Curriculum

The physical oceanography curriculum includes core courses, mathematics courses, and electives. Each student formulates a program of studies with the assistance of academic advisors drawn from both MIT and WHOI.

Students are expected to attend research seminars and to complete widespread independent reading of the literature. They are encouraged to explore the diverse course offerings in other departments at MIT as well as to take advantage of the opportunity to cross-register at Harvard, Brown, or Boston University.

Core courses and mathematics

The core curriculum is intended to provide the minimum, essential foundation in dynamics for students pursuing research in physical oceanography:

  • Fluid Dynamics of the Atmosphere and Ocean (12.800)
  • Introduction to Observational Physical Oceanography (12.808)
  • Steady Circulation of the Ocean and Atmosphere (12.801)
  • Wave Motions in the Ocean and Atmosphere (12.802)

Students typically take these courses during their first year unless they have had prior experience with the subject matter before entering.

Students with interdisciplinary interests may design (in consultation with their advisor) an individual course of study.

In addition, most research topics in physical oceanography require an understanding of the methods of applied mathematics. A graduate-level mathematics course such as Asymptotic Methods for Scientists and Engineers (18.305) is one option for the first semester. Students typically also take at least one additional graduate-level applied mathematics course in the second semester.

Here is the recommended sequence:

Semester 1:
Fluid Dynamics of the Atmosphere and Ocean (12.800)
Introduction to Observational Physical Oceanography (12.808)
Advanced Analytical Methods in Science and Engineering (18.305) or other appropriate applied mathematics course (e.g. 18.075 or 18.085)
Elective

Semester 2:
Wave Motions in the Ocean and Atmosphere (12.802)
Steady Circulation of the Oceans (12.801)
Advanced Partial Differential Equations with Applications (18.306) or other appropriate applied mathematics course (e.g. 18.086)
Elective

Semester 3:
Quasi-Balanced Circulations in Oceans and Atmospheres (12.803)
Electives

Semester 4:
Electives

Electives

Physical oceanography students take around 14 to 16 courses during their first two years in residence. The goal of the program is to lay the foundation for later scholarship and research and to allow students to follow their individual interests. Here are some examples of different paths toward the Ph.D. These example course lists are by no means exclusive. Students are encouraged to consult with their advisors to determine courses that best suit their research and interests.

Focus: Dynamical oceanography
12.755 Hydraulic Phenomena in Geophysical Fluid Flows
12.803 Quasi-Balanced Circulations of the Oceans and Atmospheres
12.804 Large Scale Flow Dynamics Laboratory
12.812 General Circulation of the Earth's Atmosphere
12.820 Turbulence in Geophysical Systems
12.822 Nonlinear Waves and Vortices
12.866 Theory of the General Circulation of the Ocean
12.970 Stability Theory for Oceanic and Atmospheric Flows
18.306 Advanced Partial Differential Equations with Applications

Focus: Oceans and climate; paleoclimate
12.707 Pre-Pleistocene Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology
12.708 Special Topics in Paleoclimatology
12.812 General Circulation of the Earth's Atmosphere
12.840 Past and Present Climate
12.841 Climate Dynamics
12.842 Climate Physics and Chemistry
12.864 Inference from Data and Models

Focus: Air-sea interaction
12.806 Atmospheric Physics
12.810 Dynamics of the Atmosphere
12.811 Tropical Meteorology
12.812 General Circulation of the Earth's Atmosphere
12.818 Introduction to Atmospheric Data and Synoptic Meteorology
12.820 Turbulence in Geophysical Systems
12.870 Air-Sea Interaction Boundary Layers

Focus: Observational oceanography and data interpretation
12.865 Ocean Data and Ocean Models
12.803 Quasi-Balanced Circulations of the Oceans and Atmospheres
12.804 Large Scale Flow Dynamics Laboratory
12.805 Laboratory in Physical Oceanography
12.818 Introduction to Atmospheric Data and Synoptic Meteorology
12.864 Inference from Data and Models

Focus: Coastal oceanography and near-shore processes
1.61 Fluid Transport Processes
1.63 Fluid Dynamics of the Environment
1.67 Sediment Transport and Coastal Processes
1.691 Surface Wave Dynamics
12.755 Hydraulic Phenomenon in Geophysical Fluid Flows
12.820 Turbulence in Geophysical Systems
12.862 Coastal Physical Oceanography

Focus: Physical-biological and physical-biogeochemical interactions
7.47 Biological Oceanography
12.742 Marine Chemistry
7.440 Introduction to Mathematical Ecology
7.430 Topics in Quantitative Marine Science: Ocean Biological/Physical Interaction
12.xxx Modelling the Biology and Physics of the Ocean
12.803 Quasi-balanced Circulations in Atmospheres and Oceans
12.804 Large-scale Flow Dynamics Laboratory
12.747 Modeling, Data Analysis, and Numerical Techniques for Geochemistry
12.864 Inference from Data and Models
7.431 Topics in Marine Ecology
7.436 Topics in Phytoplankton Biology
7.434 Topics in Zooplankton Biology
7.435 Topics in Benthic Biology
12.746 Marine Organic Geochemistry
12.862 Coastal Physical Oceanography
12.870 Air-Sea Interaction: Boundary Layers

For more complete information on course offerings, see the MIT catalog.