Module Details

The information contained in this module specification was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change, either during the session because of unforeseen circumstances, or following review of the module at the end of the session. Queries about the module should be directed to the member of staff with responsibility for the module.
Code ENVS265
Coordinator Prof J Sharples
Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences
Year CATS Level Semester CATS Value
Session 2018-19 Level 5 FHEQ First Semester 15


  • To gain an appreciation of how ecosystems in the ocean are intricately linked to their physical fluid environment
  • To understand how microbial life is affected by molecular diffusion and turbulence
  • To understand the challenges faced by microscopic life in the viscous fluid of the ocean
  • To address how mean flows in the ocean can be vital in the life stages of larger marine organisms
  • To appreciate the global differences in plankton communities, and the underlying reasons for those differences
  • To understand the problem of how community diversity is maintained in the ocean, and the current theories attempting to explain this diversity

Learning Outcomes

 Students will gain a broad understanding of how different plankton communities arise in different oceanic regimes, and how that ultimately structures food chains to larger marine animals.

Students will be able to compare quantitatively the scales of different processes, and critically assess their relative importance for life in the ocean.

Students will strengthen, and acquire new, skills in quantifying physical-biological drivers of ecosystems.

Students will learn the important of a multi-disciplinary approach on marine biology and gain experience in solving novel problems.



(1,2)    Phytoplankton life in the sea.

Phytoplankton resource requirements. Turbulence an light supply in a mixed layer. Phytoplankton size and role in biogeochemistry and food chains. Swimming and sinking in turbulence (the Peclet number). Size and the diffusion limitation of nutrient supply. Preventing harmful blooms.

(3)    Zooplankton as predators in the viscous ocean.

What’s a zooplankton? The ecological/biogeochemical roles of micro- and meso-zooplankton. Viscosity and the Reynolds number. Feeding and swimming in “treacle”. Methods of prey capture in a turbulent environment. Turbulence and predation success.

(4)    Upwelling regions.

How does upwelling work? Global patterns of upwelling. Nutrient supplies. Phytoplankton and fisheries in upwelling regions.

(5)    The spring bloom.

The importance of stratification. What triggers stratification? Why are blooms of phytoplankton associated with stratification. Timing of stratification and the match-mismatch hypothesis in fisheries research.

(6)    Fronts and predators.

What is a front and how are they caused? Plankton growth and distributions at fronts. Use of fronts by predators (e.g. basking sharks, seabirds).

(7)   Internal waves.

What is an internal wave an d how can they be generated? Internal waves and mixing of nutruients. Internal waves and larval transport.

(8)    Tides.

Simple picture of how tides are formed. High and Low Waters, the spring-neap cycle. Life in the inter-tidal zone.

(9)    Under an Iron Grip?

For many years the case of iron limitation has puzzled and fascinated oceanographers. How did an element that exists at nanomolar levels in seawater come to play such a pivotal role in our understanding of the ‘high nutrient low chlorophyll’ regions of the ocean? What implications have changes in the supply of iron had for community structure and higher trophic levels.

(10)    Estuarine circulation.

The lock-exchange analogue of what ha ppens when freshwater reaches the ocean. Mean circulation in estuaries. Larval transport and the maintenance of estuarine benthic populations.

Teaching and Learning Strategies

Lecture - Lectures, along with short calculations.

Tutorial - Tutorials used for problem classes and lab demonstrations

Teaching Schedule

  Lectures Seminars Tutorials Lab Practicals Fieldwork Placement Other TOTAL
Study Hours 20
Lectures, along with short calculations.
Tutorials used for problem classes and lab demonstrations
Timetable (if known)              
Private Study 120


EXAM Duration Timing
% of
Penalty for late
Unseen Written Exam  120  80  Yes    Final exam Notes (applying to all assessments) 1 class test at halfway stage (to encourage reading of the lecture notes and gain experience in exam-type calculation). 1 written exam  
CONTINUOUS Duration Timing
% of
Penalty for late
Coursework  45 minutes  20  Yes  Standard UoL penalty applies  Assessment 1: class test 

Recommended Texts

Reading lists are managed at Click here to access the reading lists for this module.
Explanation of Reading List: