Image from Siedler et al. 2001.

ATOC 5051, Spring 2010

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 reading.

Class Meetings and Notes

Class meets Tuesday and Thursday 2-3:15 in Duane G131. 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 most Thursdays 3:30-5 PM or by appointment

The calendar of lectures with slides and links is below. It is also available as a public subscription iCalendar called "ATOC5051: Intro to Physical Oceanography" at

Week Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
1 1/12: Syllabus, Vast & Diverse 1/14: Exploration
Where it all began: MODE-I (1970-1976) Quicktime, wmv
2 1/19: What & How to Observe
Reading Quiz 1: Observations.
1/21: Equations, Scaling, Nondimensionals, Eulerian vs. Lagrangian 1/22: Paper #1 (3 Kinds of Lies) Plans
3 1/26: Integrated Budgets: Estuaries, Finite Volumes 1/28: Parcels, Thermodynamics, Potential T & Density
1/29: Paper #1 (3 Kinds of Lies) Due
4 2/2: Global Budgets
Reading Quiz 2: Basic Eqtns. & Thermo.
2/3: Paper #1 (3 Kinds of Lies) Review 2/4: Momentum & Rotation
5 2/9: Unforced Coriolis: Inertial Oscillations and Taylor Proudman Reading Quiz 3: Coriolis & Fric. 2/10: Paper #1 (3 Kinds of Lies) Revisions
2/11: Coriolis and Friction: The Ekman Layer 2/12: Paper #2 (Inside Joke) Plans
6 2/16: Coriolis and Pressure: Geostrophy
Reading Quiz 4: Coriolis & Pressure
2/18: Rotating Tank & Single-Layer Shallow Water 2/19: Paper #2 (Inside Joke) Due
Rotating Tank: Geostrophic Flow, Kittelman Notes
Paper #2 (Inside Joke) Review
Rotating Tank: Taylor-Proudman, another version, Kittelman Notes.
8 3/2: Coriolis & Stratification: Thermal Wind & Margules Reading Quiz 5: Stratification, Thermal Wind, & Margules Relation. 3/3: Paper #2 (Inside Joke) Revisions
3/4: Vorticity I: Ekman & Thermal Wind
3/5: Paper #3 (I Get Around) Plans
9 3/9: Vorticity II: Geostrophic Adjustment
Reading Quiz 6: Vorticity, PV, Geostrophic Adjustment
3/11: Large-Scale Wind-Driven: Ekman Stretching and Sverdrup Balance 3/12: Paper #3 (I Get Around) Due
10 3/16: Western Boundary Currents: Stommel, Munk, Charney and Fofonoff, Fox-Kemper & Pedlosky Reading Quiz 7: Wind-Driven 3/17: Paper #3 (I Get Around) Review 3/18: Gyres by Pressure
12 3/30: Intro to the MOC
Reading Quiz 8: Buoyancy-Driven
3/31: Paper #3 (I Get Around) Revisions
4/1: Driving the MOC
4/2: Paper #4 (Swimming Upstream) Plans
13 4/6: Thermocline
Reading Quiz 9: Buoy+Wind, Climate
4/8: Antarctic Circumpolar Current
A Summary: The Ocean Climate
4/9: Paper #4 (Swimming Upstream) Due
14 4/13: Wave Basics
Reading Quiz 10: Wave Basics
4/14: Paper #4 (Swimming Upstream) Review 4/15: Surface and Internal Gravity Waves
15 4/20: Rossby Waves: Topographic and Beta
Reading Quiz 11: Wave Types
4/21: Paper #4 (Swimming Upstream) Revisions
Paper #5 (Smile and Wave) Plans
4/22: Rotating Waves: Kelvin, Inertial, Poincare, Rossby
16 4/27: ENSO and the Delayed Oscillator Reading Quiz 12: Equatorial Waves 4/28: Paper #5 (Smile and Wave) Due 4/29: Oceans and Climate B Summary: Waves
4/30: Paper #5 (Smile and Wave) Review **Note Change of DATE**
5/6: Paper #5 (Smile and Wave) Revisions

Web Resources and Texts

Course Specific

  1. Paper writing guidelines, and Orwell's Politics and the English Language
  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.


  1. Cushman-Roisin and Beckers's Introduction to Geophysical Fluid Dynamics
    A nice, basic GFD book.
  2. Robert H. Stewart's Introduction to Physical Oceanography
    Web-distributed basic but comprehensive textbook.
  3. Tomczak and Godfrey's Regional Oceanography: An Introduction
    Tomczak and Godfrey's nice descriptive textbook.
  4. Tchernia's Descriptive Regional Oceanography.
    An equation-free descriptive text.
  5. Chapman and Malanotte-Rizzoli's Notes on Henderschott's Wave Motions in the Ocean
    A readable and short ocean wave text.


  1. Talley, Emery, and Pickard's Descriptive Physical Oceanography
    Chapters 5, 6, 7.
  2. Adrian Gill's Atmosphere-Ocean Dynamics
    Chapters 1, 2, 3.
  3. Cushman-Roisin's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics
    Chapters 5, 8, 12.
  4. Pijush Kundu's Fluid Mechanics
    Chapter 7.
  5. Joe Pedlosky's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics
    Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4.
  6. Joe Pedlosky's Ocean Circulation Theory
    Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4.
  7. Sverdrup, Johnson, and Fleming's The Ocean
    Chapter 10.
  8. Siedler, Church & Gould's WOCE Volume,
    The Ocean: Circulation and Climate
    Chapters 2.1, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3.
  9. Wunsch's The Ocean Inverse Problem
    Chapter 2.
  10. IPCC AR4, 2007: Synthesis Summary, Physical Science Summary, and Chp5: Oceanic Climate Change

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 and Myrl Henderschott's SIO 210: Intro to Physical Oceanography
    A similar class to ATOC5051 at Scripps from Fall, 2008.
  3. Henderschott, Winant, Send, & MacKinnon SIO 210: Intro to Physical Oceanography
    A similar class to ATOC5051 at Scripps from Fall, 2009.
  4. Lisa Beal's MPO 503 at RSMAS

Additional Fun Reading


  1. Cook, The Three Voyages of Captain James Cook Round the World, Vol. 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3.
  2. Maury, 1860: The Physical Geography of the Sea and Its Meteorology
  3. Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle
  4. Darwin, The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs
  5. Sverdrup, New Land: Four Years in the Arctic Region
  6. Nansen, Farthest North, Vol 1 and Vol 2.
  7. M'Clintock, The Voyage of the Fox in the Arctic Seas
  8. Bowditch, The American Practical Navigator
  9. Philander, Our Affair with El Nino
  10. Emanuel, Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes


  1. Dana, Two Years Before the Mast
  2. Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
  3. Homer, The Odyssey
  4. London, The Sea Wolf
  5. Melville, Moby Dick
  6. Stevenson, Treasure Island
  7. Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


  1. Hart and Kittelman GFD Lab
  2. John Marshall's (MIT) GFD Lab
  3. National Committee for Fluid Mechanics Films
  4. Ruddick & Hebery Internal Wave Lab Demos
  5. 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)


  1. The Dataserver for Class Data at
  2. A Discussion Board with lots of links to datasets.
  3. Some NASA Data.
  4. National Virtual Ocean Data System (NVODS)
  5. National Oceanographic Data Service
  6. Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (USGODAE)
  7. NOAA Physical Sciences Division (PSD)
  8. International Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set (iCOADS)
  9. Southampton NOCS Flux Datasets (Winds, Heat Fluxes, etc.)
  10. Ocean Watch Live Access Server: easy satellite data access.
  11. PO.DAAC Home: another easy satellite data access.
  12. Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO)
  13. International Research Institute for Climate and Society/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (IRI/LDEO)
  14. NOAA National Operational Model Archive and Distribution System (NOMADS)
  15. EPIC
  16. World Ocean Circulation Experiment
  17. ARGO array data
  18. ARGO Live Access data server (use to map ARGO Data)
  19. ARGO data browser (use for individual float measurements)
  20. ODV-ready Datasets
  21. Java Ocean Atlas
  22. AVISO SSH Datasets
  23. SCOW Wind Climatology

ECCO Data Assimilating Models

  1. ECCO
  2. ECCO2

Other Models

  1. PCMDI IPCC AR4 runs
  2. Some simple matlab programs I wrote


Useful websites for software

  1. Matlab
  2. IDL
  3. Ocean Data View
  4. LaTeX
  5. ncBrowse, a java netcdf browser
  6. ncview, a graphical netcdf file browser.
  7. A tool for producing pdf output on PCs/Windows


  1. To What Degree? NSF Climate Change Report
  2. UN Ocean Atlas
  3. NOAA Interactive Global Bathymmetry
  4. LDEO Deep-Sea Sample Repository
  5. Cleon Teunissen's Rotation Physics
  6. GISS Temperature Trends
  7. IPCC Home Site
  8. NOAA/NWS Climate Prediction Center
  9. IRI ENSO Page
  11. NOAA Tsunami Page
  12. MBARI Seafood Watch

CU Specific Guidelines

  1. Disability Accomodations
  2. Religious Observance
  3. Classroom Behavior, *Note* Prof. Fox-Kemper regards inappropriate cellphone and laptop use as disruptive behavior.
  4. Student Code
  5. Discrimination & Harrassment
  6. Honor Code: here and here.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]