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Academic Programs


The Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) of the University of Rhode Island offers instruction leading to the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), the Master of Science (MS) and the Master of Oceanography (MO) degrees in oceanography.  Students can focus on specific areas of oceanography - biological, chemical, geological, and physical - as well as in interdisciplinary and related areas such as atmospheric chemistry. In addition, joint degree programs are offered in Business Administration, and in Marine Affairs. Students in the MS and PhD programs typically concentrate in one of the four classical areas, and the courses and requirements differ among them. Those students who are interested in the MS or PhD degree programs at GSO should see the discipline-specific curricular information listed below. The MO program is a non-thesis degree for those students/professionals interested in a non-research career in oceanography.

Biological Oceanography


Biological oceanographers study the relationship between living organisms in the ocean and their environment. Students may choose from a wide variety of courses specializing in specific organism groups such as microbes, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and fish, as well as courses in the ecology of organism groups or ecosystems.




Marine and Atmospheric Chemistry

Chemical oceanographers study the chemical composition of seawater and how it is affected by physical mixing processes and by interactions with the atmosphere, the biosphere, and the sediments and rocks which form the seafloor. The most basic courses include chemical oceanography and the distribution of chemical species in seawater. Students may also specialize in the organic chemistry of seawater and sediments, physical chemistry of seawater, geochemistry of natural and artificial radionuclides, photochemical reactions in seawater, air-sea chemical interactions, and the chemical cycling of elements important to biological systems such as carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen.

Atmospheric Chemistry is a subdiscipline of chemical oceanography. The basic course, chemistry of the marine atmosphere, is supplemented by specialized classes in aerosols, gases and meteorology. Students may specialize in atmospheric transport, atmospheric pollution, or the reactions taking place in the atmosphere.


Marine Geology & Geophysics

Geological oceanographers study the composition, structure and processes associated with sedimentation and rock-forming processes in the ocean basins and within the Earth's interior.

Research opportunities exist for students interested in Marine Geophysics, Geodynamics, Volcanology, Geochemistry, Paleoceanography, Paleoclimatology, Environmental Magnetism, and Plate Tectonics.


Physical Oceanography


Physical oceanographers seek to understand the physical processes that govern the circulation of the ocean and the coupled atmosphere- ocean system. Research opportunities exist for students to apply state-of-the-art techniques in: satellite remote sensing; computer modeling of atmosphere and ocean processes; laboratory modeling of geophysical fluid dynamics; observational studies in air-sea interaction, mixing processes, or large-scale circulation --- often using unique instruments developed at GSO/URI. We attempt to engage students in ongoing research as soon as they arrive.




Master of Oceanography Degree

GSO offers the Master of Oceanography (MO). The MO degree is designed for those who desire an advanced degree in oceanography and who are working, or intend to work, in ocean environmental management and assessment, ocean industry, science writing, ocean policy and law, education and training, or related fields which don't require the level of research skills one develops while preparing an MS thesis.

The MO complements the MS and the PhD degrees in oceanography at the University of Rhode Island and is designed to appeal to and attract a different type of science student or science professional. The MO is a terminal science degree; those who want a master's degree as a step toward the PhD degree should choose the MS rather than the MO degree program. The objective of the MO degree is to provide a basic background in oceanography and, through electives, offer a limited but significant exposure to oceanographic research. It will also allow a full-time student to complete the program within one calendar year (with summer courses) or three semesters (without summer courses). This degree program will not provide all of the training required for those who plan a career in environmental management, policy, and related fields, but will give the background in oceanography for those who need it to become, for example, better ocean managers, ocean policy makers, or environmental lawyers. The one to one-and-a-half-year timetable is important because we see this degree as particularly valuable when combined with previous experience or training in marine environmental science or with another higher degree, such as a law degree or other master's degree.

The 5th-year Master of Oceanography (MO) program is designed for URI students who want to enter GSO’s MO program while still an undergraduate and complete the degree in the year following completion of the BS.


Dual Degree Programs



Master of Business Administration-Master of Oceanography


Climate change represents a major challenge and opportunity to a broad range of businesses and the global economy. In turn, there is a growing demand for leaders with skills in both business and science, particularly climate- related science. To address this need, a new program is being developed at URI that will merge the MBA with a Master of Oceanography (MBA–MO). The 16-month MBA–MO will provide tomorrow’s leaders with the knowledge and skills they need to develop business models to ensure an environmentally sustainable world for future generations.

The Blue MBA will train future leaders in the strategic management of global climate change. The degree will be particularly beneficial to those seeking management careers in industries such as energy, ocean technology and engineering, hazard risk management, water resources, fisheries, marine navigation and tourism, as well as ocean and human health.

Students will take courses in business, oceanography, and economics. Internships with businesses are also being planned as part of the curriculum.

Who Should Apply?

The MBA–MO is designed for students with a pure science, environmental science, or engineering undergraduate degree who want to develop their management skills and broaden their marketability. Students are expected to be successful in both GSO science courses and MBA courses.


Oceanography PhD - History M.A.


URI is now offering a dual degree program in which students simultaneously take an M.A. in History (Anthropology and Archaeology Option) and a Ph.D. in Oceanography. Six credits from each degree may be counted toward the degree requirements of the other, thus reducing the total requirements by 12 credits (i.e., 24+66 = 90 credits total). Students wishing to enroll in the Archaeological Oceanography Joint Degree Program must apply to be admitted both to the History Department's M.A. program (Anthropology and Archaeology Option) and to one of the four disciplines of the GSO Ph.D. program. They must therefore have strong preparation in both the Humanities and the Sciences.


Oceanography/Marine Affairs PhD/MMA


The Graduate School of Oceanography and the Department of Marine Affairs of the College of Environment and Life Sciences are offering a Joint Degree Program in which students simultaneously take an Oceanography Ph.D. and a Master of Marine Affairs (M.M.A.) degree. The program in Marine Affairs focuses on ocean/coastal management, policy, and law and the joint degree program will prepare scientists with policy knowledge and skills needed in many contemporary professional positions, both inside and outside of government. At the discretion of the cognizant Major Professor, up to six credits from each degree may be counted toward the degree requirements of the other, thus, reducing the total requirements by up to 12 credits (to 66 + 24 = 90). Students wishing to enroll in the Joint Degree Program must apply to be admitted to both the Marine Affairs Department's M.M.A. program and the GSO Ph.D. degree program. To ensure adequate marine experience, a student in the program may not be nominated for the M.M.A. degree until the comprehensive examinations in the oceanography doctoral program are successfully completed.