In this example Syllabus, I have included the essential parts of the COURSE SYLLABUS that are contained in the MEA 200 course homepage on MOODLE.

Instructor:  Dr. Ernest Knowles

Aboard the RV Cape Henlopen in the Gulf Stream, summer 1975

  • Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor
  • Member, Academy of Outstanding Teachers
  • Emeritus Associate Professor of Physical Oceanography


  • Department of Marine, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences
  • College of Science
  • NCSU Box 8208
  • Raleigh, NC 27695-8208
  • Department tel: (919) 515-3711
  • Department fax: (919) 515-7802
  • Email:

The required textbook for this course is:

Essentials of Oceanography, Alan Trujillo and Harold Thurman,13th Ed., Person Prentice Hall, 2020. ISBN 978-0-135-48722-8

We will be using the VitalSource Bookshelf eText version of the textbook this semester (and details for ordering it are included in the real course syllabus).  You will have provisional access to the eText for the first two weeks of the semester,  After that, you will need to pay for that access to take advantage of the low cost, and to have access for four years.  Also, purchasing access will guarantee that any notes you make on the eText will be retained.  I recommend, therefore, that you purchase access before the start of the semester.  There is much to recommend the eText (Smart Figures include those the “evolve” with movement and show how how many of the graphs in the textbook are derived – they help explain more difficult presentations.

As a DELTA student (Section 601), you do not attend class and will take your exams at one of the DELTA TESTING centers at Cox Hall or on Centennial Campus. The Course Schedule will give you the dates of each exam.  Those living more than 50 miles from Raleigh my take exams using a remote proctor at a community college or university near you (or us commercial proctor Examity – with a small fee), requesting a proctor through DELTA.

GO TO MY HOME PAGE if you want to learn more about my Academic or Navy career.

You will be expected to abide by the NCSU CODE OF CONDUCT, and you may avail yourself of ACADEMIC SUPPORT.  Because I am retired, I do not have an office in MEAS. All communication with me will be via email. If you have questions, contact me at any time via email and I will get back to you, usually within a couple of hours.  Also, reasonable accommodations will be made for students with verifiable disabilities.

The DELTA course offered on this website is administered through the office for Online and Digital Education (ODE).  Link to OnlineDE for a Virtual Orientation of DELTA.  Originally designed primarily for ‘off-campus’ Non-Degree Students (NDS), over the years the vast majority of enrollees have been ‘on-campus’ full-time Degree Students (DS) who want flexibility in scheduling their classes.

This course fulfills requirements for the General Education Program (GEP) for most programs.  Some programs also require a laboratory so check with your advisor, if you are unsure.

MEA 200 offered on the web may not be suitable for everyone. You must have the discipline to schedule routine “study-time” through access to the posted lessons to meet the deadlines for submission of homework assignments and stay current with the study guides and prepare for the examinations.

MEA 200 is a very rewarding course if you spend the time to be successful. My former students have told me that this was the science class they wish they had taken early in their college career, because it taught them to think rationally and conceptually, a valuable asset in all of their classes.




The prerequisites for this course are high school physics, chemistry and biology, or equivalent. Suspended students are discouraged from taking this course  – to succeed, you must be willing to work hard in the course. 

General Description of Course

MEA 200 covers all of the science of oceanography.  My particular emphasis will be on the important inter-related processes of the ocean as part of our environment, with a focus on understanding concepts.  There are, of course, new terms and definitions that you will need to memorize, but relying on rote memory of definitions will not help you very much. In only one case will you solve a simple division equation, but  I will expect you to be able to synthesize multiple facts to explain concepts, and I model that behavior in the way that my lessons are presented. Though an introductory course, MEA 200 is a true science course at the sophomore level, and you will need to study hard to master the concepts and to prepare for the examinations.

Included are discussions of marine geology, the global effects of plate tectonics, and sedimentation; the chemical, physical and thermal properties of the ocean; the interactions between the atmosphere and ocean; surface and subsurface ocean circulation; ocean wave generation and interactions; ocean tides and their environmental effects; marine biology and the importance of microscopic plants in the ecology of the ocean and global environments.

Oceanography Lab Requirements

MEA 210, Oceanography Laboratory, is recommended but not required as a co-requisite of this course, but may be required as part of your degree program – check with your advisor.



Read all of the Syllabus

The Syllabus explains how the course will be administered and what to expect. Also read the Suggestions for Success and FAQ to help you get started with your studying and your exam preparation. You will find these two files in Course Links on this page.

Print the Course Schedule

The course schedule includes my suggested dates to study specific chapter lessons (so that you will be prepared for submission of home work by their due dates), university holidays, and the schedule of ALL OF YOUR EXAMS. You will be responsible for keeping up with the study schedule and for taking your exam in a timely manner. DO NOT GET BEHIND in your studying; it is very difficult to catch up and you will not be prepared to submit assignments if you haven’t mastered the concepts.

Carefully monitor the HW Due Date Dates (file linked on homepage) and schedule them on your calendar.  HW will be due by 11:55 pm on the date shown. Timely and carefully prepared HW will have many benefits (also see below) and HW counts for 1/5 of your course grade, so it is important that you submit them on time. Carefully read the instructions for completing each HW, and note that after the due date, my answer keys will open-up so you can see how I would answer the questions.

Course Textbook and Online Lessons

Buy the course textbook and read the assigned pages, then carefully study my online lessons (which you also may want to Print).

  • You may buy access to the eText version of the textbook for a much smaller cost than the textbook itself.  Read all the assigned readings in the eText (particularly the figures references in the online lessons, but not included there), then after that, use the book as a reference document for the figures and tables to which I refer in the online lessons.
  • The ONLINE LESSONS will be the prime way to make final preparations for your HW and your exams in this class (especially for the last part of the course, and for the details of ocean chemistry and physics, for instance), because it is from these lessons that most of the HW, and questions on your exams, are extracted. 

As you will see in each of the online lessons, sometimes I give you readings from three chapters, and in other lessons, only a portion of the material in that chapter. Each reading assignment listed in all Chapter lessons will include the specific section numbers (i.e., 2.1) in addition to the page numbers used in the eText (or textbook).




The GOAL of this course will be to teach you to “think like an oceanographer”. The course will emphasize the science of the ocean and the interactions between “things”, not rote memory – I may skip some details of an explanation to focus on the overall scientific concepts instead.  


There are TWO overall OBJECTIVES for this course.

The First is purely intellectual: Each student will complete this course with a clear understanding of the science of the ocean and the critical interactive role the oceans play in the global environment and ecosystem.

The Second is more personal: After completing this course, each student will have a deeper personal appreciation of the importance and power of the ocean and a commitment to preserve and protect this most important environment. 

It is my hope that this course will provide you with both the factual framework that will allow you to understand how the ocean “works”, but also a personal framework that you will carry in your heart. Related to this is:

  • The Sea Around Us,  a beautiful poem written by Rachael Carson  that encapsulates the entire study of oceanography in a few words.
  • Poem I wrote in 1963 while on active duty on a Navy destroyer after a violent winter storm in the North Pacific. I was attracted to the ocean the first time that I saw it, and in my years at sea in the Navy was both thrilled and awed by what I experienced every day.
  • Another Poem I wrote in 1977 while attending meetings at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC.

If I accomplish my goal and objectives, you should be able to stand on a windy seashore at sunset, breathing in the salt air and watching and listening to the waves break on the shore, and both understand and feel what you are seeing. I hope that you will be able to carry both the understanding and feeling of the ocean with you the rest of your lives, and that you will share what you learn in this course with your families and friends.

Philosophy of Teaching these Goals and Objectives

To support this goal (and the objectives that followed), I mimic the aspects of a Visual Learner (something that I discovered works best for me – I draw pictures to understand things and try to think of everyday examples to help me better understand the more difficult concepts), so throughout my lessons, I will use visual examples of things you may already know, and sometimes personal examples to help illustrate for you, these same concepts. 



This course is designed for you to take online and is equivalent to the identical traditional classroom course that I have taught for more than four decades.  The course is divided into four nearly equal parts as shown below.


Geological & Chemical Oceanography

Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4 (with a section from Chapter 5)


Properties of water, Air-Sea Interaction, Climate Change and Ocean Circulation

Chapters 5, 6, 16  and 7


Waves, Tides, Beaches and Coastal Oceans

Chapters 8, 9 and 10


Biological Oceanography

Chapters 12, 13, 14 and 15

Only a small portion of Chapter 1 is included in the Chapter 1 lesson – I recommend you read all of Chapter 1 for background, but you will be held responsible only for the material in the assigned reading.  Note that I skip Chapter 11 (Marine Pollution) in my course.

Finally, note that some portions of chapters, and chapters themselves, are taken out of order. In particular:

  • Basic chemistry  from Chapter 5, that you will need to understand ocean sediments, is contained in Part 1 of the Chapter 4 lesson.
  • Global Climate Change  from Chapter 16  (which also contains some material from Chapter 6 and Chapter 7)  is more appropriate after Chapter 6  than after Biological Oceanography. 

Specific reading assignments from the textbook are given in each online Chapter lesson,  so the sequence of readings should be clear.



My Contract With You

I will:

  • provide you with the very best instruction that I am capable of giving:
  • challenge you and provide you the opportunity to “think like an oceanographer”;
  • provide clear and comprehensive study outlines of what I expect you to learn;
  • provide clear class organization policies;
  • make myself available for additional help;
  • construct exams that fairly cover the material that I expect you to learn;
  • provide clear exam, assignments and course grading criteria; and
  • assign you the grade that you earn.

Your Contract with Me

You will:

  • take responsibility for your own learning;
  • not use unauthorized help in completing your exam;
  • not provide unauthorized help to anyone after taking an exam;
  • take advantage of the study tools available to you;
  • keep current in your studying so that you do not cram for an exam;
  • participate in group sessions;
  • not rely on rote memorization; 
  • seek help from me whenever you have a question about the course and the concepts;
  • think “critically and conceptually” about what your are learning; and
  • provide me with feedback about the class.



Your performance in this course will be contingent on the following:

Regular Examinations

There are four regular exams during the semester. Each exam will be worth 100 points and all will include discussionmultiple-choice and matching (and sometimes drawing) questions, and will cover only the material presented since the preceding exam (which means, therefore, that the fourth exam is not comprehensive – it will cover only material from Part IV of the course). Examinations are all CLOSED BOOK and you will have 1.5 hrs to complete.

Because this is a DELTA web course (Section 601), you will take all your exams online at one of the DELTA Testing Centers or, f you live more than 50 miles outside of Raleigh, you may take your exams using a proctor near you. 

You will have THREE DAYS during each of the first three exam periods in which to schedule your exam.

Exam 4 will be taken during the FIRST 6 WEEKDAYS of the final exam period (including the Reading Day when scheduled). 

Optional Comprehensive Examination

I do not offer a term paper or project to earn extra credit, but do provide you an opportunity to improve your course grade. During the final exam period (after you complete Exam 4) you may take an Optional Comprehensive Examination that covers all of the material of the course.This exam will be 50 multiple-choice questions worth 100 points.

If your score on this comprehensive exam is higher than the lowest score on one of the four regular exams, it will replace that lower score in determining your total points (and letter grade) for the semester.  If your score is lower than any of the other regular scores, it will not be substituted – i.e., you are not penalized for taking the optional exam. This extra examination is particularly helpful if you get a low score on one of the first three regular exams and need to gain extra points to raise your final grade. 

The optional exam CANNOT be taken in lieu of exam 4 or for missing HW.

Written Assignments (HW)

Number of HW

Throughout the semester, you will complete thirty-two (8 for each part of course), 10 point, short written topical assignments (HW) posted on this Moodle site (look for HW Due Date block).  All HW will be due no later than 11:55 pm on the submission dates shown on each assignment (you may submit them early). HW not completed before the due-date will not be accepted (Moodle will shut you out so you cannot complete the HW). If you need help with any of the questions, contact me individually by email. After the due date of any assignment, my answer key for that assignment will be available to you.

The purpose of the HW  is to provide you an extra learning tool and a sample of the type of discussion questions I use on exams.

My Answer Keys

I give answer keys for all HW, whether graded or not, but you must submit the HW to be able to access my Keys.  



Exam Grades

Each of the four regular exams will be worth 100 points. A score on any one of these exams of 90 or higher = A, 80-89 = B, 70-79 = C, 60-69 = D and less than 60 = F,  but this breakdown is given only to provide you guidance on how you are doing.

Of far more import will be your Total Final Scores from which your Final Course grade will be determined,  as explained below. 

Course Grades

Course grades will not be curved.  The fixed total cut-off scores are based on over forty years of experience giving exams in this course, where I found that curved-grade cut-off’s were almost always within two or three points either side of these fixed scores. Now a far more important reason is that seniors make up more than 70% of my enrollment, so curved grades would be unfair to Freshmen and Sophomores.  Fixed grade cut-off’s also let you know exactly the grade you are earning at any point during the semester. 

Your Final Total Grade will be based upon your scores for the four exams (400 points) plus your total score for your assignments (100 points) and any Bonus Pts earned for HW, Group Meetings and Exam Bonus Questions.  

Your Final Average Score is obtained by dividing your Final Total Score (including any bonus pts earned) by 5 (go to Final Exam Information for more details) so with bonus pts it is possible to have a total score of more than 500 points. 

Then your Final Course Letter Grade will be based on the following fixed total cutoff scores:

Letter Grade Range of Final Scores Percentage Cut-offs
A+ 485 & above 97
A 465-484 93
A- 450-464 90
B+ 435-449 87
B 415-434 83
B- 400-414 80
C+ 385-399 77
C 365-384 73
C- & S *350-364 70
D+ & U 335-349 67
D 315-334 63
D- 300-314 60
F < 300 <60

*Note that the cut-off score for S/U grade is 350 pts (a C-). Scores below 350 will be a U.




To provide learning opportunities available through group interactions, right after the first Exam 1 (to let enrollment stabilize), I will form Study Groups of 3 persons each, and ask these groups to meet throughout remainder of the semester.  

How You May Meet

You may meet face to face, by IM or by email, as agreed upon by the group.  Each time you meet (online or otherwise), send me a Group Report to get the extra credit.   

Groups that meet will earn bonus points in two ways:

  • 1 point to each member of the group each time the group meets; and
  • 5 points for each participating member of the group if all those participating earn scores of at least 80 on exams.

I encourage all groups to meet. When you do decide to meet, make a concerted effort to include everyone in your group – don’t leave anyone out, but let me know if you cannot get response back from any member. I don’t want you to be penalized if one in your group does not want to participate. 

Reporting Group Meetings

Group Reports will be submitted to me via email using the format found at Group Report Format linked to from the Course Links.



Video Link

Link to is a very nicely done 8 min video about the deep ocean that will provide you with an introduction to this course.

There are several things on this video to which I want to call your attention, because they will be relevant to what you will learn this term:

  • One is the view of the earth from space that shows the immense size of the Pacific Ocean and why we should actually be called “planet ocean”. We will discuss this in Part I of the course.
  • Also look at the drawing of all the worlds oceans that shows the vast mountain range (mid ocean ridges and rises) that extends through all the ocean basins. We also will discuss this in Part I of the course.
  • Last, but not least are the black smokers” on these mid-ocean ridges (also to be discussed in Part I). I call your attention to the life that exists in this very harsh environment (something we will discuss in Part IV of course). In particular, when the narrator zooms in to show the abundance of life there (crabs, Moray eels, etc.) pay particular attention to the “eyeless shrimp”– you will notice a lighter marking on the back of the shrimp that is actually a light sensor, and it keeps the shrimp from getting boiled by the 400 deg C water coming out of the smokers, as they feast on the millions of bacteria that live on and around the smoker chimney. 
    • This I will discuss with you in the very last lesson of the course, using the story of the discovery and the study of these shrimp as an example of the process of science discovery and its use in the exploration of our oceans.

© Ernest Knowles/NCSU 1997 – All rights reserved. Page maintained by Ernest Knowles