Oceanographers use knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics and geology to study seas and oceans.

What does an oceanographer do?

As an oceanographer you may work across a range of sciences, including chemistry, biology, geology and physics. You can specialise in one of the four branches of oceanography which are:

  • biological – studying marine plants and animals
  • physical – exploring water temperature, density, wave motion, tides and currents
  • geological – examining the structure and make-up of the ocean floor
  • chemical – analysing the chemicals in sea water and the impact of pollutants

This role involves the use of a variety of scientific equipment to collect samples and data, including:

  • remote sensors on satellites
  • instruments on towed or self-powered underwater vehicles
  • scientific apparatus such as sensors on moored or drifting buoys
  • probes lowered into the sea
  • drills to collect sediment cores from the seabed
  • microphones to measure acoustics
  • marine robots to explore the seabed

Work could vary depending on the area of specialism, but oceanographers may typically:

  • plan and carry out research expeditions
  • manage a research project and lead a team of researchers and technical staff
  • prepare scientific equipment at sea or in a laboratory
  • spend time at sea collecting data and samples
  • create experiments to test your ideas in the laboratory
  • use computers to produce models, such as maps of the ocean floor or populations of marine animals
  • write reports based on your research findings
  • publish and present your research findings to the public and other scientists

What do I need to do to become an oceanographer?

Oceanography is mostly a research-based career. Most new oceanographers have a degree in oceanography, or a related subject, followed by a postgraduate master's degree in oceanography. Some employers will also expect you to have, or be working towards, a relevant PhD.

Relevant degree subjects include:

  • oceanography
  • ocean science
  • maths
  • geology
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • environmental science

Related skills

  • Attention to detail
  • Communication
  • Numeracy
  • Physical fitness
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork

Academic route

  • Five GCSEs (A-C), including maths, English, and science
  • Three A levels

Related subjects

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Maths
  • Physics

Essential qualifications

  • A degree in a related subject

Desirable qualifications

  • Postgraduate master’s degree in oceanography
  • PhD

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

Much oceanography work in the UK is created and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). You will find jobs, which are often funded through NERC, with organisations such as the National Oceanography Centre (Southampton), the Sea Mammal Research Unit (University of St Andrews) and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (University of East Anglia).

You may also find work with the government, for example through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and in industries involved in offshore oil and gas extraction, offshore and coastal construction and marine instrumentation. You may go on to work in teaching and research with universities and other research bodies throughout the world who specialise in aspects of oceanography.

Short-term contracts are common in this area of work.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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