Physical Oceanography (Geofys2)

Course content

We will apply classical physics to the problem of ocean circulation.

The first quarter of the cource will be rather descriptive; in the second quarter we will derrive the equations of motion and determine heuristically what the forces are that dominate the ocean. It will be shown that the deep ocean is mostly adiabatic so it is not obvious at all how it can be set into motion.

After a general survey of the various dynamic regimes and observational tools, we will then derrive the properties of planetary waves and explore how they set the abyss into motion.

Parallel to the lecture there will be practical exercises during which we develop our own ocean model. This numerical model will then be used to verify the analytical results arrived at during the lectures.


BSc Programme in Physics

Learning outcome

The student can:

  • write down the equations governing ocean dynamics
  • explain the effect of rotating frames of reference
  • explain Ekman and Sverdrup transport
  • explain the dynamics of the viscous boundary layers


The student:

  • can provide a basic description of the world oceans:
    major currents, salt & temperature structure, seasonal and mean features
  • knows the basic dynamic regimes of the ocean
  • can explain the current challenges in theoretical oceanography
  • knows how climate signals are transmitted in the ocean


The student can:

  • translate a physical problem into mathematical formalism
  • … and both into a numerical model

The course encompasses lectures, theoretical and experimental exercises as well as possibly field trips.

See Absalon for final course material. The following is an example of expected course literature.

Pedlosky, Waves in Atmosphere and Ocean, Springer

The course requires knowledge of thermodynamics, mechanics and mathematics corresponding to first year of the physics B.Sc.

Mandatory for "Geofysik og Meteorologi"

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 25 minutes
25 minutes oral exam, no preparation
Without aids
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
several internal examiners
Criteria for exam assessment

see learning outcome.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42,5
  • Preparation
  • 80
  • Practical exercises
  • 41
  • Exercises
  • 42
  • Exam
  • 0,5
  • English
  • 206,0