The University of Southampton

SOES2010 Physical Oceanography II

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

1. To build on the 1st year physical oceanography module. 2. To complete a basic introduction to the physical processes which are important in the ocean. 3. To further develop your quantitative understanding of ocean physics and dynamics.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Developed your knowledge of physical processes and phenomena, including optics, mixing, ocean currents, and waves, and the methods used to understand these processes.
  • Acquired a quantitative knowledge of global ocean water masses and circulation and basic understanding of the role of the ocean in the climate system.
  • Acquired a basic introduction to the practical quantitative methods used in physical oceanography.
  • Applied a high level programming language to a large physical oceanography dataset.
  • Developed boat-based practical skills, to analyse transport, light attenuation and dispersion


This module follows Physical Oceanography I and provides you with core knowledge of the processes that govern observed structures and currents throughout the oceans. Firstly, air-sea interaction is introduced, concerning the surface exchanges of heat, freshwater and momentum. Optical properties of seawater explain how light penetrates the ocean to provide energy for photosynthesis. This leads also to explanations of the way heat is distributed in the upper ocean, how the thermocline is formed and how the mixed layer develops seasonally. The equation of state for seawater is next considered in detail, in relation to hydrography of the World Ocean. The principles of underwater acoustics are introduced, including an explanation of sound channels in the ocean. The basics of turbulence, mixing and dispersion processes are introduced and related to water mass distributions. The equations of motion for large-scale ocean currents are developed, to explain several key dynamical balances and the response of the ocean to wind forcing in particular, explaining the existence of ocean gyres and western boundary currents. Bringing several of the preceding themes together, the global ocean circulation and large-scale ocean modelling is introduced, underpinning the role of the ocean in the climate system. Finally, the character and importance of various types of waves are emphasized, extending to the importance of tides in shallow shelf seas that undergo seasonal stratification. By the end of the course, you will be able to describe and explain oceanographic phenomena on spatial scales ranging from coastal to global, and on time scales ranging from seconds to centuries. The module will include some practical classes and boatwork. Mathematics will be used throughout the course to give precision to the physical processes.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Formal Lectures: will provide an introduction to the observations and theory underpinning physical oceanography. Problem Solving Classes: 3 sessions Ocean Currents, Physical Oceanography for Falmouth and Ocean and Climate will combine observations and theory, to develop the practical skills used in physical oceanography. Boatwork: 2 sessions of boatwork will train you in a wide range of physical oceanography measurements (currents, mixing, optical properties). Computer Practicals: 2 sessions Upper Ocean Physics and Seasonality and Water Masses and Heat Budgets will develop the analysis of oceanographic data, developing statistical and computing skills. A wide range of support is available for those students who have further or specific learning and teaching needs.

Practical classes and workshops14
Independent Study112
Total study time150



MethodPercentage contribution
Practical 40%
Theory examination  (2 hours) 60%
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