METEO 451: Introduction to Physical Oceanography

INSTRUCTOR: Raymond Najjar, TIME & PLACE: 9:05−10:20 AM Tuesday (124 Walker) and Thursday (126 Walker).

METEO 451: Introduction to Physical Oceanography
Spring 2017 Semester 

DESCRIPTION: The primary objective of this course is to describe the circulation of the ocean and present a theoretical basis for understanding it. The focus is on the large-scale, basin-wide features of the ocean circulation, such as: (1) the subtropical ocean gyres, which contain the wind-driven western boundary currents like the Gulf Stream; (2) the equatorial oceans, which respond rapidly to external forcing to produce phenomena like El Niño; and (3) the thermohaline circulation, which acts as a slow regulator of the earth's climate. A main goal is to demonstrate to meteorology students that the ocean is not a static, passive lower boundary to the atmosphere but a dynamic, evolving entity that is intimately coupled to the atmosphere through the exchange of heat, momentum, and water. Thus, the oceans affect weather and climate.

TIME & PLACE: 9:05−10:20 AM Tuesday (124 Walker) and Thursday (126 Walker). 

Raymond Najjar (pronounced NAY-jar),
Professor, Department of Meteorology
Office: 522 Walker Building 
Phone: 814-863-1586
Office hours: Drop-in or by appointment. 

REQUIRED COURSES: Prerequisite: Meteo 421 (Atmospheric Dynamics). Policy: Students who do not meet these prerequisites after being informed in writing by the instructor may be dis-enrolled during the first 10-day free add-drop period according to Administrative Policy C-5. If you have not completed the listed prerequisites, then promptly consult with the instructor if you have not done so already. Students who re-enroll after being dis-enrolled according to this policy are in violation of Item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct:

CLASS STRUCTURE: Readings will be assigned weekly and discussed in class on Tuesday. Please read the assigned material before coming to class on Tuesday. Thursdays will start with a 10-15 minute quiz on the week’s reading, followed by a laboratory exercise using Matlab (see below).

BI-WEEKLY LABORATORY EXERCISES: On Thursdays in 126 Walker, you will work on one of eight laboratory exercises, each of which you will be given two weeks to complete (except for the first exercise, which you will complete in one week). Upload completed labs to Canvas before the next lab begins. The exercises will typically require several additional hours of work outside of the lab periods. The assignments will engage you directly in oceanographic data analysis and modeling using the programming language Matlab. Matlab is also very useful in science and engineering and thus many of your prospective employers will be pleased that you know it. I anticipate that most of your learning will occur as you do these assignments. 

REQUIRED TEXTBOOK: Najjar, R. G., Meteo 451 Notes: Introduction to Physical Oceanography. This is available free on Canvas. Readings will be assigned primarily from this source. There may be a few additional required readings from other sources, which I will make available to you if you do not already have them. Readings are assigned for each topic as shown in the detailed syllabus. Supplementary textbooks that I may assign readings from or show figures from in class are: (1) Talley, L.D., Pickard, G.L., Emery, W.J., Swift, J.H., 2011. Descriptive Physical Oceanography: An Introduction, Sixth Edition. Academic Press, London, United Kingdom, 555 pp., and (2) Stewart, R.H., 2008. Introduction to Physical Oceanography. Texas A & M University, College Station, TX, 345 pp. Links to these texts are provided on Canvas. 

QUIZZES: There will be weekly, closed-book, equally weighted quizzes given during the first 10-15 minutes of each Thursday class period. The quizzes will be taken in 124 Walker. When you are done you may go to 126 Walker to work on the lab. The quizzes will cover the weekly readings and possibly any additional material discussed on Tuesday in class. If you are unable to take a quiz because of extenuating circumstances, please let me know ahead of time and we will schedule a makeup. 


  • A 92−100% 
  • A− 88-91%
  • B+ 84-87%
  • B 80−83%
  • B− 75−79%
  • C+: 71−74%
  • C: 63−70%
  • D: 50−62%
  • F: <50%.

Weighting: 20% quizzes, 80% bi-weekly labs. 

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY POLICY: I expect all submitted work to be your own. Feel free to discuss assignments with others, but never ever (I really mean it) copy another’s work. If it appears that there is copying on an assignment, I will begin the formal Disciplinary Action Procedure as outlined by our college. The sanction for a first offense will be a zero on the assignment. For a second offense, a sanction may be as severe as failing the course. For details see 

ATTENDANCE POLICY: I expect you to attend all class periods. I realize that there may be emergencies and other extenuating circumstances that prevent this.  If possible, let me know ahead of time by email if you are going to miss a class. This course abides by the Penn State Attendance Policy E-11:, and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35: Please also see Illness Verification Policy:, and Religious Observance Policy: Students who miss class for legitimate reasons will be given a reasonable opportunity to make up missed work, including exams and quizzes. Students are not required to secure the signature of medical personnel in the case of illness or injury and should use their best judgment on whether they are well enough to attend class or not; the University Health Center will not provide medical verification for minor illnesses or injuries. Other legitimate reasons for missing class include religious observance, family emergencies, and regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activities.  Students who encounter serious family, health, or personal situations that result in extended absences should contact the Office of Student and Family Services for help:  Whenever possible, students participating in University-approved activities should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form available from the Registrar's Office:, at least one week prior to the activity.

WEATHER DELAYS: Campus emergencies, including weather delays, are announced on Penn State News and communicated to cell phones, email, the Penn State Facebook page, and Twitter via PSUAlert (Sign up at: 

CLASSROOM CELL PHONE POLICY: Please silence your cell phone in the classroom and do not use it. 

COURSE WEB SITE: I will use Canvas to post assignments, handouts, quizzes, and visuals that I show in class.

ACCOMODATIONS FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES: Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Office for Disability Services (ODS) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: ( For further information, please visit the Office for Disability Services website ( In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation based on the documentation guidelines ( If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations. 

CAMPUS EMERGENCIES: Campus emergencies, including weather delays, are announced on Penn State News (http:/ and communicated to cellphones, email, the Penn State Facebook page, and Twitter via PSUAlert (to sign up, please see 

COURSE COPYRIGHT: All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws. 

SYLLABUS: The main topics to be covered are:

  1. Why Study Physical Oceanography?
  2. The Equation of State for Seawater
  3. Static Stability in the Ocean
  4. The Conservation Equations
  5. Geostrophic and Inertial Flow
  6. Ekman Flow
  7. Sverdrup Flow and Westward Intensification
  8. Air-Sea Heat and Fresh Water Fluxes
  9. The Surface Ocean Mixed Layer
  10. The Thermohaline Circulation
  11. Tropical Oceanography
  12. El Niño
  13. The Tides 

Objectives for Meteo 451:

  1. Students can demonstrate a theoretical knowledge of the causes of large-scale basin-wide circulations in the ocean (relate to program objectives 1, 2, and 3)
  2. Students can demonstrate skills in applying calculus and the basic laws of physics to the quantitative description of oceanic circulations (relate to program objectives 1, 2, and 3) 

Outcomes for Meteo 451:

  1. Students can demonstrate knowledge of the dynamics of a variety of oceanic circulations including the Gulf Stream, ocean gyres, and the thermohaline circulation (relate to program outcomes b and d)
  2. Students can demonstrate knowledge of the Ekman theory of a wind-driven ocean that explains upwelling (relate to program outcome b)
  3. Students can demonstrate knowledge of equatorial ocean dynamics including the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (relate to program outcome b)
  4. Students can manipulate and model oceanographic data in a laboratory setting to help develop improved knowledge of oceanic circulations (relate to program outcomes a, d, and e)