The study of the oceans and the marine environment
Oceanographers are scientists who apply physics, chemistry, biology and geology to the study of the world ocean – its currents, tides and circulation; the creatures which live in the oceans; the rocks that lie underneath the ocean; and the places where the ocean meets the atmosphere and the coast.
Understanding these things helps governments to look after the oceans properly – for example by controlling pollution, ensuring that fishing boats don't catch all of the young fish before they have a chance to grow, and making sure that the beaches you visit on your holidays are clean and safe to use. A very important job for oceanographers is climate research. The ocean has a great effect on the world's climate because the sea stores so much heat – oceanographers can help to predict future changes in the temperature of the planet, and also to give warning of sea level changes, which could devastate low lying countries and coral reefs.
The main types of oceanographers are physical oceanographers, who look at temperature, density, saltiness, tides, currents and waves; chemical oceanographers, who investigate the chemical properties of sea water, the chemistry of living systems, behaviour of pollutants and the age of the sea water; marine biologists who study marine animals and plants; geological oceanographers who examine the rocks, minerals and processes that are at the bottom of the sea; and computer modellers who use the data collected by their colleagues to produce graphical simulations of the way the oceans flow and change around the world.
As well as collecting data at sea from ships, oceanographers use satellites, buoys, instrumented floats and robotic vehicles to gather information. Some even find ways to enlist the assistance of marine creatures to carry small sensors to remote locations, such as underneath ice sheets
Who can become an oceanographer? First of all you must study hard at school and get the best possible grades in mathematics and the sciences. If your school is able to offer physics, chemistry and biology as separate subjects then try and do them all. You will need to be able to communicate clearly with people, so you need to do well in English too.
Oceanographers are employed by private industry, universities, government research laboratories, the armed services, charities and pressure groups. Many of the jobs are for five year contracts or less, so you are likely to move around a great deal in your career – in particular you will almost certainly consider working abroad for some or all of the time.
What ever type of oceanographer you decide to be, you will need to be at ease working with numbers and computers. You will need to be confident, able to learn new skills, and be capable of presenting your work to fellow scientists, members of the public, visitors and research customers, so if your school offers opportunities for public speaking and debates or even drama, by all means get involved. You will probably work as a member of a team in your early career, so you will find that playing team games will teach you how to work well with others and help keep you fit and alert.
For more information contact:
National Oceanography Centre,
Hampshire SO14 3ZH
t 02380 596666
The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology
33 High Street
London EC3N 1EN