GEOL 3070 / ATOC 3070 (3 credits)

Introduction to Oceanography

Syllabus - Spring 2017

black smoker R/V Knorr deep-sea anglerfish

Current ocean conditions animation
WHOI Image of the Day

On this page you will find the course syllabus, lecture PowerPoints, and interesting links.
Twice-weekly reading assignments are online at McGraw-Hill Connect (purchase access through D2L; see below for details).
The Desire2Learn course page contains homework assignments, grades, announcements, and book access. That's also where you'll find the login and password for accessing PowerPoints and other documents on this page.
We also have an optional Facebook page which you can Follow and where you are encouraged to post oceanographic news stories and discussions.

Meets: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00 am - 12:15 pm, Benson 180
Professor: Tom Marchitto,
Professor office hours: Tuesdays 2-3:30 pm unless otherwise noted here, Benson 435; or by appointment

Course description: Investigates the broad-scale features and dynamics of the Earth's oceans. The course is roughly divided amongst the four main disciplines of oceanography: marine geology, marine chemistry, physical oceanography (i.e., circulation), and marine biology. Students will learn that there is much overlap and interdependence between these disciplines. Specific topics include seafloor spreading, marine sediments, salinity, biogeochemical cycles, ocean structure, currents, waves, tides, primary production, marine ecology, climate change, and much more.

Prerequisites: any two-course sequence of natural science core courses
Expectations: comfort with scientific thinking, spatial visualization, simple mathematic equations (algebra), chemical notation, and basic computer skills
Approved for arts and sciences core curriculum: natural science
Note for GEOL majors: Does not count toward the upper level elective requirement for the major

Learning goals (pdf): Far beyond memorizing facts and figures, a good education in oceanography should allow you to explain and illustrate concepts, interpret data, and make predictions. This pdf lists some of the things that you should be able to do during and after taking this course. It is organized around 21 fundamental concepts that form the core of the science that you must learn in order to understand the basic processes operating in the oceans. This list of Learning Goals by no means covers everything that you are expected to learn, but rather forms a foundation of fundamental principles and ideas. Some of the concepts will probably be familiar to you, but perhaps their application to oceanography will be new. You will find that many of the concepts are applicable to multiple aspects of oceanography (and to other sciences), and will appear repeatedly during the course. Concepts are listed in the order of their first major appearance.

Grading: 10% Reading, 10% Clickers, 20% Homework, 40% Midterm Exams, 20% Final Exam. Numerical grades for exams will be curved to a class median of 80%, except that grades will never be curved downward. Readings, clicker questions, and homeworks will not be curved. Letter grades will be based on a 'thirds' scheme (e.g. 80.00-83.32 is B-, 83.33-86.66 is B, 86.67-89.99 is B+). Want to know what separates an "A" student from a "C" student? Have a look at this table of effective and ineffective learning behaviors. If you are taking this course Pass/Fail, you are STRONGLY advised to not blow off any assignments because that is a recipe for failure.

Required textbook and reading assignments: You must purchase a Connect Access Code for the electronic textbook Investigating Oceanography by Keith Sverdrup (2nd Ed.). You can purchase the access directly from McGraw-Hill via the link on the D2L course page, or from the CU Bookstore, though the Bookstore charges more (make sure the purchase is for Connect; you do not need a hardcopy of the book). You need your own Connect access code so that you can get credit for completing assignments. Twice each week (beginning the second week of class) you will have assigned reading and a set of 'practice' questions, due by 11:59 pm on the night before lecture. Watch this short video to see how this works. You must answer the questions to receive credit for the assignment. If you make it through all of the questions you will receive 100%. Late assignments will not be accepted. Computer or internet connection problems are not valid excuses for late assignments, so do not wait until the last minute. Once the assignment is completed, you can re-read the material and/or practice additional questions using the Recharge button. You will also find useful feedback and study tools under Reports (watch this very short video to see how). Note that I will cover some topics in class that are not in the book, and the book contains some topics that I will not cover in class. If you are having technical difficulties, please try to resolve them through McGraw-Hill's Support.

Clickers: The use of i>clickers (available at the CU Bookstore) is required and is intended to promote learning by providing a forum for you to learn from your peers. The clicker technology allows for the engagement of all students, encourages increased course-related communication between students, and facilitates the feedback loop between students and professor. Most lectures will require you to answer several questions using the clicker, often based on reading or on new concepts arising in class. You will receive two points for answering the question, plus (usually) one additional point for a correct answer. Absences will only be excused with written documentation. No accommodations will be made for misplaced or non-functioning clickers. It is your responsibility to ensure that your clicker is registered and working properly. Clicker questions will start in lecture on Thursday of Week 1 and will begin counting toward your grade on Tuesday of Week 2.

Homework: Ten homework assignments will allow students to apply what they have learned in class to practical problems. These problem sets are not intended to simply prepare students for exams, but rather are intended to develop problem solving, quantitative, and writing skills that are not tested on exams. Some basic (high school level) math and critical thinking will therefore be required. Assignments are to be completed on-line through Desire2Learn, where they are found under the Calendar or under Assessments/Quizzes. Late assignments will not be accepted. Computer or internet connection problems are not valid excuses for late assignments, so do not wait until the last minute. Students who feel uncomfortable with math may benefit from this brief Significant Digits and Unit Conversion Tutorial (pdf).

Exams: There will be three in-class midterm exams (20% each), but students may drop their lowest midterm grade. The final, which is cumulative, cannot be dropped. Exams will test students' understanding of oceanographic concepts and facts, and will be multiple choice. Exams missed due to illness may be made up only if a doctor's note is provided. Final Exam is Monday May 8, 4:30-7:00 pm, in Benson 180. Everyone must take the Final. See Registrar's policy on final exam conficts (three on same day).


Accommodation for Disabilities: If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit to me a letter from Disability Services in a timely manner (for exam accommodations provide your letter at least one week prior to the exam) so that your needs can be addressed. Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities. Contact Disability Services at 303-492-8671 or by email at If you have a temporary medical condition or injury, see Temporary Medical Conditions guidelines on the Disability Services website and discuss your needs with me.

Religious Holidays: Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to deal reasonably and fairly with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or required attendance. Please notify me at least two weeks in advance of the conflict to request special accommodation. See the campus policy regarding religious observances for full details.

Classroom Behavior: Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment. Those who fail to adhere to such behavioral standards may be subject to discipline. Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with differences of race, color, culture, religion, creed, politics, veteran's status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and gender expression, age, disability, and nationalities. Class rosters are provided to the instructor with the student's legal name. I will gladly honor your request to address you by an alternate name or gender pronoun. Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records. For more information, see the policies on classroom behavior and the student code.

Sexual Misconduct, Discrimination, Harassment and/or Related Retaliation: The University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) is committed to maintaining a positive learning, working, and living environment. CU Boulder will not tolerate acts of sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment or related retaliation against or by any employee or student. CU's Sexual Misconduct Policy prohibits sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, intimate partner abuse (dating or domestic violence), stalking or related retaliation. CU Boulder's Discrimination and Harassment Policy prohibits discrimination, harassment or related retaliation based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy. Individuals who believe they have been subject to misconduct under either policy should contact the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC) at 303-492-2127. Information about the OIEC, the above referenced policies, and the campus resources available to assist individuals regarding sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment or related retaliation can be found at the OIEC website.

Honor Code: All students enrolled in a University of Colorado Boulder course are responsible for knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy of the institution. Violations of the policy may include: plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, lying, bribery, threat, unauthorized access, clicker fraud, resubmission, and aiding academic dishonesty. All incidents of academic misconduct will be reported to the Honor Code Council (; 303-735-2273). Students who are found responsible for violating the academic integrity policy will be subject to nonacademic sanctions from the Honor Code Council as well as academic sanctions from the faculty member. Additional information regarding the academic integrity policy can be found at the Honor Code Office website.


Class Schedule

click on lecture title for PowerPoint file (available after class, password-protected, password found on D2L)
(try refreshing your browser if links are missing or dead)

and Interesting Links

T 1/17: Oceans and oceanography
world ocean, origin, history of oceanography, challenges
HOV Alvin
Dive and Discover (WHOI)

Th 1/19: Ocean bathymetry
concept inventory, electromagnetic spectrum, sonar, Law of the Sea
Interactive global bathymetry (NOAA)
Law of the Sea (UN)

T 1/24: Ocean crust
layered Earth, ocean vs. continental crust, isostatic equilibrium
Interactive isostasy demo

Th 1/26: Plate tectonics
interior heat, convection, paleomag, hotspots
Hawaii Center for Volcanology
Plate motion from GPS (JPL)

T 1/31: Plate boundaries
mid-ocean ridges, subduction zones, transforms
Nautilus Minerals seafloor mining
James Cameron's trip to the Mariana Trench

Th 2/2: Marine sediments
sampling, sizes, Stokes Law, biogenic, terrigenous
LDEO Core Repository
WHOI Seafloor Samples Lab
Global core database (NOAA NGDC)

T 2/7: Physical properties of seawater
H-bonds, heat capacity, ice, density
Sea Ice (NSIDC)

Th 2/9: Earth's energy (im)balance
Greenhouse effect, ocean warming, sea ice loss
Global temperature trends (NASA GISS)
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Current CO2 concentrations animation

T 2/14: First Exam (covers 1/13-2/5, oceans to energy imbalance)

Th 2/16: Global atmospheric circulation
Coriolis effect, atmospheric cells, geostrophy
Incredible visualization tool for current global winds, currents, waves, etc.

T 2/21: Upper ocean circulation
current measurement, Ekman transport, gyres, ACC
Ocean Surface Currents (RSMAS)
Ocean Surface Current Analyses - Real time (NOAA/OSCAR)
Perpetual Ocean simulation (NASA video)

Th 2/23: Upwelling and El Nino
coastal and equatorial upwelling, ENSO dynamics
Climate Prediction (NOAA)

T 2/28: Deep ocean circulation
density structure, T-S diagrams, thermohaline flow
Aquarius satellite salinity
Seawater density calculator

Th 3/2: Waves at sea
wave forces, deep vs. shallow, wind waves, sea state
Real time significant wave height
Surfline wave forecasts
Beaufort Scale (wiki)

T 3/7: Waves at the shore
breaking, refraction, seiche, tsunami
Tsunami (NOAA)
2011 Honshu tsunami
2004 Sumatra-Andaman tsunami
1958 Lituya Bay tsunami

Th 3/9: Tides
Earth-moon-sun gravitation, amphidromic points
NOAA tide predictions

T 3/14: Second Exam (covers 2/12-3/5, atmospheric circulation to tides)

Th 3/16: Coasts
wave erosion, sea level rise, storm surge, coastal engineering
Surging Seas (Climate Central)
Coastal County Snapshots (NOAA)
Post-Sandy Rebuild by Design

T 3/21: Chemistry of seawater
salinity, steady state, residence time, inputs, outputs
Periodic table of the elements in the North Pacific
Periodic table of the elements in the ocean (MBARI)

Th 3/23: Ocean carbon and acidification
DIC, pH, air-sea CO2 flux, ocean acidification
Ocean Acidification Network

T 3/28, Th 3/30: Spring Break

T 4/4: Life in the sea
taxonomy, habitat & mobility, adaptations
Census of Marine Life

Th 4/6: Biogeochemical cycles
photosynthesis, respiration, Redfield ratios, energy & mass transfer
Global Plankton Database

T 4/11: Marine pollution
Deepwater Horizon, toxicity, plastics
WHOI Deepwater Horizon response
Plastics at SEA

Th 4/13: Primary producers
production, phytoplankton, seaweeds, limitation, eutrophication

T 4/18: Third Exam (covers 3/12-4/9, coasts to primary producers)

Th 4/20: Marine invertebrates
poriferans, cnidarians, coral reefs, molluscs, arthropods, echinoderms
NOAA Coral Reef Information System

T 4/25: Marine ecology
feeding, hunting and defense, reproduction, associations, senses

Th 4/27: Fishes and fisheries
fish classes, deep sea fishes, maximum sustainable yield, bycatch
Global Fishing Watch
MBARI Seafood Watch

T 5/2: Marine mammals
adaptations, toothed whales, baleen whales, whaling, sound pollution
NG Marine noise pollution

Th 5/4: Wrap-up
concept inventory, the future
Bureau of Ocean Energy: Renewables
Marine Pharmaceuticals
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

M 5/8 (4:30-7:00 pm): Final Exam (covers entire course, with ~40% on material after the third midterm exam)