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Course Possibilities

The Semester at WHOI program has been suspended. It will not run in 2023.

A full course load is considered to be 12 to 15 credit hours.1 Course offerings include a seminar course designed specifically for SAW students (WH.495) and a research course (WH.490) involving a project supervised by a WHOI scientist or engineer. A recommended course load for most undergraduates is the one-credit Seminar in Ocean Science for Undergraduates (WH.495), eight credit hours of research (WH.490), and a three-credit course of interest.

Research: SAW students are required to take at least six and up to 12 credit hours of research. A minimum effort of three hours per week towards the research project is expected for each undergraduate credit.

Courses: 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 may be adjusted to be more appropriate for SAW students receiving undergraduate credit. Most SAW students opt to take WH.401 Elements of Modern Oceanography. Instructor(s) permission may be required for other courses listed below.

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.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 advisor 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.490_Research Project Eval2019

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.495_OceanScienceSeminar 2019Syllabus

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.401_ElementsModernOcean2019Syllabus

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

Joint Program graduate course.  1.5 credits.  Offered in even years, next offered Fall 2022.

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. Modified workload for undergraduates. WH.402_ClimateChangeScienceSeminar2018Syllabus

WH.403 Climate Variability and Diagnostics

Joint Program graduate course. 3 credits. Offered in odd years, next offered Fall 2021.

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.403_ClimateVariability2019Syllabus

WH.404 Topics in Paleoceanography

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

Advanced seminar focusing on areas of current interest in paleoceanography and paleoclimatology. Includes discussion of current and classic literature. Topics vary; recent topics include Orbital Theory of Climate Change, Paleoclimate Perspectives of Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets, and Temperature over Past Millennium. Modified workload for undergraduates. WH.404_TopicsInPaleoceanography2019Syllabus

WH.411 Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry

Joint Program graduate course.  3 credits.  Offered in odd years, next offered Fall 2021. 

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.411_MarineMicroBiogeo_2017Syllabus

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.  Recent courses include Partial Differential Equations in Population Ecology, Biology and Ecology of Coral Reefs, Adaptive Array Processing, and Biophysical Models in Pelagic Ecosystems. Modified workload for undergraduates. Sample syllabus: WH.412_Bio&EcolCoralReefs2018Syllabus

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.421_GeologicalOcean2019Syllabus

 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.431_MarineChemistry2019Syllabus

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) Modified workload for undergraduates. WH.441_IntroObservationalPO2019Syllabus

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) Modified workload for undergraduates. WH.452_PrincOceanInstrumentSystems2019Syllabus