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Unit information: Oceans and Climates in 2020/21

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Unit name Oceans and Climates
Unit code EASC30071
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Robinson
Open unit status Not open

EASC10002 Environmental Geoscience 1

EASC20038 Analytical Geochemistry

EASC20043 Geochemistry 1

Students who wish to choose this unit as an option but have not taken the pre-requisite units, in particular Environmental Geoscience 1 and Geochemistry 1, will be expected to undertake some preparatory work before the unit commences. You should speak to the unit director for guidance before being registered on the unit.



School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


An overview of the physical, chemical and biological aspects of oceanography, and the role played by oceans in climate change in the past, modern and future Earth system with a focus on current issues and debates.

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;
  • 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 100 years to 100 million years;
  • learn to interpret proxy data and the strength and weaknesses of these methods;
  • assess the role of oceans in controlling levels of atmospheric CO2;
  • apply statistical methods and appreciate the difficulty in interpreting large scale and incomplete datasets and the impact of data resolution and quality in space and time.

Intended learning outcomes

On completion you should have:

  • 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 palaeoclimate data and draw inferences from such data regarding the past climate of the Earth
  • assessed data using a wide range of statistical techniques
  • learned about a wide range of climate proxies, their strength and limitations
  • reiterated data formatting, interpretation, and discussion
  • debated the nature and causes of climate change impacts on ecosystems
  • 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
  • synthesise information from the scientific literature to inform knowledge of the ocean-climate system

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through a combination of

  • asynchronous online materials and, if subsequently possible, synchronous face-to-face lectures
  • synchronous office hours
  • asynchronous directed individual formative activities and exercises
  • guided, structured reading
  • practical work in the laboratory

Students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete laboratory work, or alternative activities, in person, either during the academic year 2020/21 or subsequently, in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy accreditation requirements.

Assessment Details

Coursework (100%) - a 3,000 word written report

Reading and References


  • Ocean Circulation. The Open University.
  • Talley, Pickard, Emery and Swift, Descriptive Physical Oceanography An Introduction (sixth Edition) (2011). Elsevier Ltd.
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC),


Further Reading

  • Libes, S.M. 1992. Marine Biogeochemistry. John Wiley & Sons.