Introduction to Oceanography

Susan Richardson

Florida Atlantic University-Jupiter


This course focuses on the fundamentals of geological, chemical, and physical oceanography, with the goal of enhancing student understanding of global ocean processes, and the abiotic factors that underlie marine ecosystems.

Course Size:

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no prerequisites and does not technically serve as a prerequisite for other courses; however, the same students enrolled in this course typically take Marine Biology with me the following semester. This course fulfills the state general education core course requirement in the natural sciences.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to:
  • Interpret the validity of scientific information that is summarized in news and popular science articles
  • Analyze data using descriptive statistics to discover underlying patterns in the data
  • Formulate hypotheses about the processes that generate patterns in data
  • Predict future trends based on current patterns in data
  • Synthesize information form various disciplines related to global processes that operate in the world ocean
  • Evaluate current scientific evidence pertaining to long-term changes in ocean ecosystems for scientific accuracy

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Students exercise higher order thinking skills through interactive class discussions during lectures, outside reading assignments, and class projects involving analysis of data.

Skills Goals

An important component of this course is to improve the following student skills:
  • Spatial thinking and map interpretation
  • Quantitative analysis of data
  • Visualization of data
  • Critical reading of popular scientific literature
  • Student writing
  • Group problem solving

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Students are assigned a number of assignments designed to strengthen their skills in several areas. This course has a strong emphasis on spatial thinking through map interpretation, due to the global nature of oceanography as a discipline. Students may be assigned map projects on the following topics: crustal thickness, plate tectonics, bathymetry, physiography of the seafloor, sediments, global wind belts, and global surface currents and thermohaline circulation. Students may be assigned projects in which they analyze data and interpret the results, with an emphasis on the graphing including: tracking hurricanes in the Atlantic, examining the relationship between age of islands in the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain and the current location of the hotspot, a problem set on the hypsometic curve, wave patterns, and tidal variations.

Attitudinal Goals

This course seeks to increase individual student excitement and amazement about planet Earth and the Biosphere, and to develop the next generation's responsibility to care for the diversity of Earth resources that are held in common (e.g., the ocean, atmosphere, abiotic and biotic resources).

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

I try to use fascinating and aesthetically pleasing imagery and video clips to stimulate my students' sense of fascination about planet Earth. In addition to Google Earth, some of the web sites that I routinely search for up-to-date images are:
I also integrate iPad apps into my presentations, including: the EarthViewer app from the HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute), and the Earth Observer app from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.


I assess student learning using quizzes, exams, and assignments (both in-class and homework).


Intro to Oceanography Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 65kB Jun3 13)