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Physical Oceanography Department

Department Chair: John M. Toole and Department Administrator: Maryanne H. Wray

The scientific discipline of Physical Oceanography involves the exploration and study of the physics and geography of the ocean currents and water properties and their roles in the earth’s climate- and eco-systems. Some of the major themes of physical oceanography are the dynamics of ocean currents on spatial scales ranging from centimeters to global, the variability of these currents on time-scales from seconds to millennia, ocean wave phenomena, the distribution of heat and salt and other water properties and their transport by currents through the ocean basins, the exchange of momentum, heat, freshwater and gasses between the ocean and the atmosphere, and the interactions between oceans and rivers, estuaries, sea- and terrestrial-ice and marginal seas. Physical oceanography has important applications in global climate, oceanic mixing, and coastal studies, as well as being a key element in interdisciplinary studies of primary production, hydrothermal vents, and oceanic flux and storage of carbon dioxide.

The Physical Oceanography department was established as a separate entity at WHOI in 1962 with a total scientific staff of 20 with Fritz Fuglister as our first chairman. As of 1 January 2012, the department had a population of 33 scientists joined by a technical staff numbering 32. The scientific foci of the Department include the general circulation of the oceans, climate variability, shelf/slope dynamics, mixing, and air-sea interaction. Our department is an active participant in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program with staff giving courses and advising graduate students. In addition to a population of students, we have a number of Post Doctoral Scholars/Investigators who gain research experience during their appointments while also providing an influx of new ideas.

The department continues to maintain leadership in ‘blue water’ oceanography and has grown to be one of the leaders in coastal oceanography as well.  While ocean observations remain one of our principal missions, we have increasingly developed modeling expertise, both analytical and numerical, to stimulate/support the seagoing science and to develop better understanding of fundamental ocean processes. Our seagoing groups have evolved into a number of technical and scientific groups having specialized expertise and equipment.