Ocean science is for everyone.

In Hawaiʻi, we know the importance of understanding the ocean. The ocean brings weather. It provides food. It's where we go to relax! But understanding the ocean isn't just for people living on islands and coastlines. The ocean affects everyone—whether they know it or not—and ocean science has never been more important due to the ocean's key role in climate change.

OCN 201 is a course designed to bring the wide world of oceanography to students from any background. There are no prerequisites. Just bring your curiosity and appreciation for the ocean. You will learn the basics of ocean science across a wide range of topics and find out how amazing—and often strange!—the ocean is.

Fall 2021 registration information
  • CRN 81455 (MWF 10:30–11:20am), 3 credits
  • CRN 81879 (MWF 12:30–1:20pm), 3 credits
  • Optional lab CRNs: 79859, 81880, 79860, 80827, 80665
UH Mānoa General Education (GE) requirements
  • OCN 201 satisfies the Physical Science GE requirement (DP)
  • The optional lab course (OCN 201L) satisfies the Laboratory GE requirement (DY)

OCN 201 spans the ocean sciences.

Oceanography encompasses a wide range of scientific disciplines, all of which are interconnected. The geochemical, physical, and biological characteristics of the ocean all affect each other, which means you can't study one without considering the others. For this reason, we call the field of oceanography interdisciplinary.

In OCN 201, you will learn the basics of each discpline while making connections between the discplines along the way. Most of the topics covered are listed below. In the last module, we bring it all together and explore one of the most interdisciplnary (and most important) aspects of ocean science: climate change.



  • Planetary motion
  • Formation of matter
  • Ocean formation
  • Earth's layers
  • Plate tectonics
  • Features of the seafloor
  • Seafloor spreading
  • Sediments and coastal processes


  • Role of the sun
  • Ocean nutrients
  • Deep ocean circulation
  • Atmospheric circulation
  • Coriolis effect
  • Ocean gyres
  • El Niño
  • Surface waves
  • Tides


  • Evolution of life
  • Marine habitats
  • Marine plankton
  • Marine bacteria and viruses
  • Marine invertebrates
  • Marine vertebrates
  • Ocean food webs
  • Coral reef communities
  • Deep-sea communities

Climate Change

  • Carbon cycle
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Sea level rise
  • Ocean warming
  • Ocean acidification
  • Ocean pollution
  • Effects on marine life
  • Climate solutions

OCN 201 is a highly organized online class.

The OCN 201 instructors worked hard to produce an online class that is convenient, engaging, and challenging. All course content, quizzes, and exams are hosted on Laulima (no textbook needed). The course itself is organized into eight modules, each covering a series of topics with a unifying theme. Complete details can be found in the syllabus.

8 course modules

Most modules span two weeks of the semester. Each module contains the following components.

Mini-lectures and quizzes

Video mini-lectures, readings, and quizzes are completed asynchronously at your own pace, but quizzes do have specific due dates to keep you on track.

Discussion section

One synchronous discussion section per module (conducted via Zoom) offers the chance for students to engage with each other over a relevant topic connected to ocean science. These sections are led by course TAs and cover interesting topics such as Polynesian navigation, sea level rise, and ocean garbage patches.


Each module culminates with an exam given via Laulima. Exams are open book and open notes, but you will need to study in order to complete the exam within the allotted time. The final exam is not cumulative and only covers the final module.


OCN 201 instructors are active ocean scientists.

All OCN 201 instructors are actively engaged in cutting-edge ocean research. The lead instructor and content developers for each course module are experts in the relevant sub-disciplines of oceanography.

The course is administered by three instructors per semester—one in each of the following areas of expertise: Marine Geology and Geochemistry, Physical Oceanography, and Biologicial Oceanography.

Fall Instructors


Nick Hawco

Marine Geology and Geochemistry

Nutrient limitation and trace metal cycles


Glenn Carter

Physical Oceanography

Ocean mixing and tides


Grieg Steward

Biological Oceanography

Marine virology

Spring Instructors


Seth Bushinsky

Marine Geology and Geochemistry

Oxygen and carbon cycles


Phil Thompson

Physical Oceanography

Sea level rise and variability


Erica Goetze

Biological Oceanography

Plankton ecology


The details

To learn more about the details of how the class is administered—e.g., exam format, how grades are calculated, etc.—check out the recent syllabus posted below.