Introduction to Oceanography

Patrick Pringle, Assoc. Professor of Earth Science

Class description

Objectives, Competencies, and Outcomes (numbers in parentheses relate to learning themes listed after outcomes)

Learning Abilities Themes adopted by Centralia College



Class description

This class will explore the physical, geological, chemical, and biological characteristics of the ocean: waves and tides, ocean and atmosphere circulation, coastal features and beach processes, ocean basins, sediments, ocean chemistry and physics, plate tectonics, and marine life.

Objectives, Competencies, and Outcomes (numbers in parentheses relate to learning themes listed after outcomes)

Upon successful completion students should be able to:

1.     Describe the development of ocean knowledge from early voyages of exploration and discovery to modern times. (1,2) 

2.     Use latitude and longitude to locate places on maps, and interpret tide tables. (1) 

3.     Describe theories on the origin of the earth, its atmosphere and its oceans. (1,2) 

4.     Identify the major features of ocean basins and relate the features to theories of origin. (1,2) 

5.     Describe the basic ideas of plate tectonics. (1,2) 

6.     Identify the chemical and physical characteristics of seawater. (1,2) 

7.     Explain how the atmosphere and oceans circulate. (1,2) 

8.     Compare the motions of currents, waves and tides and identify the factors that affect each. (1,2) 

9.     Describe the general characteristics of coastlines and the processes that operate there. (1,2) 

10.  Identify some of the environment issues related to oceanography. (1,2,5) 

11.  Describe the general characteristics of life in the ocean and identify the factors that influence organisms and productivity. (1,2)

Learning Abilities Themes adopted by Centralia College

1.      Reasoning.  The ability to extract information from data, develop ideas and solutions, establish logical progression in thinking, and problem solve using such procedures as literary analysis or the scientific method.

2.      Written, Oral, and Visual Communication.  The ability to make oneself understood in public, interpersonal, professional, artistic, and technical arenas.

3.      Exploration—Self and Others.  An awareness of the values, beliefs, customs, and contributions of persons from one's own and other traditions, ethnicities, classes, and genders.

4.      Resourcefulness.  The ability to adapt to change, such as technological innovations or environmental conditions.

5.      Responsibility.  The ability to be accountable to self, society, and the natural world.


  • Course Outline: (in the approximate order by week)              

Major areas listed below will be investigated in sufficient depth to allow the student to meet the objectives listed in part 2 above.


  1. History of Oceanography

       Early explorers

       Charts and navigations

       Modern oceanography


  1. Introduction of Planet Earth

      Origin of the planet, its oceans, atmosphere and life

      Age and shape of the earth, distribution of land and water

      Latitude, longitude and the international date line

      Natural cycles, seasons, water cycle                  


  1. Plate Tectonics

      Earth’s interior

      Evidence for plate tectonics and plate tectonics theory


  1. The Sea Floor

       Topography and sediments


  1. Water: Chemical and Physical Properties

       The water molecule and changes of state (solid, liquid, gas)

       Density, salinity, and temperature; gases in seawater, pH

       Transmission of heat, light and sound


  1. The Air and the Oceans

       Distribution of solar radiation and heat transfer composition and movement of air


  1. Circulative Patterns and Ocean Currents

       Wind-driven circulation, density-driven circulation

       Layered ocean structure


  1. Waves and Tides

       Wave anatomy and interference

       Shallow- and deep-water waves

       Standing waves, tsunami, tides and tidal bores


  1. Coasts, Estuaries and Environmental Issues

       Types of coastlines, beach characteristics and processes

       Wetlands and estuaries

       Human intervention


  1. Sea Life and Ocean Productivity

       Nutrients, light and primary production

       Food chains, food webs, trophic levels

       Adaptations of marine organisms

       Plankton, nekton and benthon



Required texts, evaluation criteria, attendance policy, and other requirements

appear on the course syllabus distributed by the instructor.