Who Are Oceanographers | What Do they Do

Have you ever wondered what lies beneath the vast, mysterious expanse of the ocean? How do we explore it and understand its complex ecosystem? Well, enter the world of oceanographers! These scientific explorers live to unravel the ocean’s secrets, from its depths to its surface and everything in between.

They are the ones who study and observe the oceans’ physical, chemical, and biological properties, helping us understand the vital role they play in our planet’s health.

So, let’s dive into the fascinating world of oceanography and discover who these oceanographers are and what they do!

What Is Oceanography?

Oceanography is a multidisciplinary scientific field that studies the physical, chemical, geological, and biological aspects of the world’s oceans, seas, and other bodies of water. It is a vast field encompassing various sub-disciplines, including marine biology, ocean physics, marine geology, and ocean engineering.

Oceanographers utilize a range of techniques and tools to study the ocean, including satellites, buoys, and research vessels, to understand the complex processes and dynamics of the ocean.

Oceanography has been studied since ancient times when interested sailors and explorers wanted to learn more about the ocean and its inhabitants.

However, the modern era of oceanography began with the HMS Challenger oceanographic expedition in 1872. Since then, oceanography has become a vital field of study, helping us better understand the ocean and its role in shaping the Earth’s climate and environment.

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How To Become An Oceanographer?

Becoming an oceanographer requires a solid educational background in the sciences and a passion for studying the ocean and its complex ecosystem. Here are some steps you can take to become an oceanographer:

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

To become an oceanographer, you must earn at least a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. Fields like marine biology, oceanography, geology, physics, chemistry, or environmental science should be on your radar.

During your undergraduate studies, you’ll take courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and math and courses specific to your field of study.

Step 2: Gain Research Experience

Research experience is essential for oceanographers, and many colleges and universities offer research opportunities for undergraduate students. Working as a research assistant or intern will provide you with hands-on experience in the field and exposure to various research techniques and tools.

Step 3: Pursue a Graduate Degree

A Master’s or Ph.D. degree is usually a pre-requisite for advanced positions in oceanography, such as research scientist or professor. Graduate programs in oceanography typically focus on a specific sub-discipline like marine biology.

Step 4: Gain Practical Experience

Practical experience is also essential for oceanographers; internships or volunteer work can help you gain valuable field experience. Many organizations, such as government agencies, research institutes, and nonprofit organizations, offer internships and volunteer opportunities for aspiring oceanographers.

Step 5: Build a Professional Network

 Building a professional network is crucial for finding job opportunities and advancing your oceanographer career. Joining professional organizations, attending conferences and workshops, and networking with other oceanographers can help you build connections and gain exposure to new research and job opportunities.

Step 6: Consider Certification and Licensing

Certification and licensing are not compulsory for oceanographers. But they can demonstrate your expertise and enhance your job prospects. The National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML) offers a certification program for marine scientists, which requires a minimum of five years of professional experience and passing an exam.

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What Do Oceanographers Really Do?

Oceanographers are scientists who study the ocean and its complex ecosystem. They use various techniques and tools to investigate the ocean’s physical, chemical, geological, and biological processes. Here are some of the things that oceanographers do:

Conduct Fieldwork

Oceanographers conduct fieldwork to collect data and samples from the ocean. They may use ships, buoys, gliders, or underwater vehicles to gather information about the ocean’s currents, waves, tides, and ecosystem.

Analyze Data

Oceanographers analyze the data they collect from the ocean using mathematical models, computer simulations, and statistical analysis. They use this information to identify patterns, trends, and relationships in the data and to develop hypotheses about the ocean’s behavior.

Conduct Laboratory Experiments

 Oceanographers conduct laboratory experiments to study the physical, chemical, and biological processes that occur in the ocean. They use specialized equipment and techniques to simulate conditions found in the ocean and to study the behavior of marine organisms.

Develop and Test Instrumentation

Oceanographers develop and test new tools and instrumentation to study the ocean. They may design new sensors, buoys, or underwater vehicles to gather ocean data or create new analysis techniques.

Collaborate with Other Scientists

 Oceanographers often work in interdisciplinary teams with scientists. They can collaborate with scientists from other fields, such as meteorology, geology, and biology. Oceanographers collaborate to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the ocean and to address complex scientific questions.

Communicate Research Findings

Oceanographers communicate their research findings through scientific publications, conference presentations, and collaborations with other scientists. They also share their results with policymakers, the media, and the general public to help inform decision-making related to the ocean and its resources.

Teach and Mentor

Oceanographers teach and mentor students at all levels, from K-12 to graduate school. They share their knowledge and expertise with the next generation of oceanographers and help inspire and guide future research.

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How Much Do Oceanographers Earn?

The salary for oceanographers can vary depending on the level of education, experience, and industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for geoscientists, including oceanographers, is $93,580. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,480, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $195,840.

In academia, the salary for oceanographers varies depending on the institution type and their experience level.

In the private sector, the salary for oceanographers varies depending on the industry they work in. According to Glassdoor, the median salary for oceanographers working in the oil and gas industry was $87,700 as of March 2023. According to their degree of expertise and the projects they work on, oceanographers working in consulting businesses may expect to earn comparable compensation.

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Career Options For Oceanographers

Oceanography is a broad field encompassing the ocean’s physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects. As such, many job opportunities are available to oceanographers, depending on their interests, education, and skillset. Here are five potential career paths for oceanographers:

#1. Marine Scientist

Marine science is a multidisciplinary field that studies marine organisms, their interactions with their environment, and the broader marine ecosystem. As such, it is an ideal career path for oceanographers with a strong interest in marine biology.

Marine scientists may work for government agencies, academic institutions, or private research organizations, researching marine biodiversity, fisheries management, ocean acidification, and marine conservation. They may also be involved in developing policies and strategies for managing marine resources.

#2. Environmental Consultant

Environmental consultants are hired by various clients, including government agencies, corporations, and nonprofit organizations, to provide expert advice on environmental issues. As an oceanographer, you could specialize in marine and coastal environments and work on projects such as assessing the environmental impact of a new offshore oil rig or developing a plan for managing coastal erosion.

Environmental consultants may also be involved in environmental remediation and restoration projects, such as cleaning up oil spills or restoring degraded wetlands.

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#3. Science Writer

Science writers are responsible for communicating complex scientific concepts and research findings to a broader audience, such as the general public, policymakers, or industry professionals.

As an oceanographer, you could specialize in science writing and work for various media outlets, such as newspapers, magazines, or online publications. You could also work for government agencies or nonprofit organizations, producing reports, press releases, or educational materials about marine science and conservation.

#4. Ocean Engineer

Ocean engineers are responsible for designing and building equipment and structures that can operate in challenging marine environments. As an oceanographer with a background in engineering, you could specialize in designing and building.

Your designs can include research vessels, underwater vehicles, oceanographic sensors, and instrumentation.

You could work for government agencies, academic institutions, or private companies and may be involved in various projects, from developing new technologies for deep-sea exploration to designing offshore wind farms or underwater pipelines.

#5. Marine Biology

Marine biology is a common career path for oceanographers interested in the study of marine creatures and their interactions with the marine environment. As a marine biologist, you’d study marine life’s behavior, ecology, and evolution, from small plankton to massive whales.

Marine biologists may gather and analyze data on marine species and their environments in research facilities, field stations, or aboard research vessels. This study may include watching marine species in their native habitat, doing laboratory experiments, or analyzing satellite data and other remote sensing technology.

Marine biologists may also engage in public outreach and education, teaching students and the general public about marine science and conservation and raising awareness of ocean-related environmental concerns.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is oceanography?

Oceanography is the scientific study of the ocean, including its physical, chemical, biological, and geological properties and the processes that shape it.

What kind of education do I need to become an oceanographer?

You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as oceanography, marine biology, geology, or environmental science. A graduate degree, such as a master’s or Ph.D., may be required for more advanced research positions.

What kind of skills do I need to be successful in oceanography?

Some essential skills for oceanographers include critical thinking, problem-solving, data analysis, communication, and teamwork. Fieldwork experience, computer skills, and laboratory and research techniques knowledge are also necessary.

What kind of job opportunities are available in oceanography?

There are many career opportunities in oceanography. Examples include marine biology, oceanography, marine geology, ocean engineering, environmental consulting, and coastal zone management.

What kind of salary can I expect as an oceanographer?

Salary ranges can vary widely depending on the specific job, level of education, experience, and location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for atmospheric, Earth, marine, and space sciences occupations is $96,460.

What kind of work environment can I expect as an oceanographer?

Oceanographers may work in various settings, including research labs, government agencies, universities, and private companies. Fieldwork may be required, which could involve working on research vessels, diving, or conducting experiments in the ocean or on shore.

What are some of the major challenges facing oceanographers?

Some of the major challenges facing oceanographers include climate change, pollution, overfishing, and habitat destruction.


As we face increasing global challenges related to climate change, pollution, and overfishing, the work of oceanographers has never been more critical. Through research, conservation, and advocacy, oceanographers are working to understand and protect the ocean and its resources for future generations.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in oceanography, many educational and professional development opportunities are available to help you achieve your goals. With dedication, hard work, and a passion for the ocean, you can make a meaningful contribution to this vital field and help shape the future of our planet.



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