Oceanography Department
YP686 Ship
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Morro Bay
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The Major

Our Major is designed for the "hands-on" student with a strong interest in the physical and dynamic properties of the ocean and atmosphere. Oceanography majors learn concepts in the classroom and reinforce their knowledge in laboratories, field research and during internships. After graduation, our majors utilize their expertise in the fleet, may pursue advanced degrees and eventually transition to civilian careers as professional Oceanographers or Meteorologists.

In the Classroom

Our faculty includes six tenure-track civilian professors, five rotational military instructors with recent fleet experience, and four permanent military professors. Oceanography majors take 13 courses in oceanography, meteorology, and applied mathematics. Students in the honors program take 14.

  • 3/C year: Earth System Science I (fall); Earth System Science II (spring) 
  • 2/C year: Earth System Science III / Atmospheric Thermodynamics / Oceanography and Meteorology Quantitative Methods (fall); Oceanic & Atmospheric Processes / 1st Elective / Honors Research Methods (spring)
  • 1/C year: Waves and Tides / 2nd and 3rd Major Electives (fall); Underwater Acoustics and Sonar / Mathematical Modeling of the Ocean and Atmosphere / SOC Capstone Course or Honors Independent Research (spring)
  • Electives: Oceanography - Geological / Geographical Information Systems / Polar / Near shore / Biological / Marine Mammal Conservation and Bio-Acoustics / Estuarine / Global Climate Change; Meteorology - Synoptic / Tropical / Remote Sensing

In the Laboratory / Conducting Research / Participating in Internships

In support of our curriculum, the Department's research vessel, YP686, collects weekly oceanographic and meteorological data in the Chesapeake Bay. Additional complexes in Chauvenet and Michelson Hall house oceanographic, meteorological, and geological laboratories. Faculty directed research opportunities include the retreat of glaciers associated with global climate change, the survey of century old ship wrecks, the high frequency vocalizations of marine mammals, ocean turbidity in Key West, oxygen depletion and oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay, and wind regimes over the Andes Mountains in Chile. Over the past two decades, our department has produced a Rhodes Scholar, 9 Trident Scholars, numerous conference presentations and articles in conference proceedings and several refereed journal articles. Our robust internship program includes storm chasing over the Great Plains States, flying through hurricanes over the Atlantic Ocean, training of Navy EOD mine hunting dolphins, analyzing imagery in Washington, D.C., sampling sea ice in the Bering Sea and a week in Antarctica that includes a flight to the South Pole.

The Facilities

The Naval Academy boasts the most extensive undergraduate oceanographic facilities in the country. Located at the mouth of the Severn River, the Hendrix Oceanography Laboratory is a multi-function enclosure where midshipmen study the world's largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. The Hendrix Lab includes a Teaching Lab, Autonomous Vehicle Lab, Microscopy Lab, and Field Lab. The Department's research vessel, YP686, a specially outfitted yard patrol craft, enables midshipmen to collect oceanographic and meteorological data for analysis afloat or at the Hendrix Lab.  The department also maintains four lab spaces in Chauvenet and Michelson Halls including an Environmental Data Lab, Rotating Tank Lab, Coastal Oceanography Lab, and Biological Oceanography Teaching Lab. 

Oceanography Department Learning Outcomes

Upon completing the curriculum for the SOC major, midshipmen will be able to:

  • Describe the history of oceanographic exploration, technique developments, including comparisons between, and the progressions of major air/ocean scientific theories.
  • Explain the dynamics of water/air masses and describe oceanographic geography (current systems, topographic features).
  • Analyze the mechanisms by which major geological, atmospheric, and physical oceanographic processes influence chemical and biological processes (e.g., nutrient cycling, sediment diagenesis, biological production, and evolution) throughout a range of spatial and temporal scales.
  • Compare and contrast dynamics of global scale earth system processes with those acting at smaller regional scales (e.g., in polar, coastal, tropical, or desert regions.)
  • Derive, interpret and solve problems using the equations of motions of fluids; the continuity equation; and the equations of state for both moist and dry air, and seawater.
  • Manipulate oceanic, atmospheric, and geospatial data sets using modern scientific computing software to analyze the data, create figures, and interpret results.
  • Design field, lab, or computer modeling experiments and rigorously analyze and interpret observational, experimental, and model results.
  • Synthesize multiple peer-reviewed sources to defend an original scientific thesis in an experimental or review paper.
  • Effectively communicate and defend an original scientific thesis in an oral presentation.
  • Critically assess opposing positions on important current global earth science issues (e.g., global change, floods, earthquakes, storms, sea level rise, fires, resource scarcity). 

In the Fleet / Graduate School / Civilian Careers

After graduation, our majors pursue careers in surface warfare, submarines, naval aviation, the Marine Corps (air / ground), special warfare, and other fields. Approximately three graduates per year attend immediate graduate school at the University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (joint program with Massachusetts Institute of Technology). After their initial tours, a few transfer into the Naval Oceanography community and obtain Master's and Doctoral Degrees in Oceanography and Meteorology at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. After transition to the public sector, employment opportunities exist in the federal government (NOAA, NSF, USGS, NASA, EPA, Department of Energy), in over 500 academic institutions that offer courses in oceanography and meteorology related fields, and in private industry (Engineering Companies, Fisheries, Petroleum Industry and Marine Policy).

Contact Us

Department Mailing Address:

United States Naval Academy
Department of Oceanography
572C Holloway Road
Annapolis, MD 21402

Phone: (410) 293-6550
Fax: (410) 293-2137

For general USNA admissions and application information, please see the Admissions page.

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