Computational Atmosphere and Ocean Dynamics

Course content

In this course we will discuss the world's major atmospheric and oceanic circulation systems, how they are coupled, shape climate and control the carbon cycle: the tropical Hadley circulation and the Jetstream as well as the wind and density driven circulations in the ocean, like the Gulfstream. Furthermore the various wave and instability processes in atmosphere and ocean are explored. These areas of physics are typically referred to as Geophysical Fluid Dynamics (GFD), and they explain the flow not only on Earth but other planets as well - as for example in Jupiter famous Great Red Spot.

The methodological focus will be on the manipulation of the equations of motion to derrive simple analytical models of each of these systems. Observations and numerical (Python based) models will then be used to fill these equations with life.


MSc Programme in Climeta Change

MSc Programme in Physics

Learning outcome


The purpose of this course is that the student obtains a basic understanding of atmosphere and ocean dynamics and how they shape climate and atmospheric CO2.


When the course is finished it is expected that the student is able to:

  •      Explain the energetics of planetary scale motions
  •      Understand the relevance of turbulence for climate
  •      apply the governing conservation principles (mass, energy and vorticity)
  •      explain the basics of Earth's carbon cycle
  •      translate laws of nature into Python code
  •      Set up, run, and analyze a full computer model of Earth's climate


The course introduces the student to the equations of motion for a continuous medium. The student will learn how to use scaling analysis to reduce the complexity of partial differential equations. Finally the student will combine the resulting equations with observations and numerical model results to relate the different forcing mechanisms to the relevant parts of Earth or other extra-solar planets.

Lectures. Weekly hand-in exercises.

The following is an example of suggested course material. Final material will be announced in Absalon.


Atmospheric and Oceanic Fluid Dynamics

G. Vallis

A good understanding of classical mechanics. The mathematical challenges require some knowledge of partial differential equations. Basic knowledge of Python is helpful but not necessary.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 30 minutes
Type of assessment details
No preparation time
Exam registration requirements

It is a necessary condition for participation in the exam that at least 5/7 of the weekly numerical experiments have been analyzed, written up, submitted and accepted.

Without aids
Marking scale
passed/not passed
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners

The same as the ordinary exam.

A student who did not pass the exam prerequisite can hand in new written excercises until 3 weeks before the re-exam.

Criteria for exam assessment

See Learning Outcome.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 30
  • Preparation
  • 145,5
  • Exercises
  • 30
  • Exam
  • 0,5
  • English
  • 206,0


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 block

Block 4
No limitation
The number of seats may be reduced in the late registration period
Study Board of Physics, Chemistry and Nanoscience
Contracting department
  • The Niels Bohr Institute
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator
  • Markus Jochum   (7-706d72666b78704371656c316e7831676e)
Saved on the 28-02-2023

Are you BA- or KA-student?

Are you bachelor- or kandidat-student, then find the course in the course catalog for students:

Courseinformation of students