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Certificate in Oceanography

The University of Colorado recognizes that interdisciplinary study at the graduate level may involve coursework and formal requirements that exceed those of established degree programs. To recognize this additional work by graduate students, interdisciplinary faculty may establish a certificate program within the Graduate School.

Graduate students can pursue the Graduate Certificate in Oceanography while earning a graduate degree at CU-Boulder or while taking coursework as a non-degree seeking student through Continuing Education’s ACCESS Program, provided they have already earned a bachelor’s degree and meet the course prerequisites. The Oceanography Graduate Certificate is noted on the official CU transcript.

Following is a list of the faculty members (in alphabetic order) that participate in the oceanography certificate program.

  • Emery, William (Professor, ASEN)
  • Han, Weiqing (Associate Professor, ATOC)
  • Kantha, Lakshmi (Professor, ASEN)
  • Leben, Robert (Associate Research Professor, ASEN)
  • Lovenduski, Nicole (Assistant Professor, ATOC)
  • Marchitto, Tom (Associate Professor, INSTAAR)
  • Syvitski, James (Professor, INSTAAR)
  • Weiss, Jeffrey (Associate Porfessor, ATOC)

The Coordinating Committee is currently composed of Professors William Emery (ASEN), Weiqing Han (ATOC), Lakshmi Kantha (ASEN), Robert Leben (ASEN), James Syvitski (INSTAAR), and Jeffrey Weiss (ATOC).

Students interested in pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Oceanography should contact the Program Director, Dr. Weiqing Han ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ).

Requirements for a Graduate Certificate in Oceanography

All students must take at least three oceanography core courses (see below) passed with grade B or better. In addition, they may take an independent study course to replace one of the core courses. The list of oceanography core courses is: :


  • ATOC 5051: Introduction to Physical Oceanography. Covers atmospheric motion and its underlying mathematical and physical principles. Explores the dynamics of the atmosphere and the mathematical laws governing atmospheric motion. Topics will include atmospheric composition and thermodynamics, conservation laws, geostrophic balance, vorticity dynamics, boundary layers, and baroclinic instability. Offered once per year (3 credits).
  • ATOC 5061: Dynamics of Oceans. Explores theories of the large-scale, wind-driven, and thermohaline circulations in the oceans, and models of boundary currents, western intensification, ventilation, equatorial surface and undercurrents, ocean waves, and eddies. Prereq. Mostly offered every other year (3 credits).
  • ATOC 5200: Biogeochemical Oceanography.  Provides a large-scale synthesis of the processes impacting ocean biogeochemistry.  Transforms theoretical understanding into real-world applications using oceanographic data and models.  Topics include:  chemical composition, biological nutrient utilization and productivity, air-sea gas exchange, carbonate chemistry, ocean acidification, ocean deoxygenation, iron fertilization, biogeochemical climate feedbacks, and much more.  Same as ATOC 4200.  Offered once per year (3 credits).
  • ATOC 5300: The Global Carbon Cycle.  Covers the role of the ocean, terrestrial biosphere, and atmosphere in the global carbon cycle. Specific topics include marine carbonate chemistry, biological production, terrestrial fluxes, anthropogenic emissions, and the evolution of the global carbon cycle in a changing climate. Prereq., graduate standing in a physical science or instructor consent.  Offered every other year (3 credits).
  • ASEN/ATOC 5215: Descriptive Physical Oceanography. Introduces the descriptive and dynamical physical oceanography, focusing on the nature and dynamics of ocean currents and their role in the distribution of heat and other aspects of ocean physics related to the Earth’s climate. Dynamical material limited to mathematical descriptions of oceanic physical systems. Offered once per year (3 credits).
  • ASEN 5307: Engineering Data Analysis Methods. Gives students broad exposure to a variety of traditional and modern statistical methods for filtering and analyzing data. Topics include estimation methods, principal component analyses and spectral analyses. Introduces these methods and provides practical experience with their use. Offered once per year (3 credits).
  • ASTR/ATOC 5400: Introduction to Fluid Dynamics. Covers equations of fluid motion relevant to planetary atmospheres and oceans, as well as stellar atmospheres; effects of rotation and viscosity; and vorticity dynamics, boundary layers, and wave motions. Introduces instability theory, nonlinear equilibration, and computational methods in fluid dynamics (3 credits).
  • ASTR/ATOC 5410: Fluid Instabilities, Waves, and Turbulence. Involves linear and nonlinear analyses of small-scale waves and instabilities in stratified fluids, with effects of rotation. Studies internal gravity and acoustic waves with terrestrial, planetary, and astrophysical applications. Also studies thermal and double-diffusive convection, homogeneous and stratified shear flow instabilities. Examines these topics from the onset of small amplitude disturbances to their nonlinear development and equilibration. Mostly offered every other year (3 credits).
  • GEOL 5060: Oceanography. Examines the ocean as a system influencing the Earth's surface processes and climate. Composition and properties of seawater, ocean circulation, waves, tides, coastal-, shallow-, and deep-water processes, biogeochemical cycles, and deep sea sediments. Laboratory emphasizes the use of oceanographic data. Offered once per year (3 credits).
  • GEOL 5270: Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry. Examines the chemical, biological, geological, and physical processes affecting (and affected by) the chemistry of the oceans. Topics include: chemical speciation in seawater; the marine carbon cycle and its long-term control on atmospheric CO2; the large-scale interdependence of nutrient distributions and biological productivity; chemical tracers of ocean circulation; and the chemistry of marine sediments, including early diagenesis. (3 credits)
  • GEOL 5430: Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology. Examines scientific tools, data, and theories related to the dramatically varied past climate of the Earth. Focus will be on marine records of climate change and ocean circulation, but ice core and continental archives will also be discussed. Course will cover the Cretaceous Period to the present, with particular emphasis on the past 150,000 years (the last ice age cycle). (3 credits)
  • Graduate Level INDEPENDENT STUDY (3 credits). Students are allowed to take an “independent study” course to replace one of the core courses. The students may choose any member from the Oceanography Certificate Coordinating Committee or any professor who contributes to teaching the core courses to complete the “independent study” course. It is subject to the Certificate Program Director’s approval if the students choose independent study advisors from someone other than the above list. The course should combine textbook knowledge with real research experience, and thus provide the students with some basic research experience in oceanography. The course will also increase choices for the students who wish to obtain research experience.


Here are a few sample tracks satisfying the Oceanography Certificate requirements:

  • Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences Student interested in Europa: ATOC 5051 (Intro to Physical Oceanography), ATOC 5061 (Dynamics of Oceans), ATOC/ASTR 5400 (Intro to Fluid Dynamics), GEOL 5270 (Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry).
  • Applied Math Hydrodynamicist: ATOC 5051 (Intro to Physical Oceanography), ATOC/ASTR 5400 (Intro to Fluid Dynamics), ATOC 5061 (Dyanmics of Oceans), ATOC/ASTR 5410 (Fluid Instabilities, Waves, and Turbulence).
  • Aerospace Engineer Remote Sensing of the Ocean: ATOC 5215 (Oceanography), ATOC 5051 (Intro to Physical Oceanography), ATOC 5061 (Dynamics of Oceans).
  • Geology Paleoceanographer: ATOC 5215 (Oceanography), GEOL 5060 (Oceanography), GEOL 5270 (Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry), ATOC 5051 (Intro to Physical Oceanography), GEOL 5430 (Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology).
  • Ocean Geographer: ATOC 5215 (Oceanography), GEOL 5060 (Oceanography), GEOL 5270 (Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry).