Studying the Ocean from Blackboard to Drones

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Course registration will be available for this course once it is scheduled.

Course Description

At 1.33 billion cubic km and covering roughly ⅔ of Earth’s total surface area, the global ocean is the largest body of water in the world. It’s mysteries have intrigued humans over the course of history, and scientists have spent decades attempting to observe and understand the wonders of the ocean. This course is designed to introduce students to the basic principles of oceanography through theory, observations and applications from its humble beginnings using Nansen bottles, up through the advent of satellites, automated vehicles, and drones. Basic physical and biogeochemical theory will allow students to explore satellite data and modeling techniques.

The first week is centered on theoretical physical oceanography and general characteristics of the ocean. This includes global ocean properties such as typical temperature and salinity profiles and distributions, the governing equations of motion, simplified balance equations, a description from small scale phenomena such as tides and waves to large scale phenomena such as oceanic gyres and meridional overturning. A field trip to Narragansett Bay will take place tentatively on Friday of the first week where students will take a boat tour of the bay and make conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) casts to observe temperature, salinity, and density profiles. Surface ocean motion will be observed by launching floating plates into the bay and observing their dispersion aerially via a drone. The second week will entail more specialized lectures. The first two days introduce ocean-atmosphere interactions with implications for coral reefs and climate variability. The next two days focus on ocean biogeochemistry with emphasis on the carbon cycle and coastal dead zones. In addition special topics will be introduced to broaden basic understanding in the context of current climate science issues.

Students will work on a research project where they will be expected to analyze data related to a defined research question. They will work in small groups to create a poster presentation of their research, as well as an individual written report detailing their personal contributions to the project. The final day of class will be dedicated to a group discussion of the topics, followed by a poster session where each group will present their findings to the class.

Students will be exposed to a variety of STEM subjects such as mathematics, physics, geology, chemistry, biology and climatology, as well as gain valuable hands on observational experience. In addition, students will refine presentation, analytical reading and writing abilities. Above all, students will practice critical thinking and develop independent research skills.

Prerequisites: Exposure to calculus, basic chemistry and physics will be helpful, but not necessary.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEES0920
  • Length: 2 weeks
  • Supplemental Fee: $100

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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