MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Joint Program in Oceanography

Professor Edward A. Boyle, Director
Degrees Offered: S.M., Sc. D., Ph.D.

Considered one of the top two marine science programs in the world, the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Joint Program in Oceanography attracts students who believe that an improved understanding of the oceans—and the interactions of the oceans with the atmosphere, land, and human civilization—is essential to inform policies that will ensure a better quality of life for present and future generations.

Together, the two institutions have created one of the largest oceanographic facilities in the world, offering joint doctoral and professional degrees in oceanography and applied ocean science and engineering. Graduate study in oceanography encompasses virtually all of the basic sciences as they apply to the marine environment: physics, chemistry, geochemistry, geology, geophysics, and biology. In partnership with EAPS, WHOI offers degrees in chemical oceanography, physical oceanography, and marine geology and geophysics.

The Joint Program’s world-class field research capabilities provide students with unparalleled opportunities to conduct their work at sea. WHOI supports one of the largest research fleets in the United States—a fleet that includes Atlantis, one of the nation’s newest research vessels, and Alvin, a deep-sea submersible.

EAPS and MIT/WHOI Program Options

Biological Oceanography – Biological oceanography is the study of life in the oceans—the distribution, abundance, and production of marine species along with the processes that govern species' spread and development.  Biological oceanographers study chemical and physical factors influencing distribution patterns; physiological, behavioral, and biochemical adaptations to environmental variables, including natural variations in food, temperature, pressure, light, and the chemical environment; food chain dynamics; nutrient cycling and initial steps of chemical energy fixation and; responses to the results of man's activities in the oceans.  In this broad range of work, you can see the many faces of biological oceanography. Answering research questions may require studies in microbiology, planktonology, ichthyology, benthic biology, taxonomy, ecology, biogeochemistry, cell biology, physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, animal behavior, bioacoustics, and applied mathematics.  In the Joint Program, investigators in many disciplines work together with a unified goal of understanding the interactions between organisms and between organisms and the environment. The chemical and physical processes that influence species distribution and abundance are an integral part of biological oceanography. Likewise, biological processes in the oceans influence the chemistry of the seas, sediments, and even the atmosphere on local and global scales.

Chemical Oceanography - Inorganic, organic, radioactive, and stable isotopic geochemistries are used as tools to understand: the ocean, its sediments, and the seafloor crust as a biogeochemical system; the role of this system in regulating climate change; and its impact on the geological evolution of the Earth. Elemental chemical variability and speciation are used to establish anthropogenic impact on ocean chemistry and the role of trace metals in the nutrition of marine organisms. Beginning with weathering, global biochemical cycles are followed from rain, rivers, and groundwaters into the ocean, and their subsequent fate in sediments and seafloor hydrothermal systems is studied. Biomarker molecules are used to trace the early history of the Earth, ice age climate history, and the fate of biogenic compounds as they are transformed by microbes in the ocean and sediments. Radioactive isotopes are used to quantify rates of processes in the marine system and establish reliable geochronologies of sedimentary and other climate archives. Stable isotope ratios of elements ranging from hydrogen, helium and other noble gases, carbon, nitrogen, and trace metals such as iron, zinc, and molybdenum are all under active investigation. Field work takes place on continents, coastal vessels, and open-ocean research vessels; computer modeling and interpretation of this data is integral to this effort.

Marine Geology and Geophysics - The program includes the study of coastal areas and near-shore environments, geochemistry to study the geosystems in ocean basins, tectonics of ocean basins, paleoclimatology, and paleoceanography

Physical Oceanography - The program covers a wide range of physical oceanography research and includes modeling, theory, observations of the ocean at sea and from space, and laboratory models. Students explore the ocean’s general circulation, mixing processes, and coastal and upper ocean processes. Recent PAOC research in this field includes: the construction of the first three-dimensional time-evolving estimates of the oceanic general circulation, employing both a new numerical model and global observations; the role of mesoscale eddies in the ocean circulation and their interactions with biological fields; deep convection and thermohaline circulation; and the study of the interactions of the tropical oceans with mid-latitudes.

More information: MIT/WHOI Joint Program