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Oceans & Climate

SEA Semester: Oceans & Climate

Participate in groundbreaking climate science research… Voyage from New Zealand to Tahiti in a long, blue-water sailing passage. Contribute to baseline climate research in the South Pacific, a region key to climate science yet relatively understudied. Engage with stakeholders directly impacted by climate change by visiting a variety of Pacific island communities faced with this threat. Hone your science communications skills as you build your climate scientist toolbox!

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Overview: Spring 2018 | New Zealand » Polynesia

Voyage Map

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Application Deadline: Rolling Admissions


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: Lyttelton, New Zealand » Papeete, Tahiti
Destinations: Lyttelton › Chatham Islands › Raiatea › Papeete
Port stops subject to change.


February 12 – May 8, 2018

Feb. 12 – March 23: On shore in Woods Hole
March 29 – May 8: At sea

Program Highlights

  • Interface with leading climate science experts in Woods Hole
  • Conduct baseline climate research
  • Examine regional and international policy efforts
  • Make a long, blue-water sailing passage from New Zealand to Tahiti

Who Should Apply?

This semester is a good fit for upper-level science students who are concerned about environmental change and interested in developing a better understanding of public policy.

Prerequisites: A minimum of three lab science courses (at least one at the 300-level) or permission from the SEA faculty. 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.

Natural hazards and climate-driven changes threaten Pacific island nations, including both New Zealand and French Polynesia. Adapting to these challenges is imperative, and nascent mitigation and sustainability strategies in use on islands offer real opportunities for evaluation and improvement. 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 possibilities across locations. Integrating inquiry, analysis and communication, students will 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 New Zealand to Tahiti voyage, one of SEA’s longest sailing passages, to conduct baseline climate research on the rarely studied sub-Antarctic and subtropical waters of the remote South Pacific. Travel along the edge of the Southern Ocean, a region key to climate science because its dynamic ocean circulation and abundant biological productivity provide a major opportunity for carbon exchange between atmosphere and deep ocean. It’s a true blue-water cruise, reaching over 1,000 nautical miles from land in every direction! At stops in the Chatham Islands and French Polynesia, engage with local communities and investigate climate adaptation and sustainability questions raised during the shore component.

At program’s end, students explore long term ecological and climate research efforts throughout the Society Islands archipelago and present their scientific findings through peer-reviewed poster presentations.

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.

Data Communication & Visualization (300-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Information visualization strategies and associated software, emphasizing communication to diverse audiences. Select between geospatial (GIS) and qualitative data foci. Develop graphics and/or multimedia products supporting research projects in concurrent courses. Compile iterative digital portfolio.

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.

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