Biological Oceanography (BO)

Biological Oceanography is concerned with the interactions of populations of marine organisms with one another and with their physical and chemical environment. Because these interactions are frequently complex, and because the concepts and techniques used are drawn from many fields, biological oceanography is, of necessity, interdisciplinary. Therefore, studies in physical oceanography, marine chemistry, marine geology, and several biological areas are pertinent.

Research is conducted on space/time scales ranging from short-term interactions between individual organisms (mm., sec.) to interdecadal variation in widely dispersed populations. The techniques used in these investigations are diverse, and even within one space/time domain can include field observation, experimentation in the laboratory, and mathematical modeling.

Research topics include:

  • Primary and secondary productivity and nutrient regeneration
  • Fishery biology and management
  • Community ecology of benthic and pelagic organisms
  • Population dynamics, habitat changes and disruptions
  • Systematics and biogeography
  • Population genetics and evolution
  • Behavior as it affects distribution

Development and testing of new tools (molecular, optical, acoustic), design of sampling programs, and statistical/mathematical analyses of data also are significant activities.

Requirements for Admission

In addition to the general requirements for admission to the PhD program listed here, two years of chemistry, including general and organic chemistry, and a year of general biology are required.  Physical chemistry requiring calculus may be substituted for physics requiring calculus where a more elementary physics course was taken.  Zoology or botany may be substituted for general biology.

Preparation should also include a course in general geology and at least one course in each of the following categories: systematics (e.g., invertebrate zoology), population biology (e.g., ecology), functional biology (e.g., physiology).

In special cases, other advanced courses in mathematics or natural sciences may be substituted. Biological oceanography applicants are encouraged, but not required, to submit scores from the biology subject test of the GRE.

Program of Study


Students admitted to the Ocean Biosciences Program (OBP) are assigned an adviser, who is the chair of their three-person guidance committee. Students are assigned to a curricular group based on their interests. Although students may change curricular groups near the beginning of the year, they must commit to a curricular group early on because this determines which departmental exam they will take. The biological oceanography departmental exam is an oral exam based on first year course work and is administered after or near the end of spring quarter.

During the year, students may be supported in a variety of ways. After the first year, the guidance committee is dissolved and the research adviser, and eventually the dissertation committee, provide guidance.

Students in Biological Oceanography will be expected to be familiar with the material presented in the following courses: SIO 210, 240, 260, 270 or 270A, 275A or 277, 280, and at least one of SIO 271, 282, or 294. Other course work ordinarily will be recommended by the student’s guidance committee, usually including SIO 278 (or equivalent participatory seminar) one quarter each year, a course in introductory parametric statistics, and at least one advanced-level course in physical, chemical, or geological oceanography. Participation in an oceanographic cruise (minimum of two weeks’ duration) and service as a teaching assistant (one quarter) are required.


Required course work:

  • SIO 210. Physical Oceanography (4 units)
  • SIO 260. Marine Chemistry (4 units)
  • SIO 280. Biological Oceanography (4 units)
  • One of the following:
    SIO 240. Marine Geology (4 units)
    SIO 255. Paleobiology and History of Life (6 units)
  • One of the following:
    SIO 270. Pelagic Ecology (4 units)
    SIO 270A. Fisheries Oceanography (4 units)
    SIO 275A. Benthic Ecology (4 units)
    SIO 277. Deep-Sea Biology (4 units)
  • One of the following:
    SIO 271. Marine Zooplankton (5 units)
    SIO 282. Phytoplankton Diversity (4 units)
    SIO 283. Phycology: Marine Plant Biology (5 units)
    SIO 284. Marine Invertebrates (6 units)
    SIO 294. Biology of Fishes (5 units)
    SIO 296. Marine Tetrapods (4 units)

Elective course work:

Other course work required for the Plan II masters will be recommended by the student’s guidance committee, usually including one quarter of SIO 278, Seminar in Ocean Biosciences (or equivalent participatory seminar), each quarter; a course in introductory parametric statistics; and at least one advanced-level course in physical, chemical, or geological oceanography.

Research in Biological Oceanography

Of the sixteen categories of research at Scripps, the BO group is most closely associated with the following integrated research themes:

Biological Oceanography Faculty and Researchers: