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Marine Pollution (OCB-5930, OCE-4930)

Introduction and course description:

Every single drop of the 1.4x10 9 km 3 of ocean water contains traces of substances produced by humans, and some of these materials are toxic. The activities and contaminants generated by the 6.7 billion people that populate our planet today have dramatic effects on the physics, chemistry and biology of the oceans: we change the sea water level, wave heights and ocean temperature, alter the pH, CO 2 content and dump non-degradable pollutants, deplete fish stocks, eradicate coral reefs and wipe out marine species at unprecedented pace. Continuous growth of the human population, expected to reach 8 billion people by 2025, will increase environmental pressure on all marine ecosystems with unpredictable consequences.

Any effective approach to release some of that pressure and to solve marine pollution problems requires profound knowledge of the processes involved and the limitations of corrective measures. This course introduces the student to the complex aspects of marine pollution. We will address sources and types of contaminants, their impact on the marine ecosystems and discuss approaches that could lead to the reduction or elimination of pollutants.

Pollution is a central factor affecting marine resources, ocean productivity and global climate. Marine pollution thus is a problem that is not restricted to the oceans but affects all aspects of life on our planet, from influencing human health to controlling global economy. This makes the study of marine pollution and important task regardless of your future career goals.


Six weeks before it hosted the Olympic sailing regatta 2008, the city of Qingdao , China , mobilized thousands of people and an armada of small boats to clean up an algal bloom choking the coastline and threatening to impede the competition. The algal bloom is caused by coastal eutrophication. Picture: EyePress, via Associated Press

Learning objectives:

At the end of this course, you will be able to

  • explain the different types of negative anthropogenic impacts on the global oceans including physical, chemical and biological processes.
  • characterize sources and effects of pollutants on the marine environment
  • examine pathways of contaminants through marine ecosystems and food webs.
  • understand the methods used to assess and quantify marine pollution
  • explain strategies designed to reduce marine pollution
  • understand the complexity of the marine pollution problem and the impact of our behavior
  • connect the term “marine pollution” to facts and a thorough mechanistic understanding permitting effective discussions and decision making.

Course format:

The course includes lectures and discussions of research articles. The lectures are based on the primary literature, with attention given to active areas of research. The material will be presented by the instructor and students using Power Point lectures.