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Unit information: Oceanography in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Oceanography
Unit code EASC30017
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1A (weeks 1 - 6)
Unit director Professor. Robinson
Open unit status Not open

Successful completion of the mandatory units in Year 1 and Year 2 of an Environmental Geoscience, Geology, Geology and Biology or Palaeontology and Evolution programme at Bristol.



School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


An overview of the physical, chemical and biological aspects of oceanography in the sense that they relate to environmental geosciences.

The unit aims to:

  • provide a qualitative analysis of the dynamics of wind-driven surface current systems, and of density-driven circulation in the deep oceans.
  • investigate the biogeochemical cycling of elements in the ocean, and water-sediment interactions on the seafloor.
  • describe and explain interactions between marine plants and animals in relation to the physical and chemical properties and dynamic behaviour of the sea water in which they live.
  • explore methods for quantifying the rates of processes operating in the ocean system including sedimentation, ocean circulation and chemical perturbations
  • introduce the aspects of the ocean-atmosphere system that are relevant to climate change on the Earth on timescales of 102 - 106 years.
  • assess the role of oceans in controlling levels of atmospheric CO2

The second year unit EASC20027 Atmospheric Processes will be of value; students who have not taken this unit will be expected to complete additional introductory reading.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit you will be able to:

  • describe and explain the reasons for the temperature, salinity and density structure of the oceans.
  • explain how deep water masses form and describe the global conveyor system.
  • discuss the distribution of elements in seawater and identify their sources and sinks.
  • debate the abiotic factors affecting biological productivity in the oceans
  • discuss the carbon and oxygen cycles in the ocean-atmosphere system.
  • analyse the processes that lead to the observed regional distribution of biogenic carbonate and siliceous sediments on the ocean floor, describe early diagenetic processes in deep sea and hemi-pelagic sediments.
  • analyse palaeoclimate data and draw inferences from such data regarding the past climate of the Earth.
  • discuss why oceans are important in the atmospheric CO2 cycle and critically analyse the different hypotheses as to how the oceans respond to, or cause, variations in atmospheric CO2 on a variety of timescales
  • make use of the information in the scientific literature to inform knowledge of the ocean system

Teaching details

15 Lectures and 5 practicals

Assessment Details

3 hour closed book exam (100%)

Reading and References


  • Ocean Circulation. The Open University.
  • Seawater: Its Composition, Properties and Behaviour. The Open University.
  • Ocean Chemistry and Deep Sea Sediments. The Open University
  • Ruddiman, W.F. (2000) Earth's Climate: Past Present and Future. W.H. Freeman & Co.
  • Talley, Pickard, Emery and Swift, Descriptive Physical Oceanography An Introduction (sixth Edition) (2011). Elsevier Ltd.


  • Henry Elderfield (Ed), Heinrich D Holland and Karl K Turekian (Exec Eds). The oceans and marine geochemistry. Vol. 6 (2006). Elsevier.
  • The Ocean Basins: Their structure and evolution. The Open University

Further Reading

  • Sarmiento and Gruber, Ocean Biogeochemical Dynamics, (2006), Princeton University Press.
  • Libes, S.M. 1992. Marine Biogeochemistry. John Wiley & Sons.