An Introduction to the Study

of the World's Oceans

Steve P. Lund

Department of Earth Sciences

University of Southern California


This set of course notes has been developed largely through the amalgamation and augmentation of three previous sets of course notes.


'Lecture Outlines for Elements of Oceanography'


Donn Gorsline

Department of Earth Sciences

University of Southern California


'The Oceans: Perspectives on a Water Planet'


Robert Karlin

Deprtment of Geological Sciences

University of Nevada - Reno


'Lecture Notes for

Environmental Geology'


Steve P. Lund

Department of Earth Sciences

University of Southern California


I am indebted to Drs. Gorsline and Karlin for their assistance.

Steve P. Lund July, 1995



What is Oceanography?
Oceanography is the systematic scientific study of the Earth's oceans with the goal of understanding its processes and phenomena.

Such a study requires an integrated view of the oceans and their relationships with other aspects of the Earth's overall environment.

We will study oceanography from the perspective of Earth System Science which has four primary components: hydrosphere (mostly the oceans), solid Earth, atmosphere, and biosphere.

Oceanography - Fields of Study

Geological Oceanography - plate tectonics, ocean basin geology, ocean history
Physical Oceanography - waves, water properties, forces acting on the ocean
Chemical Oceanography - water chemistry, biogeochemical cycling
Biological Oceanography - marine organisms, life cycles, and ecosystems

Why Study Oceanography?
Pure Scientific Curiosity
Global Climate Change Issues
Minerals/Energy Exploitation
Coastal Zone Management
Marine Pollution

Overall Class Goals
Provide a focus for better understanding and appreciating the oceans as a key part of the overall Earth environment.
Provide background knowledge useful for evaluating future societal issues including Global Climate Changes and pollution.
Provide a view into a how science works and progresses.

How to Survive!!
> 75% of test questions will come from lectures.
READ THE BOOK!!: > 60% of test questions will be in the book.
­ key text from lectures on web
­ lecture vocabulary on web
­ text self-quizzes on web (same format as real tests)

Additional Notes:





I. What is Oceanography? Oceanography is the systematic scientific study of the oceans with the goal of understanding the processes and phenomena of the oceans. Oceanography embraces and integrates several basic scientific disciplines:

A. Geological Oceanography - The study of plate tectonics, the geology of the ocean basins, and the geologic history of the oceans.

B. Physical Oceanography - The study of waves, currents, tides, physical water properties, and the physical forces that cause them.

C. Chemical Oceanography - The study of elemental cycling, especially the carbon or nitrogen cycle; chemical reactions in sea water.

D. Biological Oceanography - The study of marine life and its productivity, life cycles, and ecosystems.


II. Why do we study Oceanography?

A. Scientific Curiosity - We want to build a better world view (model or paradigm) of the oceans, how they operate, and how they interact with other aspects of the entire Earth system.

B. Marine Resources - We require resources for our culture to survive at its current level. Some of those resources come from the oceans.

1. Fisheries/Aquaculture/Conservation - The oceans are a vast source of food for the world's population through either harvesting the natural reserves or cultivating particular food resources.

2. Minerals/Energy Exploitation - The oceans hold an enormous reservoir of minerals. The oceans also hold reservoirs of fossil fuels or the potential for harnessing forces for energy development.

C. Impact on Human Activities - Just by the fact that humans exist, we interact with the oceanic environment. To the extent that we remove natural resources from the oceans and pollute, we have a significant and inevitable impact on the oceans and their biologic communities.

1. Coastal Zone Management - We love the seashore. That means that we influence coastal erosion. It also means that we develop the shoreline environment and require shoreline protection.

2. Transportation/Recreation - Humans have plied the oceans in boats for more than 5000 years. For most of that time, the oceans formed the primary trade routes of the world and were critical in developing the society we have today.

3. Marine Pollution - Human activities create pollution on a global scale. Some natural processes also pollute, or create conditions hazardous for human existence.

4. Hazards - Hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, red tides, etc. are a natural part of the marine environment and influence human activities. We cannot avoid them; all we can do is try to minimize their impact.


III. Overall Goals of the Class

A. Provide a Focus for Further Understanding and Appreciation of the Oceans - While most of you will not become scientists, this course offers you a brief view into how scientists see the Oceans and the World of which they are a part. We will consider how scientists go about trying to build a world-view of 'what are the oceans and how do they work'. We will also consider current unresolved problems facing us today, particularly as they impact human existence.


B. Provide Background Knowledge for Evaluating Future Societal Issues - Perhaps more importantly, the course should provide the basis for future reading and thought about scientific issues that significantly impact our every-day lives and future development. You will spend the rest of your lives voting on issues or for people with ideas about how humans should interact with our environment. Many of the issues, such as pollution, energy development, and species extinction, will be with us as societal issues for centuries to come. The more you know about the scientific basis of these issues, the better your judgment as you take part in governmental decisions through voting or representation.


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