The Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL) in Liverpool, part of the National Oceanography Centre, has a long history of observation and scientific research, from the calibration of ship’s chronometers in the 1840s, through tidal prediction for the D-Day landings, right up to contemporary measurement of sea level change.

Dr Judith Wolf, visiting professor at Liverpool University, talked to students about her distinguished career as a physical oceanographer. Dr Wolf provided students with a first hand account of the diverse range of topics that ocean physics touches upon, and the way the physics of the ocean interacts with the ocean’s biology, chemistry and geology.

Students were introduced to the effect of waves eroding coastal geology and how erosion is changing as sea levels themselves change. Dr Wolf also presented her studies on the dispersion of fertiliser entering the ocean in river water, which can lead to the collapse of ecologies through ‘eutrophication’. This was investigated using computer models that combined the physics of ocean circulation with the response of ecological systems to chemical stimuli.

Dr Wolf’s observations on current and future ocean engineering projects to harness the UK’s vast potential for coastal electricity generation through wave and tidal action drew many detailed questions from her audience.

To put the need to understand more about our oceans into context, Dr Wolf ended her talk with discussion of the ‘ocean conveyor’ and its role in distributing heat globally through the deep oceans. While Dr Wolf allayed any fears of a ‘Day After Tomorrow’ collapse in circulation, she did emphasise that much remains to be discovered and understood by the next generation of oceanographers.