Oceanographers typically need a postgraduate degree to secure employment in all but the most basic research positions.
Oceanography jobs fall into four main disciplines. Physical oceanographers investigate the physical properties of the seas, such as temperature, density and wave and tide motions. Geological oceanographers survey the land formations that lie under the waters. Chemical oceanographers look at the chemical composition of seawater, its relationship with the atmosphere and its alteration by pollution. Biological oceanographers study the plant and animal life that inhabits the seas. All four types of oceanographers may work in a number of employment sectors.
Many oceanographers work within specific research institutions, primarily those of universities. This is “pure” research, intended to further knowledge in the subject, as opposed to “applied” research that is conducted to solve a practical problem. Oceanographers in research institutions generally conduct field, lab and theoretical work, and publish their findings in academic journals. Individuals need at least a master’s degree, and more usually a doctorate, to secure research positions.
Oceanographers work for government agencies, gathering and analyzing data, often to help legislators make informed decisions. These oceanographers may investigate cases of sea pollution; the impact of human activity, such as the fishing industry, on certain oceanic environments; or map the ocean floor to ensure vessels can make safe passage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics highlights the U.S. Geological Survey, run by the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Defense as key government employers of oceanographers.
Another area in which oceanographers work is public policy, using their expertise to influence legislative decisions, such as fishing quotas or environmental exclusion zones for oil prospecting. Such positions may include working for an elected representative or with conservation or industry organizations, scientific societies and federal agencies. Public policy work relies on interpersonal skills, networking and fostering good relationships with people. Oceanographers in this area also need excellent communication skills, both verbal and written, to effectively put their case across.
Oceanographers may move into ocean engineering, often working in a consultative capacity alongside qualified marine engineers. They help companies plan and construct ocean structures, such as oil rigs, piers, harbors and energy production equipment, such as wave-electricity generators. They may also advise on shipbuilding, particularly when vessels are intended to be used in areas of extreme ocean conditions, such as the arctic.
Oceanographers work for a variety of private enterprises. These include oil and gas production, aqua-culturists, green energy producers and the fishing industry. Oceanographers advise on how ocean conditions may affect the goals of such companies.