Dynamic Planet/Oceanography

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Oceanography was the topic of Dynamic Planet for the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and is once again the focus for the 2015 season.


During the 2007 season, this event focused on physical and geological oceanography. Physical oceanography is primarily concerned with the ocean as a physical system in which principles like conservation of mass, energy, momentum and spin play a huge role in determining what you see. Geological oceanography looks at the rocks and sediments on the ocean bottom and margins and tries to infer how that got that way and what that tells us about the history of the earth. It is also good to know about ocean currents, the thermohaline circulation, and physical features of the ocean floor. This year there will be stations and may have equipment.

The Competition

The competition consists of a test covering the geological and physical aspects of the Ocean. Sometimes this test will be presented in stations, and you will rotate from each every 10 minutes or so. To do well, you need to have a mix of practical and theoretical skills. Practical skills should involve knowing how to read plots and graphs, particularly line plots, scatterplots, and contour plots. Theoretical skills should include an understanding of the Coriolis force, surface waves, and how the ocean interacts with the atmosphere. You should also study ocean geography.

In 2015, each team may bring 4 double-sided note sheets. In addition, each student can bring any type of calculator.

Physical Oceanography and Weather

Physical Oceanography can cover a lot of territory. Basically, you should have a firm knowledge of just about everything in the water that doesn't have to do with biology. Waves, tides, and currents are all subjects worth studying. A few examples of terms you should understand are as follows.

  • upwelling current
  • diurnal tide
  • significant wave height

Another important aspect of this event (and Dynamic Planet topics in general) is understanding how to read a map. Reading maps is discussed in great detail in Road Scholar and Meteorology. You will need to know how to read a salinity graph and topographic maps.

For division B, weather on the small scale will usually include such concepts as all types of fronts, various forms of precipitation, and basic weather prediction skills. For division C, more knowledge of weather is required. You need to have an idea of the convection of air on the global scale: trade winds, prevailing westerlies, polar easterlies. Of course, the layers of the atmosphere are definitely good to know. You'll want to have a basic knowledge of El Niño too, which is a very important oceanography phenomenon. Before there is the Walker circulation cell and rain and warm water is at the Southeast Asia side of the Pacific. There is upwelling near South America with cold water. El Nino is when the trade winds weaken and warm water from Southeast Asia go to West Pacific and there is no more upwelling and there is more rain. The Walker circulation cell has been broken and the trade winds reverse.

For more info, see the Oceanography notes page.


It may be important to know the currents of our world. An easy thing to do is to memorize the map and use words that will remind you what the actual name is.


A good starting resource