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Physical Oceanography

College or University: University of Washington

Type of degree: Ph.D.

Brief overview of program: Physical oceanography focuses on describing and understanding the evolving patterns of ocean circulation and fluid motion, along with the distribution of its properties such as temperature, salinity and the concentration of dissolved chemical elements and gases. The ocean as a dynamic fluid is studied at a wide range of spatial scales, from the centimeter scales relevant to turbulent microstructure through the many thousand kilometer scales of the ocean gyres and global overturning circulation. Approaches include theory, direct observation, and computer simulation. Our research frequently takes place in the context of important multidisciplinary issues including the dynamics and predictability of global climate and the sustainability of human use in coastal and estuarine regions.The School of Oceanography provides excellent instructional and research opportunities at the graduate level in all areas of oceanography: Biological Oceanography, Chemical Oceanography, Marine Geology and Geophysics, and Physical Oceanography. Emerging areas of cooperative research such as coupled ocean/atmosphere physics and chemistry, global biogeochemistry, and volcano systems are emphasized. Advanced degrees emphasize independent research in conjunction with basic and specialized courses in oceanography. The courses are planned to provide the knowledge and experience needed for careers that involve independent scientific investigation. Research opportunities allow students to design scientific programs which often include considerable experience at sea. Graduates are well prepared for teaching, research, and administration in colleges, universities, and government; and for positions in research institutions, laboratories, and industry. FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Visit the School of Oceanography on the World Wide Web at Our Home Page contains additional information on our faculty and students and their email addresses, and detailed descriptions of some of our major research projects. Applicants are encouraged to contact directly faculty members whose areas of expertise and research activities correspond to their own. Current students or recent graduates are excellent sources of frank and independent advice, which should be obtained before the all-important choice of a graduate school is made. For further information, please contact School\'s Graduate Student Services Office at 206-543-5039 or by email at:

Website: Click here for program website

Description of Facilities: The School has 60 full-time teaching and research faculty, 20 affiliate and adjunct faculty, 90 technical and administrative staff members, and 200 undergraduate and graduate students. Located by Portage Bay on the University of Washington campus, the School of Oceanography is housed in four major buildings. A state-of- the-art 60,000 square-foot building was completed in 1999. Offices for students are grouped in proximity to their research supervisors in order to foster close working relationships. The Portage Bay location provides for easy staging of cruises on the two research vessels operated by the School. The School operates the latest addition to the nation\'s fleet of university research vessels, the 274-foot R/V Thomas G. Thompson. The first of a new class, the vessel features extensive laboratory space, unparalleled station-keeping ability, and a state-of-the-art computing and data acquisition system. Graduate students are involved in all of the cruises, most often for their thesis research. A unique opportunity is provided by the School\'s support of forty-five days of ship time for instructional uses. Studies of estuarine dynamics, shallow-water geochemistry, and productivity of inshore waters are carried out from the 65-foot R/V Clifford A. Barnes, which undertakes short cruises into Lake Washington and Puget Sound, usually of a week or less. The School operates extensive laboratories for research and teaching which include laboratories for paleomagnetics, sea-ice, geophysical fluid dynamics, archaebacteria, and marine molecular biotechnology; and facilities such as controlled-environment rooms and the satellite remote sensing data processing center. Specialized laboratory instruments such as ratio and quadrupole mass spectrometers, scanning electron microscopes, and seawater sediment transport flumes are routinely used in graduate thesis research. The Electronics, Machine, and Student/Faculty Shops are staffed by highly-skilled persons to assist in the design and construction of specialized instruments required for research projects. Other facilities and instruments, such as a Fourier-transform infrared laser spectroscope, wind tunnels, and X-ray diffractometers are available on the campus. Computing plays a key role in graduate research with uses ranging from computation intensive activities like numerical modeling, time series analysis, geophysical data inversion, and image processing, to instrument control and data acquisition in both the field and laboratory, to routine tasks such as word processing and communication. Over 40 high-performance Unix-based Sun and Digital workstations are widely used for modeling, interpreting and visualizing oceanographic processes. Personal computers are ubiquitous. Nearly all of these systems are linked to the UW Ethernet. This network provides ready access to departmental systems and peripherals, centralized campus services (such as information systems and bibliographic data bases) and computers (a variety of Unix-based hosts) and, through Internet, to myriad remote systems including supercomputing facilities at the University of California at San Diego and National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences has its own national caliber library with 60,000 volumes and subscriptions to over 1,300 primary and review journals. The UW Libraries Catalog, a bibliographic search system devoted to the oceanographic sciences, and a myriad other information resources are accessible on PC\'s from home or office. The School of Oceanography offers courses each year at the University\'s Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island at the northern end of Puget Sound. Due to polar emergence and the constant cold water of Puget Sound there are unique opportunities for the study of benthic processes more commonly observed only at bathyal depths. Specialized courses in new areas of oceanography are offered each summer. Friday Harbor facilities are also utilized throughout the year for oceanographic research. A weekly seminar series is sponsored by the School of Oceanography, featuring renowned scientists from around the world. Each oceanography option also offers a weekly series of lectures and discussions on more specialized topics. In addition, seminars sponsored by NOAA\'s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, the Applied Physics Laboratory, the School of Fisheries, and other University departments are often of interest. Established in 1930 as the University\'s Oceanographic Laboratories, Oceanography became a degree-granting department in 1951 and conferred its first Ph.D. in 1955. The School of Oceanography is a major unit of the College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences which also includes the School of Fisheries and School of Marine Affairs and two non-degree granting units, the Applied Physics Laboratory and Washington Sea Grant Program. The College maintains a Home Page describing its history and educational and research units, which may be visited at The School\'s research program is comprised of more than 135 projects covering a broad range of oceanographic investigations, ranging from individual research studies to multidisciplinary, multi-university, and cooperative international projects. Annual expenditures exceed $21 million. Major sources of support include NSF, ONR, NOAA, NASA, DoE, EPA, and various state and local government agencies and private organizations. The projects span the globe from the polar seas to the tropics, and range from studies of the abyssal ocean to local inlets and estuaries. Cooperative studies are currently underway with nations around the world, such as India, Brazil, Pakistan, Greenland, Norway, Oman, Japan, Russia, France, Israel, China, Australia, Indonesia and the Netherlands. The faculty of the School, their research interests and recent publications can be found at


Institution address: 3707 Brookland Ave. NE
                             Seattle,WA 98105-6715

Phone: 206-543-5039


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This project is supported, in part, by the NationalScience Foundation.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation .