Oceanography (Ph.D.)


The Oceanography (OCE) graduate program has a diverse set of faculty, staff, and students who examine ocean processes in broad fields of physical, biological, chemical, and geological oceanography and geophysics  Basic and applied research of an experimental, numerical, and analytical nature is conducted in oceanic settings that range from shallow nearshore and estuarine waters to the deep ocean and span all ocean basins on earth including the Arctic. 

OCE offers programs leading to M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees.  These interdisciplinary programs prepare students for professional careers in ocean-relate fields.  In addition, students can also pursue an ocean mapping option within the Department of Earth Sciences and carried out within the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping.

Research and Facilities

The oceanography graduate program within the Department of Earth Sciences and the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering (SMSOE) is enhanced by the ocean engineering and marine biology graduate programs, and by other departments and institutes at UNH, including the civil and mechanical engineering and biology departments; the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS); the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping (CCOM); and the Ocean Processes Laboratory (OPAL). Other related programs include the N.H. Sea Grant Program, the Center for Collaborative Science, and the Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center, Coastal Response Research Center (CRRC), Northeast Consortium (NEC), and the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP). Oceanographic laboratories at UNH include the Shoals Marine Laboratory (SML) on Appledore Island, the Coastal Marine Laboratory (CML) in Newcastle, the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory (JEL) at Adams Point on the Great Bay, and the Chase Ocean Engineering Laboratory (COEL) on the main UNH campus. Additional laboratories for the oceanography faculty are located on campus in James, Morse, Rudman, and Spaulding Halls. The SMSOE operates a marine support facility and two UNH research vessels moored in Portsmouth Harbor at the UNH pier, the R/V Gulf Challenger and the R/V Gulf Surveyor, as well as a number of small boats. The SMSOE also supports the UNH Diving Program and oversees a shared­ use Instrumentation Pool for student and faculty use.

Admission Requirements

Applicants should have completed an undergraduate major related to one of the oceanography disciplines, including biology, chemistry, engineering,geology, physics, or mathematics, or an appropriate array of science and engineering courses within their major field. Applicants are expected to have completed one year each of calculus and chemistry and two semesters of physics and/or biology. It is not necessary to have had previous coursework in oceanography.

Ph.D. Requirements

Students plan a program of study in conjunction with a faculty guidance committee (FGC). Students entering the program without a master's degree are expected to complete a minimum of 36 credit hours. Students with an M.S. degree in oceanography or related field in physical science from UNH or another university should first demonstrate (through accredited transcript or the qualifying examination) acceptable mastery in the basic core areas. Those deficient in any discipline will be required to complete the respective course.

All students must complete at least one course from each of the following categories: natural sciences, methods, ethics/policy/law, and seminar. Please see below for a list of courses that meet these specifications (other courses may qualify and should be approved by the FGC).  Additional credit hours are determined by the FGC (typically 15 credit hours). Foreign language requirement is determined by the FGC. Students must complete a Coursework Approval Form, which summarizes all courses to be taken, and obtain signatures from their adviser, committee members, and the OCE program coordinator once the coursework is completed.

Students wishing to be admitted to doctoral candidacy will undergo a qualifying examination by the guidance committee designed to test the student’s in-depth knowledge in their major field and their ability to conduct independent and original research in oceanography. Qualifying students will present to the guidance committee a research proposal in which the soundness, originality, and feasibility of the investigation are clearly stated, and which when approved based on a proposal examination by the committee, will form the basis for the doctoral dissertation.

Students are advanced to candidacy after successfully completing the comprehensive exam, proposal exam, and all coursework required by the guidance committee. Students must complete a dissertation, present their results at a public seminar, and pass an oral examination by the thesis committee.

Although not a strict requirement, all graduate students are encouraged to obtain teaching experience, preferably as a teaching assistant.

All students are required to spend time in the field, even if their research project and interests are primarily based on analytical research, modeling studies, or laboratory experiments. The field requirement could include extended time at sea onboard one of the UNH, UNOLS, NOAA, or similar oceanographic research vessels, or include field experiments at locations in New Hampshire, the U.S., or around the globe, and includes possible nearshore and estuarine studies, Antarctic expeditions, or other land­-based studies related to oceanography. Successful completion of the field requirement will be determined by the guidance committee.

Natural Sciences

Biological Oceanography
Chemical Oceanography
Introduction to Physical Oceanography
Geological Oceanography


Instrumental Methods of Chemical Analysis
Quantitative Methods in Earth Sciences
Ocean Measurements Lab
Geodesy and Positioning for Ocean Mapping
Spectral Analysis of Geophysical Time Series Data
Integrated Seabed Mapping Systems
Advanced Topics in Ocean Mapping
Hydrographic Field Course
Advanced Topics (Ocean Modelling)
Asymptotic and Perturbation Methods
Analytical Fluid Dynamics
Statistical Methods for Research
Applied Regression Analysis
Foundations of Applied Mathematics I
Introduction to Numerical Methods

Ethics, Policy, and Law

Environmental Economics: Theory and Policy
Introduction to Marine Policy: Understanding US Ocean, Coastal and Great Lakes Policy
Ecological Sustainability and Values
Law of Natural Resources and Environment
International Environmental Politics and Policies for the 21st Century
Resolving Environmental Conflicts
Ecological Ethics and Values
Ethics in Research and Scholarship

Seminar and Proposal Development

Ocean Seminars I
Ocean Seminars II
Seminar in Earth Sciences
Proposal Development
Introductory Graduate Seminar

Other Relevant Graduate Courses

Marine Bioacoustics
Introduction to Marine Pollution and Control
Isotope Geochemistry
Aqueous Geochemistry
Glacial Geology
Topics (Ocean Biogeochemistry)
Topics (Nearshore Processes)
Advanced Topics (Geophysical Fluid Mechanics)
Advanced Topics (Nearshore Hydrodynamics)
Analytical Fluid Dynamics
Waves in Fluids
Fisheries Biology: Conservation and Management
Ocean Hydrodynamics
Biogeochemistry (or ESCI 896 Topics (Biogeochemistry))
Ocean Waves and Tides
Coastal Engineering and Processes
Special Topics (Underwater Acoustics)
Graduate Special Topics (Coastal Sediment Transport)
Sharks and Bony Fishes

A. Student Learning Outcomes for Oceanography, Ph.D. Students graduating with a Ph.D. in Oceanography should be able to:

Core Knowledge

  • Demonstrate a foundation of knowledge in at least 1 of the main branches of oceanography: Geological, Biological, Physical, or Chemical.
  • Geological Oceanography: An understanding marine geology and geophysics, including the structure of the Earth, Plate Tectonic Theory, marine sedimentology, paleoceanography, and the global carbon cycle.
  • Biological Oceanography : An understanding of marine ecosystems, including the physical and chemical processes that govern nutrient and light availability, the concept of food webs, and fisheries and anthropogenic interactions with fish stocks.
  • Physical Oceanography: An understanding of the physics of the ocean, including how wind and thermal forcing at the surface interact with the Earth’s rotation to drive ocean circulation in the deep basins and shallow continental shelves and oceanic plateaus, tides, and surface gravity waves.
  • Chemical Oceanography: An understanding of the chemistry and chemical interactions in seawater, including biogeochemical processes that govern the distribution and cycling of elements and nutrients, processes that add and remove elements in the ocean, isotopic fractionation, and how ocean chemistry interacts with seafloor sediments and the ocean crust.
  • Demonstrate basic knowledge of how the processes within the main branches of oceanography interact with each other.
  • Demonstrate specialized knowledge of a field within oceanography sufficient to conduct substantive independent research.

Research Methods and Analysis

  • Identify and demonstrate knowledge of a range of qualitative and quantitative methodologies typically used in oceanographic research and critically read research that uses these methods.
  • Discover and critically read published research in oceanographic and related fields of the Earth Sciences, Mathematics, Statistics, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology.
  • Frame empirical research and/or theory guided by prior knowledge.
  • Implement a rigorous study using appropriate methods, measures and techniques.
  • Critically evaluate and systematically analyze data to reach appropriate findings and interpretations.


  • Develop and implement independent research projects that meet high standards of theoretical and methodological rigor.

Scholarly Communication

  • Structure a coherent argument that rigorously presents and evaluates evidence to support claims.
  • Review and cogently synthesize relevant literature.
  • Write at a level and in a style of English consistent with that found in leading academic journals.
  • Understand and properly use styles of citing, referencing, and formatting found in leading academic journals.
  • Clearly convey research findings through oral presentation supported by appropriate digital media.
  • Cogently summarize research and its significance to non-specialist audiences.
  • This outcome is too broad for meaningful assessment.

Professionalism and Pedagogy

  • Prepare manuscripts that meet the standards of academic and research journals and respond appropriately to recommendations for revision. Communicate effectively to groups in a lecture format.
  • Demonstrate collaboration, leadership and teamwork.
  • Make effective contributions to university, community and professional service.