SEA Semester
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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: Space Available - Contact the SEA Semester Admissions Office


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 is the principal scientific challenge of our time, and the timely application of this knowledge to public policy is crucial to the future of human communities and ecosystems. This semester explores the ocean’s role in the global carbon cycle and climate dynamics, beginning with long-term, natural variability and proceeding through recent anthropogenic influences to the uncertainties of tomorrow.  We develop a strong foundation in global oceanographic processes while also examining regional climate phenomena influencing our cruise track. Among others, we’ll consider: atmospheric and ocean conditions influencing hurricane formation processes, warming of surface and deep water masses, carbon fluxes through the air-sea interface and into the deep ocean, ecological consequences of changes in seawater pH, and the often-understudied role of El Nino in the Atlantic basin.

Explore regional, national, and international energy and climate policies and their inherent challenges. Canary Islands leaders harness abundant renewable resources in innovative hydrowind energy systems that dramatically reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Weather-permitting, visit El Hierro and compare local energy strategies to those employed by small Caribbean islands moving towards proactive climate change adaptation and coastal zone management. Investigate climate, policy, and sustainability questions during the shore component, then suggest solutions related to fresh water availability, storms, sea-level rise, disease, and migration across multiple island sites.

This transatlantic voyage offers the unique opportunity to ride the trade winds across the tropical Atlantic while studying the remote ocean environment using advanced oceanographic techniques. Sail an epic 3,000 nautical miles from the volcanic Canary Islands to the Lesser Antilles. Spend a day or two exploring Dominica, the Eastern Caribbean’s eco-tourism destination and a fascinating case study for sustainable development and ecological conservation. Conclude your cruise in Puerto Rico, jumping off point for further adventures throughout the region.

This intensive semester integrates student-driven research, data analysis, and communication skills development across science and policy disciplines, preparing you for a wide variety of future roles in our increasingly complex global environment.

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 two lab science courses, at least one at the 200 level OR two sequential 100-level labs.

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