NFYK14027U Steady ocean circulation

Volume 2015/2016
M.Sc. Physics

In this course we will discuss three of the world's ocean major circulation systems: the subtropical gyre, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, and the meridional overturning circulation. The focus will be on the manipulation of the equations of motion to derrive simple analytical models of these systems. Observations and numerical models will then be used to fill these equations with life.

Learning Outcome

The purpose of this course is that the student obtains a basic understanding of the dynamics of the large scale circulation.

When the course is finished it is expected that the student is able to:


  • Explain and apply the concept of potential vorticity
  • Explain the energetic of the meridional overturning circulation
  • Understand the relevance of friction and mixing for the ocean circulation

The course introduces the student to the equations of motion for a continuous medium. The student will learn how to use scaling analysis to reduce the complexity of partial differential equations. Finally the student will combine the resulting equations with observations and numerical model results to relate the different forcing mechanisms to the relevant part of the ocean circulation.


A good understanding of classical mechanics. The math requisites are understanding of partial differential equations.
Lectures. Weekly hand-in exercises.
Restricted elective for specialisation "Geophysics"
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Exam
  • 0,5
  • Exercises
  • 30
  • Lectures
  • 30
  • Preparation
  • 145,5
  • Total
  • 206,0
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 25 minutes
oral exam without preparation time.
Without aids
Marking scale
passed/not passed
Censorship form
No external censorship
several internal examiners
Criteria for exam assesment

To obtain the highest grade (12) the student must display a high level of command of all aspects of the relevant material, with no or only a few minor weaknesses.