Graduate students can pursue the Graduate Certificate in Oceanography while earning a graduate degree at CU-Boulder or while taking coursework as a non-degree seeking student through Continuing Education’s ACCESS Program, provided they have already earned a bachelor’s degree and meet the course prerequisites. The Graduate Certificate In Oceanography is noted on the official CU transcript.

To earn a Certificate in Oceanography, students must take at least three qualifying oceanography courses (see below) passed with grade B or better. An independent study course may replace one of the qualifying oceanography courses.

Qualifying oceanography courses

  • ATOC 5051: Introduction to Physical Oceanography. Provides fundamental knowledge of observations, theory, dynamics and modeling in physical oceanography. Promotes critical thinking and the development of skills for data analysis and interpretation. Recommended prerequisites: one year of calculus-based physics and math up through differential equations. ATOC graduate core course. Offered once per year (3 credits).
  • ATOC 5060: Dynamics of the Atmosphere and Oceans.  Examines large-scale motions in a stratified rotating atmosphere and ocean, and quasi-geostrophic flow, barotropic and baroclinic instabilities, cyclogenesis, global circulations and boundary layer processes. Ageostrophic motions, including Kelvin waves, internal gravity waves and the theory of frontogenesis are also considered. Recommended prerequisite: ATOC 5050, one year of calculus-based physics and math up through differential equations.
  • ATOC 5061: Advanced Ocean Dynamics and Air-Sea Coupled ENSO Mechanisms. Explores the existing theories of the El Niño and Southern Oscillation (ENSO) ocean-atmosphere coupled mechanisms, theory of the thermocline in a quasi-geostrophic system, and dynamics of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Covers physical mechanisms, associated mathematical equations, and numerical model simulations. Discusses their direct research applications in understanding the past, present and future climate variability and change. Offered once per year. Recommended prerequisites: ATOC 5400, ATOC 5051 or ATOC 5060 and one year of calculus-based physics and math including differential equations.
  • ATOC 5200: Biogeochemical Oceanography. Provides a large-scale synthesis of the processes impacting ocean biogeochemistry. Transforms theoretical understanding into real-world applications using oceanographic data and models. Topics include:  chemical composition, biological nutrient utilization and productivity, air-sea gas exchange, carbonate chemistry, ocean acidification, ocean deoxygenation, iron fertilization, biogeochemical climate feedbacks, and much more. Same as ATOC 4200. Offered once per year (3 credits).
  • ATOC 5300: The Global Carbon Cycle. Covers the role of the ocean, terrestrial biosphere, and atmosphere in the global carbon cycle. Specific topics include marine carbonate chemistry, biological production, terrestrial fluxes, anthropogenic emissions, and the evolution of the global carbon cycle in a changing climate (3 credits).
  • ATOC 5730: Physical Oceanography and Climate. Introduces the field of physical oceanography, with emphasis on the ocean's interaction with the global atmosphere. Analysis of the ocean's heat, salt, and momentum budgets, wind-driven and thermohaline circulations, climate cycles including El Nino, and the ocean's role in climate change. Theory complemented by state-of-the-art observations and models. Department recommended prerequisites: ATOC 1060 or ATOC 3070 or ATOC 3600 and one semester of calculus. Same as ATOC 4730. Offered once per year (3 credits).
  • ASTR 5400: Introduction to Fluid Dynamics. Covers equations of fluid motion relevant to planetary atmospheres and oceans, as well as stellar atmospheres; effects of rotation and viscosity; and vorticity dynamics, boundary layers, and wave motions. Introduces instability theory, nonlinear equilibration, and computational methods in fluid dynamics (3 credits).
  • ASTR 5410: Fluid Instabilities, Waves, and Turbulence. Involves linear and nonlinear analyses of small-scale waves and instabilities in stratified fluids, with effects of rotation. Studies internal gravity and acoustic waves with terrestrial, planetary, and astrophysical applications. Also studies thermal and double-diffusive convection, homogeneous and stratified shear flow instabilities. Examines these topics from the onset of small amplitude disturbances to their nonlinear development and equilibration (3 credits).
  • GEOL 5270: Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry. Examines the chemical, biological, geological, and physical processes affecting (and affected by) the chemistry of the oceans. Topics include: chemical speciation in seawater; the marine carbon cycle and its long-term control on atmospheric CO2; the large-scale interdependence of nutrient distributions and biological productivity; chemical tracers of ocean circulation; and the chemistry of marine sediments, including early diagenesis. (3 credits)
  • GEOL 5430: Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology. Examines scientific tools, data, and theories related to the dramatically varied past climate of the Earth. Focus will be on marine records of climate change and ocean circulation, but ice core and continental archives will also be discussed. Course will cover the Cretaceous Period to the present, with particular emphasis on the past 150,000 years (the last ice age cycle). (3 credits)
  • Graduate Level INDEPENDENT STUDY (3 credits). Students are allowed to take an “independent study” course to replace one of the core courses. The students may choose any member from the Oceanography Certificate Coordinating Committee or any professor who contributes to teaching the core courses to complete the “independent study” course. It is subject to the Certificate Program Director’s approval if the students choose independent study advisors from someone other than the above list. The course should combine textbook knowledge with real research experience, and thus provide the students with some basic research experience in oceanography. The course will also increase choices for the students who wish to obtain research experience.

A few sample tracks satisfying the Certificate in Oceanography requirements: 

  • Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences Student: ATOC 5051 (Intro to Physical Oceanography), ATOC5060 (Dynamics of atmospheres and oceans), ASTR 5400 (Intro to Fluid Dynamics), GEOL 5270 (Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry). 
  • Applied Math Hydrodynamicist: ATOC 5051 (Intro to Physical Oceanography), ASTR 5400 (Intro to Fluid Dynamics), ATOC 5060 (Dynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans), ASTR 5410 (Fluid Instabilities, Waves, and Turbulence). 
  • Aerospace Engineer Remote Sensing of the Ocean: ATOC 5051 (Intro to Physical Oceanography), ATOC5730 (Physical Oceanography and Climate), ATOC 5061 (Advanced ocean dynamics & ENSO mechanisms). 
  • Geology Paleoceanographer: GEOL 5270 (Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry), ATOC 5051 (Intro to Physical Oceanography), GEOL 5430 (Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology), ATOC 5061 (Advanced ocean dynamics & ENSO mechanisms). 
  • Ocean Geographer: ATOC 5730 (Physical Oceanography and Climate), GEOL 5270 (Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry), ATOC 5051 (Intro to Physical Oceanography).

Faculty members that participate in the Certificate in Oceanography program:

  • DiNezio, Pedro (Associate Professor, ATOC)
  • Giglio, Donata (Assistant Professor, ATOC)
  • Han, Weiqing (Professor, ATOC)
  • Jahn, Alexandra (Assistant Professor, ATOC/INSTAAR)
  • Karnauskas, Kristopher (Associate Professor, ATOC)
  • Lovenduski, Nicole (Associate Professor, ATOC)
  • Marchitto, Tom (Professor, INSTAAR)
  • Moriarty, Julia (Assistant Professor, ATOC/INSTAAR)
  • Subramanian, Aneesh (Assistant Professor, ATOC)
  • Weiss, Jeffrey (Professor, ATOC)

Students interested in pursuing a Graduate Certificiate in Oceanography should contact in order to start the process of declaring or completing the certificate.  For more information or questions about the certificate, please contact the Program Director, Dr. Donata Giglio (

Past Coordinating Committee & Faculty Members:

  • Emery, William (Professor, ASEN)
  • Kantha, Lakshmi (Professor, ASEN)
  • Leben, Robert (Research Professor, ASEN)
  • Syvitiski, James (Professor, INSTAAR)

Program Director Elect:


  • Donata Giglio: 01/01/2022 - 12/31/2023
  • Julia Moriarty: 01/01/2024 - 12/31/2025
  • Aneesh Subramanian: 01/01/2026-12/31/2027