Geoscience in Two-year Colleges > Courses > Oceanography Lab (an introduction)

Oceanography Lab (an introduction)

Katryn Wiese
City College of San Francisco


Lab class that meets 4 hrs per week (one day) – the first hour starts with a 10-minute quiz on the previous week's lab, followed by hands-on group review of prereading preparatory lab assignment and then focussed group work on tasks that are typically difficult in the day's lab (students must work together and help each other). The remaining 3 hours is for students to complete the lab. Fellow students, lab aides, and instructors are resources, but students must make sure they are understanding and picking up the concepts and skills sufficiently to complete the following week's quiz and future exams on their own. A key at the end is available for them to review the content and discuss their answers with each other. The lab itself covers the following topics. Exploration of the ocean environment. Nautical and bathymetric charts; ocean floor features, sediments, and rocks; physical and chemical properties of seawater; beach deposition and erosion; interactions of currents, waves, and tides; marine life, ecology, and communities.

Course URL:
Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture/Lab – the one hour of lecture is to justify assigning 2 hours a week of homework (preparation and review) as well as to allow time for review of key topics that students might have missed in their lectures (as students are required to take a lecture, but could have done so at another college, during another semester, or from other colleagues at the same college).

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is an introductory science lab with an advisory – students are advised to have completed at least one year of algebra and geometry if they want to be successful in the class. Student who take this class are either currently enrolled in the Oceanography Lecture class or have already completed that class at our college or another college in the area.

Course Content:

Oceanography 1L is an introductory-level oceanography lab course that covers the interpretation and use of nautical and bathymetric charts; analysis of Plate Tectonics processes and how they contribute to seafloor formation, features, and processes; the analysis and interpretation of coastal processes, including changing shoreline profiles and sediment sources; the recognition and interpretation of climate variability and El Nino; observations, measurements, and interpretation of seawater and atmospheric data; the classification of marine organisms by taxonomy, ecological niche, and feeding.
This course has 3 required field trips.

Course Goals:

A. Demonstrate ability to use basic field and lab equipment to gather data on the world's oceans and
analyze and interpret results.
B. Use bathymetric and world maps and charts to calculate global position and interpret ocean floor
C. Locate world ocean floor features and use plate tectonics to analyze their origin.
D. Use ocean floor features and properties to calculate plate spreading rates and directions.
E. Identify and classify ocean sediment and rocks and analyze their origins and formation
F. Calculate and analyze the physical properties of seawater.
G. Measure and analyze the chemistry of seawater.
H. Classify and characterize sand samples and analyze their origins.
I. Map and describe coastlines and intrepret their history and evolution.
J. Measure, record, evaluate, and analyze interactions of currents, waves, tides, and coastal
K. Identify and classify basic marine plant and animal life.
L. Measure, evaluate, and interpret dynamics and interactions of marine communities.

Course Features:

This course is 100% hands on. Students are required to complete pre-reading assignments prior to labs. If they don't arrive on time to lab and get those assignments checked off, they can't earn full points for the lab. During labs students are encouraged to work together or with lab aides or the instructor to really understand the ideas and skills they're using. 3-4 exams are used to test their understanding and ability to complete exercises/demonstrate skills on their own. All students have access to lab keys at the end of each lab, which they can use to review their understanding and ask questions.

Course Philosophy:

I really want my students to use the lab time to work earnestly and with low stress to learn at their own pace (collaborative is encouraged, but some solo work is also necessary to ensure that a student really knows something and isn't just leaning on collaborators). Having them prepare ahead for the labs ensures that lab time can be spent "doing." Questions from the prereading get resolved right away. And answers to the lab get reviewed right away as well (with keys), so students don't leave cementing incorrect procedures for a week. If students don't get something, the materials are all still available.


  • Weekly quizzes on previous week's lab material.
  • In-class group work that occurs each week before students start on labs.
  • Completed labs, which I review before giving students keys to self correct.
  • 4 exams, which simulate labs and test their ability to do the work on their own.


Syllabus for Oceanography 1L (Microsoft Word 143kB Jun4 13)

Teaching Materials:

Lab manual and all lab materials here:

References and Notes:


  • Oceanography Lab Manual – produced by me, the instructor
  • Marine Biology Coloring Book, 2nd Edition, 2000, Niesen