Oceanographers use science and mathematics to study and explain the complex interactions between seawater, fresh water, polar ice caps, the atmosphere and the biosphere. 

They are involved in areas such as mineral exploitation, shipping, fisheries, coastal construction, pollution, weather prediction, climate change and renewable energy.

There are four main types of oceanographer:

  • Physical oceanographer - studies the properties of currents, waves and tides;
  • Chemical oceanographer - determines the chemical composition of sea water;
  • Marine biologist - studies marine animals and plants and how organisms interact with their environment;
  • Geological oceanographer - examines the ocean basins and the rocks and minerals at the bottom of the seas.

Oceanographers use a wide range of data sources including buoys, robotic vehicles, satellites, acoustic and pneumatic sensors and probes into the seabed. 

Oceanographers work in offices and laboratories in academia, industry and government, often in multidisciplinary teams.

Typical tasks depend on the type of job, employer and level of training and experience and may include:

  • collecting samples and data from the sea, sea floor or atmosphere using specialised equipment and techniques;
  • analysing samples for natural and contaminant composition;
  • looking at life forms and matter, such as trace metals, present in sea water;
  • performing simulations of ocean phenomena using computer or mathematical models;
  • using statistical models of laboratory and field data to investigate hypotheses and make predictions;
  • analysing and interpreting data from samples, measurements and remote sensing aids;
  • attending conferences and going on research cruises;
  • submitting proposals to obtain research funding;
  • writing reports and papers on research activities;
  • lecturing to university classes and leading field trips.
Oceanographer: Career Spotlight
Meet Pablo Clemente-Colon - Oceanographer and the chief scientist at the U.S. National Ice Center.