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Oceans cover seventy percent of the Earth’s surface, regulating our climate and maintaining our atmosphere. They also contain virtually all the known chemical elements. This module deals with their physics, chemistry and biology, as well as the structure of the basins that contain them – covering topics like underwater volcanoes; the greenhouse effect; eddy systems; the El Niño phenomenon and its link to droughts and floods; and the global view of ocean properties that satellite technology can provide. This is a wide-ranging, multi-disciplinary module for anyone interested in the natural world.

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Am I ready?

Student Reviews

I selected and really enjoyed this course because it includes biology/physics/chemistry/geology and some maths - so something for everyone! I...
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What you will study

  • Is the sea-level really rising?
  • Why are there hot springs in the deep sea?
  • How does the ocean circulation control the global climate and fisheries?

If you would like to know the answers to these and similar questions, Oceanography is the module for you.

Oceanography is a ‘whole Earth’ science: the oceans interact continuously with the solid Earth and the atmosphere, and are the setting for much of the planet’s biological production. The Earth sciences, physics, chemistry and biology are all prominent in the module, because their interrelationship in the marine environment is the essence of oceanography.

A large proportion of the module is presented in a series of five volumes prepared by the module team and published in association with Butterworth-Heinemann. The other element is a set book, Biological Oceanography: an Introduction.

Book 1 The ocean basins – their structure and evolution is an introduction to the oceans and the ocean basins. It considers the ocean as a resource, the structure and composition of ocean crust and the effects of hydrothermal circulation.

Book 2 Seawater – its composition, properties and behaviour is about the composition, temperature and density of seawater, in particular with respect to different water masses; also the transmission of light and sound in the oceans.

Book 3 Ocean circulation – examines surface and deep currents, with emphasis on interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere, and the importance of the ocean for climate.

Book 4 Waves, tides and shallow-water processes looks at the classification of deep-water and shallow-water waves; tides and tidal behaviour; the principles of sediment transport and deposition; tidal flats and estuaries; deltas; the beach zone; and the continental shelf.

Book 5 Marine biogeochemical cycles describes the supply of terrigenous sediments to the deep sea, how the marine sedimentary record can be used to obtain information about past ocean environments and climate, and chemical fluxes and cycles in the ocean.

The module is designed to provide a scientific basis for:

  • understanding the oceanic environment and its interactions with the atmosphere and the solid Earth; how the oceans have changed with time, and the rates at which fundamental processes operate in the oceans
  • demonstrating the role and importance of the main scientific disciplines in oceanography, and the relationships between them
  • understanding the observational, experimental and theoretical methods that have led to our present knowledge of the geology of the ocean crust, the physical and chemical characteristics of ocean water, and marine ecology
  • understanding the dependence and effects of humans on the oceans
  • developing your skills in using data from more than one discipline in the analysis of oceanographic problems, and in the discussion and use of scientific information from recent oceanographic research papers.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module. 

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014 when it will be available for the last time.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This module will appeal to anyone who is interested in the natural world, particularly those concerned about environmental issues or interested in the idea of the Earth as a system. From a vocational point of view, teachers, mariners, meteorologists and environmentalists will all find the module useful. The most challenging feature is the module’s emphasis on the multidisciplinary approach essential to a proper understanding of the marine environment. It is ideal for those who do not like their science cramped by the straitjacket of specialisation.

This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably with The Open University. Since this module draws strongly on each of the four main science disciplines – physics, chemistry, biology and Earth sciences – you are strongly advised to obtain a good pass in Environmental science (S216) or at least two OU level 2 science modules – preferably in different disciplines – before attempting it. You should also feel comfortable with maths of the standard reached in Exploring science (S104) and Maths for science (S151).

It is essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis on which to tackle the module, since students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully. The Science Faculty has produced a booklet Are You Ready For S330? to help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the module or whether you need a little extra preparation. This can be viewed or printed from the Are you ready for science? website.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

The following books would be useful reading prior to taking the module:

  • Denny, M. (2008) How the Ocean Works: An Introduction to Oceanography, Princeton University Press
  • T.Garrison (2001) Oceanography: an Invitation to Marine Science, Thomson Learning
  • M. Grant Gross, E. Grant Gross (1995) Oceanography: a View of Earth, Prentice-Hall
  • P.R. Pinet (1999) Invitation to Oceanography, Jones and Bartlett Publisher International
  • K. Stowe (1996) Exploring Ocean Science, Wiley
  • H. V. Thurman, A. P. Trujillo (2004) Essentials of Oceanography, Pearson Higher Education, Prentice Hall


Start End England fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015 £1316.00

Registration closes 18/09/14 (places subject to availability)


The deadline for financial support applications has now passed

October 2014 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser.

Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 18/09/2014.

What's included

Module books, other printed materials, ocean floor maps, a website containing essential module components, e.g. assignments, that you may choose to print out.

You will need

A calculator.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2008 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.7 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Lalli, Carol M. Biological Oceanography (2nd edn) Butterworth-Heinemann £46.99 - ISBN 9780750633840 This book is now provided electronically by the OU Library and is accessed from the module website, therefore purchase of the hard copy book is optional. If you do purchase the hard copy book, please use the ISBN stated above.

If you have a disability

The module includes relatively complex visual material which has all been carefully described and recorded, along with readings of the texts on audio in DAISY Digital Talking Book format. The printed study materials are also available in comb-bound format or as Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions.  However, some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, diagrammatic or foreign language material may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Other formats may be available in the future.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.