81756 - Physical Oceanography

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Docente: Nadia Pinardi
  • Credits: 6
  • SSD: GEO/12
  • Language: Italian

Learning outcomes

The course aims at giving the basic understanding of ocean dynamics solving the classical problems of the wind driven ocean circulation for the world open ocean areas, starting from the Ekman and ending with the quasigeostrophic vorticity dynamics. Planetary gravity and Rossby wave motion is discussed in details ending with a short introduction to the overturning climatic circulation of the oceans.

Course contents

1. Structure of the ocean general circulation

2. The forcing of the ocean circulation: wind, heat and water fluxes at the air-sea interface

3. Primitive equations for the oceans

4. Reynolds theory of turbulence, parameterizations of turbulence in the ocean

5. Classical viscous solutions and ‘law of the wall’ for momentum stress at the air-sea interface

6. Boundary conditions for the ocean primitive equations

7. The planetary turbulent boundary layer: the Ekman currents at the surface and bottom of the water column

8. The Ekman transport and the Ekman vertical velocity

9. Large scale upwelling/downwelling processes

10. Vorticity conservation principles

11. Shallow water equations

12. Gravity wave solutions for the shallow water equations: inertial, Poincare’, Kelvin waves

13. Equatorial Kelvin waves

14. Non-dimensional quasigeostrophic analysis of the shallow water equations: Rossby waves

15. Rossby waves in a zonal current

16. Wind driven general circulation: Sverdrup, Stommel and Pedlosky solutions

17. El Nino theory and wave dynamics

18. Energy and enstrophy: oceanic vortices and quasigeostrophic turbulence

19. Global Ocean Overturning circulation

20. Deep and intermediate water convection in the ocean

21. Fundamentals of shear instability


Talley, L., D., G.L.Pickard, W.J. Emery and J.H. Swift, 2011. Descriptive Physical Oceanography: An Introduction. Academic Press, Elsevier, ISBN: 978-0-7506-4552-2

Cushman-Roisin, B., Introduction to Geophysical Fluid Dynamics, Academic Press

N.Pinardi,2022. Notes in Physical Oceanography

Teaching methods

All lectures and exercises are done in the classroom (all frontal lectures)

Assessment methods

The assessment will be carried out by an oral exam: the first topic will be chosen by the student, then the next two questions by the teacher. The exam normally will be 45 minutes long.

Teaching tools

The lectures are given at the blackboard and other material is distributed through the web site "Teaching material"

Links to further information


Office hours

See the website of Nadia Pinardi


Climate Action Oceans

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.