Some oceanographers study the ocean’s motion and circulation.
Oceanographers study oceans — their composition and ecosystems — to learn their effects on weather, to find oil or to resolve environmental problems, for example.Oceanography is traditionally divided into five specializations: biological oceanography, chemical oceanography, geological oceanography, ocean engineering and physical oceanography. Today, oceanographic work sometimes takes a more interdisciplinary approach. A position might require a combined knowledge of geological oceanography and marine chemistry, for example, according to Kent State University. Oceanography careers typically require graduate study.
Average Annual Salaries
Salaries depend on education, experience, work location and the state of the economy. While oceanographers earn a starting salary of approximately $50,460 annually, the average salary overall of oceanographers is approximately $77,890 and the most-experienced oceanographers, including those with Ph.Ds., make approximately $99,690 annually, according to OceanCareers.com.
In 1999, a closer look at salaries by position and by education shows that laboratory technicians — these positions tend to be filled by those having only a bachelor’s degree — had an average salary range of approximately $25,000 to $35,000; marine scientists — those who have a master’s or Ph.D. but do not necessarily teach in universities or lead research teams — had an average salary range of $25,000 to $45,000; and research professors, those having a Ph.D, teaching in universities and leading research teams, had an average annual salary range of $45,000 to $90,000, according to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
In Education and Federal Government
In 2005, professors in chemical or physical oceanography made an average annual entry-level salary of $59,181; assistant professors made an average annual salary of $67,718; and associate professors made $95,185, according to Sea Grant Marine Careers.
In 2006, oceanographers working for the federal government, in agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey, made a median annual salary of $87,007.
Careers in oceanography typically require a master’s degree or Ph.D. A bachelor’s degree in science or math qualifies students for graduate study in oceanography, and also for positions such as lab technicians and positions in non-scientist work, such as in science-related marketing and publishing. Undergraduates interested in graduate work in oceanography typically major in biology, chemistry, geology, physics, mathematics or engineering, according to Kent State University. In fact, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science recommends that students not specialize in marine sciences as undergraduates, but instead focus on fundamental courses in math, chemistry, biology and physics before specializing once in graduate school. Speak with an academic adviser before scheduling courses.
A master’s degree qualifies you for more technical work, such as running experiments under an oceanographer’s supervision or for becoming involved in public policy. A Ph.D. allows the holder to perform research as a team leader and work as a professor at colleges and universities.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics groups oceanographers with geoscientists and hydrologists, and anticipates that employment for these occupations will grow by 18 percent between 2008 and 2018. The need for energy, environmental protection, responsible land and water management, and exploration and production of oil and gas will increase job prospects, according to the bureau, as will growth in technical consulting services. However, it anticipates there will be fewer job opportunities in federal and state government because of budget constraints and the trend among governments toward contracting out to consultants.