METEO 451 Lee SP2015

Elements of Physical Oceanography Instructor: Sukyoung Lee TR 9:45 to 11:00am 126 Walker Building

METEO 451: Elements of Physical Oceanography

Spring 2015 Semester


The main goal of this course is to describe the circulation of the ocean and present a theoretical basis for understanding it. The focus will be on the large-scale, basin-wide features of the ocean circulation, such as the ocean gyres and the thermohaline circulation. We will be using calculus and basic laws of physics (conservation of mass, momentum and energy) in order to acquire a quantitative understanding of ocean circulation.  To reinforce concepts, laboratory assignments will involve manipulation and modeling of oceanographic data.

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)

TIME: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:45-11:00 AM
PLACE: 126 Walker Building


Sukyoung Lee, Professor, Department of Meteorology
Office: 519 Walker Building   
Phone: 863-1587   
Mailbox: 532 Walker Building


Math 231 (Calculus of Several Variables) or Math 230 (Calculus and Vector Analysis), Math 251 (Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations), Phys 201 (General Physics)


During a typical week I will lecture on Tuesdays and the first 25 minutes on Thursdays. For the rest of the Thursday period, you will work on a laboratory exercises.


The course materials are posted on ANGEL, Penn State’s Course Management System.  ANGEL can be accessed at using your PSU username and password. You will be able to download notes chapter by chapter in Adobe PDF format.  The guidelines for laboratory reports are also posted on ANGEL in guideline_lab_report.pdf


Stewart, R. H., 2008: Introduction to Physical Oceanography. (freely available on web)

Marshall, J., and R. A. Plumb, 2008: Atmosphere, Ocean, and Climate Dynamics: An Introductory Text,  Academic Press, 344 pp. (Course reserve for this book has been requested to the EMS library.)


There are four lab exercises, and these will be assigned every 3 weeks or so. For each lab, the lab instructions, Matlab codes, and some data files are posted on ANGEL.  They will typically require several additional hours of work outside of the lab period.  The assignments will engage you directly in oceanographic data analysis and modeling, using the programming language Matlab, which is easy to learn. Matlab is also quite useful in science and engineering and thus many of your prospective employers (including graduate school research advisers) will be pleased that you know it. I anticipate that most of your learning will occur as you do these assignments.


There will be one mid-term exam and a final exam.  The tentative date for the mid-term exam is Tuesday, March 4.  The final exam will occur during finals week; the schedule has not yet been released.



  • 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%

Graduate Students

  • A: 94-100%;
  • A-: 90-93%;
  • B+: 87-89%;
  • B: 84-86%;
  • B-: 80-83%;
  • C+: 77-79%;
  • C: 70-76%;
  • D: 60-69%;
  • F: < 60%

Weighting: 50% homework (i.e., the lab reports), 20% mid term, 30% final.


The learning environment is enhanced when students are actively engaged.  I therefore encourage you to ask questions and present your point of view in class. In addition, the class participation will help me to write an informative reference letter if you ever want me to write one on your behalf. Office-hour contacts can also accomplish this goal.

Academic Integrity

This course adopts the academic integrity policy of the EMS College, which is described at Briefly, students are expected to do their own problem sets and to work the exams on their own. Class members may work on the problem sets in groups, but then each student must write up his or her answers separately. Students may not copy problem set or exam answers from another person's paper and present them as their own even if you worked together to figure out how to solve the problem. Students who present other people's work as their own, as well as the students providing the answers, will receive at least a 0 on the assignment and may well receive an F in the course.

Every so often, we see that on the homework one or more students have copied the files of another student. This is easy to spot, and deal with.

Please refer to the Academic Integrity and Research Ethics page on the EMS website: for details of University and College policies.

Students with Learning 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) at 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.


I expect you to attend all classes.  I realize that there may be emergencies and other extenuating circumstances that prevent this.  If possible, let me know ahead of time if you are going to miss a class.


Tues. & Thurs.: 2:00 PM – 3:00PM.
I will be in my office during these hours specifically to answer your questions.  Exceptions will occur due to unavoidable meetings, illness and travel.  I am often available outside of office hours, so please feel free to stop by my office at any time. If I’m available, I’ll be happy to talk with you.


  1. Introduction
  2. The equation of state for seawater (lab1)
  3. Static stability in the ocean
  4. The conservation equations
  5. Geostrophic and inertial flow (lab 2 & 3)
  6. Ekman flow
  7. Sverdrup flow and westward intensification (Lab 4)
  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 Southern Ocean

Lab report deadlines:

  • February 5 Lab #1 due
  • February 26 Lab #2 due
  • March 26 Lab #3 due
  • April 23 Lab #4 due

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