THE OCEAN SYSTEM
Why is the ocean so big? Why is it salty? How deep is it? How does the ocean work? Starting with these simple questions, this seminar investigates this complex system by looking at the way its components — the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere and biosphere — interact.
The course begins by considering how plate tectonics shape ocean basins and where the water that makes up the oceans originated. The ocean’s physical characteristics have framed the origin and diversification of life across a variety of ecosystems. The course looks in depth at habitats such as coral reefs, mangrove forests, tidal zones and deep-sea hydrothermal vents, as well as the characteristics of marine organisms ranging from plankton to porpoises.
The middle section of the course examines the unique properties of the water molecule. The fact that water exists as solid, liquid, and gas and has extraordinary heat-trapping ability has important implications for Earth’s climate and local weather. So does the action of waves, wind, and density variations, which drive deep-sea and surface currents.
Learners emerge with an understanding of the role that symbiotic relationships and other biological adaptations have in the dynamics of oceans, and how this is threatened by human activities. Throughout the course, profiles show oceanographers at work with technologies such as ocean-going robots and core-drilling programs that herald a new era of ocean exploration.
Student Learning Outcomes
In this course, students will:
This is a six-week online graduate course with an additional week for assignment completion. The course is asynchronous and does not have specific meeting times. Assignments and discussions change on a weekly basis. Students are expected to complete work within the specific week it is assigned.
For the current schedule of offerings, please visit www.amnh.org/learn/calendar
This graduate course is co-taught by an experienced educator along with a research scientist.
For current instructor information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This course requires the following textbook:
Essentials of Oceanography
By Tom Garrison
Publisher: Cengage Learning (8th edition 2017)
Technical support is available by calling (800) 649-6715 or emailing email@example.com.
The American Museum of Natural History welcomes learners with disabilities into its Seminars on Science program and will make reasonable accommodations for them. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you require information about requesting accommodation services. These services are only available to registered students with documented disabilities. Please submit requests at least two weeks prior to the start of the course.
Assessments are based on a detailed grading rubric developed for this course:
Weekly Overview and Expectations
Week 1: How Did the Oceans Form?
Oceans haven’t always covered the surface of Earth. How did they come into being? Where did the water come from, and how did it promote the existence of life on Earth? We begin our investigation of the ocean system by exploring the origin of the oceans and their related systems: the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere. We learn that these systems have been interconnected since their formation billions of years ago and continue to interact as a dynamic whole. This first week, we’ll also meet Dr. Adriana Aquino and Dr. Rondi Davies, the scientists who helped create the course.
Week 2: What Does the Ocean Floor Look Like?
We’ll start with a walk across the ocean floor, exploring its unique and dramatic topography, from deep trenches to mountain chains that stretch for thousands of miles. What happens on the ocean floor, and how does that affect the ocean as a whole? How can life forms exist in complete darkness on the ocean floor? We’ll learn about plate tectonics, deep-sea vents, and some of the organisms that inhabit this extreme ecosystem, to understand how the oceans and solid Earth interact. We’ll go on a “virtual field trip” to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and meet our featured oceanographer, Dr. Susan Humphris, to find out how oceanographers use a range of vehicles to study the ocean floor.
Week 3: What is Water?
If water didn’t possess a few remarkable properties, the oceans and life as we know it wouldn’t exist. How do the physical properties of water, and seawater in particular, relate to the entire ocean system? Beyond water, we’ll study the other stuff the ocean is made of: the elements that give the ocean its distinctive saltiness and the sediments that cover the ocean floor. Why is the ocean salty, and where did the salt come from? What are the different types of sediments, where do they occur, and what can they tell us about the history of the ocean and the climate system? A case study on mangroves will illustrate the numerous adaptations this tree species has undergone in order to live in the ocean and support a thriving ecosystem.
Week 4: How Does the Ocean Move?
The movement of the ocean, through wind- and density-driven currents, is a critical component in the climate system. How does it work? First, we’ll learn about the processes that drive surface currents, which in turn affect weather and climate, from monsoons to El Niño. Then we’ll look at deep ocean currents, which also play an enormous role in regulating the Earth’s climate. Finally, we’ll investigate the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle and how it all relates to global warming. Videos will address the ways in which scientists study climate and ocean circulation so that learners can more fully understand how scientists are trying to make more accurate predictions and assess human impact on these systems.
Week 5: How Do Animals Live in Water?
The ocean is home to the largest known diversity of life on the planet. We’ll explore some of the amazing creatures that live in the oceans to learn about how, where, and what they do to survive in their marine environment. We’ll look at adaptations, from breathing to eating to reproducing, and the factors that determine their distribution. Then we’ll narrow our focus to plankton, the world’s largest known biomass and the foundation of the marine food web. Ultimately, we’ll learn that animals don’t just inhabit the oceans—they are an integral part of the ocean system.
Week 6: How is Human Activity Affecting the Ocean System?
The human connection to the ocean system is profound. We’ve already discussed some of the threats to ocean health, such as global warming and coastal erosion. This week we’ll survey some others, from pollution to overfishing. We’ll also review the emerging technologies and research methods scientists will use in the future to understand these relationships. Ultimately, how humans impact the oceans is determined by how much we understand about the system and how we choose to study it. A case study on blue whales will illustrate how one of the most beloved sea creatures is threatened by human activity.