Ocean Sciences

Zumberge Hall of Science 117
(213) 740-6106
FAX: (213) 740-8801
Email: waite@usc.edu

Director: Douglas E. Hammond, Ph.D.

Participating Faculty: See Biological Sciences, Earth Sciences and Engineering in this catalogue.

Applications for the Ocean Sciences program should be routed through the affiliated departments and a separate letter sent to the Ocean Sciences Director, Douglas E. Hammond, USC Earth Sciences, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0740.

Degree Programs

The Graduate Program in Ocean Sciences (GPOS) provides interdisciplinary education and training to prepare professional ocean scientists for careers in academia, industry, and state and federal government. Students develop the ability to identify and solve significant problems in ocean sciences by using their training in several disciplines. They develop the ability to formulate and test hypotheses and integrate information and concepts about how the earth-ocean system is structured and how it functions. Training also is provided to develop skills in oral and written communication of technical and scientific information. Both M.S. and Ph.D. degree programs are offered; both require preparation of a thesis (M.S.) or dissertation (Ph.D.).

Admission Requirements

All rules and regulations described in the Graduate School and Graduate Admission apply to students in the GPOS.

Official acceptance by the GPOS Admissions Committee is based on the recommendation of faculty from an affiliated department. Acceptance depends upon the applicant’s letters of recommendation, research experience, intended area of research, personal interview (whenever possible), and the availability of a faculty member willing to advise and sponsor the applicant.

A B.S. or B.A. degree in an appropriate field of natural science, engineering or mathematics is required for admission.

It is expected that applicants to the GPOS will have attained a scholarship average of at least “B” (3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale) preferably in the natural sciences or mathematics. Applicants must have taken the GRE aptitude test (verbal and quantitative). Successful applicants typically score in excess of 600 on both verbal and quantitative parts of the exam.

Applicants should contact the GPOS office by email or phone for an admission package. The GPOS admits students for both the fall and spring semesters; however, applicants for assistantships are encouraged to apply for the fall semester.

Graduate Degrees

Degree Requirements

Advanced degrees are under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Refer to the Requirements for Graduation and the Graduate School for general regulations. All courses applied toward the degrees must be courses accepted by the Graduate School.

Master of Science in Ocean Sciences

The program does not accept applicants for a Master of Science degree in ocean sciences. The M.S. degree is intended only as a transitional degree in the process of completing requirements for the Ph.D. in ocean sciences.

Research Tool Requirements

None required.

Course Requirements

The M.S. degree in Ocean Sciences requires at least 24 units of course work, including two core courses (OS 512 and 582). Four thesis units (OS 594) are also required. At least 16 units of course work must be at the 500‑level or higher; no more than six units can be directed research (OS 590); a maximum of four units with superior grades in approved course work may be transferred from an accredited graduate school. Students are required to maintain an overall GPA of 3.0 in all graduate work.


Students should arrange for the appointment of a thesis adviser and committee after the first semester, or at the latest, after the first year of graduate work. The thesis committee should consist of the adviser plus two other faculty members, all of whom are generally selected from GPOS faculty. Once the committee is arranged, the student may make formal application to the Graduate School for the M.S. degree.

Doctor of Philosophy in Ocean Sciences

Research Tool Requirements

To be determined by guidance committee.

Course Requirements

The Ph.D. degree in Ocean Sciences requires at least 27 units of formal course work (including seminars) of the 60 total units needed. Two core courses are required (OS 512, OS 582). No more than 15 units of 400-level course work may be applied. A maximum of 30 units may be transferred from an accredited graduate school.

Students are required to maintain an overall GPA of 3.0 in all graduate work.

Students may request permission to take the Ph.D. qualifying examination on completion of 24 units of course work, including two core courses in Ocean Sciences.

Screening Procedure

Students in the Ph.D. program must pass the screening procedure before their 25th unit of graduate credit. Screening consists of a review of the student’s progress and is usually done by the GPOS Review Committee following a written recommendation by the student’s adviser(s). Screening occurs at the end of each semester.

Guidance Committee

The doctoral guidance committee is formed after the student has passed the screening procedure. The committee is appointed by the department with the advice of the student’s research adviser. The five-member committee consists of the adviser, a minimum of three other members from the GPOS faculty, and one additional tenure-track faculty member. The committee must include faculty members from more than one academic department. A tenure-track faculty member must serve as research adviser or co-adviser. The committee consults with the student, recommends an appropriate program of study and administers written and oral qualifying examinations.

Qualifying Examination

The student may request permission to take the Ph.D. qualifying examination upon completion of 24 units of course work, including two core courses in ocean sciences. The qualifying examination consists of a written and an oral part, both parts prepared, conducted and evaluated by the student’s examination committee. The written examination will consist of a number of questions given on two consecutive days. Questions will be comprehensive in scope with respect to the student’s chosen area of specialization and will be designed to test the student’s conceptual, analytical and integrative ability and preparation.

The written part of the qualifying examination must be taken before the oral examination. The oral examination will be in the area of the student’s intended research and will be based on a research project selected and developed by the student into a written proposition. The oral examination will be conducted and evaluated by the student’s examination committee. The oral examination must be taken within one month of the written examination.

Defense of the Dissertation

After the student has passed the qualifying examination, the guidance committee recommends to the Graduate School that the student be admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Following admission to candidacy the student must register for OS 794 Dissertation every semester, except summers, until the degree is awarded.

Once the qualifying examination is passed, the student is required, as soon as possible, to appoint a dissertation committee, using an appointment of committee form which can be found on the Graduate School Website (usc.edu/schools/GraduateSchool). All or some of the guidance committee may be nominated. Until a dissertation committee is appointed, the guidance committee will have responsibility for the student’s program of study. The student must undertake an original investigation of a problem in ocean sciences. The topic must be approved by the student’s dissertation committee and will usually be based on the written proposition presented in the qualifying examination.

A dissertation based on the student’s research must be approved by the student’s disserta-tion committee. The student must then defend the dissertation. The process for submission of the dissertation to the Graduate School can be found on the Graduate School Website under “Current Students – Thesis and Dissertations.” This process should be started approximately one month before the defense, and the student must allow adequate time after the defense for final copy preparation.

The dissertation must conform to the general regulations described in Regulations for Format and Presentation of Theses and Dissertations, also available from the Graduate School Website, Additional regulations and information on the organization and preparation of the dissertation are provided in Directions for Preparation of Dissertations and Research Reports as Required by the Graduate Program in Ocean Sciences/University of Southern California, available in the GPOS office.

Interdisciplinary Programs

The Graduate Program in Ocean Sciences is designed to be interdisciplinary, reflecting the nature of the field that combines principles of physical, chemical, geological and biological oceanography to solve relevant problems in the ocean environment.

Courses of Instruction

Ocean Sciences (OS)

The terms indicated are expected but are not guaranteed. For the courses offered during any given term, consult the Schedule of Classes.

OS 512 Introduction to Chemical and Physical Oceanography (3, 2 years, Fa) Principles of physical, chemical, and geological oceanography including discussions of air-sea interaction, biogeochemical cycling and the role of the ocean in modulating climate and atmospheric composition; discussion section will cover formulation of basic calculations that illustrate these principles. Prerequisite: CHEM 105bL, MATH 126.

OS 582 Advanced Biological Oceanography (4, Fa) (Enroll in BISC 582)

OS 590 Directed Research (1-12, FaSpSm) Research leading to the master’s degree. Maximum units which may be applied to the degree to be determined by the department. Graded CR/NC.

OS 594abz Master’s Thesis (2-2-0, FaSpSm) Credit on acceptance of thesis. Graded IP/CR/NC.

OS 599 Special Topics (2-4, max 8, Irregular) Course contents each semester will be selected to reflect current trends and new developments in the field of Ocean Sciences.

OS 790 Research (1-12, FaSpSm) Research leading to the doctorate. Maximum units which may be applied to the degree to be determined by the department. Graded CR/NC.

OS 794abcdz Doctoral Dissertation (2-2-2-2-0, FaSpSm) Credit on acceptance of dissertation. Graded IP/CR/NC.