Dr. Ernest Knowles

Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor

RV Cape Henlopen in Gulf Stream

Welcome Message


  • Member, Academy of Outstanding Teachers
  • Emeritus Associate Professor of Physical Oceanography
  • Department of Marine, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences
  • 1120 Jordan Hall
  • NCSU Box 8208
  • Raleigh, NC 27695-8208
  • tel: (919) 515-3711
  • fax: (919) 515-7802
  • Email:

As a DELTA web student (Section 601), you do not attend class and will take your exams at DELTA TESTING centers at Cox Hall or Centennial Campus. Look at the Class Schedule and pay particular attention to the dates of each exam, and then go to to get information about taking the exams. If you cannot get to Raleigh, you my take your exams using a remote proctor at a community college or university near you. Set this up using




Students, welcome to a sample course homepage and syllabus - not all information contained in the syllabus for a particular class is included here, but I wanted you get most of the important information. If you register for the class, I will be sending you a welcome email and you will link to the syllabus for that class.

Return to My Homepage

Introduction and Requirements for Independent Study

The course offered on this website is administered through the office for Distance Education Learning Technology Applications (DELTA). Originally designed primarily for 'off-campus' Non-Degree Students, over the years, the vast majority of enrollee's have been 'on-campus' full-time Degree Students who want flexibility in scheduling their classes.

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

MEA 200 is also a very rewarding course if you spend the time to be successful - 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.

It is imperative that you stay current in your reading, study, and submission of assignments (note that your lessons start with Chapter 3 - you should read the first two chapters for background and history of oceanography, but I will not hold you responsible for that material).

Prerequisites & General Description of Course

The prerequisites for this course are high school physics, chemistry and biology, or equivalent. Though a survey course, MEA 200 is a true science course and demanding at the sophmore level. You will need to study hard to master the concepts and to prepare for the examinations -- rote memory will not help you very much. Freshman without good science backgrounds are discouraged from taking this course, and suspended students must have my permission to register.

MEA 200 covers all of the science of oceanography. In only one case will you make a numerical calculation -- my particular emphasis will be on the important inter-relationships of the ocean as part of our environment, with a focus on understanding concepts. There are no equations to solve, 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.

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

Things you Should do Now and Periodically During the Semester

Course Goal & Objectives

The goal of this course will be to teach you to "think like an oceanographer". The course will emphasize the science and the interactions between "things", not rote memory - I may skip some details of an explanations to focus on the overall scientific concepts instead. And, I will use the ocean as the vehicle to teach you science as much as I will use science to teach you about the ocean.

There are two basic objectives for this course.

If I accomplish my goals, you should be able to stand on a windy seashore at sunset, breathing the salt air and watching the waves break on the shore, and both understand and feel what you are observing. 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.


The required textbook for this course is:

Essentials of Oceanography, Harold Thurman and Alan Trujillo 11th Ed., Person Prentice Hall, 2013. ISBN 9780321814050

I have chosen to use this Essentials text book rather than the larger, more advanced hardbound textbook so that you don't have to spend as much money. In my lessons, however, I will expand much of the subject material beyond what is presented in the text and often in a different order, but I will make clear in each lesson the specific reading assignments from the book.

Course Organization

This course is designed for you take online, and is equivalent with the identical traditional course that I have taught for more than four decades. The course is divided into four nearly equal parts as shown below. Note that Chapters 1 and 2 are not included - I recommend you read both of these chapters for background, but you will not be held responsible for their content - and that some chapters are taken out of order.


Chemical & Geological Oceanography

Chapters 2 (with a small part 1), 3, 4 and first part of 5


Properties of Seawater & Ocean Circulation

Chapters 5, 6, and 7


Waves and Tides & Coastal Ocean

Chapters 8, 9, 10, and 11


Biological Oceanography

Chapters 12, 13, 14 and 15

Policy Matters

Mutual Contracts

Examinations and Assignments

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

Regular Examinations

There is a total of four regular exams during the semester. Each exam will be worth 100 points, will be closed book, and usually will include discussion, multiple-choice and matching# (and sometimes drawing) questions, and will cover only the material presented since the preceding exam (which means, of course, that the fourth exam is not comprehensive - it will only cover material from part IV of the course).

#Go to suggestions for success for ideas on how to successfully answer multiple-choice and matching questions.

As a DELTA web student (Section 601), you do not attend class and will take your exams at DELTA Testing Centers (look at the Class Schedule and then go to If you cannot get to Raleigh, you my take your exams using a proctor* near you - go to You will be given 1.5 hours to take each exam.

*The proctor could be a community or university faculty member or counselor. School teachers taking the course may identify an administrator in their school who would agree to proctor the exams, but that proctor must be cleared by DELTA.

You will have three days during each exam period in which to schedule your exams (see the Class Schedule, and pay particular attention to the dates). This includes Exam 4, which must be taken during the **FIRST 3 WEEKDAYS OF THE final exam period.

**Some of you may want to take Exam 4 during the Reading Period before the final exam period. This is permitted, but not required.

DELTA administer all exams on a first come-first serve basis, so arrive in enough time before the center closes to take your exam.

Makeup Exams normally will NOT be given. Because you have 3 days in which to take your exams, only in very unusual circumstances would a makeup exam be approved. If given, that makeup exam will be all descriptive questions.

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 you may take an Optional Comprehensive Examination that covers all of the material of the course. This exam will 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 for the semester. If your score on this comprehensive exam 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. You will be given the opportunity to sign-up for the optional exam at the beginning of Part IV of the course.

You will take this optional exam during the final exam period, after completion of the Part IV exam (i.e., all students are required to take Exam 4 - the optional exam is not given in place of exam 4). You may schedule a 3 hour period and take both exams at one time, or you may schedule two different 90 minute periods, but both MUST BE COMPLETED before the last day in the exam period SHOWN ON MY CLASS SCHEDULE.

Written Assignments

Throughout the semester, you will complete thirty-two (8 for each part of course), 10 point, short written topical assignments (HW) posted on WebAssign (see below for login procedures*). All HW will be due just a few minutes before midnight on the submission dates shown on each assignment (you may submit them early and resubmit them up to 5 times if you desire - the last submission is the only one subject to grading and multiple submissions give you the opportunity to fine-tune your description before the due date ). Unless you have a documented reason for not being able to complete the assignment, those not completed before the due-date will not be accepted. If you have questions about the assignments, you may contact me individually by email.

*Login procedures for WebAssign: Go to any browser and type in; click on Student Login and complete the NCSU login where your unityid and password ARE REQUIRED. You will then be on the MEA 200 section (Section 601) class page. Included there is the listing of Current Assignments (with due dates) and Past Assignments (where you will go to find my keys for all assignments after the due date), and for your grades on assignments once I grade them. Print the HW schedule and mark some kind of calendar so you won't miss a submission. You will need to purchase an access code to login to WebAssign - the cost is minimal but required, and you may purchase it at the bookstore when you buy the book, or using a credit card at your fist login.

The purpose of the HW (look for additional discussion about HW in Frequently asked questions) is to provide you an extra learning tool and a sample of the type of discussion questions I use on exams.

You will receive 0.625 pts for every HW you turn in (for a maximum of 5 pts for each part of the course). Two** of the eight assignments from each part of the course will be randomly selected for quality grading (all students in the class will have the same HW graded), so an additional maximum of 20 quality pts will be added to the maximum 5 pts earned for submiting all the HW, for a total maximum of 25 pts each part of the course. This means that a grand total of 100 pts (4 x 25 pts) for the HW will count toward your final grade, AND WILL COUNT FOR 1/5 OF YOUR LETTER GRADE. If you do not turn in an assignment randomly selected, you will get a zero for that assignment. The optional exam cannot be used for low homework grades.

** The difference between submission and quality pts as shown on WebAssign:

Submission Pts - If you submit all parts of any given assignment, WebAssign assigns you 10 pts. This is not your quality grade for the HW, however, until I grade the assignment. If you submit all 8 HW for a part of the course, your submission pts would be 8 multiplied by 0.625 pts.

Quality pts - The quality pts for the two HW randomly selected are those I post on WebAssign after I have graded your answers (i.e., if both answers are correct, you would get 20 pts and those grades are your quality pts). I will tell you which two HW were graded in an announcment on the the main WebAssign page for our class.

I will grade the assignments prior to each part's scheduled exam. After the due date of an assignment, my answer key will be available to you in Past Assignments.

While you may work on your assignments together in your groups, you should answer each question in your own words.

Group Interactions

To provide learning opportunities available through group interactions, right after the first exam I will form groups of 3 persons and ask these groups to meet throughout the semester. Groups that meet will earn bonus points in two ways:

Groups must make a concerted effort to meet - don't leave anyone out. The details for these activities and the organization of the groups may be obtained at Group Activities. I will notify you by email with the names of the others in your group after exam 1. You may meet face to face, by IM or by email, as agree upon by the group. Each time you meet (online or otherwise), send me a group report to get the extra credit.

Internet, Email and Audio and Video Connections

Taking this course online requires the minimum level of hardware.

Local students may gain access to direct high-capacity Internet connections in the computer labs (which will be equipped with UNIX computers with high level net-browser software such as NETSCAPE, and Real Player software). You will need inexpensive 'MP3/IPOD' earphones to be able to hear the audio in these labs. Some labs are open only to students in a particular college.

Access to the course homepage and to WebAssign requires a university 'unity' account (a unityid and password). This account is assigned automatically to all registerd students.

Most of the lessons will contain audio MP3 files. Any place you see the icon pictured to the left, you can click the icon and hear streaming audio. Any MP3 player should work.


I am currently adding video to many of the lessons. Where included, you will see this video button, which will link you to a recorded file that also will come to you as a streaming Quick-Time file. The latest edition of a Quick-Time player on your computer should work.


The university now communicates with you only using the NCSU email system ( If you are using commercial accounts (which is perfectly all right) and want to receive email at that location, you may request that your email be forwarded from your NCSU email account to your commercial email account. I MUST EMPHASIZE, HOWEVER, THAT TO GAIN ACCESS TO THIS COURSE PAGE AND/OR TO WEBASSIGN, YOU MUST USE YOUR ID & PASSWORD) - the system will not recognize your commercial email address.

This forwarding may be done as follows. Log on to a computer at the University (or one that accesses the NCSU server) and send email to using your NCSU email address (this is essential) and ask them to forward your NCSU email (give your full address) to your 'off-campus' address, whatever that is. Then you should be able to get copies of any NCSU email sent by you or received by you. When you make the request, send copy of email to me so that I can include your preferred email address in my files.

If you cannot get to campus and have an IMAP account you will have access to your email via from any computer anywhere connected to the internet. If you are still unable to send them an email making this request, you may call 515-4357 and they will see what can be done to remedy the situation. Once the link is established, you only have to renew it annually.

Sample Lesson

You may link to a sample of the first two parts of the lesson Ocean Circulation.

A Fun Beginning

A friend sent me this link ( for a very nicely done 8 min video about the deep ocean - look at it as a introduction to this course.

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

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, Morey 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 on the very last class period of the term, using the story of the discovery of these shrimp as an example of greatness of science and its use in the exploration of our ocean.