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The scientific and senior technical staff of the Physical Oceanography Department conceive and execute research programs as individuals and in research labs and groups that range in size from a few to a dozen members. A variety of approaches are applied to exploration and study of physical processes in the ocean, the interaction of the ocean with the atmosphere, and the ocean’s role in the Earth’s climate. Physical oceanography is also a key element in many interdisciplinary studies.

Notable Departmental research topics include the dynamics of ocean currents, the distribution of heat, salt and other properties and their transport through the ocean basins, ocean wave phenomena, ocean turbulence and mixing, the exchange of momentum, heat, freshwater and gasses between the ocean and the atmosphere, and the interactions between oceans and rivers, estuaries, sea-ice, terrestrial-ice and marginal seas.

The Department has a strong tradition of seagoing science and the staff participate in a variety of research expeditions throughout the world's oceans. A commitment to obtaining and analyzing ocean observations is complemented by analytical, numerical and laboratory studies aimed at developing a better understanding of fundamental ocean processes.