Course Possibilities for Semester at WHOI Program

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A full course load is considered to be 12 credit hours.1 Courses offered include two classroom courses designed specifically for SAW students, as well as a third research course involving a project supervised by a WHOI scientist or engineer for up to 12 credit hours. WHOI expects 10 hours per week working in the lab to receive 3 hours of undergraduate research credit. Some of the graduate courses designed for the students in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Ocean Science/Engineering are also suitable for undergraduates. The exams and course projects for these graduate courses will be adjusted to be appropriate for the undergraduate participants who will receive undergraduate credit.  

The three courses specifically designed for SAW participants, WH.401 Elements of Modern Oceanography, WH.490 Directed Research and WH.495 Undergraduate Seminar in Ocean Science, are offered each fall. A recommended course load for most undergraduates is WH.401 and WH.495 (for a total of 4 credit hours) plus 8 credit hours of research (WH.490). SAW students are required to take at least 6 credit hours of research. SAW students who have taken college-level courses in ocean science may choose to take one of the graduate courses as modified for undergraduate credit. WHOI does not recommend that undergraduates take the graduate courses listed below unless they have at least an introductory college course in ocean science.

WHOI Course Catalog

1For undergraduate courses, WHOI follows the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, guidance regarding a credit hour as defined in the final regulations published on October 29, 2010.


WH.401 Elements of Modern Oceanography

3 credits. Offered every fall semester. 

Based on a Joint Program graduate course modified for undergraduates. Structured around a series of crosscutting topics that exemplify current directions in inter-disciplinary oceanography, this course aims to help students be aware of current themes in oceanography, their inter-disciplinary nature, and the role of ocean sciences in society. Woven into the presentation of these cross-disciplinary topics, or themes, students will be introduced to core concepts across the disciplines of biological, physical, and chemical oceanography as well as marine geology. However, the primary emphasis will be placed on exploring the inter-disciplinary aspects of these core concepts, the kinds of approaches and modes of thinking common to all of the disciplines, and the technological developments underpinning current advances. The overall, larger goal of the course will be to expose students to related disciplines, to help them understand the interrelation of their discipline of choice to the others, to build their enthusiasm for oceanography, and to get them thinking like oceanographers.


WH.490 Directed Research

6-12 credits. Offered every fall semester. 

Course credit is given for a research project conducted under the supervision of a WHOI scientist or engineer.  The student works with the advisor to create a written proposal for the research.  A written report following the format of a scientific manuscript is required, and the results presented orally to the advsior and other WHOI scientists.  The research is graded according to an evaluation rubric which includes the methodology, data notebook, data presentation and analysis, and the final paper.


WH.495 Undergraduate Seminar in Ocean Science

1 credit. Offered every fall semester. 

One or more sections of a reading and discussion course with topics chosen based on student backgrounds and interests.


WH.402 Climate Change Science: Current Topics, Controversies and Communication

Joint Program graduate course.  1.5 credits.  Offered in even years, next offered Fall 2018.  

Introduces students to many of the “big questions” driving climate change. Reading and discussion of cutting-edge research papers and synthesis reports. Course will also include readings and discussions related to the processes and methods of critically evaluating and communicating climate science topics. This seminar will give students (1) a fundamental interdisciplinary understanding of many of the most critical issues motivating climate research today and (2) experience with the most important, yet often overlooked, skills one should attain as a scientist: reading, writing, speaking, synthesizing, and critical thinking.


WH.403 Climate Variability and Diagnostics

Joint Program graduate course. 3 credits. Offered in odd years, next offered Fall 2019.

Practical insight into characteristics and mechanisms of climate variability from regional to global scale in the modern world with applications to past and future climates. Major emphasis is placed on the salient features of the mean climate system and their dominant modes of natural variability (e.g., seasonality, El Niño–Southern Oscillation, North Atlantic Oscillation, Indian Ocean Dipole, Madden-Julian Oscillation, Southern Annular Mode, Pacific Decadal Oscillation), as well as observed and projected manifestations of anthropogenic climate change.  Timescales covered range from synoptic, sub-seasonal, interannual, to decadal and beyond.  Learning is driven by exploration of data and supplemented by lectures, textbook, and published literature. Students gain hands–on experience accessing, analyzing, and visualizing a wide range of gridded data including instrumental, satellite, and reanalysis products, as well as Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) global climate model simulations. Modified workload for undergraduates.


WH.411 Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry

Joint Program graduate course.  3 credits.  Offered in odd years, next offered Fall 2019. 

Integrates the fields of microbiology and biogeochemistry and is centered on elucidating the linkages between microorganisms and geochemical processes in the oceans. The course is broken into modules that first lay the theoretical framework. Next, the course introduces specific and general linkages between the topics and an introduction to the major tools and techniques that have advanced their integrated study. The course concludes with a synthesis module examining the role of microorganisms in the biogeochemical cycles of diverse ocean biomes. Modified workload for undergraduates. 


WH.412-WH.414 Biological Oceanography Topics Courses

Joint Program graduate course. 1.5 credits. Offered every fall semester.

Topics courses in Biological Oceanography vary each year.  Topics courses for Fall 2016 include "Topics in Marine Ecology: Detecting changes in biodiversity with a focus on marine invertebrates of Woods Hole" and "Topics in the Behavior of Marine Animals: Effects of Noise on Aquatic Animals." (With permission of the instructor.) Modified workload for undergraduates.


WH.421 Geological Oceanography

Joint Program graduate course. 3 credits. Offered every fall semester.

Introduction to marine geology and geophysics. Topics include: deposition and preservation of marine sediments, climate proxies, Cenozoic to Holocene climate history, paleoceanography, marine stratigraphy and geochronology, structure of the earth, structure of oceanic crust, evolution of the oceanic lithosphere, mantle geodynamics, plate tectonics, ocean altimetry, and coastal sediment processes. Modified workload for undergraduates.


 WH.431 Marine Chemistry

Joint Program graduate course. 3 credits. Offered every fall semester.

An introduction to chemical oceanography. Reservoir models and residence time. Major ion composition of seawater. Inputs to and outputs from the ocean via rivers, the atmosphere, and the sea floor. Biogeochemical cycling within the oceanic water column and sediments, emphasizing the roles played by the formation, transport, and alteration of oceanic particles and the effects that these processes have on seawater composition. Cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, oxygen, and sulfur. Uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide by the ocean. Material presented through lectures and student-led presentation and discussion of recent papers. Modified workload for undergraduates.


WH.441 Introduction to Observational Physical Oceanography

Joint Program graduate course. 3 credits. Offered every fall semester.

Results and techniques of observations of the ocean in the context of its physical properties and dynamical constraints. Emphasis on large-scale steady circulation and the time-dependent processes that contribute to it. Includes the physical setting of the ocean, atmospheric forcing, application of conservation laws, description of wind-driven and thermohaline circulation, eddy processes, and interpretive techniques. (Appropriate for physics majors, with permission of the instructor.) Modified workload for undergraduates.


WH.452 Principles of Oceanographic Instrument Systems

Joint Program graduate course. 3 credits. Offered every fall semester.

Introduces theoretical and practical principles of design of oceanographic sensor systems. Transducer characteristics for acoustic, current, temperature, pressure, electric, magnetic, gravity, salinity, velocity, heat flow, and optical devices. Limitations on these devices imposed by ocean environment. Signal conditioning and recording; noise, sensitivity, and sampling limitations; standards. Principles of state-of-the-art systems being used in physical oceanography, geophysics, submersibles, acoustics discussed in lectures by experts in these areas. Day cruises in local waters during which the students will prepare, deploy and analyze observations from standard oceanographic instruments constitute the lab work for this subject. (Appropriate for engineering and physics majors, with permission of the instructor.) Modified workload for undergraduates.