Oceanography is the study of the ocean and other large bodies of water. Working as an oceanographer requires higher education in oceanography or a related scientific field, such as marine biology, chemistry, physics, geology, or environmental science. Most professional jobs require a master's degree. A bachelor's degree may be sufficient for some entry-level positions. Some research-focused oceanography jobs require a doctoral degree.
Oceanography Jobs by Discipline
Many oceanographers work for government agencies like National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some work for private businesses or nonprofit organizations. Most oceanography jobs fall into one of four disciplines within the field (biological, chemical, physical, and geological), though there is some overlap between the disciplines.
Biological Oceanography Jobs
People who work as biological oceanographers study how marine animals and aquatic plants adapt to and impact the marine environment in which they live. Some seek to develop sustainable ways of harvesting seafood, while others investigate how ocean pollution impacts marine organisms. Examples of specific biological oceanography jobs include:
- Marine scientist - Some marine scientists spend time on oceangoing vessels to collect biological samples at sea, which may be studied while on research vessels or in scientific labs. Others spend the majority of their time in laboratory settings, where they analyze samples and/or conduct experiments. Either way, marine scientists do data analysis and report the findings of their research. The average pay for a marine scientist is around $52,000 per year.
- Marine conservationist - Biological oceanography is a great background to work as a marine conservationist. This job often involves identifying and seeking to correct factors that negatively impact the habitat of marine organisms. The focus is generally on finding ways to improve sustainability. Some marine conservationists focus on raising money and increasing awareness of the need for ocean conservation. The average pay for marine conservationists is around $47,000 per year.
Chemical Oceanography Careers
Those who work as chemical oceanographers are chemistry researchers who focus on studying the chemical composition of seawater. They also investigate how seawater interacts with the ocean floor and overall atmosphere. Examples of chemical oceanography jobs include:
- Marine chemist oceanographer - Marine chemist oceanographers are field researchers who collect samples to better understand what seawater is made up of in various parts of the world. They look at how seawater changes over time, and they explore the chemical reactions these changes lead to in the marine environment. They often travel with research teams that include other types of oceanographers or scientific researchers. The average pay for marine chemists is around $55,000 per year.
- Marine geochemists - Marine geochemists are also scientific researchers who investigate the chemical composition of marine water, but they don't look at water in isolation. Instead, they look at the combination of seawater or coastal water and sediment. The results of their research inform both marine management and coastal management practices. The average pay of geochemists is around $75,000 per year.
Physical Oceanography Jobs
Physical oceanographers explore the physical processes that take place in the oceans. They study how the sea was created and how it changes over time, as well as how changes impact climatological events. They explore things like waves, currents, coastal erosion, and the impact of the oceans on climate. Examples of physical oceanography jobs include:
- Marine geophysicist - Many marine geophysicists study undersea tectonic, hydrothermal, and volcanic activity in terms of how they interact with geologic activity on land. Some explore how continental margins are impacted by coastal processes. Much of their work seeks to explain past and current climate variability, as well as attempts to predict what the future may hold in light of the ocean's physical processes. The average pay for marine geophysicists is around $52,000 per year.
- Marine meteorologists - There is a strong association between the physical processes of the oceans and weather events and patterns, which makes physical oceanography a good background for marine meteorology. Marine meteorologists study the oceans and other factors to understand and predict things like hurricane frequency or strength or the potential for a tsunami after an earthquake. The median pay for marine meteorologists is around $104,000 per year.
Geological Oceanography Careers
Individuals who work as geological oceanographers focus on studying the ocean floor. Their research involves things like the topography of the seafloor, plate tectonics, volcanic processes, climate, and more. Examples of geological oceanography jobs include:
- Marine geologist - Many marine geologists work in the oil and gas industry, where they look for and/or extract fossil fuel from below the seafloor. Some design equipment that's used for this purpose. Others work in the clean energy sector, providing scientific services to wind energy organizations that construct and/or operate offshore wind farms. The average salary for marine geologists is around $94,000 per year.
- Marine archaeologist - Also known as underwater archaeologists, marine archaeologists study human interactions with bodies of water. They study all kinds of undersea artifacts, such as submerged buildings or communities, sunken shipwrecks, airplanes that crashed into the sea, underwater debris, and more. Their goal is to learn more about human history by examining such artifacts. The average pay for marine archaeologists is around $71,000 per year.
Academic Jobs for Oceanography Experts
There is always a high demand for professors and teachers with expertise and academic degrees in a recognized field of scientific study like oceanography. Teaching can be a great second career option for oceanographers who are ready to step back from field research, as well as a wonderful initial career path for those whose primary goal is to work in education.
Colleges and universities with degree programs in oceanography, or related fields like marine biology or environmental science, employ individuals who have doctoral degrees in oceanography to work as professors. Full-time professors usually teach four classes per semester. They are also expected to conduct academic research in their field and publish the findings in academic journals. The average pay for oceanography professors is around $88,000 per year.
Secondary School Science Teacher
Teaching high school science is a great option for people with an oceanography degree who want to teach without completing a PhD program. In most states, you can become a high school science teacher with a bachelor's degree in any scientific field and a series of master's level education courses. Many schools now offer environmental science classes, so this can be an excellent fit for oceanographers who want to teach. The average pay for environmental science teachers is around $55,000 per year.
Rewarding Science Careers
If you have an aptitude for science and you love the idea of dedicating your career to studying and exploring the oceans or the plants and animals that live underwater, oceanography just may be the ideal occupation for you. Want to keep exploring your options? Review this list of science careers for even more related career paths to consider.