Environmental Engineering and the Ocean


This is an environmental engineering course for middle and high school students that is focused on ocean systems, marine science, and technology. It is an ideal course for a middle school or high school student looking to gain exposure to environmental engineering concepts and practices who also has a strong interest in marine science and oceanography.

We’ll begin with a deep dive into ocean systems and marine science, with a strong emphasis on the physics and ecology of the ocean, including models used to predict currents and waves and ecological cycles. We’ll also do an overview of historical engineering projects related to the ocean, including seawalls, canals, and other mega structures designed to control, conserve, or derive value from the sea. Eventually, we’ll spend time looking at emerging ocean technologies and some exciting work being done to improve, conserve, and preserve ocean systems.


In this course, we will explore the various fields and sub-fields that operate in the ocean system, explore how the ocean is impacted by the ways humans explore and exploit the oceans. Readings, videos, and research will focus on the scientific, economic and social motivations, risks, and impacts human activity has had in ocean systems, and teach the science used to define/measure those topics. Together we’ll explore how scientists research and monitor ocean systems (eg. pollution, animal populations, predator prey models, biodiversity, biological turnover, etc.) with instrumentation, mathematical, and historical models.

Technology Exposure

We will cover a range of different technology that operate in the ocean zone, and how humans have been working to shape and modify the ocean for thousands of years, both passively and actively with technology. We will consider a wide range of topics including materials, construction, exploration, and related fields that align with student interests or the direction they seem most drawn to. We’ll get some exposure to a number of exciting carbon absorption projects that utilize the ocean as a massive carbon sink.

Hands-On Projects

Eventually we’ll get our hands dirty with some project-based learning. This will be a student-driven part of the course, in which the student will pick a topic or idea or technology that interests them, and we’ll build a project around that. Through hands-on work we’ll learn valuable engineering skills like how to build a prototype or model, how to present an idea, and how to test that idea in the real world. Mostly likely we’ll gain exposure to common engineering modeling software, like FreeCAD, which we’ll use to build our prototype and gain practical experience in creating digital representations of complex structures. Another project option is the creation of desktop models of ocean vessels and infrastructure. This hands-on approach allows students to explore physical modeling techniques, replicas of real-life ocean engineering structures.

Excursions and Other Possible Activities

During this course we might make in person visits to research facilities like Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and gain access to scientists and engineers who have worked on ocean technology. We may also make a trip to a beach or wetland as part of our studies of the ocean/human interaction zone. 

Classroom Model

In order to optimize classroom time and engagement, the course will follow a quasi flipped classroom model in which much of the material will be pre-recorded in order to consume ahead of class, preserving one-to-one time for discussion, inquiry, and exploration, including hands-on activities such as drawing and modeling. Lectures will be balanced with interactive discourse sessions, where the student’s homework and related topics will be explored in-depth.

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