What is an Oceanographer?

What Is Oceanography?

Oceanography is the study of the ocean and all its complex relationships with the planet. This includes the study of weather, ocean currents, and sea life, and every other topic associated with the ocean.

What Does an Oceanographer Do?

An oceanographer is a special kind of scientist who studies the ocean. The oceans are a large environment, and so the science of oceanography must be just as large. Oceanographers study every different aspect of the ocean, such as the chemistry of the of ocean water, the geology associated with the ocean, the physical movements of the ocean water, or even the life that calls the ocean its home. As humans have come to populate most corners of the globe, our impact on the oceans is stressing their ability to continue operating normally. Healthy oceans are crucially important to maintaining a healthy planet. Oceanographers are some of the most important climate researchers in the fight to mitigate the effects of climate change, overpopulation, and overfishing.

Regardless which field an oceanographer selects as their primary studies, they will still need to comprehend the other aspects of oceanography. Many discoveries made in the field of oceanography are the product of multidisciplinary and comprehensive efforts involving oceanographers from all from branches of the science.

  • Marine biologists are oceanographers that study marine ecosystems and their inhabitants. This can involve working with research animals or taking trips into the ocean to perform different experiments, collect data, or track the animals.
  • Physical oceanographers are more concerned with studying the movements of the oceans, in the waves and currents and tides that move the water itself.
  • Chemical oceanographers monitor the chemical composition of the ocean water to better understand how they shape the planet. They may study pollution or help find naturally-occurring resources on the seafloor.
  • Geological oceanographers focus on studying the ocean's floor. They may study undersea volcanic activity and its relation to the movement of tectonic plates or the deep oceanic trenches that plunge thousands of feet.

Where Does an Oceanographer Work?

The oceans cover nearly 70% of the Earth, comprising the majority of the planet's biosphere. Fieldwork is critical to an oceanographer's line of work, meaning that oceanographers will often find themselves working on the ocean or in areas that contact the ocean. Since the ocean impacts the global climate and the overall health of our planet, oceanographers may find themselves investigating the ocean's impact on places far from the ocean. Ocean scientists often have to travel extensively, doing physical tasks and encountering risky organisms or scenarios that test all of their skills.

The day to day duties of oceanographers can vary widely, however, every activity they perform is related to their primary task: research. Oceanographers spend lots of time conducting research, which means reading many pages of studies, running experiments, collecting data, and then writing about their results and sharing their findings with the world. Lots of this work is done in a laboratory, but in order to study the ocean, a researcher must spend time in the water, on the water, or near the water. Some oceanographers learn to SCUBA dive, others spend time on a boat or in a submersible in order to collect data. Many oceanographers work at institutions around the world where they spend plenty of time lecturing or teaching about the ocean. Obviously, many of the most reputable oceanographic institutions are located near the coastline. They pass on their knowledge to new student scientists who are training to become tomorrow's oceanographers.

Sponsored Content

What Is the Average Salary for an Oceanographer?

The median pay for geoscientists such as oceanographers was $93,580 per year.* The pay for geoscientists varies according to the industry of employment, with employees in the oil and gas extraction industry making the most, followed by federal government employees and engineering service employees.

StateTotal EmploymentBottom 25%Median SalaryTop 75%
New Hampshire100$62,450$79,730$105,400
New Jersey200$71,920$89,660$117,450
New Mexico330$58,220$71,030$96,800
New York660$59,000$74,040$92,630
North Carolina390$55,490$67,350$85,590
North Dakota100$62,660$80,910$113,630
Rhode Island100---
South Carolina170$55,550$66,130$89,390
South Dakota100$59,250$67,970$76,930
West Virginia110$65,640$78,610$95,160

Table data taken from BLS (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes192042.htm)

Oceanography Jobs & Job Description

Oceanography jobs focus on the science of analyzing the oceans: their geographical and marine parameters, the motion and the composition of their waters, biological components, and the management of their resources. Jobs do vary significantly, but all oceanographers should be familiar with performing the tasks on the list below:

  • Design observational programs including measurement, preparation and mobilization as well as the collection of field observations
  • Measure currents, waves, tides, and other fluid movement
  • Use satellite data for data collection such as sea temperature, currents, wave heights and patterning, and wind speeds
  • Use computer instruments and sampling devices to analyze the populations and activities of marine organisms of all sizes
  • Measure temperature, salt and gas concentrations
  • Prepare reports that include technical methodology and analysis results
  • Assist with oceanographic instrumentation system design, specification, construction, and documentation
  • Engage in marketing and communications with external stakeholders
  • Perform domestic and international field missions
  • Complete projects within budget and schedule restraints

Senior-level oceanographers often have an opportunity to work in a team lead or managerial capacity. Their expanded skillset often contains additional tasks like those below:

  • Use predictive computer models to describe various oceanic factors may respond to climate change
  • Prepare technical reports; publish research results and present research at seminars, conferences, and lectures for national and international stakeholders
  • Consult with policymakers regarding relevant developments in oceanography
  • Foster a positive and safe work environment for colleagues and technicians
  • Draft and manage schedules and budgetary timelines
  • Navigate federal and international procedures, regulations, and best practices
  • Support and lead oceanographic data acquisition and analysis projects
  • Develop and verify computer models to aid in process analysis
  • Assist and coordinate proposal efforts to secure funding
  • Supervise technicians and other staff in line with project goals
  • Engage in archiving and documentation of program data and samples

What Is the Job Demand for Oceanographers?

The job market for geoscientists, or any scientist that studies the earth, is expected to grow by 7% between 2020 and 2030.* Natural resource companies in the petroleum or gas industry are likely to provide a reliable source of employment for geoscientists, including oceanographers. Research and governmental institutes who work to provide environmental protection and water management will also contribute to the rise in demand for oceanographers.

An oceanographer can find work all over the planet, either with large governments or academic institutions or for a corporation. Even if oceanographers are based in one country, they may travel to new locales for various job duties.

Sponsored Content

What Are Some Oceanography Degree Requirements?

Oceanographers usually receive a background education in biology, physics, chemistry, and geology, but they generally go on to focus their research within one field or the other. There are a few schools that offer undergraduate Bachelor's degrees in marine biology, however, most oceanographers further their study before seeking work. Usually, there are internships and assistant-level positions available for those with only undergraduate degrees. To get a more prominent position as an oceanographer, students usually go on to acquire a Master's or PhD level education before become ocean scientists. However, the undergraduate period allows a student to acquire experience all the chemistry, biology, and physics basis that allow them to build upon their studies with more advanced topics in oceanography.

Other Degrees Related to Oceanography

What Kind of Societies or Professional Organizations Do Oceanographers Have?

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric and Administration (NOAA) a United States government organization tasked with studying the atmosphere, ocean, and coasts and informing the citizens of the United States of their findings. This organization maintains a strong web presence and is a useful source of information regarding oceanic and atmospheric science and industry.

Other Recommend Resources

*2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for geoscientists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.