What does a Oceanographer do?

Median Pay $89,780
Growth Rate 14%
Citation Retrieved in 2017 from BLS.gov

An oceanographer has biological, chemical, geological, and physical specialties to the study of the ocean. An oceanographer has extensive knowledge of the ocean and it’s biology, geology, physics, and chemistry and constantly strives to learn about more of it’s secrets and processes. They work a variety of hours depending on the study and work in laboratories or offices and also in field-work that can stretch for days or even months at a time while at sea on offshore platforms or research ships.

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How to Become an Oceanographer


An oceanographer needs an undergraduate degree in a science-based subject. Many go further to hold a postgraduate degree, especially in a specialized field like a physical oceanographer who studies physics at a degreed level and then obtains an master’s degree in oceanography. Field work is usually required as part of the course studies and many would receive on-the-job training.

Job Description of an Oceanographer

An oceanographer explores the world oceans to understand it’s processes and mysteries. This includes plate tectonics, chemical and physical properties, marine life, ecosystems, geology of the sea floor, and ocean circulation. They want to investigate issues like eroding coastlines, climate change, or declining fisheries so they can learn from the information collected. An oceanographer may choose to specialize in his or her field as in a biology or marine biologist who is more interested in the study of animals and plants and in the marine arena. They may choose geological oceanography and marine geology that finds the reason that mountains, valleys, and canyons form.

This specialty would also cover volcanic processes and mantel circulation. There is the chemical oceanographer too, that studies the seawater and it’s composition, chemical interaction of seawater with the seafloor, and the atmosphere and it’s cycles and processes. They observe the ocean currents and use chemistry to find how it moves seawater around the world or if the climate is affected by it. The other field of specialty is the physical oceanographer that delves into the mysteries of the ocean’s waves, tides, coastal erosion, and other physical processes and conditions. They are devoted to the understanding of the transmission of light and sound through water, how climate and weather may be influenced, and other of the ocean’s physical interactions.

All oceanographers have the knowledge of biology, physics and chemistry, as well as geology. They desire to understand the ocean’s secrets and mysteries. This career tests various aspects of the ocean and conducts research using their skills with apparatus on moored or drifting buoys, remote sensors on satellites, probes lowered into the sea, or instruments on self-powered or towed submersibles. They drill into the seabed and collect valuable data that helps to understand the effects of offshore engineering on marine eco systems and the impact of pollution. They should be problem solvers and have optimal physical health and/or fitness in order to be able to do strenuous field work. They have the ability to communicate clearly, both orally and written and to work well along-side others or by his or her self. This occupation is considered hazardous and physically demanding and the oceanographer may be required to be in remote locations to conduct research, ocean explorations, and data collecting.

Oceanographer Career Video Transcript

Every time I tell people that I’m an oceanographer, they start asking me about whales and fish and things like that. And I tell them that’s one type of oceanography. Once I started working with NOAA, that’s when I learned that oh, there’s this thing called satellites and you could actually do satellite oceanography and look at the whole planet, any of the oceans.

We do use these satellites which are sensors that are orbiting the Earth and in different manners to make observations of the planet, in this case we’re interested sea ice cover observations or snow cover observations and they relayed or send that data back to us to some of our centers. We collect the data provided to analysts that look at it and then make an assessment of where the ice is.

Figure out what aspect of oceanography you may be more interested in and then go into a hard science first. You know it could be biology, it could be physics, it could be chemistry or geology. Something fundamental and then further on move on into an applied oceanography study.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Geoscientists.

National Center for O*NET Development. 19-2042.00. O*NET OnLine.

This career video is in the public domain from the U.S. Geological Survey.