Under the Sea: Careers in Oceanography

by Damian McKnight

Oceanography, also called marine science, is the study of the marine environment and its interactions with the earth, the biosphere, and the atmosphere. The study of the world's oceans is driven by the human desire to understand how the oceans move and how life develops in a salty, cold environment, and the need to use wisely the ocean's resources for the benefit of all humanity.

Oceanography Degree Programs

Many colleges and universities in Seattle offer bachelor’s and graduate degrees in marine sciences. Students in oceanography and marine-related fields need a good background in at least one area of basic science (for example, geology, physics, chemistry, or biology) or engineering. In almost all cases, mathematics is strongly recommended as well. English is important, too, because one of the most important activities of an oceanographer is writing scientific papers and having them published.

The study of oceanography is divided into a number of branches:

  • Biological Oceanography -the study of the plants, animals and microbes of the oceans and their ecological interaction with the ocean
  • Chemical & Biochemical Oceanography -the study of the chemistry of the ocean and its chemical interaction with the atmosphere
  • Physical Oceanography & Fluid Dynamics -the ocean's physical attributes including temperature-salinity structure, mixing, waves, internal waves, surface tides, internal tides, and currents
  • Marine Geology & Geophysics -involves geophysical, geochemical, sedimentological and paleontological investigations of the ocean floor and coastal margins. Marine geology has strong ties to physical oceanography and plate tectonics.

A bachelor's degree is adequate for a few entry-level positions, but most oceanographers and hydrologists need a master's degree, which is the preferred educational requirement for most research positions in private industry, federal agencies, and state geological surveys. A Ph.D. is necessary for most high-level research and college teaching positions, but is generally not required for other jobs.


Some oceanographers spend time in an office, but many others divide their time between fieldwork and office or laboratory work. Oceanographers may also spend considerable time at sea on academic research ships. Because many job opportunities in oceanography require trips on research vessels, any shipboard experience is also desirable.

Other Related Career Fields:

  • Marine Archeology
  • Marine Engineering
  • Fisheries Scientists
  • Marine Policy Experts
  • Marine Geochemists

Seattle Oceanography Schools and Degree Programs

University of Washington School of Oceanography

Everett Community College (Everett, Washington)

Seattle Central Community College

Western Washington University (Bellingham, Washington)

Pennisula College (Port Angeles, Washington)

Grays Harbor College (Alberdeen, Washington)


Student Oceanographic Society

The Student Oceanographic Society (SOS) is a student run organization created to promote, inform, and improve both undergraduate and graduate education in oceanography at the University of Washington.

Department of Oceanography Naval Postgraduate School

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