ATOC 5051, Fall 2008

ATOC 5051: Introduction to Physical Oceanography
Or, Notions for the Motions of the Oceans.
This is a core course for graduate students covering the basic tools needed for oceanography. Observational, dynamical, numerical, and descriptive methods are discussed and used to get a sense of the historical and contemporary understanding of the motions of the oceans.

You can access the syllabus, proceedings, class notes, and class files.

Class Meetings and Notes

Class meets Tuesday and Thursday 11-12:15. All assignments due at 7PM on day noted, except reading quizzes which should be completed before the first class each week. Office Hours are Tuesday and Thursday 2-5 PM or by appointment
Week Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
1 8/26: Syllabus, Vast & Diverse
8/28: Exploration
2 9/02: What & How to Observe
Reading Quiz 1: Observations: Questions for review
9/04: Modern Observations and Datasets
9/05: Paper #1 (3 Kinds of Lies) Plans
3 9/09: Equations, Scaling, Nondimensionals, Eulerian vs. Lagrangian
Reading Quiz 2: Eqtns. & Thermo.: Questions for review
9/11: Integrated Budgets: Estuaries, Kelvin's Theorem, Finite Volume
9/12: Paper #1 (3 Kinds of Lies) Due
4 9/16: Hydrostatics, Thermodynamics, Potential T & Density
9/17: Paper #1 (3 Kinds of Lies) Review 9/18: Global Budgets
5 9/23: Momentum & Rotation
Coriolis Experiment
Reading Quiz 3: Rot. & Strat.: Questions for review
9/24: Paper #1 (3 Kinds of Lies) Revisions
9/25: Unforced Coriolis: Inertial Oscillations and Taylor Proudman
9/26: Paper #2 (Inside Joke) Plans
6 9/30: Coriolis and Friction/Turbulence: The Ekman Layer
Budget Hints
10/02: Coriolis and Pressure: Geostrophy
10/03: Paper #2 (Inside Joke) Due
7 10/07: Stratification: Hydrostasy, Boussinesq & Stability
Reading Quiz 4: Multilayer & Geo. Adj.: Questions for review
10/08: Paper #2 (Inside Joke) Review 10/09: Coriolis & Stratification: Thermal Wind & Margules
8 10/14: Rotating Tank: Taylor-Proudman and another version
Dynamics Notes on Rotating Tank I: Taylor-Proudman Reading Quiz 5: Vorticity & PV: Questions for review
10/15: Paper #2 (Inside Joke) Revisions
10/16: Rotating Tank: Geostrophic Flow
Dynamics Notes on Rotating Tank II: Taylor-Proudman
10/17: Paper #3 (I Get Around) Plans
9 10/21: Vorticity I: Ekman & Thermal Wind
Reading Quiz 6: Wind-Driven: Questions for review
10/23: Vorticity II: Geostrophic Adjustment
10/24: Paper #3 (I Get Around) Due
10 10/28: Large-Scale Wind-Driven: Ekman Stretching and Sverdrup Balance
10/29: Paper #3 (I Get Around) Review 10/30: Western Boundary Currents: Stommel, Munk, Charney and Fofonoff, Fox-Kemper & Pedlosky
11 11/04: Intro to the MOC
Reading Quiz 7: Buoyancy-Driven: Questions for review
11/05: Paper #3 (I Get Around) Revisions
11/06: Driving the MOC
11/07: Paper #4 (Swimming Upstream) Plans
12 11/11: Thermocline and Antartic Circumpolar Current
Reading Quiz 8: Buoy+Wind, Climate: Questions for review
11/13: A Summary: The Ocean Climate
11/14: Paper #4 (Swimming Upstream) Due
13 11/18: Wave Basics
Reading Quiz 9: Waves: Questions for review
11/19: Paper #4 (Swimming Upstream) Review 11/20: Surface and Internal Gravity Waves
11/21: Paper #5 (Smile and Wave) Plans
14 11/25: Fall Break 11/26: Fall Break 11/27: Fall Break 11/28: Fall Break
15 12/02: Rossby Waves: Topographic and Beta
Paper #4 (Swimming Upstream) Revisions
12/04: Rotating Waves: Kelvin, Inertial, Poincare, Rossby
12/06: Paper #5 (Smile and Wave) Due
16 12/09: ENSO and the Delayed Oscillator
Paper #5 (Smile and Wave) Review **Note Change of DATE**
12/10: B Summary: Waves
12/16: Paper #5 (Smile and Wave) Revisions

Web Resources and Texts

Course Specific

  1. Paper writing guidelines.
  2. Peer reviewing guidelines.
  3. Reading assignment guidelines.
  4. Matlab guidelines.
  5. ECCO guidelines.
  6. AGU/GRL Article Length Tool
    This is an automated article length calculator for AGU. All assignments for this class must pass the GRL length calculation.

Textbooks and Papers

  1. Robert H. Stewart's Introduction to Physical Oceanography
    Web-distributed basic but comprehensive textbook.
  2. Tomczak and Godfrey's Regional Oceanography: An Introduction
    Tomczak and Godfrey's nice textbook.
  3. Cushman-Roisin's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics
    Chapters 5, 8, 12.
  4. Cushman-Roisin and Beckers's Introduction to Geophysical Fluid Dynamics.
  5. Emery, Talley, and Pickard's Descriptive Physical Oceanography
    Chapters 5, 6, , 7.
  6. Adrian Gill's Atmosphere-Ocean Dynamics
    Chapters 1, 2, 3.

  7. Pijush Kundu's Fluid Mechanics
    Chapter 7.
  8. Joe Pedlosky's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics
    Chapters 1, 2.
  9. Sverdrup, Johnson, and Fleming's The Ocean
    Chapter 10.
  10. Siedler, Church & Gould's WOCE Volume,
    The Ocean: Circulation and Climate
    Chapters 2.1, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3.
  11. Geoff Vallis's Atmospheric and Oceanic Fluid Dynamics
    Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, Errata.

  12. Wunsch's The Ocean Inverse Problem
    Chapter 2.
  13. Chapman and Malanotte-Rizzoli's Notes on Henderschott's Wave Motions in the Ocean
  14. Orwell's Politics and the English Language

The Competition

  1. Ferrari and Joyce's MIT 12.808: Intro to Physical Oceanography
    Ferrari and Joyce's nice website for a similar class to ATOC5051.
  2. Lynne Talley's SIO 210: Intro to Physical Oceanography
    Lynne Talley's nice website for a similar class to ATOC5051.


  1. Hart and Kittelman GFD Lab
  2. John Marshall's (MIT) GFD Lab
  3. Alistair Fraser's Bad Coriolis, with related Southern Hemisphere and Northern Hemisphere movies... Snopes version

    . Here's how to do it right. (very, very carefully! don't just flush)

Lists of Links

  1. A Discussion Board with lots of links...
  2. Some NASA Links...

Image from Siedler et al. 2001.

Data and Software

Useful websites for software

  1. Matlab Sea-Mat
  2. netcdf in Matlab (ncx browser)
  3. netcdf in Matlab (netcdf toolbox)
  4. Matlab OPeNDAP Ocean Toolbox
  5. idl tips.
  6. idl tips on opening netcdf files.
  7. A LaTeX template for this class.
  8. A LaTeX HowTo for MikTeX with the template above.
  9. ncview, a graphical netcdf file browser.
  10. A tool for producing pdf output on PCs/Windows
  11. Mexnc for Matlab 2007a USE THIS INCASE you get errors like "mexcdf53 not found"


  1. The Dataserver for Class Data at
  2. National Virtual Ocean Data System (NVODS)
  3. National Oceanographic Data Service
  4. Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (USGODAE)
  5. NOAA Physical Sciences Division (PSD)
  6. International Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set (iCOADS)
  7. Southampton NOCS Flux Datasets (Winds, Heat Fluxes, etc.)
  8. Ocean Watch Live Access Server: easy satellite data access.
  9. PO.DAAC Home: another easy satellite data access.
  10. Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO)
  11. International Research Institute for Climate and Society/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (IRI/LDEO)
  12. NOAA National Operational Model Archive and Distribution System (NOMADS)
  13. EPIC
  14. World Ocean Circulation Experiment
  15. ODV-ready Datasets
  16. AVISO SSH Datasets

ECCO Data Assimilation

  1. ECCO
  2. ECCO2

Other Models

  1. PCMDI IPCC AR4 runs

Some simple matlab programs to try:

  1. Simple Harmonic Oscillator
  2. Simple Inertial Oscillator
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