 8 due, S8.7, S8.8
    • Tues Nov 28 TBD Quiz 12    
    • Thurs Nov 30 TBD    
  • Student presentations
    • Tues Dec 5 Presentations
    • Thurs Dec 7 Presentations    
    • Mon Dec 11 Term paper due by 5:00 PM

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