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Study Climate Change

SEA Semester: Climate & Society

Examine the intersection of climate change with human society… Explore the social and cultural impacts of climate change while engaging with stakeholders, community leaders, and policymakers addressing these issues at the local and global levels. Spend ample research time on shore in New Zealand on either end of a tall ship sailing voyage throughout its waters.

Fall 2020 | New Zealand

Voyage Map

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Admissions Deadline: Rolling Admissions


A humanities and social sciences semester at sea that takes a human-centered approach to solving the challenges presented by global climate change.


Cruise Track: Christchurch, NZ » Christchurch, NZ // Auckland, NZ » Auckland, NZ
Destinations: On shore, South Island: Christchurch › Fox Glacier › Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park › Christchurch
At sea, North Island: Auckland › Kermadec Islands › Napier › Great Barrier Island › Auckland


September 21 - December 15, 2020

Sept. 21 - Oct. 30: On shore in Woods Hole
Nov. 6 - 14: On shore in South Island, New Zealand
Nov. 14 - Dec. 15: At sea

Program Highlights

  • Examine climate science, policy, and literature in their human social contexts
  • Interact with leading researchers and writers in New England and New Zealand
  • Explore cities, islands, coastal regions, and glaciers affected by climate change
  • Acquire valuable communication skills and participate in digital storytelling

Who Should Apply?

This semester at sea program is designed for non-science majors who are interested in addressing climate change. It allows students with a limited background in the sciences to explore climate-related issues. Open to all majors.

Program Description

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Skills Gained

  • Leadership through shipboard and group project work
  • Ability to effectively communicate to stakeholders, fellow researchers, and the public
  • Partnership-building to develop & improve initiatives such as community resilience and outreach

Finding solutions to the problems brought about by climate change requires going beyond scientific data. We must also consider the possibilities found within social and political institutions, economic systems, cultural practices, and the creative forces of art, literature, and design. The humanities and social sciences contribute to knowledge of how our changing climate impacts human lives and societies, and they play a vital role in building strategies for global climate resilience and adaptation.

This new semester at sea includes initial shore components in Woods Hole and New Zealand, as well as a sailing research voyage roundtrip from Auckland. In Woods Hole, home to world-renowned leaders in climate science, you'll develop your semester-long research project, review essential climate humanities literature, and design a plan for original field research. You’ll meet with climate experts in Boston and the Woods Hole science community to discuss a range of climate related issues including public health, coastal and urban resilience, environmental justice, clean energy, displaced communities, national security, and sustainable design. Dynamic interactive courses in oceanography, communication, and leadership will prepare you for the sailing and field research phase of the program.

You'll then head to the South Island of New Zealand, where you'll visit Westland Tai Poutini and Aoraki Mount Cook National Parks, located in the majestic Southern Alps, to examine the ecological, economic, and cultural effects of a changing environment. You'll trek through New Zealand’s Glacier Country, examining the effects of retreating glaciers on coastal, riverine, and wetland habitats and discussing the changing landscape with climate and glacier experts. During this second shore component, you'll collect field research data, record audio stories for a semester-long podcast project, and meet with members of local Māori communities confronting new environmental challenges.

After a week in the Southern Alps, you'll board the SSV Robert C. Seamans in Auckland for a month of sailing, visiting the remote Kermadec Islands, home to a proposed ocean sanctuary, and then south to the Hawke’s Bay Region to examine the effects of climate change on its coastal towns, farmlands, and famous wineries. At sea, you’ll work with fellow students and the shipboard science team to examine the changes to our oceans brought about by shifting climatic conditions, and develop strategies for connecting scientific data to observable climate impacts on human societies. Through daily oceanographic surveys, “classroom” discussions, and navigational training while at sea, you'll gain a unique and valuable perspective of climate change that links oceanic and terrestrial systems.

The semester concludes aboard our ship at Great Barrier Island with a final symposium featuring student presentations of original field research and digital storytelling projects.

New Zealand Shore Component

Please note that the itinerary is subject to change, availability, and confirmation of all components.

Day 1

Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, NZ

Arrive in Christchurch and meet your field guide. Visit the Canterbury Museum to learn about the rich and fascinating history of Christchurch and Canterbury. Attend a lecture with your guide before a group dinner.

Day 2

Central Christchurch, NZ

Attend lectures given by professors from the University of Canterbury that will focus on climate change from the perspective of social sciences and Antarctic glaciology. Have time to explore central Christchurch before a site visit to a leading provider of environmental certification in New Zealand.

Day 3

Castle Hill/Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area

Travel by coach to Fox Glacier. Stops en route for rest breaks and packed lunch could possibly include: The Famous Sheffield Pie Shop, Castle Hill/Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area, Arthur's Pass Village and Visitor's Centre, and Hokitika (known for the locally-sourced pounamu or greenstone).

Day 4

Fox Glacier

Attend a lecture about the impact of climate change on Fox Glacier's business and the role/impact of adventure tourism/Fox Glacier Guiding in a small rural community. Go on a guided trail walk to the face of the glacier where the Fox River emerges from the ice and where ice collapses are often seen and heard. Walk to the river valley floor to the final resting place of the ice to learn how the glacier has shaped the surrounding environment.

Day 5

Lake Matheson

Get up at sunrise for a walk at Lake Matheson. During calm and clear weather, Lake Matheson offers mirror views of Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in its dark, tannic waters. Afternoon instruction and activities will be followed by glowworm spotting along the Te Heweka Walkway.

Day 6

Wanaka, NZ

Travel by coach to Mount Cook Village. Stop for lunch in Wanaka.

Day 7

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Visit the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park DOC Visitor Centre for a lecture from park rangers about the natural and human history of the park from its Gondwanian beginnings to the present. The focus will be on the cultural perceptions and impacts of humans over time. In the afternoon, go on the Hooker Valley Walk. A field guide will lead this 4-hour hike through the alpine vegetation and glacial landforms of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

Day 8

Fairlie, NZ

Travel by coach back to Christchurch. Possible stops en route include the Tekapo Information Centre and lake viewpoint, and the towns of Fairlie and Geraldine. Attend a farewell dinner before departing for Auckland in the morning.

Life at Sea

While the shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA Semester – providing important preparation for a successful ocean voyage – not surprisingly, students look forward to the day they ship out.

As your time in Woods Hole comes to an end, you’ll feel a mix of excitement and perhaps some trepidation as well. You and your shipmates may ask, “Can we really do this?” Because of the intentional design of all SEA Semester programs, you can be confident that the answer is, “Yes!”

The sea component of SEA Semester immediately immerses you in applying practically what you have just learned in the classroom on shore. As you set sail, you take on three roles: student, crewmember, and researcher. Life at sea is full as you take ocean measurements and samples; participate in classes; stand a watch as part of an around-the-clock schedule, on deck and in lab; and assist with navigation, engineering, meal preparation, and cleaning. Depending on the voyage, you may also make port calls – an opportunity to break from the rhythm of life at sea and to visit a foreign destination, not as a tourist, but as a working sailor and researcher.

Privacy and sleep are both limited aboard ship, yet there is always time for personal reflection. Teamwork takes precedence as you assume increasing levels of responsibility for the well-being of your shipmates and the ship itself. “Ship, shipmate, self” will be your new mantra, representing a shift in priorities for all on board. A phased leadership approach over the course of your time at sea will allow you to gradually assume the majority of shipboard responsibilities under the watchful eye of the professional crew. Near the end of every program, each student will lead a complete watch cycle as part of a rewarding final capstone experience.

When you step off one of our ships, you’ll take away academic credits, self-confidence, lifelong friends, a toolbox of skills and knowledge, and a sense of direction that will serve you far beyond your voyage.

"Life at sea is concentrated: every moment holds more substance, texture, and complexity than I am ever aware of on land. Tapping in to the rhythms of a ship, you slip like a cog into a well-oiled machine: each part has purpose, and together things run smoothly. This environment is one where actions have meaning, repercussions are real, and each moment teaches the meaning and value of hard work done well. At sea I learn that I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for.” SARAH WHITCHER, Clark University, Biology Major

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

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Academic Credit

SEA Semester: Climate & Society carries 18 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.

Course Descriptions

Climate, Society and the Humanities (300-level, 4 credits)

Survey of climate literature across humanities and social science disciplines. Explores interpretive and comparative approaches to understanding human-climate interactions in maritime contexts and identifies collaborative potential with the natural sciences. Requires interdisciplinary research, field journal writing, and team projects.

Environmental Communication (300-level, 3 credits)

Seminar focusing on communication skills development for environmental scholars. Introduces the field of environmental communication, examines environmental attitudes and behaviors, and develops a toolkit of communications strategies. Includes projects in data visualization, multi-media presentation and digital storytelling.

Leadership in a Dynamic Environment (300-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Be an effective leader while leveraging the individual strengths of a team. Use leadership theory and case studies to understand how decisions affect outcomes. Participate as an active member of a ship’s crew, progressively assuming full leadership roles.

The Ocean & Global Change (300-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Ocean ecosystem change in the anthropocene: warming, acidification, fisheries depletion, and pollution. Review principles of circulation, seawater chemistry, nutrient dynamics, and biological production to understand causes and consequences of change. Conduct field measurements for contribution to time-series datasets.

Your Choice of Research Course Options:

Advanced Research Topics (400-level, 4 credits)
Advanced humanities and social science seminar focusing on contemporary climate-related issues including urban/coastal resilience, poverty and justice, clean energy, human displacement, and national security. Emphasizes case study analysis and research methods. Requires field data collection, research paper and symposium presentation.

-- OR --

Directed Research Topics (300-level, 4 credits)
Seminar exploring humanities and social sciences approaches to understanding and resolving contemporary climate-related issues. Development of research and writing skills through analyses of case studies and guided seminar exercises. Requires field data collection, research paper and presentation of results.


How to Apply

  1. Complete an application form
    Apply online. (Note: the application fee is waived for students from affiliated institutions. Contact your Admissions Counselor for the code!)
  2. Submit two writing samples (500-750 words each)

    List your full name on each. Submit via email to or fax to 800-977-8516.

    1. Two-part essay (500-750 words): Why have you chosen to apply to SEA Semester and what do you expect to gain from your experience? How will the SEA Semester program to which you're applying (The Global Ocean, Oceans & Climate, etc.) complement your education? Be sure to address both questions.
    2. Academic writing sample of your own choosing (2-4 page excerpt if longer than 4 pages). This should be a reflection of your best written work from a recent course, and on a topic applicable to your SEA Semester program of interest (science, history, environmental studies, literature, etc.). Please include your name and the context of the sample (course title and brief description of the assignment). Poetry or college entrance essays may be submitted only as a secondary sample.
  3. Request and submit transcripts
    Official college transcripts are required for all applicants. E-transcripts must be emailed to Hard copies must remain sealed and be sent directly from your institution to:

         SEA Office of Admissions
         P.O. Box 6
         Woods Hole, MA 02543

    High school transcripts are required for students who have not yet completed two years of college. They may be unofficial and submitted via email to or by fax to 800-977-8516.
  4. Submit two (2) undergraduate academic references
    Both should be from undergraduate level instructors; at least one should be from an instructor (i.e. professor, academic advisor) who has taught you within the past year. We also welcome additional references (i.e. coach, academic, personal, etc.). The online application will provide a link to email the reference form to your professors directly. If you require a PDF version, please click here.
  5. Schedule an interview with your Admissions Counselor
    Interviews may be conducted over the phone or in person, depending on the Counselor’s schedule. Topics of conversation may include life at your college/university, academic and extracurricular interests, transition from high school to college, your expectations for life at SEA, and how you learned about our program. The interview is also a great opportunity for you to ask questions about SEA.
  6. Submit the Student Participation Approval Form to the appropriate authority (study abroad office or academic advisor) on your campus
    This form is accessible through our online system and ensures that you go through the appropriate channels at your school for off-campus study approval (if applicable) and credit transfer. If you're not sure who to contact on your campus, ask your SEA Admissions Counselor.

​Apply for a Passport: Please note that all SEA Semester students must have a valid passport - NOT a Passport Card - before joining the program.

Apply for Financial Aid: If you plan to apply for need-based financial aid, download a financial aid application (pdf) and submit it with your application for admission.