The oceans
The oceans

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

The oceans

Glossary

abyssal plain
The flat part of the ocean floor that lies between about 4 and 6 km below the sea surface.
albedo
The reflection coefficient of a surface - the fraction of the amount of incoming radiation that is reflected from a surface.
Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW)
Cold, dense bottom water mass that forms around the Antarctic continent (especially in the Ross and Weddell Seas) and spreads northwards in all three ocean basins.
bathymetry
The study of underwater depth of lake or ocean floors.
constancy of composition
The principle for seawater that, although the concentration of dissolved salts can vary from place to place, the relative proportions of the ions remains virtually constant.
continental shelf
The part of the ocean floor bordering the continents at a depth of 200 m or less below the sea surface.
continental slope
The part of the ocean floor extending from the edge of the continental shelf to the start of the continental rise. The continental slope has an average gradient of around 4deg.
Coriolis force
An apparent force invented to explain the deflection of bodies moving over the surface of the Earth without being frictionally bound to it. It acts 90° to the right of the direction of motion in the Northern Hemisphere, and 90° to the left in the Southern Hemisphere.
eddy viscosity
Internal friction between the molecules of a liquid that transfers momentum.
Ekman drift
The mean current across the Ekman layer.
Ekman layer
The depth of influence of the Ekman spiral.
Ekman spiral
The vertical spiral pattern of water velocities that develops in the upper ocean as a result of the Coriolis force acting on moving water. The pattern develops to the right in the Northern Hemisphere, and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere.
Ekman transport
The volume of water transported by the Ekman drift.
frazil ice
The initial form of sea ice: a slurry-like suspension of ice crystals.
gyre
A large-scale circulatory feature of the ocean circulation, usually extending across many thousands of kilometres.
hydrographic section
The standard way for presenting a series of CTD (seawater conductivity and temperature, and depth) measurements taken across an ocean or a feature in the ocean.
hydrothermal vents
Fissures on the seafloor out of which flows water that has been heated by underlying magma.
isohalines
Contour line joining points of equal salinity either on maps or in vertical sections.
isotherms
Contours of constant temperature.
Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR)
A north-south suboceanic ridge in the Atlantic Ocean from Iceland to Antarctica on whose crest are several groups of islands.
North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW)
Deep water mass formed mainly in the Norwegian and Greenland Seas.
pack ice
A mass of ice floating in the sea, formed by smaller pieces freezing together.
pancake ice
Sea ice rind broken up into pieces a few centimetres in diameter, with upturned edges resulting from multiple collisions.
permanent thermocline
The region beneath the mixed layer where temperature decreases with depth.
salt rejection
A process that occurs during sea ice formation where salt is pushed from forming ice into the surrounding seawater, increasing the salt concentration there.
stratified
(In the context of water) Where water masses with different properties of salinity, oxygenation, density and temperature form layers that act as barriers to water mixing.
thermohaline circulation
Global oceanic circulation through a series of strong currents, driven by deep water formation in the polar seas and heating of water in the tropical seas; an effect of temperature and salinity differences. Also called the ocean 'conveyor belt'.
water mass
A very large volume of water with uniform temperature, salinity and, therefore, density.
wind stress
The frictional force that transfers energy from the wind to the surface of the water.
wind-mixed layer
Surface water that has been mixed by the wind to create a layer with uniform physical properties.
S206_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371