Introduction to Physical Oceanography

METEO 451: Introduction to Physical Oceanography

Spring 2019 Semester 

DESCRIPTION: The primary objective of this course is to describe the circulation of the ocean and present a theoretical basis for understanding it. The focus is on the large-scale, basin-wide features of the ocean circulation, such as: (1) the subtropical ocean gyres, which contain the wind-driven western boundary currents like the Gulf Stream; (2) the equatorial oceans, which respond rapidly to external forcing to produce phenomena like El Niño; and (3) the thermohaline circulation, which acts as a slow regulator of the earth's climate. A main goal is to demonstrate to meteorology students that the ocean is not a static, passive lower boundary to the atmosphere but a dynamic, evolving entity that is intimately coupled to the atmosphere through the exchange of heat, momentum, and water. Thus, the oceans affect weather and climate. 

TIME & PLACE: 9:05−10:20 AM Tuesday (105 Walker) and Thursday (105 or 126 Walker). 

INSTRUCTOR: Raymond Najjar (pronounced NAY-jar), Professor, Department of Meteorology
Office: 522 Walker Building
Phone: 814-863-1586
Office hours: Monday 3:30−4:30 pm, Tuesday 10:30−11:30 am, Wednesday 2:30−3:30 pm. 

REQUIRED COURSES: Prerequisite: Meteo 421 (Atmospheric Dynamics). Policy: Students who do not meet these prerequisites may be disenrolled according to Administrative Policy C-5 if they do not have the proper prerequisite override. Students who add the course after being disenrolled according to this policy are in violation of Item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct:

CLASS STRUCTURE: Readings will be assigned weekly and discussed in class on Tuesday. Please read the assigned material before coming to class on Tuesday. Thursdays will start with a 10−15 minute quiz on the previous week’s reading, followed by a laboratory exercise using Matlab (see below). 

LABORATORY EXERCISES: On Thursdays in 126 Walker, you will work on one of six laboratory exercises, each of which you will be given 2−3 weeks to complete. Upload completed labs to Canvas on the Friday before the next lab starts. The exercises will typically require several additional hours of work outside of the lab periods. The assignments will engage you directly in oceanographic data analysis and modeling using the programming language Matlab. Matlab is also very useful in science and engineering and thus many of your prospective employers will be pleased that you know it. I anticipate that most of your learning will occur as you do these assignments. 

REQUIRED TEXTBOOK: Najjar, R. G., Meteo 451 Notes: Introduction to Physical Oceanography. This is available free on Canvas. Readings will be assigned primarily from this source. There may be a few additional required readings from other sources, which I will make available to you if you do not already have them. Readings are assigned for each topic as shown in the detailed syllabus. 

QUIZZES: There will be weekly, closed-book, equally weighted quizzes given during the first 10−15 minutes of each Thursday class period. The quizzes will be taken in 105 Walker. When you are done you may go to 126 Walker to work on the lab. The quizzes will cover the weekly reading and associated lecture of the previous week in order to give you time to synthesize the material. If you are unable to take a quiz because of extenuating circumstances, please let me know ahead of time and we will schedule a makeup. 

FINAL EXAM: To assess your overall comprehension of the material presented during the course, a final exam will be given during finals week (date and time to be determined).

GRADES: 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%. Weighting: 20% quizzes, 60% labs, 20% final exam. 

SYLLABUS: The main topics to be covered are:

  1. Why Study Physical Oceanography?
  2. The Equation of State for Seawater
  3. Static Stability in the Ocean
  4. The Conservation Equations
  5. Geostrophic and Inertial Flow
  6. Ekman Flow
  7. Sverdrup Flow and Westward Intensification
  8. Air-Sea Heat and Fresh Water Fluxes
  9. The Surface Ocean Mixed Layer
  10. The Thermohaline Circulation
  11. Tropical Oceanography
  12. El Niño
  13. The Tides 


Objectives for Meteo 451:

  1. Students can demonstrate a theoretical knowledge of the causes of large-scale basin-wide circulations in the ocean (relate to program objectives 1, 2, and 3)
  2. Students can demonstrate skills in applying calculus and the basic laws of physics to the quantitative description of oceanic circulations (relate to program objectives 1, 2, and 3) 

Outcomes for Meteo 451:

  1. Students can demonstrate knowledge of the dynamics of a variety of oceanic circulations including the Gulf Stream, ocean gyres, and the thermohaline circulation (relate to program outcomes b and d)
  2. Students can demonstrate knowledge of the Ekman theory of a wind-driven ocean that explains upwelling (relate to program outcome b)
  3. Students can demonstrate knowledge of equatorial ocean dynamics including the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (relate to program outcome b)
  4. Students can manipulate and model oceanographic data in a laboratory setting to help develop improved knowledge of oceanic circulations (relate to program outcomes a, d, and e) 

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY POLICY: I expect all submitted work to be your own. Feel free to discuss assignments with others, but never ever (I really mean it) copy another’s work. If it appears that there is copying on an assignment, I will begin the formal Disciplinary Action Procedure as outlined by our college. Students who present other people's work as their own will receive at least a 0 on the assignment and may well receive an F or XF in the course.  Please see: Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Policy:, which this course adopts. To learn more, see Penn State’s "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students." 

ATTENDANCE POLICY: I expect you to attend all class periods. I realize that there may be emergencies and other extenuating circumstances that prevent this.  If possible, let me know ahead of time by email if you are going to miss a class. 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:, at least one week prior to the activity. 

WEATHER DELAYS: Campus emergencies, including weather delays, are announced on Penn State News and communicated to cell phones, email, the Penn State Facebook page, and Twitter via PSUAlert (Sign up at: 

COURSE WEB SITE: Course materials and grades are posted on Canvas. All electronic communications will be made through Canvas and/or your regular Penn State email, so make sure you check the associated accounts regularly. 

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. 

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. 

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