The University of Southampton

SOES1012 Physics and Statistics for Oceanography

Module Overview

This module provides the fundamental physics needed for marine science, and enables students to apply fundamental statistics methods in an oceanographic context.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

1) To introduce the basic principles of physics that are required in future modules, and demonstrate how the understanding of these principles is essential for the understanding of the motion of the ocean and atmosphere, as well as particles and organisms in seawater. 2) To provide experience of using these physical principles to solve problems in oceanography. 3) To introduce the role of statistics in oceanography, and provide experience of using statistical principles to solve problems in oceanography. 4) To develop confidence at quantitative tasks.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Describe, and write down equations for: - Newton’s laws of motion - Circular motion and conservation of angular momentum - Conservation of energy
  • Write down and explain the Navier-Stokes equations, identifying contexts in which the following terms are important: - Net acceleration - Acceleration due to gravity - Acceleration due to the pressure-gradient force - Acceleration due to the shear stress (frictional) force - Acceleration due to the Coriolis force
  • Qualitatively predict the motion of seawater and particles, under scenarios comparable to those encountered in the ocean, based on the above physical principles
  • Determine the fundamental statistical properties of a dataset, and demonstrate their utility in oceanographic problems.
  • Describe the concept of statistical significance, and use this to apply basic statistical tests.
  • Solve quantitative problems in marine science based on physical and statistical principles.


Lecture topics: • Dimensions and units • Newton’s laws of motion • The gravitational force and the concept of geopotential height • The pressure gradient force I: buoyancy and hydrostatic balance • The pressure gradient force II: horizontal pressure gradients • The frictional force I: application to a fluid • The frictional force II: application to a solid within a fluid • Circular motion • The rotating Earth, the centrifugal force, and geopotentials revisited • The Coriolis force I: principles • The Coriolis force II: applications • Summary of forces in oceanography (The Navier-Stokes Equations) • Angular momentum and potential vorticity • Conservation of energy • Fundamental statistical properties • Error and error propagation • Frequency distributions, probability distributions, and outliers • The concept of statistical significance • Least-squares fitting and linear regression • Statistical tests

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Content will be taught by a combination of formal lectures and paper exercises, delivered in the same session as appropriate. Paper exercises will be replaced by computing practicals for a small portion of the module.

Independent Study106
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Sadler, A. J. & Thorning, D. W. S (1996). Understanding Mechanics. 

Lambourne, R. & Tinker, M. (2000). Basic Mathematics for the Physical Sciences. 

R statistical software. Software

Course manual (provided by coordinator). 



MethodPercentage contribution
Assessment 70%
In-class Test 30%


MethodPercentage contribution
Assessment %
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