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Oceans & Climate

SEA Semester: Oceans & Climate

Pioneer climate science and policy… Voyage across the tropical North Atlantic from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. Use your time aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer to explore ocean acidification, carbon flux, warming, the marine food web, Canary and North Equatorial Current dynamics, ocean characteristics fueling hurricane formation, and the role of El Nino in Atlantic climate. Leverage your scientific knowledge as you communicate with leaders about resilience and risk-management policy in Atlantic and Caribbean island communities.

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The face of our planet is changing...You’ll go from a pollywog to a shellback in this exciting and challenging research semester. Play an active role in answering critical questions related to one of the foremost challenges of your generation. Sail and sample through a 3,000 mile swath of the Pacific Ocean while experiencing the traditions of an Equator crossing!

Overview: Fall 2016 | Transatlantic

Voyage Map

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Application Deadline: Program Closed


An investigative science and policy semester examining how the oceans factor in the global climate system and evaluating technological, political, and economic strategies for a climate-resilient and sustainable future.


Cruise Track: Canary Islands – St. Croix, USVI
Destinations: Canary Islands > Dominica > St. Croix

Port stops subject to change.


September 26 – December 21, 2016

Sept. 26 – Nov. 4: On shore in Woods Hole
Nov. 12 – Dec. 21: At Sea

Who Should Apply?

This semester attracts upper-level students interested in exploring the ocean's role in the global carbon cycle and climate system, as well as investigating the history, challenges and uncertainties of climate-related policies from local to international.

Prerequisites: A minimum of two lab science courses, at least one at the 200 level OR two sequential 100-level labs. Not sure if you qualify? Contact your Admissions Counselor.

Program Description

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Understanding climate change and its associated impacts is the critical scientific challenge of today, and the timely application of this knowledge to public policy is crucial to the future of our planet. This intensive semester invites upper-level science students to develop their understanding of the ocean’s role in climate dynamics and the global carbon cycle while working at the research forefront in under-examined areas of the open sea. From natural climate variability to recent anthropogenic influences to the uncertainties of tomorrow, students develop a strong foundation in global oceanographic processes while examining climate-related phenomena along their cruise track.

Island nations around the world, including the Canaries and the entire Caribbean, are vulnerable to natural hazards and climate-driven changes. Adapting to these challenges will be unavoidable, and the development of mitigation and sustainability strategies is only just beginning. In this program, students consider policies at regional to international scales, first identifying energy, fresh water, coastal ecosystem, and other resources at risk from climate change, and then comparing scenarios and opportunities across locations. For example, how is El Hierro accomplishing fossil fuel independence? In what ways do Caribbean islands respond to volatile weather and the influences of El Nino? Integrating inquiry, analysis and communication, students shape place-based policy recommendations, leveraging existing climate response strategies while experiencing various roles integral to stewarding our increasingly complex global environment.

Join this exciting ocean-crossing voyage, one of SEA’s longest sailing passages, to conduct climate research on the equatorial and subtropical waters of the North Atlantic. Compare conditions this year with those measured by previous scientists, examining the ways regional ocean circulation and biological productivity contribute to global climate dynamics. It’s a true blue-water cruise, reaching nearly 1,000 nautical miles from land in every direction! At stops in the Canary Islands and Dominica, engage with local communities and investigate their responses to climate adaptation and sustainability questions raised during the shore component. Students present their research findings at program’s end.

Special Program Features

Students work individually with SEA faculty and a series of visiting lecturers, all of whom are specialists in their fields, to design original scientific and policy research projects during the shore component. A poster session and written papers allow students to present their findings to one another.

Previous Distinguished Lecturers have included:

Greg Berman, Woods Hole Sea Grant (Cape Cod Coastal Processes)
Dr. Amy Bower, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Physical Oceanography; SEA Semester Alumna)
Dr. Scott Doney, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Ocean Acidification; SEA Semester Alumnus)
Dr. Jeff Donnelly, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Hurricane Paleoclimatology)
Dr. Phil Duffy, Woods Hole Research Center (International Climate Policy)
Dr. Porter Hoagland, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Marine Policy Center (Climate Economics/Law)
Sarah Murdock, The Nature Conservancy (Climate Adaptation)
Dr. Rick Murray, Boston University (Marine Geology; SEA Semester Alumnus)
Dr. Christopher Sabine, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (Marine Carbon Chemistry)
Dr. Jorge Sarmiento, Princeton University (Biogeochemistry)
Tonna-Marie Surgeon Rogers, Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (Climate Adaptation)

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

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Academic Credit

SEA Semester: Oceans & Climate carries 18 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program. To be eligible, students must have taken a minimum of three lab science courses, at least one at the 300-level, or received permission from the SEA faculty.

Advanced Oceanographic Field Methods (300-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Three lab science courses (one at the 300-level or higher) or consent of instructor.
Tools and techniques of the oceanographer. Participate in shipboard laboratory operations to gain experience with deployment of modern oceanographic equipment and collection of scientific data at sea. Emphasis on sampling plan design, advanced laboratory sample processing methods, and robust data analysis.

Directed Oceanographic Research (300-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Three lab science courses (one at the 300-level or higher) or consent of instructor.
Design and conduct original oceanographic research. Collect data and analyze samples. Compile results in peer-reviewed manuscript format and share during oral or poster presentation session. Emphasis on development of research skills and written/oral communication abilities.

Nautical Science (200-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Learn the fundamentals of sailing ship operation, in preparation for direct application at sea. Navigation (piloting, celestial and electronic), weather, engineering systems, safety, and sail theory. Participate as an active member of the ship’s crew on an offshore voyage.

Ocean Science & Public Policy (300-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Culture, history, political systems and science can shape ocean policy. Practice current strategies to build, analyze, and communicate about diverse policy issues. Examine the power, use and limitations of science and the scientist's voice in determining ocean policy.

Oceans in the Global Carbon Cycle (300-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Three lab science courses (one at the 300-level or higher) or consent of instructor. 
Ocean as carbon source and sink. Examine global-scale flux patterns and carbon storage mechanisms, from solubility/biological pumps to geo-engineering. Explore buffering capacity and mitigation strategies in the face of anthropogenic carbon cycle perturbations. Oral presentation and written research proposal required.


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"Oceans & Climate gave me the opportunity to use my background in science to the fullest extent. The focus on oceanic carbon cycling really gave me an idea of the wide scale effects of climate-ocean interactions on all aspects of the marine environment. The research carried out at sea was challenging and fascinating, and the first-hand experience on the open ocean was really valuable."

Kady Marino
Roger Williams University
Marine Biology Major