Atmosphere, ocean and climate dynamics

Undergraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content

Objectives The course provides the fundamentals of the atmosphere and ocean dynamics, and thus sets an important part for understanding climate dynamics. The starting point is conservation of mass and momentum and the equations that can be derived thereof, expressed in both non-rotating and rotating coordinate systems. Physical interpretations of the equations are presented and simplified expressions are used to explain, understand and compute large-scale and free movements in the atmosphere and the oceans.

Content Derivation of the primitive equations from first principles in a non-rotating and a rotating coordinate system. Derivation and discussion of simplified balance equations (geostrophy, thermal wind, effect of friction, etc.) that are commonly used to describe and analyse large-scale movements in the atmosphere and the oceans. Review and discussions of the basic momentum and energy budgets of the atmosphere. Equation-based analysis of the ocean circulation caused by thermohaline and surface wind forcings. Review of the Ekman and Sverdrup dynamics.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the course the student should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:


The student

  • understands how the movements in air and water are formed on a rotating planet with warming at low latitudes and cooling at high latitudes
  • has broad knowledge about how to formulate the equations that describe the large-scale wind and current systems
  • has knowledge about the historical development of the field that dealing with the dynamics of the atmosphere and the oceans


The student

  • is able to derive the fundamental equations describing the large-scale movements in the atmosphere and the ocean
  • is able to compute the movements in the atmosphere and ocean based on various choices of coordinate systems
  • is able to derive, apply and interpret the equations for geostrophic flow and the thermal wind, and can use variations of these to large-scale and synoptic systems in the atmosphere and the oceans
  • is able to read up on advanced studies of atmosphere, ocean and climate dynamics
  • is able to calculate and interpreted the basic effects of friction on the atmosphere and ocean dynamics
  • is able to apply fundamental physical principles to explain the large-scale, atmospheric and oceanic circulation
  • is able to derive and apply basic expressions of the Ekman and Sverdrup dynamics in the ocean

General competence

The student

  • can explain mathematical concepts and apply mathematical formalism on a series of geophysical problems
  • can convey and discuss the physical basis for the understanding of large-scale movements in the atmosphere and the ocean
  • is familiar with and can utilise an extensive set of formulas used to analyse and interpret movements in the atmosphere and the ocean
  • can reflect on central, ethical and scientific issues in the field

ECTS Credits


Level of Study


Semester of Instruction


Enrolment to this course is based on application. Application deadline is Thursday in week 2 for the spring semester.

Please see this page for more information:

Required Previous Knowledge
Recommended Previous Knowledge
MAT112, MAT131, MAT212, PHYS111 and experience in programming, e.g. MatLab or Python.
Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap
Access to the Course
Access to the course requires admission to a programme of study at The Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences
Teaching and learning methods

The teaching is given as lectures and exercises

Lectures 4 hours each week/13 weeks

Exercises 2 hours each week/ 12 weeks

Forms of Assessment
Midway exam, written, 2 hours: counts 30% on the final grade and is valid for two semesters (the semester is has been attended and the following semester.) Final exam, written, 4 hours: counts 70% on the final grade and must be passed. It is mandatory to have attended the midway exam in order to take the final exam.
Grading Scale
The grading scale used is A to F. Grade A is the highest passing grade in the grading scale, grade F is a fail.
Assessment Semester
Examination both spring semester and autumn semester. In semesters without teaching the examination will be arranged at the beginning of the semester.
Reading List
The reading list will be available within July 1st for the autumn semester and January 1st for the spring semester
Course Evaluation
The course will be evaluated by the students in accordance with the quality assurance system at UiB and the department.
Examination Support Material
Non-programmable calculator, according to the faculty regulation
Programme Committee
The Programme Committee is responsible for the content, structure and quality of the study programme and courses.