Physics 527: Geophysical Fluid Dynamics

Fall Semester 2016

  Sharon Sessions
  (505) 835-5798
  Workman 353
  Office Hours: WF 10-11 am
  Class Hours: MWF 9-9:50 am

Homework assignments


Course Description

This is a course in geophysical fluid dynamics, offered as a graduate level course in the physics department. As such, mathematics and physics preparation that is typical of an undergraduate physics degree is expected.

Course Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will know fundamentals of geophysical fluide dynamics, including:
  1. The governing equations in advective (Lagrangian) and flux (Eulerian) forms.
  2. Know and apply common approximations to the equations of motion governing atmospheric fluid motions (e.g., anelastic and Boussinesq approximations).
  3. Significant balance relationships (hydrostatic, geostrophic, and thermal wind).
  4. Shallow water equations.
  5. Important concepts including vorticity and potential vorticity.
  6. Waves
    1. Types, including Rossby & gravity
    2. interactions with mean flow
  7. Understanding of important aspects of large-scale atmospheric circulation, including
    1. Hadley cells
    2. stratospheric circulations
    3. Tropical circulations & water vapor
  8. Understanding of important aspects of large-scale oceanic circulation, including El Nino.

Program Learning Outcomes

This course is part of the graduate program in physics with atmospheric concentration.

Course Requirements

  Text: Atmospheric and Oceanic Fluid Dynamics by Geoffrey Vallis.
  We will also use the author's Notes for a 2nd edition found here


Homework assignments

Homework assignments will be posted (approximately weekly), and you will typically have 1 week to complete them. These will primarily consist of problems that support work related to lecture and the text book (i.e., derivations and problems from the text book). You may collaborate to complete the problems, though the work you turn in must be your own.


You will be required to write a paper on a topic related to geophysical fluid dynamics. It should be 5-10 pages long, including figures. If you are already working on a manuscript or an independent study or thesis, it would be appropriate to write the introduction as your course contribution (ONLY if it is OK with your research advisor, and ONLY if you have not already written it--please use this as an opportunity to create a new document, not complete an old one). I encourage you to collaborate with your research supervisor for ideas. Of course, they must be related to GFD. Th grade for this paper will be based on the following components:
  1. Abstract: This should be a conference-style abstract which serves the purpose of proposing the topic of your paper.
  2. Literature notes: This is basically an identification of the references you will use for your paper, and brief notes on the relevance.
  3. Mind Map: This is a drawing of the point of your paper which includes the topics and parts of the paper. It is an effective tool for organizing your thoughts. From this, you can construct an outline.
  4. Draft for peer review: You will submit a draft to be read and reviewed by your classmates. You will also be responsible for reviewing the papers turned in by your classmates. I will provide review criteria that is typical of a peer-review journal.
  5. Final paper: This should incorporate
    1. the comments from peer reviews
    2. relevant figures that are discussed in text of the paper, and which have captions
    3. a list of references, with references properly cited in the text
  6. Short (15 minute) presentation on paper topic.

Counseling and Disability Services

Reasonable Accommodations:

New Mexico Tech is committed to protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. Qualified individuals who require reasonable accommodations are invited to make their needs known to the Office of Counseling and Disability Services (OCDS) as soon as possible. To schedule an appointment, please call 835-6619.

Counseling Services:

New Mexico Tech offers mental health and substance abuse counseling through the Office of Counseling and Disability Services. The confidential services are provided free of charge by licensed professionals. To schedule an appointment, please call 835-6619.

Academic Honesty:

New Mexico Tech’s Academic Honesty Policy for undergraduate students is found starting on page 64 of the NMT Undergraduate Catalog,
  You are responsible for knowing, understanding, and following this policy.

Respect Statement:

New Mexico Tech supports freedom of expression within the parameters of a respectful learning environment. As stated in the New Mexico Tech Guide to Conduct and Citizenship: “New Mexico Tech’s primary purpose is education, which includes teaching, research, discussion, learning, and service. An atmosphere of free and open inquiry is essential to the pursuit of education. Tech seeks to protect academic freedom and build on individual responsibility to create and maintain an academic atmosphere that is a purposeful, just, open, disciplined, and caring community.”