EOSC 471 · Waves, Currents, and Mixing in the Ocean

Use of observations, theory and model results to solve physical oceanographic problems including applications to transport and mixing of pollutants or nutrients. [3-0-0]
Prerequisite: EOSC 211 and one of ATSC 201, EOSC 372, GEOB 200 and one of SCIE 001, PHYS 101, PHYS 107, PHYS 117, PHYS 153, PHYS 157.

Course Availability & Schedule

Course Description

Use of observations, theory and model results to solve physical oceanographic problems including applications to transport and mixing of pollutants or nutrients.

Learning Goals

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  1. use observations, theory and/or model results to solve physical oceanography problems;
  2. use computational analysis to visualize and to extract quantitative results from observations and model results
  3. use fluid dynamical scaling to determine what processes are important and to characterize flows using non-dimensional numbers
  4. and, in addition by the end of the course, students will have an acquired appreciation of current research topics in physical oceanography


Susan Allen and Rich Pawlowicz (TA: Karina Ramos-Musalem)

Course Content

 EOSC 471  specializes in physical oceanography (in comparison with EOSC 470 and 472 which focus on biological and chemical oceanography respectively).  It builds on the broad third-year oceanography courses and prepares students for their capstone project course, EOSC 473.

This course replaces EOSC 477 (a classic Geophysical Fluid Dynamics course) for CMJ and CHN Oceanography and Physics students.  EOSC 471 is instead focused on tools such as the analysis of observations and model results and their application to physical oceanography than on classical GFD. Students in oceanography (all branches), atmospheric science and environmental science will benefit from the exposure to these current tools as they are used across fields and outside academia in environmental consulting.

The complicated prerequisite structure is to give access to as many students as possible but ensuring that they have

  1. skills with scientific programming on a common platform (EOSC 211)
  2. basic force balances in the ocean (same as atmosphere) (EOSC 372 or ATSC 201 or GEOB 200)
  3. calculus (first year integral and differential calculus) (required by EOSC 211)
  4. physics of waves (first year, first course)

The course will encompass two-four topics (initially Surface Ocean & Wave/Sea Interaction, Large Scale Overturning, Mixing & Stirring and Coastal Oceanography of the West Coast of Canada) to provide students with the opportunity to combine observations, theory and model results to solve problems related to ocean waves, currents and mixing. Applications to transport and mixing of chemical/biological tracers (e.g. nutrients, pollutants, larval fish) will be included.


Lecture Topics

Week Lecture Lecture/Lab
1 Introduction and review of waves MATLAB and computer models
2 Surface waves, wave spectra Wave modelling
3 Air/Sea interaction - heat and momentum MINI-PROJECT 1: wave data from buoys
4 Mixed layer dynamics Mixed-layer modelling
5 Air/Sea interaction - gases Internal waves
6 Shear-driven mixing MIDTERM
7 Review of Large-Scale Circulation MINI-PROJECT 2: overturning model and mixing
8 Patchiness of ocean mixing Argo/drifter datasets
9 Tides Harmonic Analysis of tides
10 Estuarine Flow Estuarine models
11 Contaminant Transport (Fukishima) MINI-PROJECT 3: particle tracking
12 Wind-driven currents NE Pacific Model-data comparison (Salish Sea)
13 Eddies in ocean circulation REVIEW



This course will be taught in a one hour + two hour format, with the two-hour block in a computer lab. The breakdown between lectures and computer work in the computer laboratory is expected to be 1:1.

A significant component of the course will be three mini-projects. At least one of these projects will be group based. Each project will be allocated 2 hours initial time in the computer laboratory to ensure students have access to the materials and tools they need and to facilitate group dynamics.